War on Terror

Lessons from Al Qaeda’s Foiled Europe Plot

| by Heritage Foundation

By Conn Carroll


Yesterday, U.S. and European intelligence officials revealed that they have detected an al-Qaeda plot to carry out a major, coordinated series of commando-style terror attacks in Britain, France, Germany, and possibly the U.S. Specifically, a suspected German terrorist allegedly captured on his way to Europe in late summer and now being held at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan told interrogators that terrorists were planning a series of “Mumbai-style” commando raids on what were termed “economic or soft” targets. ABC News reports:


The new threat to France, and to Germany and Britain and the U.S., is coming from Pakistan, according to intelligence officials. The captured German reportedly said several teams of attackers, all with European passports, had been trained and dispatched from training camps in Waziristan and Pakistan. Officials say the German claimed the attack plan had been approved by Osama Bin Laden.

The Wall Street Journal is also reporting that the Central Intelligence Agency has ramped up missile strikes against militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions in an effort to disrupt the possible attack.

Above all, this is a reminder of why finishing the job in Afghanistan, and thereby Pakistan, is so vital. Contrary to President Obama’s admission to Bob Woodward that “we can absorb another terrorist attack,” the best way to protect American is to thwart terrorist plots before they start. If terrorist have sanctuaries, they will find ways to plan, organize, and execute plans against the west. If the U.S. did not have boots on the ground in that theater, it would not have the means and intelligence to take effective action. Establishing an Afghanistan that can defend and govern itself is key to ensuring that sanctuaries are not reestablished and that al-Qaeda is humiliated and defeated.

This incident also demonstrates the necessity for a stable and acceptable interrogation and detention policy. The fact that this Administration and Congress has failed to develop a long-term policy solution is in inexcusable.

After the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 173 people, Heritage Foreign Policy Studies Director James Carafano identified some Lessons from Mumbai, including:

-- Rely on the investigative authorities established in the USA Patriot Act. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act. Among other things, the act provided additional authorities for the sharing of information between law enforcement and intelligence agencies and granted additional powers to fight terrorism, primarily law enforcement tools that had already been used to fight other serious crimes. Congress stipulated that these powers would expire unless reauthorized by law. In 2006, Congress extended the investigative authorities in the Patriot Act. These powers have been used to conduct counterterrorism investigations. Congress and the Administration should not change or undermine these authorities.

-- Exploit the authority to monitor terrorist communications worldwide as provided under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The capacity to monitor terrorist communications is essential for building an intelligence picture of the threat and focusing investigations.

-- Develop the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) under the office of the Director of National Intelligence. Established by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the ISE exists to create a “trusted partnership among all levels of government in the United States, the private sector, and our foreign partners, in order to detect, prevent, disrupt, preempt, and mitigate the effects of terrorism against the territory, people, and interests of the United States by the effective and efficient sharing of terrorism and homeland security information.” The ISE is essential in promoting effective integration and cooperation among federal, state, and local anti-terrorism efforts.