'A war of intelligence'
Geoff Metcalf interviews geopolitical analyst Roger Baker

Editor's note: Stratfor, the global intelligence company, is a strategic partner of WorldNetDaily.com, providing daily updates on international affairs. A geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, Roger Baker has been closely following global developments subsequent to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11. Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed Baker about the U.S. challenges of building a worldwide coalition and waging war on terrorism.

By Geoff Metcalf
Q: Please give us a brief down and dirty situation report of where we are at right now, and then I'll follow up with some specific questions for you.

A: Pretty much where we are at is the United States is in the process of planning its retaliation for the strike of Sept. 11. And this is not only the short-term retaliation of hitting back at the perpetrators and their direct networks, but also the long array of the so-called "war on terrorism." Amid this there is a lot of diplomatic activity going on in the international community with the U.S. seeking out as many allies as it can get and with each of those allies trying to balance and gain their own upper hand in this fight.

Q: I saw that Italy would not provide us air space or support. Pakistan, surprisingly, will.

A: There is actually quite a variety of what is going on. Pakistan, for example, initially said they wouldn't; then said they would. Then they said they would, contingent on the idea that the U.S. doesn't allow India or Israel to take part. So each country has a lot of internal factors particular to their own nation and their own necessities that go into this decision.

Q: I have been griping about Congress having approved the resolution saying to the president, "OK. You can use force." Is there any pressure at all to compel Congress to actually do their job and declare war?

A: One of the problems with declaring war is, who do you declare war on?

Q: Hey, we declared war on the Barbary Pirates.

A: Yeah, but that was a very long time ago. One of the cautions is declaring war on an unnamed entity or an unnamed state could take us into a very long campaign that perhaps puts us at odds with our own allies, puts us at war with half the world or more.

Q: The president has stated pretty categorically that you are either with us or against us. If you harbor terrorists, you will be treated like one.

A: Yes, he has. Again, this is going to be the difficulty in defining whether a nation state "harbors" terrorists or if terrorists have just used the state and haven't gotten permission from the government. We've already seen that these people they are looking to pick up now and people who are related to this have been not only in Afghanistan but also in Iraq and Egypt, and obviously they've been in Canada and the United States.

Q: Arguably, they've been here for at least five years.

A: At least!

Q: But the Taliban most certainly has been supportive of Osama bin Laden, and the conventional wisdom suggests they are probably the prime target right now.

A: I would have to agree with that. Whatever the United States ultimately decides as its target set -- which is likely to be very large -- they will definitely include Afghanistan. It will definitely include the Taliban. And that is probably where we will see the first action.

Q: There are three things I want to ask you about specifically. Global financial markets. When Wall Street opened, it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but it was below 9,000. Is there any way to prevent a recession?

A: Initially, there are, of course, going to be problems. And as you said, it was not as bad as it could have been. It was still a pretty substantial hit. There are sectors that are not doing as bad as others. The telecommuting and defense industries -- that is where we may see, in the long run, the markets and the economy heading back up.

Q: I saw an interesting little sidebar story off Wall Street. [Firearm maker] Sturm Ruger rose 15 percent.

A: We are going to see some unique or different things going up. One of the things that is interesting to me is telecommuting, because people are too worried about going back to their offices, flying or doing overseas business trips.

Q: Which brings me to the next question. This was an epic, catastrophic, monumental tragedy that occurred 9/11. Some people are reluctant to say this, but I asked this question on the 11th: What is the threat of chemical or biological or -- God forbid -- nuclear terrorism?

A: There's always been concern about terrorists bringing in chemicals, biological and even nuclear weapons -- the idea of suitcase bombs, of gas attacks on subways like in Japan but on a much larger scale, biological attacks and things of the sort that may have happened during the Iran/Iraq War. We believe that it is going to be first and foremost, more conventional types of attacks done in unconventional ways.

Q: Such as?

