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Dec. 5, 2013, 9:18 a.m.

To the Editor:

I was surprised National Journal dubbed Qaida ideologue Abu Musab al-Suri “The Next bin Laden” [11/16/13, p. 16]. Since Abu Musab wrote his manifesto years ago and hasn’t been heard from for ages (despite his previous enthusiasm for violent jihad), it’s unclear whether he commands anything — because he might be dead or in prison.

As a CIA analyst examining al-Qaida in Iraq when the group was ascendant, we knew he was an important figure but not held up as the ideological guide to the conflict. Since the Iraq War was a jihadist cause célèbre — full of smaller-level attacks that Abu Musab-from-neighboring-Syria espoused in his writings — you might surmise from the magazine article that he was a household name for the extremists. But he wasn’t.

Yes, “lone wolves” remain a threat, but we should also focus on the more formal Qaida-linked groups in Syria, or the group’s affiliates in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere, because they have much more intent and capability to strike the U.S., our allies, or our interests abroad in a devastating manner. To resurrect a propagandist from al-Qaida’s past and suggest he is the guiding light for the group’s global ambitions seems off-base without more evidence of his corporeal existence.

Aki Peritz

Senior National Security Policy Adviser

Third Way

To the Editor:

Michael “The sky is falling!” Hirsh inflates the terrorist danger logarithmically and ignores the Constitution’s moral philosophy in seeking to frighten the American people into endorsing a Big Brother surveillance state reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. Since 9/11, the percentage of homicides in the United States perpetrated by international terrorists has been sub-microscopic. The two cases referenced by Mr. Hirsh involved domestic terrorists who acted independently of any terrorist network: Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood, and the Tsarnaev brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing. Moreover, the international terrorist threat that persists would shrivel if we ceased using predator drones except to target persons actively involved in hostilities against the United States on a defined battlefield — and ended our futile and counterproductive use of the military and financial aid to manipulate the domestic affairs of other nations. With regard to Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani heroine and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, recently informed President Obama at the White House that “drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people.”

The NSA claims that scores of terrorist plots have been foiled because of its vacuum-cleaner-like surveillance methods. But the boast has never been substantiated by outside audit. Among others, Sens. Pat Leahy, D. Vt., Ron Wyden, D. Ore., and Mark Udall, D. Colo., who have vetted the NSA’s self-serving assertions, have voiced incredulity. Further, every student of the executive branch knows that every classified national security success is instantly leaked or declassified to advance a political agenda. Finally, the intelligence community ethos is notorious for rewarding falsehoods — for instance, the perjury of James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, to Sen. Wyden, denying the collection of data against millions of Americans. Clapper was rewarded with an appointment by President Obama to investigate NSA spying abuses through the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies. 

Finally, the Constitution rests on the principle that it is better to be the victim of injustice than to be complicit in it. We are willing take risks by accepting the restraints of due process, the Fourth Amendment, a separation of powers, and otherwise to avoid injuring the innocent. Our actions are informed by what they say about us, not what other people may deserve.

Bruce Fein

Former Associate Deputy Attorney General (1981-83) 

President of the National Commission on Intelligence and Foreign Wars

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