Terrell (Terry) E. Arnold was the number 2 counter-terrorism official at the U.S. State Department, and is one of the world’s leading experts on terror.
Arnold served as the Deputy Director, Office of Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Planning, at the U.S. State Department. He is also the former Chairman of the Department of International Studies at the National War College.
Arnold has worked as a crisis management consultant for several Federal agencies, including The State Department, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Customs Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He is the author of numerous books on terror*. Arnold is a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean war.
I spoke with Arnold by phone.
GW: Your essay It is Vital to Move Beyond 9/11 is insightful and hard-hitting, and I agree with virtually everything you say. I have previously written on many of the topics you touch on, such as false pretenses for war, torture and illegal spying.
Initially, you write:
“As an alleged post 9/11 defense, the War on Terrorism is a gigantic fraud.”
As a leading counter-terrorism expert, I am curious to hear why you believe this.
Terry Arnold: The military approach doesn’t cover all of the elements of the problem. We need to capture and confine the individuals who are up to doing mischief. That’s a law enforcement issue.
Also, using only a military approach does nothing to recognize the serious grievances of groups and individuals around the world. Some people harbor deep senses of grievance and are prepared to commit acts of terrorism, or are willing to support terrorism.
Any approach to terrorism which lacks a mechanism for dealing with “outgroups” will not be successful. Each society has to engage the “outgroups” by itself. No international organization can do that.
For example, the Kurds want their own state – Kurdistan. Unfortunately, ancient Kurdistan is divided among several surrounding states. The surrounding states have to recognize that they are part of the problem. Dealing with the Kurds is therefore a regional problem.
GW: Do you think that starting “elective” or “preemptive” wars against states which do not pose an imminent threat to America’s national security decreases or increases the threat of terrorism?
Terry Arnold: It increases the threat because it injures more people. One of the principal causes of terrorism is injuries to people and families.
What we’re watching in the Middle East is Israel committing suicide [Arnold explained that, by killing and injuring so many people in Gaza, Israel is destroying its own security, and creating a huge group of people who wish Israel harm. Through the Gaza war, Israel is sewing the seeds of its own destruction]. You will make enemies you will not even know about until it is too late.
GW: While there are certainly some bad guys in the world who are out to kill Americans and hurt our country, I believe that the whole Al Qaeda threat has been blown out of proportion to justify certain ulterior motives. Do you agree or disagree?
Terry Arnold: They overstated the danger … did it from a view that justified the “war on terror”. Mostly terrorists the world over are not interested in doing harm to the United States. They are mainly ticked off at the United States to the extent we support people who harm them.
We can defeat Al Qaeda or any other group by depriving them of their cause and by engaging them [rather than solely using a policy of force].
GW: What would you tell people working at the CIA, NSA, other intelligence services, military services, special operations, etc. who sincerely believe what they’ve been told . . . that the war on terror is an all-out, all-or-nothing war between the good guys and the bad guys and that we have to go “kick their butt”?
Terry Arnold: We’re wasting our time and money. And not doing anything useful for our reputation. But we are not really working to solve the real problems that generate terrorism in many countries.
GW: Do you believe that torture decreases or increases the risk of terrorism?
Terry Arnold: It increases the risk. There is a school of thought that it is deterrence. But I do not believe that. If people’s grievances multiply, you will have more terrorism. For example, military attacks in Iraq increase terrorism. If you ameliorate people’s grievances, you will decrease terrorism.
GW: A high-level Special Ops interrogator said that torture by Americans of innocent Iraqis is the main reason that foreign fighters started fighting against Americans in Iraq in the first place. Do you agree?
Terry Arnold: I agree with that. What went on at Abu Gharaib was on the street before it was in the [American] media.
GW: You write:
“Washington leadership [has] brought us no closer than we were on September 12, 2001 to resolving how [9/11] was executed and by what enemy.
Let’s focus on the how question first.
What facts or observations make you doubt that the official government story does not fully explain how 9/11 was carried out?
Terry Arnold: The nature of events in New York. The buildings falling down. I’m not satisfied by the notion that planes hitting buildings constructed as these would have caused them to collapse. The last building to fall was not even attacked.
GW: Now let’s address the question of who carried out the attacks. You write:
“They tell us repeatedly that it [9/11] was the work of al Qaida, but they have yet to show us the proofs.”
As a counter-terrorism expert, what sort of proofs would you expect the government to show if al Qaeda had carried out the 9/11 attacks – at least without the help of any state?
Terry Arnold: There is a lot of work in getting sixteen people ready to commit voluntary and simultaneous suicide. The case has not been made. The official story is not persuasive because it does not address the real issues of complexity.
GW: You also say:
“They told us the official version of what happened that day, but their story is laced with contradictions, and the facts visible on the ground at the time belie much of the official account.”
What contradictions do you see with the official version of 9/11? And what facts belie the official account?
Terry Arnold: The sheer mechanics of the event. The chances of two buildings of that height and structure merely collapsing in their own footprint are extremely slim.
GW: Are you familiar with the term “false flag terror“? Do you believe that governments ever carry out false flag terror?
Terry Arnold: I know that there is such a thing as false flag terrorism.
GW: How do you know that?
Terry Arnold: From history.
GW: Do you believe that spying on American citizens is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil?
Terry Arnold: No, you can’t absolutely prevent terrorism. What you need is an alert law enforcement system which is aware that there are individuals who are unhappy enough to fight back and who are looking for signs that such people may be planning an attack. Small groups are very hard to track effectively, and determined terrorists are not going to be easily spotted.
