Terrorism is a global phenomenon that has affected many countries over the past years. Terrorism dates back to the first century where in order to attain certain political ambitions, a Jewish group would maim and kill its enemies with the aim of ousting the Roman rulers from Judea. Up to date, the majority of terrorist attacks and the willingness to use extreme violence hinges on certain political grievances.
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Terrorist attacks in most cases come as a surprise attack and both the developed and developing countries have been targets of such attacks. The most recent surprise terrorist attack happened on Saturday 21 September 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya, where terrorists held hostages in a shopping mall before killing and maiming them. The siege lasted for three days. This attack shows that terrorism has metamorphosed to target both developing and developed countries.
Technological innovation is one of the main contributors to the advancement of terrorism in this modern era as there is overwhelming information available over the Internet, which allows terrorist to modify their tactics, obtain information on their potential targets, and improve on their weaknesses. In addition, the Internet facilitates easy and effective communication amongst terrorists when they are planning on their targets and the kind of weaponry they are going to use for their heinous acts against humanity.
The fact that the United States is a superpower and it has the most advanced military around the world does not mean that it has not been affected by acts of terrorism. Being a superpower the United States in the past has waged war on terrorism with an aim of making the world a better place where people can enjoy peace.
Unfortunately, this decision has come at a cost, as the country is now a target for terrorists especially from extremist Islamic Jihadists who believe that the western civilization is leading to the decadence on traditional Eastern societies. The American involvement in the Middle East politics has angered radical groups like the al-Qaeda, which was supported by the Taliban government (Wright, 2006).
This government operated under the leadership of a Sunni extremist Islamic group in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 before the invasion by US. In the year 2001, the al-Qaida terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden carried out one of the most deadly terrorist attacks in contemporary times, which is commonly known the 9/11 in the United States. This paper analyzes why the US intelligence failed to stop the 9/11 attack.
Al-Qaeda and the chronology of events leading to the 9/11 attack on United States
According to Wright (2006), al-Qaeda is a terrorism group that was founded by Osama bin Laden in the 1980s in a place called Peshawar in Pakistan. The leader was the son of a billionaire Saudi Arabian and he formed the group to fight any country that he perceived as a threat to Islam across the world. The first aim of the group was to aid Muslims in the fight against the Soviet Union, which had invaded Afghanistan in 1979 by facilitating the transportation, financing, and recruitment of thousands of Muslims around the globe.
Osama felt that he had a role to play in the ending of the advancement of soviet communism that would corrupt Islamic lands. Even the United States government under President Ronald Reagan, Saudi Arabia, and Egyptian regimes supported the involvement of Muslims in the fight against the Soviets. However after the defeat of the soviets in 1989, the involved Islamic groups were not dissolved; instead, they reorganized and started fighting what they believed to be corrupt Islamic governments and foreign invasion on their land.
According to Wright (2006), the decision by the aforementioned three governments to let Muslims participate in the Soviet war is one of the contributive factors to the formation and convergence of a powerful al-Qaeda as an extremist Islamic group. For instance, due to this war, different organizations met, which even led to one of the organizations under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri who was an expert and intelligent militia from Egypt to merge with the al-Qaeda organization led by Osama (Wright, 2006).
Osama’s abhorrence towards the US grew as his zeal to overthrow non-Islamic governments and establish genuine Islamic governments was fuelled by the influence of the United States and other European governments.
In a bid to handle this situation, the terror organization led by its leader came up with plans on how they would relish terror on any nation that was opposing their plans. According to Wright (2006), the September 9/11 attack in the US, which made Osama a global figure as a terrorist, was the climax of the list of events that had occurred in the previous years.
After the end of war against the Soviets, the terror group established training grounds in Afghanistan with a redefined aim of waging war on the United States for its invasion and continued presence in the Middle East. Osama’s move to Sudan in 1991 up to 1996 also aimed at establishing more training and recruitment of insurgents as well as linking with other terror organizations, thus making the al-Qaeda an international group.
During this period, the al-Qaeda group animosity towards the Americans was manifested by the attacks in two hotels in Aden, Yemen, targeting American troops on their way to Somali for a peacekeeping mission.
