Spring 2007 Conference

Root, Stem and Branch Home-Grown Radicals and the Limits of Terrorism



 Conference Description

University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA

April 1 to April 3, 2007

CIAG’s 2007 conference focused on the threat of homegrown terrorism within the United States. In many ways, this topic was a natural outgrowth of the 2006 meeting, which analyzed the 2005 London transit bombings and the Madrid commuter train attacks of 2004. Despite the time elapsed since those attacks, there is still significant disagreement within the intelligence community over al-Qaida’s role. Most analysts argue that the terrorist group served as inspiration for both events and provided an operational model in terms of the targets selected, the means used to deliver the bombs, and the tactic of simultaneous explosions. What is less clear, however, is whether Osama bin Laden’s organization had any direct role in planning, training, or funding. The Madrid bombings appear to be more the result of disaffected youths, many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants, who largely forged their own path to radicalization in small kinship and peer groups. The case in London is murkier, with a least two of the suicide bombers having visited Pakistan prior to the attacks, and further clouded by additional reports of al-Qaida ties.Regardless, the events overseas caused many Americans to question whether the same thing could happen here. Do we have Islamic radicalism taking root on U.S. soil? Do we have the tools to detect and stop its growth before an actual attack occurs? At times, such questions seem close to paranoia, modern-day fears akin to McCarthyism. Take, for example, the flurry of news coverage in June 2006 when the FBI arrested the “Sea of David” group in a Florida warehouse. While federal and local officials immediately stated that the seven men posed “no imminent threat,” many initial media reports hyped the group’s surveillance of Sears Tower and its hopes to eventually carry out an al-Qaida-style attack in Chicago. Early on, it was evident that the Sea of David group was more “wanna-be” than reality, yet because five of the members were American citizens, the nagging doubt for many observers was that this amateurish, even incompetent group might still serve as a harbinger for future, more lethal radicalization. Meanwhile, through the Internet, Americans were occasionally seeing video of al-Qaida’s Adam Gadahn, their bearded, English-speaking spokesperson. Gadahn was born in California, converted to Islam, eventually left for Pakistan, and has become the first American citizen formally charged with treason in more than 50 years. An American face on an al-Qaida message does not indicate radicalism has found a home on our soil. But like the svelte sounds of Tokyo Rose in WWII, it’s clear that al-Qaida understands the propaganda value of “Azzam the American.”

Conference Highlights

Distinguished Guests

  • Chris Dawson – is Deputy Commissioner of the Western Australia Police Force. He joined the WA Police in 1976 as a police cadet and graduated from the Police Academy in 1978. After four years as first Principal of the new Police Academy in Joondalup, Dawson took on the role of District Superintendent, Central Metropolitan and from October 2003 acted as the Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Programs and Development until being promoted to his current rank.
  • Ajit Doval – is the former Director for the Intelligence Bureau of India. After obtaining first position in his Masters Degree in Economics from University of Agra, he briefly worked for his PhD but gave it up on joining the Indian Police Service in 1968. After a few years in uniform, he worked as a career intelligence officer for over 33 years. Besides serving in the Northeast, Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab, he held diplomatic assignments in Pakistan and the UK. He headed the operations wing of India’s Intelligence Bureau for over a decade, responsible for counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence and counter- insurgency. Mr. Doval retired as Director, Intelligence Bureau, in January 2005.
  • Lawrence Eagleburger – is the former Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush from August 23, 1992 to January 20, 1993, capping a brilliant twenty-seven year career in the State Department. He helped chart and guide U.S. foreign policy through the turbulent end of the Cold War, the conflict in the Balkans, the confrontation in the Persian Gulf and through revolutionary changes in the former Soviet Union and then Russia. He was also a member of the Iraq Study Group.
  • Edward Gistaro – was appointed National Intellgience Officer for Transnational Threats in November 2006. He had joined the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counterterrorism Center shortly after 9/11/2001, and Served as Chief of several new analytic and operational units until his assignment to the NIC.
  • Patrick Lang – is president of Global Resources Group, a consulting firm. He is a retired Colonel of the U.S. Army who served in military intelligence and the Special Forces (the Green Berets). At points in his career, he had intelligence responsibility for all the U.S. military attachés deployed worldwide and briefed the President of the United States at the White House.
  • Philip Mudd – was appointed by Director Mueller as the Associate Executive Assistant Director, National Security Branch, on August 12, 2005. Prior to his arrival at the FBI, Mr. Mudd served as Deputy Director of the DCI Counter Terrorism Center (CTC), a position he was appointed to in December 2003. In his capacity as the Deputy Director, Mr. Mudd was responsible for overseeing operational, analytical, and support programs in the Center.
  • Charles Robb – joined the faculty of George Mason University as a Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy in 2001. Previously he served as Lt. Governor of Virginia from 1978 to 1982, as Virginia’s 64th Governor from 1982 to 1986, and as a United States Senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1989 to 2001.
  • Peter Verga – is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, the principal assistant and advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense on matters related to the overall supervision of the homeland defense activities of the Department of Defense. In addition he is responsible for the day-to-day management of the Department of Defense participation in interagency activities concerning homeland security and Department of Defense relations with the Department of Homeland Security. Prior to his current assignment Mr. Verga served as the Special Assistant for Homeland Security and Director of the Department of Defense Homeland Security Task Force. He is a graduate of the United States Army Command and General Staff College. A career member of the Senior Executive Service, he was appointed to this position in March, 2003.
  • R. James Woolsey – joined Booz Allen Hamilton in July, 2002, as a Vice President and officer in the firm’s Global Assurance practice located in McLean, Virginia. During the twelve years he has served in the U.S. Government Mr. Woolsey has held Presidential appointments in two Democratic and two Republican administrations. He was Director of Central Intelligence in 1993-95. He also served as: Ambassador to the Negotiation on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), Vienna, 1989-1991; Under Secretary of the Navy, 1977-1979; and General Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, 1970-73. He was appointed by the President as Delegate at Large to the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) and Nuclear and Space Arms Talks (NST), and served in that capacity on a part-time basis in Geneva, 1983-1986. As an officer in the U.S. Army he was an adviser on the U.S. Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I), Helsinki and Vienna, 1969-1970.

