Hitz: World must act together to fight terrorism

Hitz, lecturer in public and international affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School, spoke recently with a staff member of the University Communications Office about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Hitz was the first presidentially appointed inspector general of the Central Intelligence Agency, serving in that position from 1990-98. His government experience includes serving as a congressional relations officer in the Department of State, deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, a senior staff member of the energy policy and planning staff in the Executive Office of the President and director of congressional affairs at the Department of Energy.

President Bush said we are at war. How will we know when we've won?

The point the president is trying to make is that this is a long-term effort. He has chosen to call it war. The American people have to get used to the notion that it is going to take a long time, and we're not going to be aware of major battles won or any light at the end of the tunnel that says this struggle is over. The best result that we can hope for -- after successfully bringing in the perpetrators of the acts of Sept. 11 -- is that future incidents of terrorism just do not occur. That's victory in this war.

I judge from the statements of the secretary of defense and others that they recognize that this war against terrorism does not have a role for the 82nd Airborne as such. This is more a law enforcement/special forces type of operation than classical warfare. Carpet-bombing of Afghanistan is not what this is about.

Even if we dismantle Osama bin Laden's group, what is to stop similarly determined operations from taking its place? Going back to the suicide bombers of World War II, fanatic leaders seem to have been grimly successful in recruiting people to sacrifice themselves for a cause.

That is why I believe that part of what's got to be done is there has to be a major relief effort internationally to deal with the people who have lost faith, who have lost hope, the people in the environment in which these terrorists are making their appeal. We can't consider ourselves to be fully dealing with this problem unless we are dealing with the poverty and the hopelessness that surrounds people who are bent on this destructive path and are looking for new recruits. And even though some of the terrorists from Sept. 11 seemed to have better prospects in life, I think that lack of opportunity is still a fundamental fuel for terrorism.

Quite frankly, I would like to see representatives of the mainstream of Islam stand up and denounce what the Taliban and what Osama bin Laden stand for. The religion of Islam, as I understand it, does not sanction crimes of this nature. It does not stand for terrorist attacks. It seems to me that those who represent the mainstream of Islam have an obligation to make that point.

But it's like living under the thumb of a mafia don: Ordinary people in the neighborhood are constrained by fear to speak out. The United States has to make it clear, as it has, that this is no time for fence sitting. Bystanders and witnesses have to stand up and be counted. It seems to me that if we as a world community are able to isolate the phenomenon of terrorism and get agreement to oppose it as a way of bringing about change, then we will be able to begin to put the terrorists out of business. I see no other approach that will work. Certainly, massive destruction in the Middle East will not bring that result.

How can we assess what the terrorists think they achieved and whether the outcome supported their goals well enough to mount another attack?

A terrorist act is intended to shock and to make us insecure in our lives. It is intended to change the way we do business and, at the same time, cause us to look at that gaping hole in Lower Manhattan and hear the terrorists say "gotcha." A secondary goal is to increase their ability to recruit more operatives and to build the point among potential recruits that America is the great vehicle for evil in the world.

One of the ways they can do that is to provoke a response that is unrestrained and not focused on those who perpetrated this crime. They were able to recruit after the U.S. sent its cruise missiles into the grass shacks after the two embassy bombings (in East Africa in 1998). Bombing the pill factory in the Sudan was as good a campaign message for bin Laden as you could possibly have had.

It would appear that the United States is not going to fall into that trap now. We are gathering information. We are seeking support from moderate governments in the region. We are seeking support from the United Nations and from NATO and we are acting as though it will be a coordinated response.

If the world community not only condemns but acts to isolate these terrorists, if Islam says this so-called fundamentalist creed bears no resemblance to the teachings of the Koran, then maybe it's not going to be fashionable in terrorist circles to try to attack the United States again.

From a foreign intelligence perspective, are we equipped to infiltrate these groups and find out about their plans?

That is, of course, the major goal of intelligence collection activities overseas: to penetrate these cells, to penetrate the management of terrorism, whether it's emanating from Osama bin Laden or another quarter. And it is hard. At the very least it requires sophistication in the languages: Arabic and its dialects, Farsi and its dialects. In Afghanistan, people speak dialects of Farsi that are quite obscure. And I think it's fair to say that our language resources for the foreign service as well as for intelligence officers serving abroad are not as robust as we would like them to be. I daresay that, as a result of the events of Sept. 11, this situation is likely to change for the better.

By the same token, it's probably not an American who is going to be able to readily penetrate one of these cells. We have to find friends. That is why I say it is so important that Islam itself stand up and say that this hate group, this terrorist group, is not following the strictures of Mohammed or the Koran. We need help from volunteers. We need people to come forward and say: "This is not right. I know X and Y down on the corner and they've been practicing with pipe bombs and they're up to no good and I think you better keep an eye on them."

That is why it's so important that, when we make our decision to intervene and to strike back, we do it in a measured and reasonable way so that residents of the area know that we are not striking out blindly and striking in a way that affects innocent Muslim bystanders, the people who may have been held hostage to haters and the terrorists.

Are there changes in U.S. law that would make intelligence gathering easier?

It may be sensible, in the era of cell phones, to change the rules for seeking a warrant for wiretapping so that it would no longer be necessary to specify the device or the location of the device that will be tapped. But in order to secure permission to do the wiretapping in the first place, under current law, credible proof has to be advanced that the individual is an agent of a foreign power. I don't think those protections should lightly be discarded.

There also has been some talk about reversing the U.S. ban on political assassination, which is currently part of an executive order governing intelligence activities. I would have to see evidence that this ban has been a barrier to successful investigation of terrorist plotting and successful movement against terrorists. Number one, the president has declared war and many of these restrictions disappear during wartime, certainly in classic wartime combat which is governed by the laws of war. Secondly, for the CIA or any intelligence agency to engage in assassination during normal times is something that I do not believe is wise. At the end of the day, the CIA is made up of government employees, civil servants, and assassination is not something they signed up to do, absent a state of war.

Intelligence gathering is a very difficult area. The question we must address is balance. We want people to be their brother's keeper; we want them to be alert to unusual behavior. At the same time, the civil liberties that we all enjoy are what make America what it is.

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601