Understanding Who We Are Fighting: James Woolsey’s GEOINT Keynote

By Hal Reid

The theme of this years' GEOINT conference was "transformation." Perhaps one of the best explanations of what is driving that transformation, as the intelligence world moves from Cold War strategies and tactics to a new era of enemies without countries, without a tangible state based resources and targets, was presented by former CIA Director James Woolsey.

Woolsey's keynote presentation identified the nature of the terrorists we are fighting by beginning with a statement that is in alignment with Sun Tzu's Art of War.When in a war, we should begin by understanding the enemy."

The theme of the keynote was, "The war on terror will be the long war of the 21st century." Because of the nature of the adversary, the terrorists' resources and modes of operation, this will be the case.Woolsey identified that we are up against three totalitarian movements, all originating from the Middle East.

First, are the Baathists; this group is basically Fascist, but without a clear or defined ideology. Its goal is to return to power and support Pan-Arab Nationalism. While the group is still a factor, it is not growing and lack the means to create what Woolsey refers to as a fire in the mind of its followers (from Dostoevsky's The Possessed).

Second are the Shiite Islamists - primarily from Iran.They have the advantage that they have the resources of a rich country (e.g.oil revenue) and support from that country's leadership.Iran supports what Woolsey called the most professional terrorists in the world, Hezbollah.

However, Woolsey identified
a weakness - that the concept of theocracy is not traditional with Shiites and that may be a reason why the current Iranian leadership is so unpopular with Shiite clerics.As a result, this movement may have difficulty creating the fire in the mind necessary to support long-term expansion.

The third and most dangerous of the three are the Sunni Islamic terrorists.This group is the most dangerous because it is growing and creating fire in the minds of its members.The group has an ideology that is anti-Christian, anti-women and anti-democracy and it wants to return Islam to where it was in the 7th century both in territory controlled and in religious practice.

Because of support from within Saudi Arabia, Sunni Islamic terrorists have access to substantial wealth and resources.Woolsey identified that some of the fuel for this movement is the U.S.has been perceived for decades as only being interested in the oil from this part of the world and not the people or nature of the governments.

This groups' strategic view has three parts.First, control the Muslin world; second, control the parts of the world that Muslins controlled in the 7th century "" e.g.Spain; and third, control the world.

What makes this group so dangerous is that its members are fully committed (true believers) and that dying for the cause is perceived as an honor.Due the fragmentation of this group, there is neither a contact point for negotiation or a real entity to sanction.

The problem is that to many of those in the Mid-East, the Sunni terrorists are offering something, where for decades the U.S.is believed as having offered nothing.So the battle for the hearts and minds begins with the opposition in the lead.

Woolsey pointed out that U.S.Intelligence is also not used to dealing with a fully committed adversary who cannot be deterred.In addition, decision makers in the government may not really understand this type of enemy.So the nature of transformation is to move not only the intelligence infrastructure from years of opposing the monolithic to creating the means and measures to counter and neutralize the fragmented, but change a mindset to this new reality.

This presentation provided a clear, concise, easy to understand explanation of the enemy we now face.It was one of those presentations that you wish more people could hear to be able to grasp the realities of "the long war of the 21st century".


Published Friday, November 11th, 2005

Written by Hal Reid



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