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Terrorism's Gray Areas

Terrorism's Gray AreasWhileintelligence resources are poured into certain areas of the worldto fight al-Qaida, the U.S. may be overlooking a growing hotbedof terrorist activity. 

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.12.04] Following the 9/11 attacks, the United States' intelligence community has been under increasing pressure to track and destroy terrorist cells worldwide. While countries like Afghanistan and Iraq have taken center stage in the war on terror, a Tufts expert says too little attention has been paid to a growing hotbed of terrorist activity: West Africa.

"Weak and corrupt governments, vast, virtually stateless stretches awash in weapons, and impoverished, largely Muslim populations make the region an ideal sanctuary [for terrorist groups including al-Qaida]," Tufts' Richard Schultz - director of security studies at the Fletcher School - wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece.

But Schultz and a colleague say the U.S. hasn't given the region the attention it deserves.

"This attitude reflects the Cold War, state-centric culture that prevails the intelligence community," he wrote in the Post. "As the national debate over intelligence reform expands, one key focus must be changing that culture."

America's approach to security, wrote the Tufts expert, needs to adapt to the fact that the country's biggest enemies are no longer sovereign nations.

"This entails recognizing and confronting the national security threat posed by armed groups, operating beyond state control, that are now the de facto rulers of growing swaths of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America," Schultz wrote in the Post.

Liberia and Sierra Leone, are prime examples.

"Terrorist and other armed groups are sophisticated in their exploitation of ‘gray areas,' where governments are weak, corruption is rampant and the rule of law is nonexistent," he wrote. "They use areas such as West Africa to finance their activities, correctly betting that Western intelligence services do not have the capacity, resources or interest to track their activities there."

U.S. attempts to slow down the growth of terrorist cells in the region, he added, have been short lived.

"Al-Qaida demonstrated its adaptability in the aftermath of the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa," Schultz wrote in the Post. "The United States froze some $220 million in Taliban and al-Qaida gold deposited in the Federal Reserve system. To ensure that future finances could not be attacked in a similar way, the group began to systematically move its money out of banking systems and into commodities."

While the Tufts expert says boosting the U.S. intelligence presence in West Africa won't be easy, it is critical to combating terrorism.

"Collecting, analyzing and acting on intelligence in lawless areas and rouge regimes are difficult, complex tasks that will take time and resources," he wrote in the Post. "To meet the challenge, the culture of the intelligence community must change beyond the shifting of organization boxes in the name of reform that occurs when outside criticism mounts."

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