Recent News from ACT! for America

France has taken up the challenge of defeating Al-Qaeda’s new stronghold in northern Mali, its largest since the fall of Afghanistan in 2001. Paris has taken on a well-armed and well-funded group, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which poses a serious threat to Africa and the West. The United States has a backseat role in this fight, but a big stake in the outcome. AQIM has already demonstrated it can strike back by taking hostages at an oil installation in Algeria; it may be capable of attacks in Europe as well. AQIM was long among Al-Qaeda’s weaker franchises. Emerging from an Algerian terrorist group in 2006, it had some early success blowing up the United Nations headquarters in Algiers, but for most of its existence has been confined to kidnapping Westerners traveling the remote deserts of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger as well as other criminal enterprises. It amassed a sizable war chest, more than $200 million according to Algerian sources, from the ransoms paid. Then it accumulated huge amounts of weapons from Libya after Moammar Gadhafi’s downfall.

Last spring after a military coup in Mali, AQIM found a partner in a local jihadist group in Mali, Ansar al-Dine, and together they swept out government forces from the north of Mali, before turning on a Tuareg independence movement, the predominant ethnic group in the north and initially a partner. AQIM and Ansar al-Dine gained control of a vast Saharan stronghold the size of Texas.

Together, they began destroying the Islamic heritage of the fabled city of Timbuktu, much as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban destroyed Afghanistan’s historical treasures in Bamiyan Valley in the years before the 9/11 attacks. Jihadists from across Africa and as far as Pakistan are flocking to Mali for training, money and weapons.

Ansar al-Dine is led by a former Tuareg rebel, named Iyad ag Ghaly, who was a diplomat for Mali in Saudi Arabia, 2008 to 2010. The Saudis expelled him for contacts with extremists in the kingdom. His goals are probably mostly local, but he established extensive contacts with the AQIM leadership, helping negotiate release of foreigners kidnapped by Al-Qaeda for years.

The combustible mix of AQIM, Ansar al-Dine and Tuareg rebels is complex. AQIM itself has split into factions with different leaders but the same general agenda. All are well armed, thanks to looting of the Libyan arms depots; indeed AQIM has acquired so many weapons from Libyan caches that it’s the best armed Al-Qaeda franchise in the world today.

Almost all of Mali’s neighbors, except initially Algeria, are horrified at what’s taking place in the north. The Moroccan foreign minister told me recently that the jihadist emirate is the greatest threat to regional stability in north and west Africa in more than over a decade. Today, AQIM is the fastest growing Al-Qaeda franchise in the world. Based on previous experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere once Al-Qaeda establishes a presence in a failing state it becomes difficult to root it out entirely.

So Paris, Mali’s former colonial ruler, stepped into the breach. This month it stopped an advance by the jihadists on the capital in Bamako. Now it is attacking their bases in the north. The French know more about Mali than other major powers do. The French should – it’s their creation, an artificial state known as French Sudan with borders created by Paris in 1880. France’s intelligence services have better insights into Tuareg and jihadist militants than do those of the United States and the United Kingdom. France also has baggage from the colonial era, with many Africans and Arabs resenting French interference.

Algeria, Mali’s big neighbor to the north with the largest army in Africa, 150,000 strong, a defense budget of more than $10 billion annually, and extensive spy networks across the Sahara, is especially nervous about French actions. Algiers opposed NATO’s role in Libya, blaming it for starting the Mali mess. But the Algerians did allow French fighter jets to overfly Algerian territory to bomb AQIM targets in Mali. In response, an AQIM affiliated force attacked a natural gas installation in Algeria, near the border with Libya, 1,000 kilometers away from Mali. The resulting carnage killed dozens of terrorists and hostages. It was also AQIM’s first attack on an energy facility in Algeria.

Ironically, the attack probably will push Algiers off the fence about the war. The generals who run Algeria, called collectively “le pouvoir” in Algeria, or “the power,” were reluctant to push AQIM out of Mali, fearing the group would only move north to Algeria. Now they have no choice. Since Algeria is Africa’s largest country, with a GDP of $260 billion and a ruthless intelligence service, it can do more to fight AQIM than any other African country.

The head of Algerian intelligence, Mohammad Mediene, has a long track record of eradicating terrorist groups using extreme methods. KGB-trained, rarely photographed, he has run Algerian intelligence since 1990 and is known for his professionalism and determination.

Washington can help with diplomacy in the U.N. and elsewhere. Then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in with a visit to Algiers last year and Ambassador Susan Rice has secured U.N. blessing for fighting AQIM. The French will require munitions and logistic help in addition to the U.S. drones and other surveillance assets already in use.