A: What we saw this time with airlines crashing into buildings, they won't repeat that. One, it's very difficult to repeat now because airline security is probably the highest it's ever been. The other is, it's been done, and that's what people are looking for. There are a lot of other targets out there. If the campaign is designed purely as a "sow terror and frighten society" type of campaign, then you're going to see hitting things like sporting events, car bombs at shopping malls, post offices, attacks of that sort. If, however ,this organization has looked and seen the after effects of what they have done here -- the ripple effect through the economy, the collapse of the airline industry, the mess this has done to aviation transportation infrastructure and such -- they may in fact go for more infrastructure targets. Then you're talking hits on oil refineries, ports, on communications towers, perhaps even bridges.

Q: I saw a frightening scenario about a major attack in San Francisco that could take out the Golden Gate or Bay Bridge.

A: You can take out big bridges like that or take out bridges across the Mississippi and cut the nation in half.

Q: I have taken a little heat for saying this catastrophe represents a major soiling of the sheets, a major "whoops" in the intelligence community, but frankly, one of the reasons we were lacking the necessary human intelligence resources is because of the policy sins of the last eight years. Is that fair to say or not?

A: One of the things that cut our human intell resources on the ground is the aversion to recruiting "dirty sources," recruiting people within the organization, people who are terrorists themselves.

Q: Dick Cheney has recently disabused the country of that.

A: Beyond that, though, there may have been another failure within the intelligence community, and that was the inability to analyze all the intelligence that they did have. Our intelligence community is very good at collecting a lot of information. But the problem comes in distilling that information, analyzing it, and more importantly, taking the information from Syria and comparing it with the information we have from Egypt and comparing it with the information we have from Boston and finding the links and patterns. The way the intelligence community works right now it's very compartmentalized, and there is not a lot of crossover of this material where people can really see it and ingest it and find these patterns that you wouldn't normally see if you're only looking at one region or one area or one aspect of the international system.

Q: The intelligence arena is naturally secretive and kind of endemically parochial. The left hand doesn't like to tell the right hand jack-spit. How do you fix that?

A: It's a tough thing to fix. It's been ingrained a long time, and it was put in place for necessary reasons. It was put in place to ensure security. The intelligence community, of course, watches and sees a lot of things, and it's got a lot of agents in the field it has to protect. And protecting one agent may mean not telling another agency even that you have an agent in that area. On the other hand, you have to weigh this on the other side. If your agent brings back some really wonderful material and you can't tell another agency where you got it or how you got it or how reliable it is, or even tell them what you received, there is no way to put that material to use.

Q: In the wake of the recent tragedy can we anticipate a real sea change in the way the administration is going to view intelligence? President Bush and Dick Cheney have been very candid in their rhetoric. The president says this war will be waged in the most secret manner ever. CNN is not going to be there providing blow-by-blow and color commentary, which is probably a good thing.

A: There's not much of a choice in changing the way we wage the war and the way the administration or the military keeps secrecy. This is a war of intelligence; this is a war of seeking and finding out people, of stalking people, of stopping groups from communicating with each other. This is not a war that lends itself to television. There are no bombs exploding in the background far, far away from the viewers (and reporters). There are no precision-guided munitions being used with little cameras mounted on the front to watch the building explode. It really is a war that is going to be fought down and dirty in the field and on the ground, and in the intelligence agencies themselves where people are mulling over and putting the material they collect together and figuring out who is who and where they are and stopping them.

Q: Gerry Ford once signed an executive order banning political assassinations. There has been a call recently to rescind or abrogate that and basically give the spooks free reign to go out and take out bad guys.

A: There is a lot of talk of doing that, and they may well do that. It is kind of an interesting position, because if we take the position that it is fine for us to assassinate someone for a political reason, we open ourselves up for other people to say it's fine and come to assassinate in the U.S. for political reasons.

Q: Which arguably is the reason or rationalization for executing the original executive order.