You have several options for dealing with terrorism. You can shoot someone if you think they are a danger. You can take steps to frustrate their endeavor. You can use the political process.
to pose alternative solutions to their problems.
It is best to look to where the trouble spots are, and engage people in a dialogue. Negotiation doesn’t always succeed. But its the place to start.
If negotiation doesn’t work, you recognize that, and move on to other choices. [But at least it helps you clearly identify when you've reached an impasse].
GW: How do you think the American media should approach terror issues? Do you think that the press best serves U.S. interests by “closing ranks” with the President, and backing the decisions of the Commander-in-Chief without question?
Terry Arnold: I don’t think media ever serve their own purposes when they just go along with whatever groups they support. The media should deal with the threats of terror in a detached and rational manner, not just parroting what the government says they are or doing or blessing whatever they do.
The media has a problem of maintaining its integrity.
Constitutional Form of Government
GW: Do you believe that an all-powerful Executive Branch helps keep us safe from terrorists, or that separation of powers, including checks and balances from Congress and the courts can coexist with an effective counter-terrorism program?
Terry Arnold: An all-powerful executive is an insufficient policy. Government can’t operate without all of those branches of government
GW: During the Bush administration, people said “we live in a “post-9/11 world”, and therefore the Constitution was a quaint and outdated document. Do you believe that?
Terry Arnold: That’s a falsehood. The world is not post-9/11 in any strategic, historic sense.
GW: I believe that we have rapidly been sliding towards martial law in the U.S. Do you agree?
Terry Arnold: There was some overreaction of the political left of the narrow-minded approaches of the Bush administration. The Bush administration was pushing a narrow, militaristic view. The Bush administration made moves that are discomfiting to a lot of people on the left and the right.
But it is hard to know what they would have done if [people who thought like that] remained in office for 4 or 8 more years.
GW: Do you think things are improving under the current administration?
Terry Arnold: I’m waiting to see. Its too early to tell.
The remainder of the interview, on continuity of government plans, challenged my beliefs on the subject. Arnold is apparently an expert in this area. I sincerely hope that he is right and that my worries were unfounded.
GW: Many people believe that the suspension of a Constitutional form of government which began by the declaration of a national emergency on 9/11, and the institution of a government subject to active “continuity of government plans” has continued up through the end of the Bush administration and to the present time.
Pursuant to continuity of government procedures, Secretary of Defense Gates was sent out of town during Obama’s inauguration. In addition, Obama’s aids said that in his first 100 hours, Obama would sign “bureaucratic proclamations about continuity of government”.
Do you have any insight or knowledge as to whether or not a continuity of government form of government is still in effect?
Terry Arnold: I taught on Continuity of Government for a while.
The rules for continuity of government are clear and well-practiced. Continuity of government is about having a government, even when you lose the one you’ve already got.
Continuity of government is about protecting the established leadership, or making sure that leadership continues. Continuity of government means that, within the specific framework, there is a designated lawful group to take up the reins of government.
9/11 properly caused emergency measures to be taken to assure continuity of government. When bombs go off, that is what continuity of government plans are for. In a real continuity of government changeover, Bush and Cheney would have been missing [In other words, a real continuity of government changeover would not have happened while Bush and Cheney were still alive and active]. Other things would have been disrupted as well.
After I discussed a Washington Post article from 2002 stating that Cheney went into hiding for months after 9/11 because COG plans were implemented, Arnold responded as follows.
That’s what is supposed to happen in those circumstances. I think the amount of time is an exaggeration.
In other words, Arnold is saying that COG is all about making sure someone is around to run the government, and hiding some government employees is the way to do that, and nothing sinister.
I then argued that the fact that DeFazio and the entire Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress asked the White House to disclose COG plans, and the White House refused, showed that something nefarious was being done with respect to COG.
The White House was overcautious about it. But DeFazio’s public request was a political gesture intended to embarrass leadership . . . that was a mistake. If they had simply picked up the phone and asked, they would have gotten [the appropriate] information.
The Bush administration leadership tried to usurp power. They went around the FISA court, and did a lot of other things that went too far. But that had nothing to with COG.
I then stated that many people believed that Bush was not the real leader, but simply a figurehead, and that a shadow government had actually run things during the Bush years.
It may be true that that Cheney and his neocon colleagues ran things without specific reference to Bush, but that had nothing to do with COG. So long as nobody yanked his coattails, Cheney was able at times to look like the deputy President.
Postscript: I believe that Arnold is one of the “good guys” – someone who spent many years in government, is trying to do the right thing. There are obviously bad people in government. But there are also many good current and former government people. See this. You can’t always judge a book by its cover, and you never know where you will find allied in the struggle for truth, justice and security.
* Arnold is the author, co-author, or editor of the following books: Fighting Back: Winning the War Against Terrorism (1986), Beyond the Iran-Contra Crisis : The Shape of U. S. Anti-Terrorism Policy in the Post-Reagan Era (1988), The Violence Formula: Why People Lend Sympathy and Support to Terrorism (1990), Think About Terrorism: The New Warfare (1991), and A World Less Safe: Essays on Conflict in the 21st Century (2005).
Big hat tip to Alan Miller of Patriots Question 9/11 who discovered Arnold’s essay, summarized Arnold’s biographical information, and brought Arnold to my attention.