MANHATTAN (CN) – Many Afghanis “do not know something called 9/11 happened,” a security official said Tuesday night at a panel discussion on different approaches to intelligence gathering.
Five former security officials from agencies such as the FBI and CIA compared new methods for more humane or effective intelligence gathering at “Confronting Violent Extremism,” an event hosted by NYU’s Center on Law and Security.
Most of the panelists agreed that the United States must adopt a policy that accounts for differences between Islamic militant groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas and al-Qaida.
“Ten years after 9/11, we still do not have a strategy,” said Ali Soufan, a former supervisory special agent. He added that U.S. policy often fails to differentiate between groups on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations List.
“We put them all in the same basket,” Soufan said, urging a more “comprehensive approach.”
During his time in Afghanistan, Soufan said he observed that many Afghanis “do not know something called 9/11 happened.”
Steven Kleinman, a decorated veteran intelligence officer of 26 years and a principal member of Soufan’s consulting group, says America uses an Army field manual that has not been updated or studied since 1956.
In a conversation following the event, Kleinman said some of the techniques outlined in the manual use humiliation to break a detainee, which stokes longstanding resentments and perceptions of American power that help breed terrorism.
America must advance to “fourth generation warfare,” or a war of the mind, Kleinman said at the event.
Quoting Sun Tzu and Einstein to make his points, Kleinman later said America needs to move beyond “actionable intelligence” because chess players know that a “reactive” strategy ends in “checkmate.”
“I don’t think we understand ourselves any more,” Kleinman said, adding that before Sept. 11, few would have openly supported a foreign policy that uses torture.
Instead of requesting only intelligence reports, President Barack Obama should demand a “wisdom report,” said Kleinman, a California resident.
Thomas Neer, a former FBI agent, said that America should adopt a more “holistic” view, saying that many Islamic radicals turn to terrorism for reasons not connected to religion. Some are looking for a job, purpose, or, “hormones notwithstanding… a wife.”
“Let’s look at these people as individuals and not paint them with a broad brush,” Neer said.
On the other hand, Barry McManus, a former CIA agent, advocated an approach that he said is unlikely to secure the approval of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Drawing from his experiences in France, he said that country remains “unique” and effective in its counterterrorism efforts because they are driven by intelligence.
If America adopted France’s methods, “The ACLU would be all over you for intrusive invasion,” McManus said.
France is more focused on preventing attacks than on the combating the ideology of terrorism, McManus said.
Yet McManus said the nature of his work called for him “to understand the nuances, to understand the culture.”
At one point of the evening, the conversation turned from interrogations to what leads to them.
Former Homeland Security Senior Executive Mark Fallon said “far too many” detainees were sent to Guantanamo without sufficient evidence. He added that, after Guantanamo, the “opinion of the United States changed dramatically” and the overseas prison became “used by al-Qaida recruiters” as a symbol to draw new terrorists.
The moderator for the discussion, Center on Law and Security Executive Director Karen Greenberg, is the author of “The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days.” A prominent civil libertarian, Greenberg argues in her book that the Bush administration thwarted what could have been a detention center that complied with international norms.