- WASHINGTON (AP) - Frustrated by restrictions on using military force against
terrorists, the United States is turning to a lower-profile tactic. The
CIA calls it "disruption'' - working with foreign law-enforcement
services to harass and hamper terrorists around the world before they can
pull off major attacks.
- Least well known of counter-terrorist
weapons, disruption involves using new or long-established clandestine
alliances with foreign intelligence and law-enforcement services in the
tracking down, breaking up and knocking over of international terrorist
- There are no headlines when the job is
done - and no fingerprints.
- The CIA keeps its role secret, and the
foreign countries that actually crack down on the suspects carefully hide
the U.S. role, lest they stir up political trouble for themselves. Moreover,
the CIA sends no formal notice to Congress once a foreign law-enforcement
agency, acting on CIA information, swoops in and breaks up a suspected
- The key to disruption is that it takes
place before terrorists strike, amounting to a pre-emptive, offensive form
of counterterrorism, Richard Clarke, President Clinton's counterterrorism
- "If we have an opportunity to disrupt
a terrorist cell that could potentially threaten us, we do it,'' Clarke
said in a recent interview. "We are no longer going to wait for the
attack. We are going to pre-empt, we are going to disrupt, and we have
done that a very great deal.''
- Paul Pillar, deputy chief of the CIA's
Counterterrorist Center, said in a recent speech that disruption focuses
on impeding "the recruitment, the cell-building, the moving of men,
money and materiel and the mere maintaining of a (terrorist) presence in
a foreign country.''
- Disruption has the advantage of utmost
secrecy, hiding the hand of the United States and avoiding the cumbersome
congressional reporting requirements that go with CIA-directed covert operations.
If foreign law enforcers get rough in smashing a suspected terrorist cell,
the CIA would have no direct control, and human rights organizations would
have no way of identifying a CIA role.
- "If it's something major, a significant
development, then Congress is informed,'' said a U.S. intelligence official
who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But there's nothing formal,
there's no monthly `disruption report.'''
- U.S. counterterrorism officials increasingly
use disruption because other options are so few.
- Only occasionally, and with great difficulty,
do U.S. authorities succeed in arresting suspects after a terror act occurs.
The United States is still trying to find perpetrators of the 1996 Khobar
Towers attack on U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. And Osama bin Laden, alleged
mastermind of last summer's U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa, remains at
- Though U.S. officials often threaten
military reprisal against terrorists, the option has been used only three
times: the 1986 bombing of two Libyan cities, the 1993 cruise missile strike
on Iraq and last year's attack on suspected terrorist strongholds in Sudan
- By contrast, disruption of terrorist
cells represents the nearly daily business of the CIA's new Global Response
Center, a high-tech, Tom Clanceyesque command center on the sixth floor
of the agency's headquarters in suburban Virginia.
- A senior Clinton administration official,
speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence has conducted
successful disruption operations in as many as 10 countries in the last
six months, mostly in the Middle East.
- The recent arrest by Turkish forces in
Kenya of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan is one of the rare examples
where the disruption tactic gained public notice. The CIA and other intelligence
agencies refuse to comment on whether they played a role in assisting Turkey.
But other U.S. officials say the United States provided Turkey with critical
information about Ocalan's whereabouts.
- Disruption entails tedious hours poring
over lists of names and photographs of suspects. Typically, a disruption
operation begins with a scrap of information " an intercepted cell
phone call, word that a known terrorist has crossed into another country,
a report from a field surveillance team.
- The CIA might provide a cooperative foreign
intelligence or law-enforcement service with evidence that could provide
the legal pretext for an arrest, such as information that a terrorist cell
crossed a border with false papers or illegal arms.
- The idea is early intervention.
- "It's rare that we foil a plot that
is advanced enough to be clearly identified as a plot,'' said a senior
intelligence official involved in counterterrorism. The aim is "making
professional life difficult for a terrorist group or cell.''