General Hayden, Invest in the Arms Trade
World Defense Review

June 15, 2006                                                                                                             by Dr. J. Peter Pham

On June 26, representatives of governments and non-governmental organizations will gather in New York for the United Nations Review Conference on Small Arms. In the grand scheme of things, little worthwhile can be expected out of the two week summit: a similar kaffeeklatsch five years ago produced little more than pious promises of a “global response” – and no discernable “deliverables” other than the current meeting.

The point is that, even if there was a consensus for action – and there isn’t, as our Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, has repeatedly reminded his colleagues, citing the strength of Americans’ commitment to their Second Amendment rights – there would still be no reliable figures on which to establish any baselines from which to move.

For example, a recent report which was released with much fanfare by the gun control advocacy group International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), gave – with no authoritative sources cited – estimates of 58 million to 107 million guns in the Middle East, 45 million to 80 million in Latin America., and 30 million in Sub-Saharan Africa (as an Africanist, I can attest that any precise figures about anything in the region is rather suspect). Any first-year student of statistics would be able to point out that when there are wild variations on the order of magnitude reported by IANSA, the data is not exactly conducive to very much.

So aside from giving the New York City convention and tourism trade a nice boost – and gifting several thousand members of the international set a two week holiday in Manhattan partially subsidized by the American taxpayer who, it should never be forgotten, contributes roughly a quarter for every dollar the UN spends wisely or foolishly – observers should expect nothing will come out of the review conference other the date for the next get-together. Simply put, international arms trafficking networks, legal and illegal, cannot be shut down completely any more than attempts to totally ban guns in some U.S. communities actually do anything more than disarm (or criminalize) law-abiding citizens while leaving violent criminals at a comparative advantage.

All that being said, however, the coincidence of the review conference with the recent confirmation of General Michael V. Hayden as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, does bring to mind the possibility that the topic of the ill-conceived UN meeting might nonetheless point towards an opportunity for the spy agency in which a little “thinking outside the box” could result in rich dividends for our national security.

If one of the leading challenges facing America is defeating international terrorist organizations and their supporters, then the U.S. and its allies will ultimately have to concentrate on infiltrating and undermining these groups from within, rather than waiting to defeat them in some apocalyptic battle. The problem is that by their very nature, terrorist organizations today – especially those of the jihadi variety – do not lend themselves to easy infiltration. Not only is it the case that the leaders of these groups tend to play their cards close to their chest and the various cells keep only close links with the center, but just getting near to the groups is very difficult.

Forensic psychiatrist (and former CIA case officer) Marc Sageman, for example, has found in his case studies of more than 400 (mostly al-Qaeda) terrorists that 86 percent were related by blood, marriage, or friendship to other terrorists while 60 percent had worshipped at one of ten mosques worldwide or attended one of two schools in Indonesia.

However, where the terrorist groups are vulnerable is that they generally still need weapons – and, in some cases, massive amounts of munitions with which to carry out their deadly business.

The Somalia-based al-Qaeda spin-off that tried to shoot down the Arkia 582 Israeli charter flight in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002, for example, didn’t manufacture the surface-to-air missiles they fired at the airliner; they bought them from Viktor Bout, a former KGB officer-turned-arms dealer, who partially inspired the Nicolas Cage character in Lord of War.

Likewise, the Palestinian terrorist group-cum-government Hamas doesn’t have a cottage industry making the arms it uses on Israelis as well as fellow Palestinians; it imports its deadly arsenal. Despite its claims to poverty, Hamas found the wherewithal in May to purchase 100,000 bullets on the open market as well as enough explosives for over 100 suicide bombs (fortunately, Israel intercepted the munitions off the coast of Gaza).

The networks that supply the terrorists are, in fact, the Achilles heel through which U.S. and allied intelligence and security services can potentially gain access to groups of interest by exploiting the latter’s need to purchase the arms from international dealers like Bout and his kind.

Fortuitously, when it comes to shady financial deals, even the most ideologically driven terrorist discovers pragmatism. As Douglas Farah of the Washington Post has exposed, for example, al-Qaeda regularly traded with former Liberian president Charles Taylor; this is significant because the tyrant, as I point out in my own book on the conflict in the West African country, when he wasn’t playing Baptist revival preacher was the self-proclaimed “supreme zo (witch doctor) of Liberia” – in either case, hardly a paragon of tawhîd, the rigorous Islamic concept of monotheism.

Likewise, since most, if not all, the major international arms dealers are in the business for profit, rather than ideological commitment, intelligent intelligence services will undoubtedly find it easier to recruit agents in these networks than they would among bona fide terrorists. Once a few good (and greedy) informants are recruited, it becomes a relatively familiar law enforcement path to identify the contours and activities of the existing arms trade networks as well as their clients, the middle-level logisticians who are a combination of NCOs and quartermasters-general in the army of international terror.

At some point, the CIA or other intelligence and security agencies might find it useful to get into the arms trade itself in order to maintain closer tabs on contacts, sources, and other assets. Furthermore, more direct influence on the supply side of the international trade in arms opens the door to all manner of activity, including tracing – electronically and otherwise – weapons flows and eventually even sweeping up the terrorists networks that make up the demand side of the business.

Unfortunately, the Clinton administration’s 1995 “scrub order” banning the recruitment of a person with criminal or human rights record without committee authorization makes it next to impossible to do much what I am proposing.

Even without this order, as Walter Laqueur of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has noted, “for decades there has been no premium on risk taking, and it has been taken for granted that it is always preferable, both as far as the agency was concerned and one’s own career, to err on the side of caution.”

However, a change of culture cannot even be countenanced until the formal terms under which it operates are themselves reformed. It is worth remembering, as Robert Baer, the CIA veteran whose memoirs loosely inspired George Clooney’s Syriana, put it succinctly: “We’re waging war, not running a church social.”

President George W. Bush, speaking at the new director’s formal swearing-in ceremony, told General Hayden that “the CIA must transform to confront new dangers.” Undoubtedly the new director has a lot of transforming to do, on both the analytical as well as the operational front. Fortunately, however, not all of the changes will be that new to the intelligence community – just a return to its roots.

— J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an academic fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. His primary research interest is the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.

Dr. Pham is the author of over one hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).

In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies.

Reprinted with permission of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *