Lone Wolf Lessons

June 5, 2009

By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

At approximately 10:30 a.m. on June 1, as two young U.S. soldiers stood in front of the Army Navy Career Center in west Little Rock, Ark., a black pickup pulled in front of the office and the driver opened fire on the two, killing one and critically wounding the other.

Eyewitnesses to the shooting immediately reported it to police, and authorities quickly located and arrested the suspect as he fled the scene. According to police, the suspect told the arresting officers that he had a bomb in his vehicle, but after an inspection by the police bomb squad, the only weapons police recovered from the vehicle were an SKS rifle and two pistols.

At a press conference, Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas identified the suspect as Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a 23-year-old African-American man who had changed his name from Carlos Leon Bledsoe after converting to Islam. In Arabic, the word mujahid is the singular form of mujahideen, and it literally means one who engages in jihad. Although Mujahid is not an uncommon Muslim name, it is quite telling that a convert to Islam would choose such a name – one who engages in jihad – to define his new identity. Muhammad was originally from Memphis, Tenn., but according to news reports was living and working in Little Rock.

Chief Thomas said Muhammad admitted to the shootings and told police that he specifically targeted soldiers. During an interrogation with a Little Rock homicide detective, Muhammad reportedly said that he was angry at the U.S. Army because of their attacks against Muslims overseas, that he opened fire intending to kill the two soldiers and that he would have killed more if they had been in the parking lot. These statements are likely what Chief Thomas was referring to when he noted in his press conference that Muhammad appears to have had political and religious motives for the attack and that it was conducted in response to U.S. military operations.

Chief Thomas also stated that the initial police investigation has determined that Muhammad acted alone and was not part of a wider conspiracy, but given that the shooting was an act of domestic terrorism directed against U.S military personnel, a thorough investigation has been launched by the FBI to ensure that Muhammad was not part of a larger group planning other attacks.

ABC News has reported that Muhammad had traveled to Yemen after his conversion, though the date of that travel and its duration were not provided in those reports. ABC also reported that while in Yemen, Muhammad was apparently arrested for carrying a fraudulent Somali passport and that upon his return from Yemen, the FBI opened a preliminary investigation targeting him.

The fact that the FBI was investigating Muhammad but was unable to stop this attack illustrates the difficulties that lone wolf militants present to law enforcement and security personnel, and also highlights some of the vulnerabilities associated with using law enforcement as the primary counterterrorism tool.

Challenges of the Lone Wolf

STRATFOR has long discussed the threat posed by lone wolf militants and the unique challenges they pose to law enforcement and security personnel. Of course, the primary challenge is that, by definition, lone wolves are solitary actors and it can be very difficult to determine their intentions before they act because they do not work with others. When militants are operating in a cell consisting of more than one person, there is a larger chance that one of them will get cold feet and reveal the plot to authorities, that law enforcement and intelligence personnel will intercept a communication between conspirators, or that law enforcement authorities will be able to introduce an informant into the group, as was the case in the recently foiled plot to bomb two Jewish targets in the Bronx and shoot down a military aircraft at a Newburgh, N.Y., Air National Guard base.

Obviously, lone wolves do not need to communicate with others or include them in the planning or execution of their plots. This ability to fly solo and under the radar of law enforcement has meant that some lone wolf militants such as Joseph Paul Franklin, Theodore Kaczynski and Eric Rudolph were able to operate for years before being identified and captured.

Lone wolves also pose problems because they can come from a variety of backgrounds with a wide range of motivations. While some lone wolves are politically motivated, others are religiously motivated and some are mentally unstable. Even among the religiously motivated there is variety. In addition to Muslim lone wolves like Muhammad, Mir Amal Kansi, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet and John Allen Muhammad, we have also seen anti-Semitic/Christian-identity adherents like Buford Furrow and Eric Rudolph, radical Roman Catholics like James Kopp and radical Protestants like Paul Hill. Indeed, the day before the Little Rock attack, Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion lone wolf gunman, killed prominent abortion doctor George Tiller in Wichita, Kan.

In addition to the wide spectrum of ideologies and motivations among lone wolves, there is also the issue of geographic dispersal. As we’ve seen from the lone wolf cases listed above, they have occurred in many different locations and are not just confined to attacks in Manhattan or Washington, D.C. They can occur anywhere.

Moreover, it is extremely difficult to differentiate between those extremists who intend to commit attacks from those who simply preach hate or hold radical beliefs (things that are not in themselves illegal due to First Amendment protections in the United States). Therefore, to single out likely lone wolves before they strike, authorities must spend a great deal of time and resources looking at individuals who might be moving from radical beliefs to radical actions. With such a large universe of potential suspects, this is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Limitations on Both Sides

Due to the challenges lone wolf militants present, the concept of leaderless resistance has been publicly and widely embraced in both the domestic terrorism and jihadist realms. However, despite this advocacy and the ease with which terrorist attacks can be conducted against soft targets, surprisingly few terrorist attacks have been perpetrated by lone wolf operatives. In fact, historically, we have seen more mentally disturbed lone gunmen than politically motivated lone wolf terrorists. A main reason for this is that it can be somewhat difficult to translate theory into action, and as STRATFOR has frequently noted, there is often a disconnect between intent and capability.

Because of the difficulty in obtaining the skills required to conduct a terrorist attack, many lone wolves do not totally operate in a vacuum, and many of them (like Muhammad) will usually come to somebody’s attention before they conduct an attack. Many times this occurs as they seek the skills or materials required to conduct a terrorist attack, which Muhammad appears to have been doing in Yemen.

However, in this case, it is important to remember that even though Muhammad had been brought to the FBI’s attention (probably through information obtained from the Yemeni authorities by the CIA in Yemen), he was only one of the thousands of such people the FBI opens a preliminary inquiry on each year. A preliminary inquiry is the basic level of investigation the FBI conducts, and it is usually opened for a limited period of time (though it can be extended with a supervisor’s approval). Unless the agents assigned to the inquiry turn up sufficient indication that a law has been violated, the inquiry will be closed.

If the inquiry indicates that there is the likelihood that a U.S. law has been violated, the FBI will open a full-field investigation into the matter. This will allow the bureau to exert significantly more investigative effort on the case and devote more investigative resources toward solving it. Out of the many preliminary inquiries opened on suspected militants, the FBI opens full-field investigations only on a handful of them. So, if the information reported by ABC News is correct, the FBI was not conducting surveillance on Muhammad because to do so it would have had to have opened a full-field investigation.

Of course, now that Muhammad has attacked, it is easy to say that the FBI should have paid more attention to him. Prior to an attack, however, intelligence is seldom, if ever, so black and white. Sorting out the individuals who intend to conduct attacks from the larger universe of people who hold radical thoughts and beliefs and assigning law enforcement and intelligence resources to monitor the activities of the really dangerous people has long been one of the very difficult tasks faced by counterterrorism authorities.

This difficulty is magnified when the FBI is looking at a lone wolf target because there is no organization, chain of command or specific communications channel on which to focus intelligence resources and gather information. Lacking information that would have tied Muhammad to other militant individuals or cells, or that would have indicated he was inclined to commit a crime, the FBI had little basis for opening a full-field investigation into his activities. These limitations, and the FBI’s notorious bureaucracy (as seen in its investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui and the 9/11 hijackers), are the longstanding shortfalls of the law-enforcement element of counterterrorism policy (the other elements are diplomacy, financial sanctions, intelligence and military).

