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Put what follows in the category of paragraphs no one noticed that should have made the nation’s hair stand on end. This particular paragraph should also have sent chills through the body politic, launched warning flares, and left the people’s representatives in Congress shouting about something other than the debt crisis.
Last weekend, two reliable New York Times reporters, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, had a piece in that paper’s Sunday Review titled “After 9/11, an Era of Tinker, Tailor, Jihadist, Spy.” Its focus was the latest counterterrorism thinking at the Pentagon: deterrence theory. (Evidently an amalgam of the old cold war ideas of “containment” and nuclear deterrence wackily reimagined by the boys in the five-sided building for the age of the jihadi.) Schmitt and Shanker’s article was, a note informed the reader, based on research for their forthcoming book, Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.
And here’s the paragraph, buried in the middle of their piece, that should have stopped readers in their tracks:
“Or consider what American computer specialists are doing on the Internet, perhaps terrorist leaders’ greatest safe haven, where they recruit, raise money, and plot future attacks on a global scale. American specialists have become especially proficient at forging the onscreen cyber-trademarks used by Al Qaeda to certify its Web statements, and are posting confusing and contradictory orders, some so virulent that young Muslims dabbling in jihadist philosophy, but on the fence about it, might be driven away.”
The italics are mine, and as the authors urge us to do, let’s consider for a moment this tiny, remarkably bizarre window into military reality. As a start, just where those military “computer specialists” are remains unknown. Perhaps they are in the Pentagon, perhaps somewhere in the National Counterterrorism Center, but whoever and wherever they are, here’s the question of the week, possibly of the month or the year: Just what kind of “orders” can they be posting “so virulent that young Muslims dabbling in jihadist philosophy, but on the fence about it, might be driven away”?
And even if our computer experts really were capable of turning wavering young Muslims back from the shores of jihadism—and personally I wouldn’t put my money on the Pentagon’s skills in that realm—what about young Muslims (or older ones for that matter) who weren’t on that fence and took those “orders” seriously? What exactly are they being “ordered” to do?
Talk about a potential Frankenstein situation—and all we can do is ask questions. Just what monsters, for example, might the military’s computer specialists be helping to forge? And who exactly is supervising those “specialists” and their vituperative messages? (Especially since they are unlikely to be in English, and we already know that Arabic, Pashto, Dari, and Farsispeakers at the higher levels, or even lower levels, of the Pentagon are, at best, few and far between.)