Sunday, November 22, 2015

Conversation with the CIA

In recent times—in the wake of Furguson, Missouri, and the many other places in which police brutality has reared its ugly head—it has become almost axiomatic, industry standard, among liberal audiences to presume the worst about all members of law enforcement, as well as most government agencies.  In my interfaith work, I have had the opportunity to work with a good number of people in law enforcement and a variety of government agencies who are truly good people.  And I cherish these burgeoning friendships and working relationships; they present a good face to law enforcement and government, particularly those who are working with the interfaith community and are helping to dispel fears about Muslims.  As a scholar, I am taught to see that there are always two sides to any story and that there are good and bad people in every group or organization.  And while it is no secret that I have been a lifelong critic of the CIA and other clandestine government agencies which regularly engage in covert actions that push the envelope (and sometimes tear it up completely) of legality, I am not so na├»ve or prejudiced as to think that the CIA is composed entirely of psychopaths and sociopaths whose utter amorality allows them to act with impunity against whomever stands in the way of the current regime’s policies.  And I am willing to learn something from educated people, expert in their fields, who have freely shared of their knowledge to help educate students and private citizens. 

On Saturday, November 21st, the Special Operations Division, Community Outreach, of the LA Sheriff’s Department, coordinated with me to present to my students and my campus a conversation with representatives of the CIA.  They brought Randy B., a CIA case worker, to campus to talk about the CIA’s role in international affairs, how it operates, and the good it does to protect the international community.  I have seen Randy B. before at other such forums put on by the LASD Spc Ops, Community Outreach, in coordination with one of their interfaith youth organizations.  Randy is always very informative, his lectures are truly riveting, and his presentations are enjoyable to listen to.  Obviously, he only addresses the positive things that the CIA does and has done, opting to avoid the more controversial topics, but the benefits are quite numerous and quite significant.  Central to his lecture, as a case study, was the role the CIA had in collecting verifiable intelligence about the impending nuclear war between Pakistan and India in the 1990s, and assisting then President Clinton in setting up lines of communication between these two adversaries and helping to avoid what could have ended tens of millions of lives. 

During the second half of Randy’s presentation, by popular request, he then began to address the issue of ISIS and Islamic fundamentalist extremism and violence around the globe, drawing upon the authority of years of expertise and study in this matter, as well as having been directly involved in the Middle East throughout his career.  He had some very interesting things to say, that I wish everyone in America could hear.  Let me repeat, this man is from the CIA and he has more information than your average politician or pundit. 

Here is what I learned:

·       ISIS is more of a revolutionary insurgent organization than a terrorist organization, on account of their attempts to gain land and form a state. 

·       ISIS has nothing to do, materially with Al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda has become, essentially, a franchise; and Al Qaeda in Iraq, the erstwhile roots of ISIS, took its endorsement by Al Qaeda central merely as an attempt to gain legitimacy and to attract funding. 

·       The frequent power grabs and the nature of the internecine struggle identify ISIS as having hardly anything to do with religion, at its core, but they merely use religious and apocalyptic trappings and rhetoric to unify their human drones, as do many other nationalist movements. 

·       While boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria are certainly needed to oppose and limit ISIS’ military advances, the best thing we can do is to discredit them and demonstrate to the world and to potential joiners, that ISIS is a failed state and cannot provide anything good to those who support it, thereby undermining their mission and limiting their growth. 

·       ISIS will not likely use refugee streams to infiltrate a country with sleeper cells or terrorist operatives.  It’s too expensive and risky trying to get such a person past the screening.  It’s much easier to use “home-grown” terrorists, as all the suspects and alleged assailants in the Paris terrorist cases appear to be. 

·       And the best thing that we citizens, stateside, can do to help is to not let their attempts to frighten and divide us succeed; to pull together in the interfaith organizations that we represented at that event, and to avoid fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric. 

Of course, Randy was only able to give his own educated opinions as an academic and a professional, and is unable to speak directly on behalf of the CIA.  But I wish that every Fox News viewer, and every Fox News newscaster/commentator could have heard his lecture. 

Thank you, Randy, for sharing your wisdom.  Thank you, CIA, for collecting this intelligence and allowing Randy to share it with us. 

So, for all those who persist in thinking that ISIS represents Islam, and that there is some kind of Axis of Evil that is run by ISIS and Al Qaeda in concert with one another, think again.  Your Muslim neighbor, oncologist, gas station owner, Cal Tech engineer, Business Administration grad student, and whatnot, are much more representative of Islam than the masked insurgents from thousands of miles away who seek to gain power and glory for themselves, and use religion (as have their counterparts in every other religion) as their excuse—their rationale, their justification.