However, politics have proved obstructive to all facets of counterterrorism policy. And politics may have been at play in the Muhammad case as well as in other cases involving Black Muslim converts. Several weeks ago, STRATFOR heard from sources that the FBI and other law enforcement organizations had been ordered to “back off” of counterterrorism investigations into the activities of Black Muslim converts. At this point, it is unclear to us if that guidance was given by the White House or the Department of Justice, or if it was promulgated by the agencies themselves, anticipating the wishes of President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

As STRATFOR has previously noted, the FBI has a culture that is very conservative and risk-averse. Many FBI supervisors are reluctant to authorize investigations that they believe may have negative blow-back on their career advancement. In light of this institutional culture, and the order to be careful in investigations relating to Black Muslim converts, it would not be at all surprising to us if a supervisor refused to authorize a full-field investigation of Muhammad that would have included surveillance of his activities. Though in practical terms, even if a full-field investigation had been authorized, due to the caution being exercised in cases related to Black Muslim converts, the case would most likely have been micromanaged to the point of inaction by the special agent in charge of the office involved or by FBI headquarters.

Even though lone wolves operate alone, they are still constrained by the terrorist attack cycle, and because they are working alone, they have to conduct each step of the cycle by themselves. This means that they are vulnerable to detection at several different junctures as they plan their attacks, the most critical of which is the surveillance stage of the operation. Muhammad did not just select that recruiting center at random and attack on the spot. He had cased it prior to the attack just as he had been taught in the militant training camps he attended in Yemen. Law enforcement officials have reported that Muhammad may also have researched potential government and Jewish targets in Little Rock, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York, Louisville and Memphis.

Had the FBI opened a full-field investigation on Muhammad, and had it conducted surveillance on him, it would have been able to watch him participate in preoperational activities such as conducting surveillance of potential targets and obtaining weapons.

There is certainly going to be an internal inquiry at the FBI and Department of Justice – and perhaps even in Congress – to determine where the points of failure were in this case. We will be watching with interest to see what really transpired. The details will be extremely interesting, especially coming at a time when the Obama administration appears to be following the Clinton-era policy of stressing the primacy of the FBI and the law enforcement aspect of counterterrorism policy at the expense of intelligence and other elements.


Karzai: Revealed, Reviled, Orphaned, and at Bay

April 13, 2009
by Bahlol Lohdi

R ecently, the international media has begun to report opinions about Karzai that are at odds with past flattering articles published in Western media. It appears that Karzai has lost the beauteous Teflon coating that was applied to him by his foreign backers, when he was plucked from obscurity, groomed as the future savior of the Afghan people, and dubbed the “George Washington of Afghanistan.” Given recent revelations about Karzai and his views, the George Washington simile must seem equal in absurdity to the description of the Nicaraguan Contras as “the moral equivalent of [U.S.] Founding Fathers.”

This media-manipulated transformation of Karzai into someone of consequence struck the people who actually knew him as ridiculous: a State Department official tartly remarked that “to us he will always be just Hamid.” At the time, even Professor Fred Starr of Johns Hopkins University opined on CNN that “Karzai not only lacks support amongst the Afghan population but is also not supported by his fellow Pashtuns.”

Nevertheless, Karzai’s foreign handlers prevailed in portraying the sow’s ear as a silk purse, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the corporate media. Consequently, a media circus descended on Kabul to enthuse about bringing ‘democracy’ to the Afghan people, courtesy of daisy cutters, thermobaric bombs, and a couple of former Unocal-employed “advisers” – Karzai and Khalilzad, one self-transformed into a Hollywood caricature of an Eastern-dressed potentate, the other looking and acting like a Mafia don straight out of central casting, tinted shades and all.

These two characters were supported by a cast of sundry cutthroats calling themselves mujahedin, and opportunistic minor expatriate figures, who returned and were suddenly elevated from some of the lowest ranks of Western society to some of the highest offices of the new Afghan state – for example, a worthy fellow who was a petrol-pump attendant in New Jersey was appointed governor of an Afghan province.

Meanwhile, the best and the brightest of the Afghan expatriates wisely refused to join in the construction of the new Afghan paradigm; paraphrasing Groucho Marx, they decided that any club that had Hamid Karzai as its member, let alone leader, was not worth joining, no matter what the material inducements and privileges.

