The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al-Qaeda,” on Feb. 7 at The Mershon Center for International Security Studies.
America needs to customize its counter-terrorism efforts by embracing new technologies, said two New York Times journalists.
The New York Times‘ terrorism correspondent Eric Schmitt and Pentagon correspondent Thomas Shanker talked to more than 60 people on their book, “Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al-Qaeda,” Thursday afternoon at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies.
In order to deal with al-Qaida effectively, America needs to better understand the terrorist organization, especially what it can and cannot do, Schmitt said. It is inevitable that America will suffer another terrorist attack, he said, so America needs to build up its physiological resilience as its allies have through national discussion.
“We will be hit again, there will be another terrorist attack,” Schmitt said. “This threat is out there and it’s not just the threat of a mass casualty attack, as on 9/11, it’s the kind of attack against the western economy.”
“Counterstrike” seeks to spark that discussion through its culmination of 10 years of reporting and research that show a balanced representation of governmental successes and failures, Shanker said.
The book focuses on how the U.S. mentality toward al-Qaida has shifted from the organization being a group that’s difficult to understand to one with a corporate model.
“You have leadership, you have financiers, you have your salesmen, you have your PR department, you even have an HR department,” Shanker said. “When you think of al-Qaida, think of it as ‘al-Qaida Inc.'”
While the idea of what al-Qaida is has changed, so have the places in which al-Qaida functions. The Internet has become a place where America needs to exercise counter-terrorism, as it has become a platform for al-Qaida to raise money, recruit, give guidance and command terrorists, Shanker said.
“What’s good though for this country is that cyber-expertise is rather phenomenal, and even though the terrorists are getting into all kinds of … encryption codes and all of that, almost all of them (can be cracked),” Shanker said. “The problem is the rules of engagement in cyberspace are basically where the U.S. (was) with nuclear strategy was in the late ’40s and early ’50s. Everyone is aware of the power of this new weapon, but how to use it?”
Since the terrorist attack on 9/11, the U.S. has moved from a mindset of “kill-capture” to a “whole-of-government” approach by incorporating the U.S. Department of State, the FBI and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, each playing a specific and vital role in counter-terrorism. The book chronicles this transition, Schmitt said.
Some students said the talk was interesting to hear about how America strategically handles terrorism.
“(The idea that) we don’t really have a set strategy, a cohesive strategy across the board on how to deal with terrorism was really, really interesting to hear about and to address,” said Peter Marzalik a third-year in international studies and Russian.