Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Showing posts for "Terrorism"

Is U.S. Foreign Policy Making Americans Less Safe?

by Micah Zenko
FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listen during President Barack Obama's speech about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Reuters) FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listen during President Barack Obama's speech about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Reuters)

Senior U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials increasingly warn of the threat of “lone wolf” individuals attempting terror attacks within the United States. These potential perpetrators are characterized as externally motivated, but predominantly self-directed in plotting and attempting acts of politically and/or ideologically motivated violence. They need not travel to purported foreign “safe havens” to receive training or guidance, nor be in direct contact with terrorist organizations based abroad. Rather, their inspiration, in large part, appears to stem from the principles and narratives promoted by Islamist jihadist groups. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Islamic Violence, the Bush Legacy, and Rubio on Libya

by Micah Zenko
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes questions at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada on May 13, 2015. (Glover/Reuters) Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes questions at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada on May 13, 2015. (Glover/Reuters)

Michael Morell, with Bill Harlow, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism from Al Qa’ida to ISIS (New York, NY: Twelve, 2015), p. 63.

[On September 15, 2001], a senior State Department official walked over and expressed the opinion to the president that it was critical that America’s first response to the [September 11] attack be diplomatic—that we should reason with the Taliban and ask them to turn over Bin Laden and his senior al Qa’ida leadership. Read more »

Nine Months of Coalition Air Strikes Against the Islamic State

by Micah Zenko
A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters) A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters)

Today marks the nine month anniversary since the start of the U.S.-led air campaign, later named Operation Inherent Resolve, against the self-declared Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. The air war, which Secretary of State John Kerry then described as definitively not a war, but rather “a heightened level of counterterrorism operation,” shows no sign of ending. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee in March, “The enemy is now in a ‘defensive crouch,’ and is unable to conduct major operations.” The Pentagon has released a series of maps that purportedly detail the loss of territory under control by IS. However, the number and competence of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces required to ultimately defeat IS militants on the ground, and then control, secure, and administer newly freed territory, are lacking. In an unnoticed indicator found in the prepared testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, two U.S. Air Force lieutenant generals acknowledged: “These combat operations are expected to continue long-term (3+ years).”   Read more »

Obama’s Drone Strikes Reforms Don’t Apply to 46 Percent

by Micah Zenko
A MQ-1B Predator drone that is part of Task Force Odin stands inside a hangar at Bagram Air Field in the Parwan province of Afghanistan on January 3, 2015. (Jackson/Courtesy Reuters) A MQ-1B Predator drone that is part of Task Force Odin stands inside a hangar at Bagram Air Field in the Parwan province of Afghanistan on January 3, 2015. (Jackson/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, Adam Entous reported the latest confirmation about what informed citizens already knew: the White House’s purported policy guidance for U.S. lethal counterterrorism strikes issued on May 23, 2013 does not apply to CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. The CIA may still target unknown individuals, and they do not have to pose a purported “imminent threat” to the United States. This was widely reported at the time publicly, and I was told by a then-member of a congressional oversight committee that this exception was made clear to them as well. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drone Strike Policies, North Korea, and Conflict Prevention

by Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama pauses during remarks at an Organizing for Action summit in Washington, DC on April 23, 2015. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) President Barack Obama pauses during remarks at an Organizing for Action summit in Washington, DC on April 23, 2015. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, White House, April 23, 2015.

John Earnest, White House Spokesperson:  I can tell you that Mr. Gadahn was not specifically targeted.  But in a fashion that was similar to the operation that we were discussing that resulted in the death of Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto, the operation was against an al Qaeda compound.  So again, this is a scenario where U.S. officials had determined with near certainty that an operation could be carried out against an al Qaeda compound that was frequented, or at least where at least one al Qaeda leader was locatedAnd that operation did result in the death of Mr. Gadahn… Read more »