In the past, when marveling at the possibility of upward mobility, it used to be said: “Only in America….” The new aphorism should be “Only in Afghanistan….” However, whereas in America a rise in station has usually been associated with the laudable attributes of character and ability, in Afghanistan it appears to be the reverse, and success has in recent years depended only on an enthusiasm for recruitment by, and subservience to, the alphabet soup of international intelligence services.

Over a period of four years, a series of “traditional” Afghan meetings were held and manipulated to produce bogus agreements on a constitution, a system of government, and elections to bring about that system. Needless to say, each step toward the allegedly free and fair elections of a president and a parliament were just as flawed as the “traditional Afghan meetings” that preceded them.

But who cared? Certainly not the self-pampering UN bureaucrats who, in the words of David Rieff, “lack the capacity for self-interrogation,” or, as he could have added, lack any principle other than that of self-interest. And certainly not the governments with thinly disguised, self-serving interests in Afghanistan, all of whom proudly proclaimed that they were involved in the altruistic grand project of “nation-building” for the benefit of the Afghan people – as recent reports reveal, this turned out to be a cruel practical joke at the expense of the hapless Afghan masses, particularly the three and a half million refugees who believed these statements and left the relative miseries of camps in Pakistan, only to find themselves suffering the absolute miseries of life in camps surrounding Karzai’s Kabul. These were the people the UN and others trumpeted proudly as “voting with their feet” in favor of Karzai’s promised land. However, the fact that most of them are now starving and want to leave but are unable to do so remains unmentioned, except in a few press reports.

The reassessment of Karzai began last year when The Economist magazine, in an article in its Sept. 15 issue, wondered how a low-ranking member of one of the minor “Peshawar Seven” resistance parties, formed under Pakistani auspices to lead the fight against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was chosen to lead the country once the Taliban regime was brought down by the might of American air power. The Economist was making an obvious point, for even the Afghan “leaders,” assembled in Peshawar by the late unlamented Zia-ul-Haq, were not known for their probity or intellectual prowess – a CIA station chief who dealt with them described them as “jackasses who couldn’t find their own arses using both hands, and totally corrupt.” Therefore, what hope was there that Karzai, the gofer for one of the minor leaders, all habituated to trading in Afghan lives for personal gain, would have the intellectual and moral ability to lead a country notoriously difficult to tame and rule?

Since The Economist article, there has been a steady and increasing series of critical articles about Karzai in the Western press, cataloguing his bizarre behavior and nonsensical outbursts. Even Ahmed Rashid, an ardent supporter of Karzai and the Northern Alliance, has been forced to admit that he’s baffled by Karzai’s strange pronouncements and actions since he was (s)elected president in 2004, courtesy of Presidents Bush and Musharraf.

In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Kim Barker reports that domestic critics believe Karzai “behaves at times like a weather vane, a leader who tilts toward the last opinion he hears, incapable of making a decision and sticking to it. Some Afghans call him ‘the Actor,’ for his ability to play to different crowds.” Earlier in the article, Barker quotes an analyst with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission as saying, “Hamid Karzai’s future is not hopeful, because he has lost the trust people had. The reason he is still in power is [because] there is no other choice” – or so Karzai and his supporters fervently hope, and his detractors unhappily think.

Even the fledgling independent Afghan press, the only useful byproduct of the Potemkin democracy set up in Kabul at great expense by “Allied Forces,” has also been steadily more scathing about Karzai and his foreign supporters. Payame Mujahid last week ran a piece questioning Karzai’s mental health, and cataloguing his strange hand gestures, inappropriate facial expressions, and sometimes endless repetition of meaningless phrases. Other articles point to the dire state of security in Afghanistan, and the “inappropriate and brutal” behavior of “Allied Forces” toward the Afghan civilian population.

