Saturday, July 17, 2004

BERLIN — The report of the 23-year-old French housewife who was riding a suburban commuter train with her 3-year-old child in a stroller when six North African youths (aged 15 to 20) advanced on her knives drawn, is now being questioned, as police discovered the woman’s troubled past.

The story she tells is that the youths shredded her T-shirt and pants, held her head down on the floor as she screamed “Help.” A score of other passengers looked on in silence, too frightened to intervene.

Rifling through her pocketbook, one attacker found her ID and shouted, “She’s Jewish,” which she wasn’t. With a marker pen, they daubed her stomach with three Nazi swastikas, then fled for the exit at the next station, knocking over the stroller and spilling out the child. The conductor said his train on the “RER D” line was a mobile housing slum where the cops fear to tread.

True or not, the woman’s story was all too believable.

Most major French cities are marred by North African slums that seethe with hatred under the sway of self-appointed fundamentalist firebrands. Their anti-Semitic Friday sermons also show contempt for “a France that won’t give us jobs.”

The French internal counterintelligence service RG (Renseignements Generaux) recently reported to Dominique de Villepin, France’s new interior minister, that almost 2 million of France’s 6 million North African Muslims now live in some 300 “troubled neighborhoods.”

Rebel Muslims in Europe are not uniquely French. This week, German police raided a Moroccan mosque in Frankfurt, where children as young as 9 were shown videos that called for “holy war against unbelievers.”

Intelligence chiefs from Brussels to Berlin and from London to Lisbon talk about the elephant in the room that politicians would like to ignore: Islamist extremists in democratic countries who become citizens of European countries, hold EU passports, and are protected by laws that guarantee freedom of speech and assembly.

Europe’s multiple intelligence services — NATO’s 26 members hold almost 100 between them, including 15 in the United States — inform each other of what they know about the activities of individual terrorists, but the evidence cannot be introduced in court without disclosing sources and methods. In recent months, judges in Germany, France and Belgium have exonerated known members of Muslim terrorist networks for lack of evidence.

After the fiascoes of the misleading intelligence that provided justification for “a war of necessity” that was not necessary, there is also growing distrust of intelligence services in general. Judges have made sarcastic remarks about the CIA and Britain’s MI6 in particular.

European newspapers and magazines also take the Bush administration to task for not understanding the magnitude of the breeding grounds of terrorism. Intelligence service chiefs, speaking privately, say “draining the swamp” will take a generation or two and cost billions. Those who only gargle instead of drink from the fountain of knowledge, said one, tongue only half in cheek, fail to see a connection between lack of a fair deal for Palestinians and terrorism. Or between Wahhabi and Salafist madrassas (Koranic schools) that have brainwashed hundreds of thousands of young Muslims to hate Western civilization and its values, on the one hand, and a September 11 or March 11 attack (in Spain), on the other.

The war on Iraq and ongoing occupation by coalition forces has dealt body blows to the world’s two most important intelligence services — the CIA and MI6. Conclusions of official investigations on both sides of the Atlantic underline to what degree a Bush-Blair war policy shaped the intelligence to support it.

In the U.K., the Butler Commission (whose report was released this week) exposed the nonsensical claim by Tony Blair in the House of Commons that Saddam Hussein could deploy “chem-bio” weapons within 45 minutes. Neither the CIA nor MI6 warned the political bosses what other European services said was logic 101: If it possessed WMDs, Iraq would not deploy them unless attacked.

Judging by the Senate Commission and Butler reports, any piece of intelligence that punctured holes in the “war of necessity” argument was dismissed as bad intelligence. Once President Bush made clear to his director of central intelligence, George Tenet, the objective was war on Iraq, even an analyst trainee could see his/her job was not to be the skunk at the war party. Mr. “Slam dunk” Tenet clearly saw his job as supplying the demands of the commander in chief. Any suggestion there was no slam-dunk because the ball wouldn’t fit through the rim was heresy.

With 20/20 hindsight, it would have been inconceivable for a CIA analyst, even the head of the intelligence directorate, to inform the CIA chief the war Mr. Bush planned was unnecessary because of a lack of credible evidence of WMDs or that what had been collected was of dubious value. Besides, there was also a steady drumbeat from the White House and the Defense Secretary’s shop for intelligence that would justify the invasion.

In the United States, Mr. Bush turned the bad intelligence page by encouraging Mr. Tenet to quit after seven years as America’s top spy chief. In the U.K., Tony Blair ensured the loyalty of the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee by giving him the coveted top spy job. John Scarlett was promoted to chief of MI6.

Where the judgment of anyone who is anyone at the CIA or MI6 went AWOL was in failing to question the postwar vision of the neocon cakewalkers who never wore the uniform of the United States or so much as heard a shot fired at them in anger. For them, liberating Iraq would be very similar to the 1944 liberation of France. The flag of democracy would flutter throughout the Middle East. The Palestinians would read the signals and settle for a truncated West Bank as their new state.

It was not the Anglo-Saxon spooks’ finest hour.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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