- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2003

A prominent academic expert on bioterrorism, Leonard A. Cole explains the science behind the poisonous anthrax letters in The Anthrax Letters: A Medical Detective Story (Joseph Henry Press, $24.95, 267 pages). Following the catastrophic impact of al Qaeda’s suicide attacks on September 11, 2001, Americans were jolted again between October 4 and November 21 of that year when 22 people were exposed to anthrax, which was transmitted via the mail system.

All 11 people who contracted the cutaneous form of anthrax poisoning survived; of the other 11 — who became ill from inhaling the spores — five died. Since then, though anthrax scares occasionally surface (such as last week’s unfounded concern that anthrax had been detected in Washington post offices), national anxiety has eased.

Anthrax spores are highly destructive biological weapons, as Mr. Cole explains, because they are odorless and tasteless, and lethal quantities can be so tiny as to go unseen, so the victim is unlikely to know he is under attack. Mr. Cole’s new study is one of the most authoritative of the recent crop of books on the anthrax letters, and it is helped by the author’s unfailingly clear writing style, which makes the biological threat of anthrax easy to understand.

The narrative Mr. Cole weaves is undeniably intriguing. In it, he goes to great lengths to consider and explain the painstaking forensic science used to diagnose the presence of anthrax in general. He then considers in particular the letters that were sent with the poisonous agents, and he provides capsule descriptions of some of the nation’s foremost bioterrorism experts who are involved in counteracting this threat.

In the final chapter of the book, Mr. Cole attempts to solve the mystery on everyone’s mind: Who sent the anthrax letters? Although this mystery remains just that, Mr. Cole explains why solving the crime maddeningly veers between attributing it to a “narcissistic sociopathic lone wolf” or a group such as al Qaeda.

• • •

It takes millions of dollars to fund the infrastructures of major terrorist groups, so tracking, disrupting and curtailing terrorist financing is a crucial component in the war on terrorism. Rachel Ehrenfeld’s Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financedand How to Stop It (Bonus Books, $24.95, 267 pages) details the methods that terrorist organizations use to fund their activities. These funding sources include state supporters, charitable organizations and front businesses, as well as criminal activities such as extortion, smuggling, drug trafficking, kidnapping, credit card fraud and even software piracy.

The author applies this funding methodology to uncover the links between terrorism and organized crime in the cases of the Lebanese Hizballah, the Palestinian Hamas, Islamic Jihad (radical Islamists in al Qaeda’s orbit), the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, and Colombian narco-terrorists.

The book is not investigatory — it is based on secondary sources, not primary documents such as law enforcement and intelligence reports, which are extremely difficult for analysts outside government to obtain. Although this is disappointing, a greater problem is that some of the writing is unnecessarily polemical.

For example, it serves little purpose to stress the fact that Yasser Arafat’s personal wealth, as a result of corruption, may total $1.3 billion, especially since such a figure may or may not be accurate. Moreover, the author then adds that a fortune of this kind could be used to “Feed three million Palestinians for a year; Buy one thousand mobile intensive care units; Fund ten hospitals for a decade.” Overheated discourse such as this simply does little to advance understanding of the problem.

Nevertheless, Rachel Ehrenfeld’s study is, overall, a thoughtful treatment of an often neglected aspect of terrorism and a major contribution to our understanding of what policy measures are needed to thwart the financial underpinnings of this growing threat.

• • •

Veteran British journalist Jason Burke’s Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror (I.B. Tauris, $24.95, 284 pages) is one of the best accounts of how al Qaeda has risen to become the world’s most destructive terrorist group. As a foreign correspondent with the London Observer, Mr. Burke draws upon his travels to the regions where al Qaeda operates, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, where he conducted hundreds of interviews and perused countless documents, to weave together the story of how al Qaeda has succeeded in radicalizing and organizing Islamic movements around the world to fight a “cosmic battle” with the West.

What makes al Qaeda so threatening, Mr. Burke writes, is its strategy of using terrorism as a means to an end, with the ultimate objective for the world’s Muslims being to “return to the true path” by rising up through violent struggle, which will be rewarded with victory. Thus, it is not only the West that is threatened by al Qaeda’s version of radical Islam, but Muslim governments around the world.

Despite the great successes that the United States and its allies have achieved in the war on al Qaeda, Mr. Burke concludes, quite alarmingly, that it is from the millions of radicalized Muslims around the world that “the new wave of terrorists will come. They will be ‘freelance’ operators who have no obvious connection to any existing group … once they have accepted bin Laden’s worldview they will be committed to finding the resources necessary to launch their own violent jihad …”

• • •

The long-disputed territory of Kashmir represents one of the world’s bloodiest, but least understood, terrorist conflicts. In Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace (Harvard University Press, $25.95, 307 pages) Sumantra Bose has written an insightful account of the complex layers of Kashmir’s multidimensional conflict. Mr. Bose, a professor of comparative politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has firsthand expertise in the region, having traveled throughout Kashmir.

The author provides the necessary historical context in terms of the conflict’s origins, the unharmonious mixture of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and caste communities in Kashmir, the conflicting claims to Kashmir by India and Pakistan, and the rise of a self-determination movement, spurred on by Pakistan, that employs terrorism to achieve its ends — all of which make Kashmir a tremendously complex problem to resolve.

Mr. Bose proposes a road map for creating regional peace, modeled after the solution found by the British and Irish governments for Northern Ireland, in which legitimate political expression by different factions could be institutionalized in a new political process, supported by the external parties involved — in the Kashmir case, India and Pakistan. Such a solution, Mr. Bose argues, involves difficult compromises to move away from entrenched antagonisms, but it is necessary to end the cycle of violence that engulfs Kashmir.

Joshua Sinai is a senior terrorism analyst at ANSER (Analytic Services), in Arlington, Va.


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