Guest Commentary by Buck Revell, former FBI Agent
Former FBI agent Buck Revell goes back in history to trace the ways terrorist operations have changed in the recent past.
I wish that I could tell you that the attacks on September 11 could not have been anticipated or that we are unlikely to face such devastation again. I cannot, for it is very clear that we have been the targets of a sustained terrorist campaign since the fall of the Shah of Iran and the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini.
In Iran the extremists found that they could take and hold Americans hostage without any serious repercussions. Consequentially, Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon bombed our embassy in Beirut twice and in Kuwait once. They killed over 200 Marines in a suicide truck bombing. Yet, the U.S. seemed impotent to respond.
This example was not lost on the founders of Al Qaeda, primarily members of the Afghan mujahedin from Arab countries. Moreover, Osama bin Laden and his associates knew firsthand that guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics could defeat a superpower; namely, the Soviet Union.
Since the attacks on the American Special Forces in Somalia in 1993, bin Laden and his associates have carried out a steady and increasingly deadly campaign against America and Americans, which includes the first World Trade Center bombing in February of 1993, the 1993 car bombing of U.S. military mission in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the 1996 truck bombing of the U.S. Air Force housing area in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 truck bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the successful suicide boat attack against the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in October 2000.
By September 11 we certainly should have known that we were the principal targets of a terrorist campaign unlike any that we had ever faced; and, yet, we totally failed to recognize the impending disaster that stalked our nation.
In a book I had actually published three years before September 11, I believe I wrote words that still ring true today:
"Terrorism remains a constant and viable threat to American interests on a global basis even though the sources of the threat may be evolving into heretofore unknown and undetected elements and organizations. The threat is changing and increasing due to the following factors:
"First, the philosophy, motivation, objectives, and modus operandi of terrorist groups, both domestic and international, have changed.
"Second, the new terrorist groups are not concerned with, and in many instances, are trying to inflict mass casualties."
"Three, terrorist groups have now ready access to massive databases concerning the entire United States' infrastructure, including key personnel, facilities, and networks."
"Fourth, aided by state sponsors or international organized crime groups, terrorists can obtain weapons of mass destruction.
"The Internet now allows even a small or regional terrorist group to have a worldwide command, control, communication, and intelligence, system and a propaganda dissemination capability on a global basis.
"Sixth, antigovernment reactionary extremists have proliferated and now pose a significant threat to the federal government and to law enforcement at all levels."
At this point, I want to tell you that if it had not been for the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, when Oklahoma City occurred, the federal government would have been totally clueless about the rise of right-wing extremist element in our society.
"Seventh," the last point, "Islamic extremism has spread to the point where it now has a global infrastructure, including a substantial network in the United States.
"As the terrorist threat escalates, we as a society have not as yet even determined how we're going to utilize and authorize our counterterrorist forces to prevent acts of terrorism.
"As a person who has dealt with enforcing the law for over 35 years, that concerns me greatly. The British, the French, the Germans all use extralegal means to combat terrorism. We do not and should not and don't have to, but we have to reach a reasonable balance to allow those elements of our society charged with preventing terrorism an opportunity to carry out their duties and do their jobs.
"Right now the balance is not there." And I would say that even in 2002, I'm not sure the balance is there yet.
"We can find a reasonable balance under the Constitution. I have no question that we can do that, but we need the political will and public attention for more than 24 hours. In our society that's very difficult to achieve, but this is a battle that we must win to protect our nation from the scourge of terrorism."
Today our nation is being tested, and its adherence to the rule of law and the constitutional rights of citizens and visitors are at risk. They must not be sacrificed, but at the same time we need to find a proper balance that allows those agencies we have charged with responsibility of protecting our society to do so in a reasonable fashion. We need the right balance to protect both the security of our nation and the rights that make us a free society, and I think certainly ADL can be part of finding that solution.
Buck Revell was an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigations for 30 years, retiring in 1994 as an associate deputy director. He served in many different capacities, including as part of a joint FBI-CIA operation which led to the first apprehension overseas of an international terrorist. Mr. Revell was awarded the Albert J. Wood Public Affairs award by the Middle East Forum for his efforts to fight against international terrorism.
Mr. Revell is also the founder and president of the Revell Group International, Inc., a global business and security consulting firm, and president of the Law Enforcement Television Network, a nationwide information, education news, and training satellite system for law enforcement.