Canada confronts the openness/safety paradox
October 26th, 2014
12:27 AM ET

Canada confronts the openness/safety paradox

By Scott J. White, Special to CNN

Scott J. White is an associate professor for National Security and director of External Academic Programs at Drexel University's College of Computing and Informatics. The views expressed are his own.

At its core, terrorist violence challenges a state’s commitment and adherence to liberty and democracy, and the threats we face within our borders and beyond test the very underpinnings of our society. Canada faced just such a threat this week.

On October 22, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau is alleged to have engaged in an unspeakable act of wanton violence, reportedly walking up to a soldier guarding a memorial and shooting him, before opening fire inside the country’s parliament.

In 1927, the Right Hon. Raoul Dandurand, a lawyer and Canadian senator, said that Canada and defacto the United States were “a fireproof house, far from the sources of conflagration.” The longtime politician was noting our geographic distance from Europe and that continent’s history of conflict. However, the events of 9/11 demonstrated that the United States was no longer exempt from the direct impact of a spillover of terrorist violence. And this week’s incident was a reminder that neither is Canada. FULL POST

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Topics: Canada • Terrorism
September 24th, 2014
05:30 PM ET

Zakaria: ISIS policy 'remains somewhat troubling'

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about President Obama’s speech on the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria delivered at the United Nations on Wednesday. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Many were surprised that the Obama administration did in fact put together a coalition including five Sunni Arab countries to not only express support, but military support against ISIS. They got involved in striking these ISIS targets in Syria. That certainly is going to put enormous pressure on the rest of the world and friends of the United States to at least voice support for what the U.S. is trying to achieve.

Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing the United States leading a little bit from behind on this one, which is to say having the Sunni Arab states in the front confronting ISIS, rather than having what ISIS would regard as the crusader capitalist Western Christian power do it.

The issue here, though, is that the strikes are fine, and I think the president will find there's broad support in a campaign against ISIS. There's broad support for the kind of talk about world order. But what's the regional strategy and follow up?

These addresses before the U.N. General Assembly are usually pretty good speeches, well written, there's a whole laundry list of international issues they want to get through, make some points, but then a few days later, certainly a few weeks later, very few people remember what they said. Will this speech be remembered down the road?

I think it will because of that very distinctive piece of it, the call on the Muslim world to cleanse itself of extremism. Very unusual. Many presidents have thought about talking in those terms, but have always been deterred – I know this was a conversation that took place within the Bush White House – because [they] always felt it would seem too anti-Muslim.

But I think it's also important to point out that this was a great speech, the kind Obama gives well. It's Obama as professor. It's a public education speech. It's coherent. It arches over lots of subjects, talks about world order. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • ISIS • Syria • Terrorism
Don't let ISIS goad U.S. into premature action
September 6th, 2014
10:41 PM ET

Don't let ISIS goad U.S. into premature action

CNN speaks with Fareed about the decision of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to authorize Iran’s military to cooperate with Iraq and the Kurds and the United States to try to defeat ISIS. This is an edited version of the transcript.

When you hear that the ayatollah is saying this now, how significant is this?

That's the most significant of all of this, that the ayatollah – the supreme leader of Iran – would say it.

It suggests a couple things. One, that they are very worried about ISIS. Two, that their attitudes towards the United States are softening. Perhaps most importantly, Iran is very pragmatic. It's very practical. We always think of them as these kind of mystical revolutionaries because they wear turbans and have big beards. But the funny thing is this foreign policy of the Iranian regime has been very, very pragmatic. Their goal is to defend Iran, its interests, they'll ally with whom they need to. They'll oppose whomever they need to.

In Afghanistan, people forget, right after 9/11 when we toppled the Taliban, Iran cooperated with the United States. Here again, what they're saying is, look, we have the same interests and the same common enemy. We'll work with you guys. In an odd way, we have more trouble than the Iranians do. FULL POST

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Topics: Terrorism
Zakaria: ISIS may be most significant terrorist organization we’ve faced
August 26th, 2014
02:38 AM ET

Zakaria: ISIS may be most significant terrorist organization we’ve faced

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria, traveling in Bodrum, Turkey, about recent developments in Iraq. This is an edited version of the transcript.

What do you make of the growing international alarm over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?

The level of concern about ISIS is very deep, and very different from what I heard only a few months ago. There’s a sense that ISIS has become what al Qaeda always wanted to be. Remember, the world al Qaeda means base. Since 2001, al Qaeda really hasn’t had a base. It's been running around in mountains and caves.

ISIS is developing a very large, deep and sophisticated base. It has a financial base, by some estimates making $1 million a day. It has the ability to sell oil and wheat at a bargain. And of course it has this extraordinary military capacity. That military capacity is morphing in the wake of American air strikes. It’s moving from an open ground strategy, taking towns, to a guerilla strategy, hiding within towns. A kind of Hamas strategy. But all in all, if you look at that this, this is the most significant terrorist organization I think we’ve really ever faced.  FULL POST

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Topics: Terrorism • Turkey
August 20th, 2014
06:52 PM ET

The danger of marginalizing mainstream Islamist groups

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy, and Emma Sky, former chief political adviser to the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, about recent advances by ISIS.