We can expect Al-Qaeda to strike back even more desperately. The worst case would be a mass-casualty attack in France itself. French intelligence is monitoring the more than 5 million Algerian émigrés in the country. Al-Qaeda Amir Ayman Zawahiri has called for a 9/11 in Paris since 2006. AQIM sleeper cells, if any are in France, could be activated. France may also see more lone-wolf attacks like those carried out by an citizen of Algerian origin in Toulouse last year.

The Al-Qaeda stronghold in Mali is only one of the group’s new safe havens developed in the last year since the wave of Arab revolutions sweeping across the region. The so-called Arab Spring removed some of the old police states that ran the Arab world, but also removed many of the counterterrorist professionals like Mediene, creating failed states and lawless areas where local Al-Qaeda franchises could take root and operate.

This is Al-Qaeda 3.0, the third generation in effect, a more decentralized movement that’s learned from many of the mistakes of the earlier generations of Al-Qaeda operatives. They’re more local in orientation and more willing to collaborate with other Sunni Muslim groups and operate without the Al-Qaeda brand name. The Nusra Front in Syria, for example, is a group that avoids the title to escape outside attack.

The franchises still pledge their loyalty to Osama bin Laden’s successor, Zawahiri, who’s hiding in Pakistan. Zawahiri remains the unchallenged leader of Al-Qaeda across the Muslim world, and his periodic public messages provide broad spiritual and strategic guidance to the movement.

Al-Qaeda safe havens in Mali, Libya, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, Iraq and Syria pose separate challenges and must be dealt with on their own merits. In each case the terrorists thrive because the local government is weak and lacks legitimacy. The French, Americans and others can help provide intelligence and weapons, but there’s little we can do to ensure good governance and political legitimacy. Hence, we’re in for a long fight.

February 7, 2013

New reports are released every single day in Washington, but one that could prove to be of life or death importance was unveiled this week by The Henry Jackson Society, a bipartisan think tank headquartered in London. Al-Qaeda in the United States: A Complete Analysis of Terrorism Offenses holds up a mirror to America and provides us with a clear but terrifying image.

The report itself is more than 700 pages, and is a painstaking and meticulous review of all 171 al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda inspired terrorists who were either killed during their attacks or convicted in court here in the United States. Authored by Research Fellow Robin Simcox, the value of the data as a means of protecting Americans is underscored by the fact that the foreword was penned by General Michael Hayden, who previously led both the CIA and the NSA.

The excellent report challenges the post September11 conventional wisdom of who we thought al-Qaeda terrorists were—and are. It reveals that the bulk of the terrorists here are not highly trained foreign nationals infiltrating our borders to attack us, but our neighbors next door.

More than half of the terrorists were American citizens. A shocking 82% of the terrorists killed or convicted were U.S. residents. Ninety-five percent were men and they lived in states from coast to coast and all across the heartland. The highest numbers came from New York, Florida, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota and California.

Another remarkable data point is that 52% of the attackers were college educated and nearly 60% were either pursing their education or employed at the time of their arrest. These facts punch gaping holes in the false and self-defeating assertion that those who hate America are driven to do so because they are ignorant or downtrodden. As Robin Simcox explained when I interviewed him recently, these people were not failed by our society; they were a part of it.

An inordinate number of the al-Qaeda terrorists were not born into radical Islam, but decided to embrace it later in life with the fervor of converts. Religious converts have made up 24% of all the terrorists and 95% of those converts were American citizens such as John Walker Lindh who pleaded guilty to assisting the Taliban.

One of the most striking things about this thorough study is how rigorously it steers clear of making policy recommendations. It provides the facts, and it is now up to those charged with developing our counter-terrorism and homeland security strategies to decide how best to use this information.

After all, safeguarding our citizens is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. It’s not a left-wing or right-wing issue. It needs to be an American priority.



The Muslims of America based in Hancock, Delaware County, is suing Martin Mawyer and his Christian Action Network for $3 million in federal court in Syracuse, seeking to halt the continued publication of his book, ‘Twilight in America’ – the Untold Story of Islamic Training Camps in America.” (h/t Andrea K) The book takes aim at Muslims of America with false claims that have put the group’s members in fear of violent attacks from Mawyer’s followers, the lawsuit said. The co-author of the book, Patti Pierucci, is also named as a defendant.

The Christian Action Network isn’t the only organization that has been critical of Muslims of America. The 

Anti-Defamation League has called the group “a virulently anti-Semitic, Islamic extremist group with ties to Jamaat Al-Fuqra, a terrorist organization that has carried out firebombings and murders in the United States.”