A: Right. On the other hand, if all the reports and speculation are correct, the president himself was one of the targets of this Sept. 11 campaign. So that rule may have already been broken.

Q: The terrorists have broken it. The question is, will we reciprocate?

A: I think that we may reciprocate, though initially it may be couched in different ways. We're going to look at it and maybe say, we won't kill a head of state or something of that sort, but we will go after "terrorists"; terrorists are fair game.

Q: Then you get into the Clintonesque arena of parsing language. Is Saddam Hussein a terrorist for harboring terrorists? Or, as a leader of a sovereign country, is he immune from some kind of assassination effort?

A: Again, it's a very difficult choice to make. But as I said, the terrorists themselves were apparently targeting the president, and if we feel that their sides have already broken that sort of unstated agreement that we have put in law, then we may well find a need to abrogate that law.

Q: I know Stratfor looks at the geopolitical scenery. Right now in the wake of the epic tragedy, there has been a groundswell of patriotism. Ninety-one percent of the American people support the president, and he hasn't even really done anything yet. How long do you think that kind of approval can be sustained before people start to get jaded again, or is it going to require another atrocity to reawaken the people?

A: It depends. I think for now the population is supportive of a strike against the perpetrators but is willing to wait a little longer for a strike in the interest of fairness and just because so much is still going on in New York and cleanup in Washington. They haven't even found a tenth of the people killed in there. Eventually, things must happen. The economy must be taken care of; it can't be ignored. The war on terrorism will start to take tolls on American lives again, and there may well be counterstrikes by the terrorists inside our own country.

Q: I recently saw a story about some of the various investment entities that fuel bin Laden's organization buying short on the stock market, anticipating something bad, and that other financial institutions in Europe had been selling stuff off. Is there any serious talk or plans to confiscate financial assets of some of these bad guys that have been identified?

A: The United States has been trying to do that for a long time in association with the British and others, to attack the financial organization behind bin Laden and behind these other terrorist organizations.

Q: We still haven't given Iran back the money we took from them, right?

A: Well, we may have a lot of money from a lot of different people. We're still holding assets from North Korea, too. I think they are going to intensify the efforts to track down these people. But again, we've been trying to do this for a while and have not been able to track them down and find out who is who.

Q: Recently, Col. David Hackworth spoke to me about the need to "out terror terrorists." I happen to agree with him, because there is historic precedence that it works. But do the American people have the stomach for that?

A: I think that is part of why the anti-terrorist activities that we're going to be undertaking will be kept secret and quiet. There are a lot of things I don't think the American people necessarily want to know, and perhaps if they choose not to know it, they will feel better about it. Out terroring the terrorists requires some very tough tactics. Over the past few months, Israel, working to stop the Palestinians, has been going out and targeting individual people with targeted assassinations.

Q: I kind of like what Gen. Pershing did in the Philippines. In fact, my great grandfather was with him. I mean, that's pretty draconian. Frankly, what "Blackjack" did was by contemporary standards barbaric -- but it worked.

A: It worked for a while. The Philippines is not exactly clear of Muslim terrorists.

Q: I recently had a call from a listener who said he was a retired brigadier general, and back in the '70s during the Carter administration, after the kidnapping of the hostages, he proposed atomizing pig fat and dropping it over a large portion of the Iranians' crops. According to him, the staff was flabbergasted. How could you even consider something so "outrageous"? I am hearing more and more every day people suggesting some flavor of "pig strategy," intimidating or terrorizing the terrorists with eternal damnation in Hell. Is that kind of stuff in the arena of fiction or probability?

A: I think that's probably more in the arena of fiction or way-out options.

Q: In the wake of the administration's harsh rhetoric, it is being suggested that we contact the Taliban and whoever else is perceived to be harboring terrorists and tell them, "Here's the deal. We want this guy like breath. You turn him over to us within 48 hours. If you don't, we're coming, and with other products from the Boeing line you haven't seen yet." Is that probably what is going to happen? And if it is, what are we going to come with?