This attack shows that the group was completely in opposition of the involvement of the US government in Islamic nations’ affairs worldwide even in developing and war torn countries like Somali. The difference in opinion in solving humanitarian crisis between the American government and the al-Qaeda group led to the eventual withdrawal of the US troops from Somali in 1994.
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The al-Qaeda was sponsoring the Somali Islamic militia group, which was fighting the US troops and this aspect led to the onslaught of 18 US soldiers after their helicopter was shot down. Osama’s hatred towards the Americans was also exhibited by the terror attack on the US military attack on Saudi Arabia and the 1998 bombing of two US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In the same year, the al-Qaeda leaders ordered Muslims around the world to kill Americans and all those associated with them, as they believed that they were send by the devil to destroy the Muslim community. All these terrorist attacks mainly aimed at putting an end to the American’s invasion to Islamic nations and it seemed like all the American citizens located anywhere across the world were vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
In addition, some Islamic nations like Egypt, which were seen by the al-Qaeda as allies of the American government, were not spared as justified by the suicide bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan in 1995. Zawahiri believed that the Egyptian government had become non-Islamic by supporting the Americans and the bombings would serve as a warning for the government to change its wayward governance style.
The political ambition of Zawahiri made him believe that all the Egyptians working in the embassy were government workers and they deserved to die without even considering that other innocent Muslims would be vulnerable to the attack. He also intensified his campaign by maiming and killing 62 tourists most of them from Switzerland, who had visited the country.
This move shows that the al-Qaeda had waged war against not only on the United States, but also on all non-Islamic nations around the globe as they were thought to contribute to the moral degeneration of the Islamic community and some of the Muslims were being converted to Christianity, thus abandoning their old religion. Hence, the group wanted to establish an Islamist state governed by the by sharia law and without the influence of modern ideologies and politics.
However, the US being the sole superpower, was not deterred by these terrorist attacks on its citizen as it was determined to root out the problem of terrorism from the society. The US relentless effort to fight terrorism led to the attack on al-Qaeda insurgents in Afghanistan and Sudan with the aim of neutralizing the terror threat by killing and destroying their training areas.
Apparently, this move perhaps gave the wrong message to the terrorists that perhaps the United States was not getting their message of non-indulgence on Muslim affairs and Islamic nations. Therefore, they planned to have one catastrophic attack that would drive the message home to the Americans and other nations across the world. Ultimately, the group achieved this goal through the coordinated terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011.
The 9/11 attacks and how United States failed to stop them
Despite having the most advanced technology to gather intelligence on any terrorist threat to the country, the United States goes down in history as one of the countries that were worst hit by terrorist attacks after the 9/11 fateful attacks, which led to the death of approximately 3000 innocent lives. The insurgents had planned the terrorist operation very well as they hijacked four commuter planes, which were then flown directly to the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and one of the commuter jets crashed in a field at Pennsylvania.
The al-Qaeda managed to make a mockery of the elite intelligence units in the US, as some of the insurgents had stayed in the country for about a year. The terrorists even took flight lessons in America’s known flight schools to perfect their fighting skills without being detected by the intelligent units. The other suicide terrorist managed to slip in the country some few months before the actual date of the planned attacks.
One of the intelligence units that failed in averting the 9/11 catastrophe was the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which failed to communicate and share crucial information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The FBI was established in 1908 and it can be labeled as the broadest of all federal agencies in the United States, where it is tasked with gathering information to help in coming with solutions to prevent any terror threats to the country. The majority of the agents who have been privileged to work for this organization are very intelligent.
One such person was the then senior FBI agent John O’Neill. O’Neill had a master’s degree in forensics, which implies that he was highly informed in his duties, as he was informative, very skillful, and had admirable expertise in gathering classified information that would help in combating any terrorism threat to the country. Being a senior agent at the FBI, John was tasked with the responsibility of leading other agents in the investigations of the East African bombing on the US embassies as well as the USS Cole attack in Yemen.
As the al-Qaeda terror group carried out these attacks, it gave O’Neill the opportunity to gather highly classified information concerning the leader of the group and the imminent threat that he posed to the United States. O’Neill was among the first people to know about the existence of Osama and gather intelligence that was linked to the 9/11 attack.
O’Neill’s brilliance and determination to secure the United States from any terrorist attacks led him to capture one of the plotters of the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 known as Ramzi Ahmed Youssef. This terrorist was apparently brilliant as he had evaded arrest since 1993, and thus only an intelligent man like O’Neill was in a position to arrest him.