Key Panels and Discussions

A public panel hosted by the Miller Center of Public Affairs on the topic of Home-Grown Terrorism was moderated by NewsHour’s Margaret Warner. Case prsentations of Jam’yyat Al-Islam Al-Saheeh, Adam Gadahn, and Jack Roche were followed by discussion. Subsequent panels focused on home-grown threats abroad and the U.S. threat. Also examined were the implications of the Patriot Act, Social and Psychological involvements, the cultural effects of translating possible approaches, and an examination of radicalization on the internet.

Representative Insights

“But the nature of Islamic life here in the United States is very different than it is in places in Europe where people think of themselves in a more exclusivist or ethnic nationalist kind of way. An immigrant to the United States—whose ancestors have lived here for 40, 50, 60 years—knows in his heart in fact that he can go out and get a job and he can go to a reasonable school and he can be accepted into America life. And I think that makes a tremendous difference in the potential for homegrown terrorism, if that’s what we’re calling it here, whereas it’s very high in other places. And I think you have to say that that the Iraqi adventure has in fact thrown fuel on the fire, that it enables the preachers to work on these people.” – Col. Patrick Lang

“People who use terrorism as a tactic are not committed to terrorism, per se. This is a particular tactic of asymmetric warfare, which, for various reasons, is useful to that group of people at that particular time. So they used that tactic on 9/11, and it was massively successful, massively successful. Not in terms of the number of people that were killed—that’s not the point of the exercise—but in focusing the world’s attention. In those terms, it was massively successful.” – John, Lord Alderdice

“[Australia was] once like many other countries, simply into dignitary protection and a tactical response, which is very much a reactive stance. Now we’re attempting, very quickly, to try to get to a much more proactive understanding of how to prevent people even starting this journey and interrupting that journey before it gets going. And that means that we have to be involved in the education system. That doesn’t mean just in the schools, it means getting strong alliances and dialogue with the Muslim community, or whatever part of the community, and beyond just the Muslim community into the broader language that gets spoken by people in high office, people in the media, so that it’s not seen as inflammatory. Some of it is about not causing friction and reaction in the community. We are, for instance, educating police officers. When you go to a particular house, you just can’t treat them as you probably always have, the way you were brought up. There’s a need for greater understanding at all levels. So it’s more than tactical, it’s far more in a broader sense to make everyone understand that you just can’t respond to an issue. There are deep-seeded sociological issues here that we just don’t fully understand yet.” – Chris Dawson

“There are two long-term concerns I have about all this. The first is persistence of the problem overseas. I worry that we risk losing our focus—and that’s diplomatic, military, financial aid—because we’re not over the hump overseas yet. We can’t lose focus, and it takes a tremendous amount to keep our partners doing what we want them to do. Secondly and finally, there’re the tools we have domestically. If you take the British example, it was only a year from when a young man walked into a bookstore and when he strapped on a backpack. If we don’t have the enforcement tools to look at people aggressively, that’s too short a time for detection. So we have to keep being able to look at these folks very early on; otherwise, we lose this game.” – Philip Mudd

“I sat in testimony for a Senate committee a few months ago, and I told them that I would take every penny that the United States is spending on strategic communications with that part of the world and turn it all over to Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Does anybody in the room know who Trey Parker and Matt Stone are? They’re the geniuses behind South Park. And you have to be a little weird to be my age and be a South Park fan, but I’ve never promised I’m not weird. The South Park kids, the same ones—the potty-mouthed kids, the ones who got the war started between the U.S. and Canada in their first movie—have a another movie out called Team America World Police, which is brutally satirical of everybody… But the person they destroy the most in the Team America movie is Kim Jong-il. They make him absolutely a total object of ridicule in a very brutal and hilarious way.I said, “Turn all this money over to Trey Parker and Matt Stone and see if they won’t do the same thing for Ahmadinejad and a bunch of Imams in Saudi Arabia that they did to Kim Jong-il.” These countries are full of young men standing around on street corners sullen and surly, ready to be appealed to by fanatic Imams. Young men sometimes tend to like satire, and they like sometimes things that are sort of gross and sort of sexy. They like things like what Trey Parker and Matt Stone put together.So I would say we need a complete rework of our communication with this part of the world. It’s not that we need to preach at people that we’re nicer than anybody else, we need to do things that are rooted in the reform elements of their own society the way the Poles did with Radio Free Europe, and appeal to the better sides of their history and society, and we need to use things like satire to appeal to some of these young audiences.We’re not doing that.” – R. James Woolsey

“If we cannot change the fundamentals, I would say again that we have got to change the discourse, because we have got to coexist. We do not have the option of either changing the basics of [Islam], the basics of the practices, or the history. We also do not have the option of wishing them away…. The empirical data shows that the boys who have gone to best of schools, who have got best of education, even they have shown the tendency of getting radicalized much faster than even the poor ones who are the probably common from the street.Now, we have got to involve them, engage them in a different type of religion. One type of conflict has got to be replaced by another type of conflict. How we create those new things is the problem.” – Ajit Doval