Guest Post: Shifting Allegiances – Rethinking U.S.-Pakistan Relations

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Pakistan's president Mamnoon Hussain and China's president Xi Jinping talk after a signing ceremony at the Xijiao State Guesthouse in Shanghai on May 22, 2014. (Fukuhara/Courtesy Reuters) Pakistan's president Mamnoon Hussain and China's president Xi Jinping talk after a signing ceremony at the Xijiao State Guesthouse in Shanghai on May 22, 2014. (Fukuhara/Courtesy Reuters)

Aliza Litchman is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

The once strong U.S.-Pakistan relationship may be set to expire. Since the Afghan-Soviet war (1979-1989), Pakistan has served as a key U.S. ally in Central Asia—providing a base for military operations, participating in the counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and mediating relations between the United States and China. This bilateral relationship expanded in 2001 under President Bush, who increased humanitarian and military aid from $187.7 million in 2001 to $2 billion the year after 9/11—totally $20 billion in the subsequent decade. In 2009, Congress passed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act that granted $1.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over the next five years.  However, recent Pakistani political and military decisions reveal shifting allegiances, calling into question the strength of U.S.-Pakistan relations. Read more »

CIA Director: We’re Winning the War on Terror, But It Will Never End

by Micah Zenko
CIA Director John Brennan speaks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 7, 2015. (Ertl/Courtesy Reuters) CIA Director John Brennan speaks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 7, 2015. (Ertl/Courtesy Reuters)

Last night, Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan participated in a question-and-answer session at Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. The first thirty-seven minutes consisted of an unusually probing exchange between Brennan and Harvard professor Graham Allison (full disclosure: Graham is a former boss of mine). Most notably, between 19:07 and 29:25 in the video, Allison pressed Brennan repeatedly about whether the United States is winning the war on terrorism and why the number of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups has only increased since 9/11: “There seem to be more of them than when we started…How are we doing?” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Yemen, Islamic State, and MDGs

by Micah Zenko
Shiite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen on March 26, 2015. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters) Shiite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen on March 26, 2015. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters)

Lt. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski and Lt. Gen. James M. Holmes, “Presentation to the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, House of Representatives,” U.S. Department of the Air Force, March 26, 2015, p. 16.

All three mission areas (Stand-Off, Direct Attack, and Penetrator munitions) in the Air-to-Surface munitions inventory are short of inventory objectives. Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) and SDB weapons along with Low Observable platforms are force multipliers in a highly contested environment and their shortage could increase friendly force attrition driving a much higher level of effort enabling the attack of other critical targets. Read more »

Guest Post: Preventing Cultural Destruction by ISIS

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
The Assyrian city of Nimrud before it was looted and bulldozed by Islamic State fighters. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons) The Assyrian city of Nimrud before it was looted and bulldozed by Islamic State fighters. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Aliza Litchman is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

The U.S.-led coalition has been unsuccessful in halting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS or ISIL) second largest revenue stream: illegal artifacts. A March 6 UNESCO report attempted to call attention to the ISIS’ bulldozing of the three thousand-year-old city of Nimrud, and a February 25 video shows ISIS militants ransacking the central museum in Mosul. However, the most damage to Iraq and Syria’s cultural heritage is not inflicted with bulldozers and sledgehammers, but through illegal sales in foreign markets, which have thus far provided ISIS with over $100 million U.S. officials estimate. Antiquities dealings are ISIS’ second largest source of funding, and control of over four thousand archaeological sites ensures this revenue source will not expire. Read more »

Guest Post: The Unknown Limits of Synthetic Biology

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A technician poses for the media with a test tube for testing against pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus in the national reference laboratory at the Robert Koch scientific institute in Berlin on October 2, 2009. (Bensch/Courtesy Reuters) A technician poses for the media with a test tube for testing against pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus in the national reference laboratory at the Robert Koch scientific institute in Berlin on October 2, 2009. (Bensch/Courtesy Reuters)

Helia Ighani is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Since 2001, major metropolitan cities have increasingly conducted gas and chemical attack simulations in subway systems. Police departments carry out these exercises with odorless, colorless, and non-toxic gases to determine how to evacuate passengers in the event of an actual biological or chemical attack, and identify safeguards that could be implemented to prevent potentially catastrophic consequences. Read more »