There are three
Saudi counterterrorism tools that stand out as especially successful.
The first is probably the most obvious but most difficult to replicate:
Foreign language speakers who, to put it bluntly, aren't white. U.S.
intelligence agencies, owing to understandable concerns about foreign
infiltration, have long preferred hiring U.S.-born American citizens
over immigrants or foreign nationals, who are frequently used as
short-term assets or sources but less commonly integrated into the
agency as a whole. But white faces stand out in places like the Middle
East, and most American universities teach formal Arabic rather than the
many local dialects more commonly used. U.S. intelligence agencies will
have to start fielding agents who can blend in and who speak the local
language or dialect.
Second is the Saudi program of terrorist
rehabilitation, which seeks to reintegrate terrorists back into society
by way of counseling, job training, and even financial assistance. The
program, which I explored more fully in 2009,
not only neutralizes individual terrorists but also seeks to roll back
the social causes of their entire movement. Reformed terrorists, once
they return to their communities, serve as walking--and, sometimes,
proselytizing--arguments against terrorist radicalization or recruitment.
Sending a suspected terrorist to Guantanamo or Bagram risks angering
his community and inspiring even more militancy.
The third tool,
though it has proven invaluable for Saudi counterterrorism, would go
against many of the core operating principles of the U.S. intelligence
community: don't kill or capture every terrorist we find. Rather than
eliminating them one by one, the Saudis monitor suspects, often for
years. Sometimes they even work with them, seeking to turn an individual
from an enemy into an informant.
This Saudi methodology has
proven so much more effective at counterterrorism than the American
system because it understands terrorism as a permanent
phenomenon--something to be monitored rather than eradicated--and because
it prioritizes infiltrating terrorist networks above seizing individual
terrorists. At the heart of the American approach is the assumption that
terrorism can be eliminated outright. If we could just seize enough
al-Qaeda officers or shut down enough funding streams or launch enough
drone strikes, the thinking goes, threats could be ended forever. But
this approach has proven self-defeating. Extreme Islamic terrorists are
ultimately guided by abstract ideology, and though specific networks can
be eradicated, the ideas behind them cannot.
In the U.S. model,
when we locate a terrorist cell, we capture or kill its members. This
only ensures that, another cell will pop up in its place, except this
time we won't have as much intelligence on it. In the Saudi model, the
network is left preserved so that it can be monitored or one of its
members can be turned. In this way, the Saudis not only neutralize that
one cell, but any other cells or individuals it comes into contact with.
This is how Saudi General Intelligence may have been able, according to
to the New York Times' Robert Worth, to do what the U.S. has failed to
do despite billions of dollars in intelligence spending: infiltrate