Muslims of America owns 60 acres in Hancock that the group bought “for the purpose of providing safe houses for American Muslims to raise families while establishing a peaceful community free from harmful elements such as those occurring in the inner cities in the 1980s,” the lawsuit said.

February 25, 2013
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U.S. embassies and diplomatic outposts have skipped or exempted themselves from security requirements without the knowledge of the State Department in Washington, creating an ad hoc system so riddled with exceptions that the agency’s internal watchdog is raising new safety alarms just months after the deadly attack on the Benghazi consulate.

The State Department's security office "does not have formal monitoring procedures to determine whether posts are requesting exceptions and waivers for all conditions that do not meet security standards and complying with stipulations in exception and waiver approvals," the agency's inspector general concludes in a new report.

Investigators found the department’s security record keeping was so lax that it still had active waivers on file for facilities it no longer operated, and that Washington was unaware that several locations failed to comply with required security standards.

On 15 occasions, regional security officers "were unable to locate an exception or waiver approval or denial that was on file" with the Office of Security, meaning an outpost was skipping security procedures that the State Department would not have known about, the IG reported.

And other times, investigators found, diplomatic outposts were using buildings overseas that had not been secured or cleared by the State Department's Directorate of Security.

"The most common example was the use of warehouse space for offices. Office space must meet greater physical security standards than warehouse space,"  Deputy Inspector General Harold W. Geisel wrote in a review completed Jan. 7, four months after the Benghazi tragedy.

altSince al-Qaida-linked terrorists attacked the Benghazi outpost last Sept. 11, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, U.S. officials have promised they have tightened security at their facilities worldwide and removed some top officials in Washington blamed for lax security that preceded the attack.

But Geisel’s report, which examined only 27 of the State Department’s locations worldwide, raises concerns that the department is not even aware that many of its outposts were skipping required security procedure, either because there was no record of the exception or because requests from regional security officers were never reviewed in Washington.

The Directorate of Security had more than 1,000 exceptions and waivers on file dating back to 1987 that had not been reviewed to determine if they were current, the review found. "Inspectors found waivers for facilities that are no longer leased by the U.S. government or no longer exist," the reported noted for emphasis.

In other instances, "posts had either failed to submit requests for exceptions or waivers, or the requests did not accurately describe conditions of noncompliance," investigators reported.

altHouse Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., who is leading the congressional investigation into the Benghazi attack and the State Department’s security practices, told the Washington Guardian that the failures identified in the newest IG report were simply unacceptable.

"The failure to maintain adequate records is a troubling development for an institution plagued by bureaucratic breakdowns," he said.  "The State Department must do a better job at monitoring the security of our diplomats abroad."

Royce said his committee "will continue its oversight of embassy security and explore options for reform within the department."

State Department Spokesman Peter Velasco told the Washington Guardian the agency is taking the report seriously and that officials are implementing all recommendations made by the inspector general.

“Protecting our personnel and missions is the State Department’s highest priority," Velasco said. "The Bureau of Diplomatic Security has already taken steps to implement the recommendations of the report."

The IG recommended that overseas posts "submit an annual written certification that exceptions and waivers have been requested for all circumstances" where standard security procedures have not be met. The embassy must also provide a statement to the State Department's security agency "signed by the chief of mission"  confirming that the post is adhering to security protocols.

Beyond the recommendations, the State Department is in the process of developing a comprehensive database to keep track of waivers and exceptions worldwide and "this database will be available to all Regional Security Offices so that all files can be accessed and tracked through a central library," Velasco added.

He noted that the IG report, known as the "Department's Exceptions and Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 Waivers" is part of a "normal and periodic inspection process."

A U.S. security official, who has advised both military and civilian installations on security overseas, told the Washington Guardian that "the IG report shows an example of the lackadaisical attitude by embassy officials and security personnel when you take things for granted."

The use of warehouses for office space violates security protocols "because there different levels of security required for equipment than people," the security official said. "When you have people in warehouses they are not being protected by the security measures required. Warehouses are for equipment, not people or classified files that can be exposed to our enemies," the security official said.

When proper security procedures are ignored "this can lead to tragic incidents like requests for more security in Benghazi, which were downplayed at the time," he said.

After the Benghazi attack, recommendations from lawmakers and recent IG investigation the State Department  is "undertaking a comprehensive review of security at our posts worldwide and the Department is working to implement security improvements quickly and completely, with special attention to our highest threat posts,” Velasco said.

February 25, 2013


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