“If we don’t wake up to this, we could lose it all,” that’s Harvey Kushner’s message to Americans–and American intelligence officials.
Harvey Kushner is a familiar face to many Fox viewers. The terrorism expert is a frequent TV commentator. In his full-time work in terrorism prevention, he has been a consultant to major government agencies including the FBI, INS, and U.S. Customs.
Kushner recently answered some of NRO editor Kathryn Jean Lopez’s questions. Kushner weighed in on the Patriot Act (“essential”), Michael Chertoff (he is less enthused than NR), and, of course, the secret Islamic terror network in the United States.
National Review Online: Boston, New York, Philly, D.C., Miami, Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Houston, Denver, L.A. (and more)–Hamas, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah are operating out of major U.S. cities today?
Harvey Kushner:Holy War on the Home Front is the first book to publish the “Charter of the Center of Studies, Intelligence and the Information.” The “Charter” was handwritten in Arabic and dated 1981. It is a militant Islamic organizational plan for terrorism, with every cell, division, agent, and objective clearly defined. One expert’s opinion regarding the original Arabic is that the document could have originated from the ranks of the Muslim brotherhood, the originator of all contemporary militant Islamic movements.
Also published in Holy War is a hand-drawn map of the United States and Canada that accompanies the “Charter.” The map is divided into four sections: the Western Region, the Central Region, the Eastern Region, the Canadian Region. For example, the Eastern Region has dots over the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Raleigh, and Miami. In 1981, few, if any, terrorist groups were in the cities labeled in Arabic on the map. Today, however, there are terrorist groups in every city shown on the map, proof of how far the secret Islamic terror network has spread.
While interviewed about Holy War on the radio by a former official in the Reagan administration, she said that she had been briefed about the Charter in the early 1980s. She was shocked that it took more than two decades for someone to publish this telling document about the secret Islamic network operating in the United States.
NRO: Tom Ridge is done with DHS as of last week. You report DHS officials saying the agency won’t be functional until next year. Was it a mistake? What can be done?
Kushner: As I write in my book, high-level sources within the Department of Homeland Security say DHS won’t even be “somewhat functional” until 2006. This disturbing progress report aside, the creation of DHS was no mistake. It was necessary to create an agency responsible for coordinating protection of the homeland. One agency responsible for assuring the seamless transfer of terrorist information into one database looms high on the DHS agenda. DHS would then transfer real-time terrorist data to local law enforcement. Until now, however, this has not taken place and it will be “job-one” for the new DHS secretary, Michael Chertoff.
The Harvard-educated Chertoff does not appear to have the managerial skills to unite the more than 180,000 DHS personnel from some 22 agencies into one cohesive unit devoid of their past organizational cultures. Nor does he seem to have the management experience to make DHS the point-of-contact for the 87,000 local jurisdictions across our nation. Moreover, Judge Chertoff credentials are not likely to impress the law-enforcement personnel under his jurisdiction. It is well-known that judges and lawyers often have little appreciation, albeit understanding, of the work of the men and women of law enforcement.
Secretary Chertoff needs to bring about unification with DHS and transfer real-time terrorist information to the locals. Accomplishing this will make DHS an effective unifying entity as well as protector of the homeland. Unfortunately, I’m not sanguine about his chances of accomplishing this; however, I wish him well.
NRO: Would you ditch the color-coded alert system? Does it hurt more than help?
Kushner: Every time we change colors and alert the public I’m reminded of Aesop’s popular fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” You can’t keep alerting the people to the possibility of the wolf at your doorstep that never shows up without running the risk of making them “alert weary.” I’m not advocating that it is necessary to have some horrific terrorist event occur to prove the color-coded system worthy. Instead, I would like to see implemented a system that balances high alert with a meaningful educational program to train the public in the ways of terrorism prevention.
NRO: You report a lot that is very wrong, but we haven’t been attacked since 9/11–isn’t that some sort of relatively good sign?
Kushner: Absolutely not. Always remember that Islamic terrorists will strike at American assets both here and abroad according to their own schedule, not ours. If history is a guide, it took more than eight years for Islamic terrorists to destroy the World Trade towers, the first attack occurred in February 26, 1993. Moreover, the tale of the Bedouin chief who took 40 years to avenge a personal insult and was chided for acting so hastily speaks to the Islamic-terrorist mindset and warns us of things to come.
Lopez: The Patriot Act gets people on both the Left and Right riled up. But it’s been effective, hasn’t it?
Kushner: Yes, it sure has. The Patriot Act deserves credit for the arrest of members of terrorist cells in Buffalo, Seattle, Portland, and Detroit, and investigations of terrorist have frozen more than $125 million in terrorist assets and over 600 bank accounts around the world. I believe the Patriot Act has the right balances in the sometimes-competing interests of the war on terror and our civil liberties. If we are to prevent a terrorist attack of major proportions, it is essential. Usually, in law enforcement we wait until a crime is committed, and then we act. America cannot afford to wait until a terrorist act is committed to go after the terrorists who commit them.
Roving wiretaps are necessary in an age of cellular-phone technology. They were illegal until the Patriot Act. The old laws worked when the cord on the black metal family phone wouldn’t let you move more than a couple of feet. Roving wire taps are necessary to intercept and track terrorists using satellite phones.
NRO: How are judges hurting the war effort?
Kushner: My book documents how a federal judge sentenced an illegal alien convicted of smuggling heroin, later referred to the FBI for suspicions of terrorist links, to 30 months in jail, three years on probation, a 100-dollar special assessment, and 200 hours of community service. What sort of community service does a convicted heroin smuggler suspected of being a terrorist get? He was assigned to help out in the Queens Botanical Gardens.
Hey, I can’t make this stuff up; it sound too much like a Mel Brooks movie, something that would damage the credibility of some involved in counterterrorism. Nevertheless, it clearly illustrates how liberal federal judges contribute to our war effort. They don’t.
NRO: Folks like John Kerry claim we are no safer today post-Iraq war. Is that true?
Kushner: If the question refers to our involvement in Iraq, then the answer is “no” inasmuch as we have removed a despot who sponsored terrorism. The Bush administration should have made Iraq’s well-known support of Middle Eastern terrorists of all stripes a major issue before the liberation of the Iraqi people. Focusing specifically on weapons of mass destruction was clearly a mistake because they haven’t turned up. Rather, a free Iraq begins the process of removing all sponsors of terrorism aimed at the United States and her allies and changes the very fabric of the greater Middle East. This should have been presented to the American public right from the get-go.
If we go back, however, to 9/11 then I would agree that we are no safer today. And that’s why I wrote Holy War. Why? Because for all the money we’ve spent in the past three years on “security,” Americans are no safer. Government agencies are still sloppy, negligent, or worse. For years, liberal federal judges have been probating illegal aliens who are “known or suspected terrorists” back onto our streets. Khat, a drug worth billions of dollars a year, is being smuggled into this country by a Middle Eastern-African-British network, but no one is investigating it–or its links to terrorism. The USCIS Asylum Offices get applications from Middle Easterners who testify to involvement with terrorism, but can’t reject them because the FBI won’t return their phone calls. Don’t believe it? Sorry, my book has the documents to back up these strong assertions.
NRO: How can INS, such that it is, be fixed?
Kushner: The answer to this question is rather simple, it can’t. No matter how many resources we devote to what is now INS, they won’t be enough unless we fix our will to deal with illegal aliens inside our country. In other words, there has to be a concerted effort from the Bush administration right down to the public itself to get beyond the paralyzing effects of political correctness and crack down on illegal aliens. I’m not only referring to those that committed felons but to those who cross our borders without permission.
NRO: You write, “We need to “make sure that none of the 7 million ocean cargo containers coming to the United States contains a weapon of mass destruction.” How is that even possible?
Kushner: We should not be put off by the numbers. There is still time to fix things. America is better at crash programs than any nation in the world. It’s as simple as this: We need to quickly develop the technology to inspect ocean cargo containers. All it takes is money and sometimes that’s no easy task.
NRO: Complaining about political correctness feels very knee-jerk right-wingy. But is it actually an obstacle in fighting the war on terrorism?
