MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Thursday, April 4th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The Olasky Interview.
George Friedman is a geopolitical forecaster. He founded a private intelligence firm called Stratfor and now runs Geopolitical Futures.
WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky sat down with Friedman recently to talk about terrorism in modern times. Here’s an excerpt.
OLASKY: Since 2001 we’ve made fighting terrorism our top national security threat. Is that changing now?
FRIEDMAN: I doubt very much that it’s changing. However, we’ve discovered that fighting terrorism is not as easy as it appears. It’s really not a military problem.
Terrorists can be defeated—like ISIS has been. The danger of terrorism is a small group of people. This is an intelligence problem, police problem. It’s not something soluble by the military.
So going to Afghanistan disrupted al-Qaeda, but didn’t solve the problem. Going into Iraq or Libya didn’t solve the problem. What we’re learning is a country is that there can be problems of violence to not soluble by military. So I think it remains a high priority, but it’s shifting away from military.
OLASKY: Not soluble by military, or are they not soluble at all?
FRIEDMAN: In the end, if someone wants to come and randomly shoot some people, he will be able to do so. But we are looking at al-Qaeda’s attack on 9/11, which was what I call strategic terrorism—it was a massive attack not on just two important buildings in New York, but also on Washington, on the Pentagon.
This is a highly orchestrated operation, but I doubt that more than 15-20 people in the world knew that it was taking place. We had a massive military response to it trying to disrupt the organization. And what we found is that we were able to disrupt the command structure of al-Qaeda, but then ISIS emerged.
And ISIS was very successful, particularly in Europe, carrying out random terrorist acts, sometimes by one guy in a car mowing down a bunch of people. So it’s very hard to protect ourselves from terrorism in general. Islamic terrorism is not unique in the kind of terror we have. Timothy McVeigh, we know, attacked the federal building in Oklahoma City.
So it is something we’ve lived with for a long time. I remember when Croatian nationalists who were blowing up buildings in New York City, and we’re going to live with that. The cold-blooded fact is it’s not a strategic threat to the United States—or any country. It is murderous. It is dangerous and of course tragic for those who are there, but it doesn’t undermine the country unless we allow it to.
OLASKY: So what are the chief threats now, or chief threats we know of, or are there no chief threats?
FRIEDMAN: Well, chief threat is the one we don’t know. Chief threat is 10 or 15 terrorists, Islamic or otherwise, determined to deliver a message to some country, to their own people, what have you. And the danger is those people who are very careful to hide their intentions. And unfortunately, it’s very easy to hide your intentions. And so the great threat to us is the unknown.
OLASKY: So why haven’t we had another 9/11 in the 17-18 years since then?
FRIEDMAN: 9/11 was a very sophisticated operation. The people who carried out 9/11 knew how to evade surveillance by the FBI and the CIA while they gain training in learning how to fly, while they lived in the United States for over a year, while they received money. These people understood U.S. intelligence operations and were able to evade them.
They all died.
It was an asset—we’ll call it wasting assets in the sense that having died in the operation. The number of people who’d still carry out those operations are few. But it turned out that the less sophisticated cells or people who are just individuals and dedicated to ISIS or whatever were the most dangerous.
We were in London a couple of years ago and we were 15 minutes away from Parliament when a lone individual, driving a car, drove into a crowd of people on the bridge to the Parliament, killing a number and so on. That threat is almost insoluble because it is a person who’s come to believe something, and he’s prepared to give his life for it, and he’s prepared to carry out the action.
You can build barriers around the buildings. He’ll strike somewhere else. So the problem that you have here is that there is a form of terrorism that’s indistinguishable from a psychotic killer. You can’t stop a kind of psychotic killer. You don’t know he’s psychotic, you don’t know he’s a killer, you can’t stop a lone wolf.
OLASKY: So anything we can do? Do we just live with it? Are we underestimating the significance of religious ideological belief?
FRIEDMAN: Well, there are many motives. Again, Timothy McVeigh being one of the largest killers, his motives were political. There have been other killers who kill children for whatever reason they want—Sandy Hook.
So in Europe in the United States in many places, we have people who have motivations to kill that don’t fit into the Islamic mode, don’t fit into the political mode, don’t fit into the religious mode.
Why in the world does a 16-year-old decide to kill children in a school? There is such a thing as madness. And in a country the size of the United States, there are many maniacs.
OLASKY: The stuff going on at our southern border is often being portrayed as, “Well, we must increase our border security or else we’ll have terrorism” and so forth. Is that a political argument or is that a rational examination?
FRIEDMAN: We may have a criminal problem. These people coming across the border have never posed a terror problem.
You know, we live in Texas. And in Texas, it’s interesting that you don’t find huge upset about the border. Don’t want the border closed because we’ve lived with Mexico since the revolution.
Interestingly, the country that Texas and California, the two largest states, export the most to is Mexico. The idea that we would close the border? Well, we would expect the Californians to be shocked and upset. What very few people understand is that the Texans are enraged.