Karzai’s response to such critical articles was to have a list of “recommendations” issued to all publishers and broadcasters, banning criticism of himself, his government, and the “Allied Forces.” This moved Alastair Leithead of the BBC to remark that the “list could have been taken straight from a Soviet handbook of press manipulation.” But the “recommendations” should not have surprised Leithead, since the government, for which Karzai is only a convenient front, is populated in the main by the same gallimaufry of incompetents and cutthroats that even invading Soviet forces were unable to keep in power, and who were subsequently almost expunged from Afghan political scene. But U.S. air power in 2001, and a “neat idea,” enabled them to come back for a reprise of their past performance on the Afghan stage – erstwhile Soviet generals and strategists must be quietly chuckling in Moscow at this ironic turn of events.

And, just as these people were quite content for the Soviet Union to pay in blood and treasure for their continued hold on power under the banner of socialism, they now expect the United States to make similar sacrifices to continue imposing them on the Afghan nation, this time under the convenient banners of capitalism and liberal democracy, so they can continue plundering the coffers of foreign aid and pouring drug-generated funds into their bank accounts in the Gulf Emirates.

Meanwhile, hundreds of mothers in the U.S., and countless thousands of mothers in Afghanistan, will mourn the early passing of souls they brought into this world, and wonder why.

The process whereby Karzai’s domestic position was undermined began with the appointment of “King Zal” Khalilzad as U.S. ambassador to Kabul. For, Khalilzad’s aggressive and crude manipulation of Afghan affairs reinforced the people’s existing perception that Karzai was no more than an American puppet. Moreover, Khalilzad, whose intellect is greatly overrated, added to his own and Karzai’s problems with his inept efforts to intimidate opponents of his political maneuvers by threatening to leave his post in Kabul, saying “if I leave, then American financial and military support leave with me.” Consequently, when it was announced that Khalilzad was to be replaced as the U.S. ambassador, Karzai’s power inevitably began to decline, and people started to position themselves for the day when American bayonets would no longer be there to keep Karzai in power.

The first overt sign of the changed circumstances in Afghanistan became apparent when Cheney visited Kabul to participate in the inauguration of Afghanistan’s “first freely elected parliament.” As Cheney’s motorcade approached the parliament compound, the guards allowed his car to pass but firmly closed the gates in the face of the rest of his entourage. All of Cheney’s staff members, men and women, were forced to disembark, made to face the wall, and enthusiastically body-searched. The situation turned more tense and ugly when the guards insisted on rummaging through the military aide’s brief case, which contained the codes for unleashing a nuclear war. Fortunately, after a brief tussle, the Afghan security detail relented and Cheney’s staff was allowed to enter the bastion of Afghan democracy. Surprisingly, the American media ignored this unprecedented and grossly insulting behavior toward the vice president of the United States.

A further sign that something was seriously amiss in the relationship between Karzai and Washington was provided by Karzai himself during a press conference after his last, ill-fated visit to Pakistan earlier this year. In a rambling and highly emotional outburst, he warned the “United States, Pakistan, and others” that he “would not become a refugee again,” and that he would remain in the country come what may. This astounding pronouncement elicited no comment from official circles in Washington, or the American press, although the clear implication was that Karzai was accusing Washington and Pakistan of plots to remove him from office.

For many years, Sir Hamid Karzai and the Northern Alliance’s unwavering supporters have been the British. However, absent American commitment to, and support for, Britain’s neo-imperial pretensions, the British lion, even fitted with NATO dentures, will be unable to chew and swallow the Pashtun resistance against foreign occupation; Karzai and his erstwhile Northern Alliance supporters know this. Consequently, Karzai’s recent forlorn hope is to win support among Pashtuns – hence his recent statements about the unacceptability of allied bombing campaigns, and the assertion that “the Taliban are sons of this land too.” The Northern Alliance, for their part, have been reorienting themselves again toward Moscow, as the barely veiled anti-American statements of their leader Mullah Rabbani, made during his recent visit to Tajikistan, clearly show.

Roy Jenkins, the Labor Party’s elder statesman and Tony Blair’s erstwhile mentor, was quoted in a Sunday Times article as saying that Tony Blair is “a first-class politician, with a second-rate mind, and moderately corrupt.” Using the same format, Afghan history will judge Hamid Karzai to have been an incompetent foreign puppet of no intellect, and totally corrupt.


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