Greetings from the Aspen Institute Security Forum, the inaugural—and so far excellent—security and counter-terrorism conference at the Aspen Institute, directed by my friend and colleague Clark Ervin, the former Inspector General of DHS.
The conference is abuzz with the words of Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who spoke yesterday and twice raised the topic of terrorist synergies: the joining of forces between previously unrelated and even mutually distrusting terrorist organizations. Having spent the week fighting the fire that was Gen McChrystal’s dismissal and just himself back from a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, it is clear that Adm. Mullen was a man on a mission to identify and address this new phenomenon of terrorist cooperation.
The term and concept are relatively new: there has previously been talk of criminal-terrorist synergies, but in general those reflected local alliances made, if not as a matter of expedience, certainly not with a view towards a global strategy. The trend has existed for a while: as the Hon. Fran Townsend (former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism) pointed out today, the trend began early in the Bush Administration: Indonesia’s Jamaat Islamia overtly supporting Al Quaeda; Sudan’s GSPC aligning similarly, etc. But US officials, at least, have taken some comfort in the rifts within Islam and the assumption that, for example, primarly Sunni organizations like Al Quaeda would not join forces with Shiite regimes such as Iran.
Take comfort no longer. There is a palpable sense among officials here that we are now fighting a globally decentralized, cooperating terrorist network which is willing to forego internal idealistic disagreements in favor of the ultimate goal: damaging the West and, specifically, the United States. We have graduated from a multitude of fights against separate entities to a unified fight against global terrorism.