In a speech last year, President Obama said that the United States is at a crossroads when it comes to fighting terrorism.
The U.S. is no longer fighting what was once called the global war on terrorism. But what exactly to call this effort, and how long will it last?
The cover story in this week’s National Journal provides some insight. It’s titled “Inside America’s Shadow War on Terror—and Why It Will Never End.”
It depicts how U.S. special forces are shaping the new battlefield, starting with a description of two raids by elite military teams, hours apart on the same day last October.
One netted Anas al-Libi, who helped plot the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa. Another targeted the mastermind in the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi.
But it’s not just the military that is fighting terrorism; the FBI has teams of thousands of agents who can deploy within hours to trouble spots around the world.
James Kitfield, a contributing editor at National Journal, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss his piece and the “shadow war.”
Interview Highlights: James Kitfield
On the counter-terrorism model used in the shadow war
“For all of the agencies involved, it’s been a real — it’s a real takeaway of how you operate against this kind of a networked enemy, as I describe in the story of the recent take-down of terrorist suspects from al-Shabaab in Somalia and al-Libi, who was captured in Libya. So there’s this model of operations, it’s very joint, it’s very multi-agency and it’s basically — you’ve seen them break down the boundaries that once separated intelligence communities, special operations forces and law enforcement, to the degree to which those two rays I just talked about, there were FBI agents involved, alongside SEAL Team 6 in Somalia and Delta Force in Libya. So it’s a very effective model of operations.”
On the raid where al-Libi was captured
“This kind of counter-terrorism model very much relies on military authorities and wartime authorities. And I see no possibility of them having, you know, give up those wartime authorities. When al-Libi, who is a member of al-Qaida and already under indictment for the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. When they got a bead on him, they snatched him, they put him on a U.S. warship in international water, so he’s not, you know, under the legal jurisdiction of any country, and the interrogated him at length with these high-value interrogation, which are also, again, multi-agency intelligence, FBI, law enforcement. And then when that interrogation was finished, he was read his Miranda rights by the FBI guy, and at that moment, he’s accorded all the rights of any terrorist suspect in federal jurisdiction. So he was flown, at that point, to New York, where he was soon in front of a federal judge.”
On concerns about this model
“Critics are worried about this continued conflation of military authorities and law enforcement and criminal authorities. You know, the longer that goes on, I think, certainly civil libertarians have many concerns that you’ll just continue to erode civil liberties. The problem is coming up with an alternative, because if you go back to treating these things just as a criminal matter, you can’t go ahead and get these guys in places like Somalia or Yemen or — because they’re out of your reach. You have no jurisdiction to do anything in those countries. We are able to operate in many of those countries approval, generally, but we’re operating, generally, under wartime authorities. That’s why special operations can get involved in that. So it should be noted that, I think, 16 Americans died of terrorism last year, so it’s, you know, each one of those is a tragedy, but it’s — a whole lot more people die of gun violence in this country alone. So you would like to get to new normal, but I can’t see that new normal sort of stopping this conflation of military and law enforcement authorities in this counter-terrorism model I’ve described, because it actually works.”