Kushner: It sure is [an obstacle in fighting the war]. As I stated in Holy War, “The only explanation as to why we continue to ignore the secret Islamic terror network in America is that the demands of political correctness have made us so afraid of being branded racists that we force ourselves to be color blind, identity blind, and gender blind till we end up, quite simply, totally blind.”
As I discuss in my book, one of the problems with “profiling,” a concept anathema to the PC police, is that liberals have made it almost impossible to use and as a consequence we aren’t very good at it. One suburban New York police academy created a terrorist profile derived from the “Al Qaeda Training Manual.” The latter is a fascinating document–and frightening, considering the level of preparation it indicates. Unfortunately, [it's not] what’s taught to rookies at the police academy in their manual titled “Terrorism: Awareness, Prevention.” Response becomes sanitized by the PC police. As a result, police officers wind up looking for an armed American-looking type carrying a fake ID who lives in a first-floor apartment in the middle of a new complex or an old tenement, has no phones but new locks, and likes to draw and take pictures.
The 9/11 hijackers don’t fit that profile. Terrorists like Khalid “Shaikh” Mohammed don’t fit that profile. Neither does Osama bin Laden. In fact, except for being armed, the people it most fits are college kids below the drinking age.
This kind of training gives the street cop very little useful information, and most complain there is simply no way to know what job to do, or how to do it. The intuition his or her experience has bred is unnerved by conflicting social, political, and legal forces. He figures a Muslim terrorist might look Middle Eastern or Arabic, but he’s told that thinking like that is profiling, and it’s wrong.
NRO: How are we fighting the war on militant Islam with a Cold War mentality? Why are we?
Kushner: In the winter of 2004, as I was completing my research for Holy War, a former CIA agent with a direct pipeline to Homeland Security arranged for me to have a combined briefing from a group of federal security, intelligence, and law-enforcement agencies in Washington, D.C. My briefing group can be identified only as including career CIA officers who had worked inside Syria and Iran; a State Department officer previously stationed in the Middle East, now with the FBI; government-security experts; and several others with long experience in intelligence and foreign service. Also in attendance was a casually dressed Middle-Eastern man. He was special ops and knew terrorists. He had infiltrated their organizations; he had killed terrorists before they could strike innocents.
During our conversations it became clear that my hosts were hung up on the graying secular terrorist of the past, the ones the Soviets supported, not the al Qaeda I knew that could explode without notice. One assured me, “Significant inroads have been made into damaging al Qaeda. This is proved by the fact there hasn’t been another 9/11-type attack.”
My hosts also believed that every terrorist organization had a single “head,” and eliminating that head would destroy the group’s ability to harm us. The prime example was that killing Osama bin Laden would end al Qaeda and the war on terrorism.
What my hosts did not understand was that al Qaeda has become more than itself. It is a “state of mind” that can give rise to the “lone wolf” terrorist who suddenly adopts the al Qaeda philosophy of jihad, for reasons of his own. That kind of terrorist is even harder to predict than the card-carrying member of the Soviet era because he will give almost no warning of his intent. Al Qaeda’s most dangerous feature is this predisposition to be brought into militant Islam that can be triggered by exposure to something in a mosque, or on the Internet, or through media coverage of an event.
It became crystal clear to me that my hosts, who were in a position to help shape the war on terrorism, were giving advice that was based on models of terrorist activities tied to the Cold War era. That’s one frightening scenario, isn’t it?
NRO: Should we be calling it the war on militant Islam instead of the war on terror? Less beating-around-the-bush?
Kushner: You bet. In point of fact, we are not at war with a variety of terrorist organizations active throughout the world. I don’t mean to indicate, however, that I approve or condone such behavior. A terrorist by any other name is still a terrorist. The terrorists that pull triggers, plant bombs, and blast holes in the New York skyline all have the same thing in common–they are simply terrorists.
I wrote Holy War to drive home the point that we are at war with militant Islam, not a concept like terrorism per se. A war against militant Islam is war against a tangible enemy we can defeat. We must also realize that battle against militant Islam is here in America. If we don’t wake up to this, we could lose it all. That’s why I wrote Holy War on the Home Front: The Secret Islamic Terror Network in the United States.
You can purchase Holy War on the Home Front: The Secret Islamic Terror Network in the United States via the NR Book Service here or through Amazon.com here.