The arrest of this terror suspect was very important in the investigation of al-Qaeda as it introduced O’Neill to a new complicated and sophisticated world of terrorism that was mainly targeting Americans. In addition, the arrest helped in averting thousands of deaths and destruction of property as the suspect was already planning to bomb a couple of jets. After the Ramzi’s arrest, O’Neill became obsessed with the case, and thus he looked for any kind of information that he could get with the aim of tracking Osama and the al-Qaeda group.
Thorough investigations carried out by O’Neill and other members of the Counter Terrorism Security Group proved beyond reasonable doubts that al-Qaeda was planning to attack the United States. O’Neill established that Osama had cycles of his attacks over the years, thus unearthing intelligence that nobody in the bureau could ever come up with, as he gathered intelligence not only from the US intelligent community, but also from other areas such as Britain and Egypt.
Unfortunately, the gathered information was not useful due to lack of cooperation between the intelligence communities. Some of the senior members did not even consider the international terror group as a threat to the Americans despite the fact that in the past few years they had waged war on Americans due to failure to remove US troops from some Islamic nations. Therefore, the 9/11 attacks came as a surprise as other intelligence bodies had not seen the gravity of the situation from O’Neill‘s perspective.
Wright’s chronicles show that there was lack of coordination amongst the intelligence communities. For instance, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had information on a meeting by al-Qaeda members that had taken place in Malaysia in 2000 (Wright, 2006). This meeting was mainly to plan the 9/11 attacks, but unfortunately the CIA heads kept all the details to themselves and saw no need to inform the FBI.
The FBI did not even know that the two Qaeda members, who entered the US after the meeting would later be involved in the deadly terror attack the following year despite the fact that CIA had photographs of some of the terrorists. The CIA’s failure to give crucial information to FBI agents who had been trailing the activities of the al-Qaeda gives the impression that they were involved in a competition to determine which of the two agencies was effective in gathering intelligence and countering terrorist activities.
This aspect thwarted the ambitions that the FBI had in averting terrorism activities by al-Qaeda as they had solved a similar issue in the past by arresting Ramzi who had planned to kill many innocent Americans. The result of this error was the catastrophic 9/11 terror attack that left many productive Americans dead or injured.
How the US intelligence should avoid terrorist attack in future
In the recent years, the al-Qaeda threats have reduced courtesy of the United States’ campaign against terrorism. However, aspect this does not mean that the extremist Islamic group does not pose a threat to the country, and thus a recurrence of the 9/11 attacks in the future can still happen, if proper measures are not put in place.
The country’s role in making the world a better place still makes it a target for terrorist groups that are politically or religiously motivated and hence new measures should be put in place to thwart such attacks. However, this goal is only achievable if there is no existing gap amongst the established intelligence agencies. Issues of members of being accused of hiding crucial information like the case of CIA should not recur in the future.
The agencies should be in a position to hold meetings, discuss security issues, and share whatever information they have as they were established to counter terrorism and any other threat to the country and not to compete with one another. This move will not only aid in saving innocent people from imminent danger, but also it will be critical in protecting property that is essential in the development of the country.
Being a superpower, the United States should serve as a leading example to other countries in its effort to counter any terrorist attacks against its citizens by using all avenues to collect intelligence on any terror plot. The US intelligence groups, viz. the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI should work closely and share information in time in a bid to be a step ahead of the terror groups as such a move will avoid situations where the terrorists can execute their plans in the country.
Terrorism mainly carried out by al-Qaeda has caused many deaths around the globe and it can be said to be one of the most serious threat in the 21 century. The fight against terrorism is not easy, but it can be controlled if there is intelligence, which stands out as the first line of defense against terrorism. The history of al-Qaeda runs deep into the past when radical Islamists regrouped after the Soviet War to defend Islam nations from western interference.
Wright’s book, The Looming Tower, shows that the United State’s intelligence agencies had information on the 9/11 attacks but they failed to counter the same due to a cold rivalry between FBI and CIA. Therefore, inter-agency sharing of intelligence in the future will help to uncover any hidden agenda by terrorist organizations across the world and thwart attacks, thus saving lives and property from the heinous acts of terrorists.
Wright, L. (2006). The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.