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Bin Laden, the Taliban and the CIA

By Dan Pulcrano

They don't soundbite as well as "wanted, dead or alive," but many ways exist to improve the safety of air travel besides invading Afghanistan. Among them are the placement air marshalls on flights, armored cockpit doors, better trained and paid airport scanner operators, passenger screening, luggage searches, less combustible jet fuel, an alert citizenry and perhaps developing communications and guidance systems that would coexist with passenger cellular telephone use.

The combination of lax airport security, foreign policy arrogance and the failure to come to grips with known threats proved a deadly cocktail. This is not to transfer culpability from the perpetrators to the victims--only to say that we must take responsiblility for our own security in a poor and dangerous world, one that will always contain safety risks for traveling U.S. citizens.

It is, of course, unfashionable amidst the present hysteria to advocate sensible approaches to international security problems that should have been addressed ten or more years ago by implementing solutions which have been commonplace overseas for many years. The national imperative for cathartic retribution, nurtured by a spontaneous explosion of patriotism and "Attack on America" broadcasts, answers a deep need inside us to the powerlessness we feel in an age of technologies we no longer control.

While some type of tightly focused military action is no doubt needed to destroy the capablilities and psychological resolve of global terrorists and their suppporters, any imprudent actions will have to bow to the law of unintended consequences.

We must remember that, like Timothy McVeigh, Osama bin Laden is a rogue product of America's international security machine. Around 1980, the hard-drinking nascent polygamist hooked up with the Afghan resistance, which at the time was America's best answer to Soviet expansionism. Several billion of our tax dollars, funneled through the CIA and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), was spent to fund, import and arm radical Islamic warriors, some of whom organized under the flag of bin Laden's Maktab al-Khidima and, later, the Taliban. After driving the Soviets from Afghanistan, a sophisticated network of paid, professional terrorists emerged. "The CIA made the historic mistake of encouraging Islamic groups from all over the world to come to Afghanistan," recalled Selig Harrison, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, according to news reports. "I warned them that we were creating a monster."

The Taliban has remained on the U.S. payroll to this day. Just May 17, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a gift of $43 million to support the Taliban's edict to halt opium cultivation-- despite reports that the Afghani regime was restricting production during a period of oversupply to drive up the prices of the opium they had stockpiled. Afghanistan is the source of about 70 percent of the world's heroin. The Taliban has also distinguished itself by its medieval treatment of girls and women through such Catch-22 legislation as forbidding females from seeing male doctors while preventing women from practicing medicine.

Having demonstrated its good judgment by creating, arming and funding the Taliban--and, according to Middle Eastern analyst Hazhir Teimourian, providing Mr. Bin Laden with security training--the CIA is now lobbying for more funding and fewer restrictions on its activities. President Bush will likely lift bans on payments to unsavory characters, and on overseas assassinations.

The irony of this will not be overlooked in Jerusalem, which weathered a summer of criticism from the Bush-Powell team for its counterterrorism activities. Israel has sought to eliminate the Palestinian military leaders they believe are responsible for this year's bloody round of mortar attacks and suicide bombings at pizzerias, discos and shopping malls. In statements, the Secretary of State variously called the Israeli response "excessive and disproportionate" and "too aggressive." After an Israeli missile attack killed eight people, including three wanted Hamas terrorists and two children, Powell said, "We felt that this was a targeted killing of the kind that we have spoken out [about] and condemned in the past." In August, the State Department's Richard Boucher declared that the US believes "the policy of targeted killings is wrong. We don't believe it should exist at all."

Suicide attacks somehow warrant a different response when it's your own countrymen's blood being spilled. The president's declaration that "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them" clearly extends the boundaries of acceptable casualties.

With $40 billion approved, the Bush administration can now rewrite the rules of US conduct in the world. Tough talk and bold military moves are no substitute for an engaged and responsible US foreign policy, including a serious effort to broker a Middle East settlement. Smart counterterrorism, while sometimes necessitating retaliatory or pre-emptive strikes, should focus on prevention and security. The intelligence community should improve its information gathering and analysis capablilities, so it doesn't miss the next Soviet collapse, Kuwaiti invasion or Pentagon attack. The post-Sept. 11 realities should not greenlight an open season for assassinations, coups, spy intrigue or funding of irresponsible political movements.

As we have seen, the alumni of past CIA adventures can sometimes be a bigger problem than if the US hadn't gotten involved in the first place.


Related Links:

Coming Home to Roost: Bin Laden's CIA ties are only the beginning of a woeful story, writes MSNBC's Michael Moran.

Born in the CIA: The Taliban has roots in Langley, Virginia, writes op-ed columnist Amjad Hussain for Afgha.com.

Woodrow Wilson International Center: A Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan institute for the study of current issues and their historical backgrounds.


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From the September 20-26, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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