Shadi, I want to pick up on something that you point out in your book that explains, I think, why you have a situation where you have all these brutal dictators on the one hand, and you have groups like ISIS on the other. It’s that the dictators, the leaders of the Arab world, are actually much more threatened by moderate opposition groups than they are by extreme opposition groups. They kind of like the idea that the only alternative to them is al Qaeda, right?

Hamid: Yes. I mean groups like ISIS are perfect for dictators like Bashar al-Assad because he can point to them and say, well, this is what you get when you have an opening of political space. And I think one of the most dangerous developments of the past three years is that you did have mainstream Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Yes, they're deeply illiberal. They're religiously conservative. We as Americans don't share their values. But they do believe in the democratic process. They're not using violence like groups like ISIS. They tried to work through the process in countries like Egypt and, of course, there was a military coup last year. There was a devastating crackdown.

So now, groups like ISIS are saying forget about the Muslim Brotherhood approach, they're gradualists, they're soft. They're saying we can give you the Islamic State not in 20 years or 50 years, we can give it to you right now, through brute force, through violence. And what I'm really worried about now is violence is working in today's Middle East. That is one of the legacies, ironically, of the Arab Spring. FULL POST

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Topics: GPS Show • Terrorism
TSA's cellphone rule part of deadly race
July 29th, 2014
11:36 AM ET

TSA's cellphone rule part of deadly race

By Brian Michael Jenkins, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Brian Michael Jenkins is senior adviser to the RAND president and the author of Al Qaeda in Its Third Decade: Irreversible Decline or Imminent Victory? and the commentary 'Generations of Terrorism.' The views expressed are his own.

As officials in the West sift through the evidence to try to establish how exactly Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was downed in eastern Ukraine, it is easy to forget that only a couple of weeks ago, many analysts were focused on a quite different threat to civilian aircraft.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration grabbed headlines when it announced that uncharged cellphones would not be allowed aboard commercial aircraft as part of increased U.S. scrutiny of cellphones and other electronic devices on certain U.S.-bound flights. The move came in response to intelligence that terrorist groups in Yemen and Syria might be plotting new attempts to sabotage airliners.

The reason for the concern about devices that don't function seems obvious: TSA inspectors hope to make sure cellphones are cellphones and laptops are indeed laptops – and that neither are cleverly disguised bombs. After all, terrorists have a long history of seeking to conceal explosives aboard aircraft, and using electronic devices as camouflage is nothing new. So why the concern now?

FULL POST

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Topics: Terrorism
Don't let ISIS distract from al Qaeda threat
June 20th, 2014
06:00 PM ET

Don't let ISIS distract from al Qaeda threat

By Jane Harman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jane Harman is Director, President, and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. A former U.S. representative from California, she was the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee from 2002 to 2006. The views expressed are her own.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a disaster with momentum – we have every reason to fear that they’ll gain more ground, and little reason to hope that the Iraqi government has what it takes to beat them back. But while we watch Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s demotion to “mayor of Baghdad” with horror, let’s remember who (and what) our enemies are.

It’s a media cliché by now to say that these insurgents were “too violent for al Qaeda.” That might be true, but it’s not because core al Qaeda flinches at the sight of blood. For the short term, ISIS is looking for territory; al Qaeda hasn’t stopped looking for targets.

Yet with all eyes on ISIS’s warpath, we risk being distracted from al Qaeda’s very real efforts to launch the next major terror plot. Remember that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has demonstrated its intent to strike our homeland – and that its dangerously inventive bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, is still at large. Remember that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has made a point of targeting the interests and citizens of our European allies and that it still enjoys safe haven in Mali’s ungoverned north. These are threats that can’t drop off our radar, no matter how savage the destruction in Iraq and Syria.

FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Terrorism
Iraq badlands might be inevitable
June 16th, 2014
04:46 PM ET

Iraq badlands might be inevitable

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the advances made by militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria over the past week, what role the United States can play in assisting Iraq's government, and whether the latest violence was inevitable. This is an edited version of the transcript.

What can the U.S. do?

I think that what the president is trying to do is to force the Iraqis, particularly Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to make some political overtures to the Sunnis. Because I think he recognizes at the heart of this problem what you have is a disaffected population – about 20 percent of Iraq that is fueling and supporting the insurgency.

Remember, the problem is not arms or men. The Iraqi army is about three-quarters of a million men strong. They have been trained in equipment supplied by the United States for ten years. The insurgents are about 2,000 or 3,000 people. So the fact that the insurgents [are] taking this down tells you that the basic problem is not a military one, it’s a political one. The army won't fight. The Sunnis in the area are providing support for the insurgency. FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • Iraq • Syria • Terrorism
Will Pakistan finally tackle the Taliban?
June 13th, 2014
03:44 PM ET

Will Pakistan finally tackle the Taliban?

