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Undocumented Workers: The Least of Our Border Problems

12.01.2005 | BOOKS

The Al Qaeda Connection
International Terrorism, Organized Crime, and the Coming Apocalypse

by Paul L. Williams
Prometheus Books, 2005
280 pages, $25.00

The "coming apocalypse"? To progressives, that's just fear-mongering by those twin tines of the serpent's forked tongue--the hard right and evangelicals. Their motive? To justify foreign intervention and curtailment of civil liberties, of course.

Even a journalist as respected as Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation, Rolling Stone) can't keep himself from asserting that the Bush administration exaggerates the threat of Al Qaeda. "It has never had access to weapons of mass destruction," he writes in Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan Books, 2005), "and it almost certainly never will." Dreyfuss fails, however, to footnote his glib reassurance.

On the other hand, The Al Qaeda Connection lives and dies by its references. Chances are, as with Paul L. Williams's previous book, Osama's Revenge (Prometheus, 2004), that while reading it you'll find yourself asking, "Where'd he come up with that? Could it be true?" Each occurrence of a superscript will send you riffling through the footnotes, the veracity of which we'll address.

Still, it's likely that a more discreet choice of words in the subtitle, such as the "Pending Apocalypse," might broaden Williams audience beyond, say, the crowd. But it would have done nothing to diminish how real the danger of nuclear terrorism is to all of us across the political spectrum. Just ask sources with establishment credentials like former assistant secretary of defense Graham Allison, the author of Nuclear Terrorism, as well as senators past and present Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar.

In another recent case of willful ignorance, Washington Post reporter Dafna Linzer wrote: "[CIA Director Porter] Goss, who served as a CIA operative in Latin America in the 1960s, is also eager to reopen stations there... . but some argue it is still too early in the struggle with al Qaeda to begin moving resources elsewhere."

The Al Qaeda Connection endeavors to prove, however, that when it comes to Al Qaeda, there is no "elsewhere," including the Western hemisphere. First, however, Williams takes us back to 1996, when, after American pressure on Khartoum, bin Laden was expelled from Sudan.

Though welcome in Afghanistan, he arrived broke after spending $150 million on Sudanese building projects, including a nuclear laboratory (source: a book published by Nation Books). Bin Laden had also lost money in the nuclear black market, where, as a newcomer, his agents were sometimes burned. (Imagine the cojones it takes to con Al Qaeda.)

In 1996 bin Laden journeyed to Albania, where he forged a working relationship with Turkish drug lords called bubas and the Albanian mob. Thus was the path cleared for the Taliban, despite Mullah Omar's public disavowal, to become the world's leading producer of high-grade heroin (source: a book published by Simon & Schuster).

"The jihad," Williams writes, "would be fueled by Western decadence giving truth to the age-old Islamic adage: 'It's best to hoist your enemy on his own petard.'"

Williams then asserts that the billions amassed from the drug trade have been used by Al Qaeda to fund four offensives. First, the Taliban's struggle with the Northern Alliance; second, the Albanian KLA in Kosovo; third, 9/11 and the jihad against the US; fourth, the actual destruction of the United States.

Up to this point, The Al Qaeda Connection has been like a ride on this year's ultimate roller coaster. After the first circuit, however, Williams dumps us in the "elsewhere" of all "elsewhere's"--one of the world's natural wonders: Iguacu Falls, which boasts 14 waterfalls.

The triangle where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet, it became a base for the shipment of Bolivian cocaine and, after the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon, a magnet for militant Muslims. In the fog of myriad terrorist attacks since, it's been forgotten, but in 1992, Hezbollah attacked the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29, and in 1994, a Jewish center there, killing 86.

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East, the Shia Hezbollah shepherded the Sunni Al Qaeda through its finishing school for terrorists. "Thus," writes Williams, "the Muslim world of Sunnis and Shiites, thanks largely to [Hezbollah leader] Imad Mugniyah, had become united."

After a 1995 visit, bin Laden established an al Qaeda cell in the Triangle, which, ignored by the international intelligence community, he judged the perfect site for a WMD laboratory as well (source: a newspaper called The Sunday Herald). Though arrests were made after 9/11, "the cancer of Al Qaeda," Williams writes, had already begun to metastasize in South America. For example, in 2001 a House subcommittee found that Colombia represented "a breeding ground for international terrorism equaled only by Afghanistan."

Then Williams chronicles how, in the aftermath of the El Salvador civil war, destitute young men emigrated to the US. Once in Los Angeles, members of a street gang banded together with former paramilitaries to form a mutant strain of gang called Mara Salvatrucha. Besides taking over the methamphetamine market, they exacted a toll from many illegals crossing our 1,820-mile border with Mexico.

After 9/11, Mara Salvatrucha attracted the attention of Al Qaeda, who realized they could prove useful for smuggling operatives and weapons (including nuclear) into the US (source: The Nation). During the first nine months of 2004, the US apprehended 6,022 "special interest aliens." But after receiving hearing dates from judges, they disappeared and sought refuge in places like Brooklyn's Farouq Mosque, of Blind Sheikh fame.

Meanwhile the likes of Adnan el-Shukrijumah, singled out by bin Laden to command the so-called American Hiroshima, slipped into the country (sources: The New York Daily News, Time). After reading The Al Qaeda Connection you're more likely to understand that sealing the border is about discriminating against Mexicans than stopping terrorists. The Bush administration, however, refused to take measures to lock down our border with Mexico.

But after 9/11, when Bush was told two nuclear suitcases may have been sneaked into the country, he went "through the roof" and ordered nuclear terrorism be given priority. Since his attention has obviously shifted, is this yet more proof Iraq is a distraction from combating terrorism?

Meanwhile, why hasn't a nuclear bomb been set off in an American city yet? As Williams explains, not only must the weapon be shipped, but cells established, sleeper agents trained, and the weapons prepared. Unlike 9/11, the operation--particularly since it's believed bin Laden plans a simultaneous attack on a number of cities--costs a king's ransom and he's taking pains not to waste his "crown jewels" by acting prematurely.

Current talk about how al Qaeda is but an ideology adhered to by autonomous cells deceives. Unlike smaller attacks, bin Laden, lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri, and their shura (governing council) need to sign off on a nuclear attack.

Paul Williams may appear to be shouting "Apocalypse!" in a crowded room. But if progressives wish to prove they're not as faint-hearted as they've been painted, they need to follow the footnotes and concede that the case he presents is convincing.

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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