A: That's the question. We haven't yet received a whole lot of ground basing, and to do any sustained operation against Afghanistan, we're going to need ground bases in the region. The last time we hit Afghanistan it was with about 70 ship-launched cruise missiles. It took out a couple of tents in Osama bin Laden's training camps. If we want to do some serious damage in there, we're going to have to have sustained operations. The problem with Afghanistan is it is landlocked. It is not surrounded by countries with which we normally have a good relationship. We would not necessarily be able to base our planes there. I've seen that we're talking to Bangladesh, perhaps as a place to put our planes. That's quite a ways away, and you have to fly the whole length of India to get to Afghanistan.

Q: Yeah, and the Russians didn't exactly have huge success when they were mixing it up with the Mujahedin in Afghanistan.

A: The Russians have been kind enough to warn the United States that it is probably not a good idea to go in on the ground in Afghanistan. They did not have a very good experience with them. The potential here is if the U.S. can put together perhaps not a formal coalition but at least a cooperation agreement with Pakistan to get them to seal off the border, with Iran to accelerate their supplies and activities to the northern alliance forces, with perhaps Tajikistan, with Russia coming in from the north with the U.S. providing cruise-missile cover and perhaps a few sorties -- that may be an option to get them, but again, you still have to go in on the ground.

Q: When Clinton went in there and took out that aspirin factory, he whizzed away a whole bunch of cruise missiles. We only had so many in our inventory, and they weren't ordering anymore. Is this situation now resulting in a big increase in the purchase of weapons that had been attrited?

A: If the United States was intending to do a lot of cruise missile launches (sea-based or air-based), we would have to purchase a lot of weapon systems. We used a lot of sea-based cruise missiles in the air strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan. We've certainly used a lot of air-launched cruise missiles in Kosovo and elsewhere. So there would have to be a lot of purchases toward these weapons systems.

Q: So, if you put an order in for a few hundred cruise missiles, how long before you can get delivery?

A: I don't know exactly the length of time it would take to get them, but I'm sure they would speed up the production.

Q: Israel faces terrorism on a daily basis. Everybody is talking about where the next assault might be and what we might do. However, one question that is being overlooked -- and I have talked to folks on both ends of the spectrum with diametrically opposed views -- is how much of an imminent danger is China?

A: China is actually in a very interesting position right now. China sees this as a wonderful example of what they have been saying right along: "The U.S. is not a sole hegemonic unstoppable power on the globe." At the same time, China has a very strong fear of something like this happening in Shanghai. China has worked very hard to take care of what they consider to be their Islamic problem. They have various Islamic centers across the country. In fact, a few years ago, as part of a beautification project, the Chinese government went through Beijing and bulldozed down traditional Muslim villages. So China, while they'll be stepping back, will be watching this very closely. I'm not sure at least initially they are going to be a threat. In the long run, however, as the U.S. remains occupied with terrorism and as China appears to be on the same side as the United States, it gives them an opportunity to build up their economic infrastructure and to build up their military.

Q: So you don't see this as an opportunity for them to say, "OK, the U.S. is up to their hips in alligators right now, so we can go in and take Taiwan next week"?

A: I think the rest of the world would come crashing down upon them. And I think the way the current and pending leadership is looking at things they would prefer to gain the most positive benefits out of this situation at the moment.

Q: Many of us have said the U.S. always seems to be preparing for the last war instead of the next war. There seems to be some kind of epiphany now and recognition that things have changed, and it's a different kind of environment in which we will be engaged. How long does it take to get up to speed?

A: We had started to prepare for the "next war," except we chose the wrong war to prepare for. So now we have got to completely redo this. My question is, how many of the people from the CIA or the intelligence community or special ops are still around and are still working with the government to talk about things that we used to do in the fight against communism? Things that weren't necessarily as savory as we have kept our intelligence and special ops folks to for the past few years.