by Mark Silinsky
At a recent town hall meeting for US Army counterintelligence personnel, leaders opened the session with the promise of new vigor and a sharpened focus towards identifying, targeting and neutralizing “extremist” threats to the Army. Initially, the audience responded with enthusiasm. Many hoped that Army would finally get tough with political Islam, or Islamism, and shift direction from a passive, weak, and reactive approach to Islamist murder, infiltration, and subversion, and towards more dynamic and proactive counterintelligence operations and analysis. They would leave the meeting, once again, disappointed and fatalistic.
US Army counterintelligence leaders delivered the well-worn patter song of apologetics and excuses for their refusal to deal honestly and openly with the Islamist threat to the Army. There were slides explaining why Islamism could not be singled out among extremist ideologies, as well as nonsensical claims that “99.9% of American Muslims are against violence.”1 Interestingly, Islamic extremism was paired with right-wing extremism on several slides. Speakers assured the audience that Islamists are no more threatening than right wingers.
OK. But, if this is the case, why doesn’t the Army treat Islamists as it treated right wingers earlier? In fact, Army counterintelligence has a strong record in identifying, analyzing, and targeting right-wing extremists and educating soldiers about them during the 1990s. The US Army Intelligence and Threat Analysis Center (ITAC)2 produced many classified and unclassified articles on the skinhead violence, particularly in Europe. In the early 1990s, the US Army had many troops stationed in Germany and some in Britain, and both these countries had loud, aggressive, and obnoxious populations of skinheads. There were also vicious racial bigots in the States, some of whom targeted homosexuals; ethnic minorities, particularly blacks; and Jews. For this reason ITAC produced a briefing on right-wing extremism and distributed it to US Army forces around the world.3
The ITAC briefing detailed the political agenda, organizational structure, dress, subculture, and location of right-wingers who might target US soldiers, more than a few of whom were black. The briefing was candid, well received, and left the reader in no doubt as to where the US Army stood on the issue of right-wing extremist politics.
So, why is there no similar effort directed against Islamists 20 years later, despite repeated pleas of US Army counterintelligence analysts to initiate them?4 The answer is simple; it is politics. In the 1990s, there were no organizations that rallied behind right-wing advocates of violence. No senator or congressman said that skinheads were misunderstood and well-meaning young men who had their belief system hijacked by a few extremists. Right-wingers were not lavishly sponsored by Saudi Arabia, and there were no foreign-funded apologists for skinheads at US universities. US Army leaders did not sweat about explaining “right-wing-o-phobia” before Congressional committees or having civil rights law suits filed against them. And that allowed aggressive Army analysts to distribute briefings and awareness posters and engage with Congressional staff on the issue.
Today, much of the skinhead threat belongs to history, but the US Army faces the very real threat of Islamism. US Army counterintelligence analysts have no interest in the religious aspects of Islam. It is not an issue of theology. Islam is a largely political and legal belief system, and, like right-wing extremism, Islamism conflicts with many US Army values. While the US Army succeeded in fighting right-wing extremism in the 1990s, it has failed to muster the courage to fight Islamism today. It is likely that Islamists will strike again, and, if they do, who will explain to the mothers of murdered soldiers the reasons for US Army passivity? Who will explain to them that US Army leaders did not want to offend Muslims or civil libertarians? And if such a murder occurs, how many US Army leaders will step forward and say, “It is my fault. I could have helped prevent it. I will take responsibility and resign my commission?” Probably not many.
Mark Silinsky is a senior counterintelligence analyst for the US Army. His views do not represent those of the US Army or any agency of the US government. He may be contacted at Silinsky@yahoo.com.
1 Predictably, the speaker did not cite a source for the 99.9% figure. Credible polling does not support any such claim.
2 ITAC was a subordinate command of the US Army Intelligence and Security Command. It was decommissioned in the mid-1990s, and its counterintelligence functions were place under the 902nd MI Group in the Army Counterintelligence Center.
3 ITAC also produced a poster that detailed the politics, subculture, dress, and behavior of skinheads and other vicious racial bigots. Like the briefing, this poster was distributed around the world.
4 Soon after the September 2001 Islamist attacks, a few analysts began concentrating of the Islamist threat to the US Army. A beta version of a briefing was distributed to intelligence elements around the world. Like the right-wing extremist briefing of the 1990s, this briefing was well received and highly sought. However, it was cancelled by senior US Army counterintelligence leaders, despite demand from intelligence and security officials and analysts.
(see all articles by Mark Silinsky at Right Truth here)