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CIA Agent Debates Legitimacy Of The ‘Global War On Terror’

Heights Staff

Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


Graham Beck / Heights Editor

“What are the threats to the Homeland?” Glenn Carle asked. “What is the nature of al-Qaeda? What are the capabilities of al-Qaeda? Why did al-Qaeda exist?” These are the questions that Carle sought to answer Wednesday evening at the “Update on the ‘War on Terror,’” sponsored by the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life.

Having served 23 years in the Clandestine Services of the CIA, Carle worked in many different posts over four continents. Since the 1980s, he has worked especially in the Balkans, Central America, and Europe, focusing on terrorism as well as political and economic concerns. He last served on the National Intelligence Council, working on Transnational Threats. In this position, he was responsible for analyzing terrorism, international organized crime, and narcotics. He also authored the book The Interrogator, which tells the story of his undercover work and interrogation of a high-profile al-Qaeda detainee.

When looking at the events and actions of the United States in the years since Sept. 11, Carle described the stances of the U.S. government and the “Global War on Terror” as a collective delusion. While recognizing that there was a threat to the U.S., he claimed that it was not, as it was often described, an existential problem for American society.

“Al-Qaeda was thought to be present and active in 80 countries,” Carle said. “The real figure is six countries. At its apex, let’s say September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda consisted of four to six hundred individuals, of whom 30 to 50 were of the officer cadre. The others were idealistic young men with AK-47s.”

Describing the potential of al-Qaeda, Carle explored the question of their nuclear capabilities, which were hotly debated by him and his colleagues investigating the organization. They looked at the two possibilities, developing the technology or stealing it. Comparing the development prospects to the money and manpower that the U.S. spent on the Manhattan Project, he regarded that possibility as nearly impossible. Looking at the probability that they could steal the technology from the Russians, Carle stated that overcoming the security and getting the equipment past the many eyes that were watching them would have been extraordinarily difficult as well.

Analyzing the organization itself, Carle attempted to answer the fundamental question of its existence.

“Al-Qaeda is a symptom, not a cause,” Carle explained. “There is a continued social disintegration of traditional Islamic societies from Morocco to Indonesia. Islamic societies, until my lifetime, were largely insolated from the changes in the West. All change is disruptive. Serious change is revolutionary. Globalization and an increase in global trade, the impact is catastrophic in a society that has slavery. People start to challenge the traditional authorities and values. Al-Qaeda itself is representative of a revolution that is happening in Islam. Bin Ladin is not a trained cleric, and yet he dares to challenge the assessments of Al-Azhar University. He is a product of the revolution racing through all of Islamic society, the very changes he opposes. He is the product of the doom he seeks to forestall.”

Looking to the future, Carle also assessed what has happened to al-Qaeda since Sept. 11 and what was left of the organization. Agreeing with the Obama and Bush Administrations, he said that the leadership has been decimated.

“Al-Qaeda is dramatically less powerful that it was,” Carle said. “There is now turmoil in the Muslim world, but with an opportunity now for progress. The Global War on Terror died a deserved death, because it never really existed except in the minds of others.”

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