By Daniel Markey, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Daniel Markey is a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

On Wednesday and Thursday, U.S. drones fired missiles in Pakistan’s tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan for the first known strikes since late December. In the wake of this week’s two terrorist attacks on Karachi’s airport, the drone strikes mean one of two things. Either Pakistan’s leaders have finally decided to launch a long-awaited military offensive in North Waziristan, the home base of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), or U.S. officials have grown so frustrated with Pakistan’s dithering that they decided to take the fight into their own hands.

Let’s hope that Pakistan has finally decided for war. The next six months offer what is likely the best – and quite possibly the last – chance for Washington and Islamabad to work together against a terrorist group that threatens the peace in Pakistan, has extended its operations into Afghanistan, and would undoubtedly attack the United States if ever given the chance.

Any further delay would be costly. As President Barack Obama announced last month, all but 9,800 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by year’s end. That drawdown in military power will also mean reduced CIA operations along the Pakistani border, including the sort of surveillance and drone strikes that would give any Pakistan military operation a greater lethal punch.

FULL POST

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Topics: Pakistan • Terrorism
Iraq is on a precipice
June 12th, 2014
09:12 AM ET

Iraq is on a precipice

By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes. The views expressed are his own.

Iraq is on a precipice from which it may never recover. The fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to forces ostensibly from the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), may simply be the tip of the iceberg. What has happened in Iraq increasingly appears not simply to be a binary struggle between government and insurgent, but rather a more complicated problem that may be impossible to fully unravel.

I drove from Tikrit through Beiji to Mosul earlier this year, and into Syria along the same roads ISIS and other insurgents now use. Even then, government control over Mosul was tenuous. Iraqi soldiers at checkpoints on the outskirts of town urged me and my driver to reconsider my trip because Mosul was not safe; they relented only because a local vouched for me. After all, while Tikrit was home to former President Saddam Hussein and his immediate entourage, Mosul was the hometown of much of Saddam Hussein’s officer corps. It still is. As I continued on to the Syrian border, a special security agent at a checkpoint separated me from my taxi driver and another man accompanying us to ensure that I was there of my own free will. A senior security official in Baghdad subsequently told me that was standard protocol. It also reflects, however, the lawlessness of that area.

While Americans focus on the shock of al Qaeda flags over Mosul, Iraqis describe a more complicated scene. One Iraqi reported that insurgents in Mosul told his brother that they were not al Qaeda, but rather veterans of Saddam’s army. Rumors are rife throughout Mosul and Tikrit that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s vice president and the most senior official of the previous regime who evaded American capture, has returned from Syria and is leading renewed insurgency.

FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Terrorism • Turkey
How to respond to the ISIS threat
June 12th, 2014
12:39 AM ET

How to respond to the ISIS threat

Just a day after overunning Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, militants from the al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gained nearly complete control of the northern city of Tikrit. How should the Iraqi government and United States respond? And what are their chances for success? Leading analysts offer their take on what to look for. The views expressed are their own.

U.S. should deal with Iraq and Syria together

By Brian Katulis, Special to CNN

The astonishing advances of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) across parts of northern and central Iraq has reignited a debate about what the Obama administration should do in Iraq and Syria. For now, the centerpiece of the struggle is sharply focused on how Iraq’s government responds and how countries in the region react.

The first key question is how Iraq’s government, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, responds to this assault. Al-Maliki, a leader from a Shia party who has led Iraq for the past eight years, has been accused by his opponents of becoming increasingly authoritarian and not inclusive when it comes to reaching out to people in the Sunni minority community.  Some have gone so far to say that his neglect of the Sunnis created the opening for extremist groups like ISIS to achieve the rapid gains over the past few days.

If al-Maliki can put together a cohesive response that cuts across the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide and the Arab-Kurd split, this would go a long way toward building a more stable political foundation to address Iraq’s dangerous security problems.  These events come just as Iraqi leaders are negotiating a new governing coalition after national elections on April 30.

FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Syria • Terrorism
June 9th, 2014
12:28 PM ET

How the market can undermine terrorism

By Jay Cohen and Barry Blechman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jay Cohen (RADM, USN, Ret.) is a principal at Chertoff Group. Barry Blechman is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center. They are chair and vice chair, respectively, of Stimson’s Partners in Prevention Task Force, which released its final recommendations on May 29. The views expressed are their own.

On October 29, 2010, airplanes carrying two unremarkable packages left Yemen. Were it not for an eleventh-hour intelligence tip, the bomb inside each parcel, disguised by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as a printer cartridge, likely would have continued to evade standard security checks and detonated over the eastern United States.

Despite its frantic search for a quick fix to prevent similar incidents in the future, the U.S. government surprised many by foregoing immediate regulatory action. Instead, it collaborated with the major express air delivery companies to enhance sharing of security information without hampering legitimate trade.

The result of those discussions – the Air Cargo Advance Screening regime – highlights one of the many ways government and industry can work together to create a successful solution to the challenge of maintaining security in a global economy. At once, globalization has opened opportunities for billions of people, but it has also empowered criminals and terrorists on a worldwide scale. Unfortunately, nearly four years after the cargo plane plot, many critical security gaps that take root in modern global trade remain.

FULL POST

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Topics: Economy • Terrorism
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