Yes, America Is Exporting Terrorism

Why the latest WikiLeaks revelations matter.

Partly because the deadliest attack in the history of modern international terrorism was against the United States, Americans tend to see their own country as the center of the counterterrorist universe. It was a U.S. president who declared a "war on terror," led by the United States. Although U.S. officials have said a lot about international cooperation, the cooperation they have had in mind has been mostly a matter of the United States leading, pushing, or insisting, and other countries conforming or complying. The same U.S. president summarized his standard for other countries' counterterrorist performance with the phrase "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" -- the "us" of course being the United States -- and the United States has shown a tendency to lord that standard over its foreign counterterrorist partners. The transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama has softened these hard edges, but Americans still take a very U.S.-centric approach to the subject.

Some of the American exceptionalism on counterterrorism began even before the attacks of September 11, 2001. Legislation in the 1980s claimed extraterritorial jurisdiction for U.S. courts and U.S. law enforcement agencies regarding any terrorist act in which U.S. persons or interests were victims. Clearly, if every other state made a similar claim, the result would be legal chaos. Think about what the U.S. reaction would be if, say, France claimed jurisdiction over a terrorist crime that a U.S. citizen committed on American soil, in which a visiting Frenchman happened to be one of the casualties.

Because the overwhelming U.S. concern understandably has been with terrorism within the United States and above all terrorist acts -- like 9/11 -- perpetrated within the United States by foreigners, terrorism by U.S. citizens has been a jarring note that has not fit into most of the tunes Americans have been playing about fighting terrorism -- many of which, having to do with such things as no-fly lists for international flights, have focused specifically on keeping foreign terrorists out of the United States. Especially ill-fitting have been several cases over the last couple of years involving Americans traveling abroad to commit terrorism in other countries such as Pakistan and India, including terrorism against non-American targets. A noteworthy example is the surveillance that Pakistani-American David Headley performed in support of the gruesome attack by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Mumbai in November 2008, which killed at least 160 people.

The U.S. export of terrorism calls into question the high -- perhaps sometimes impossibly high -- standard to which Washington holds other governments in controlling what emanates from their territories. U.S. officials might not say "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" anymore, but it still is considered not enough for governments to refrain from sponsoring or supporting terrorism. They are expected to do whatever it takes to prevent their citizens from committing terrorist acts abroad, with little American patience for excuses about how difficult it is to control borders or the activities of private individuals. To the extent this is the U.S. standard, the United States itself has failed it.

This and other apparent U.S. double standards in counterterrorism, looked at through the eyes of foreign governments, raise several problems that are nicely summarized in a document in the latest WikiLeaks disclosure: an assessment by the CIA's Red Cell, a unit with a license to perform "out-of-the-box" analysis about problems and trends that would not normally be the focus of the agency's everyday analytical work. The assessment points out that the export of terrorism from the United States might make foreign partners more inclined to push back -- and would give them a stronger case in pushing back -- on counterterrorist matters on which they find the asymmetrical U.S. approach most irritating. For example, a foreign government might insist on obtaining confidential information on U.S. citizens it suspects of supporting terrorism, or even call for the rendition of a U.S. citizen. If the United States were to balk, the foreign government could refuse to cooperate in the other direction the next time the United States called for information on, or rendition of, anyone in the foreign country. Who could blame the foreign government, given that international terrorists have now shown that they can come from the United States, and not just to it?

The Red Cell assessment notes that some pushing back already has occurred, probably spurred by annoyance over the asymmetry in how the United States handles renditions and information sharing. It cites the example of Italy issuing criminal warrants in 2005 for the arrest of U.S. officials involved in the abduction and rendering to Egypt of an Egyptian cleric. Again, think of the roles being reversed: It would be a subject of great outrage, to put it mildly, in the United States if Italian officers were found to have secretly abducted someone from U.S. soil and flown him out to be locked up in someone else's prison. The assessment correctly observes that the price of contretemps arising from such disagreements includes damage to bilateral relations as well as more specific damage to counterterrorist cooperation.

Obviously the first thing the United States should do to reduce the chance of such problems is to try hard to curb the export of terrorists and terrorism from its own territory. Chiefly this means focusing at least as much attention on detecting homegrown terrorists (regardless of whether any such terrorists seem likely to commit their lethal deeds in the United States or abroad) as the heavy attention now focused on keeping foreign terrorists out of the United States. There is no single technique involved -- just a lot of hard domestic intelligence work mostly by the FBI and its partners in local and state law enforcement agencies. The United States also could be more forthcoming in making two-way some of its border protection procedures (such as passport checks and provision of extensive passenger information) that tend to be one-way now.

Because stopping the export of terrorism probably will be as difficult for the United States to achieve completely as it is for other countries, the next thing it can do is to be a little more understanding when other countries, despite good-faith efforts, come up short too. More generally, it can try to view everything it does in the name of counterterrorism through its foreign partners' eyes and get rid of the double standards. And more generally still, it should understand that the United States is not really the center of the counterterrorist universe, that counterterrorism did not begin with 9/11, and that some foreign partners -- who had been confronting serious terrorist threats long before terrorism became a top security issue in the United States -- have at least as much to teach the United States on the subject as the other way around.

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The Coming Food Crisis

Global food security is stretched to the breaking point, and Russia's fires and Pakistan's floods are only making a bad situation worse.

There was already little margin for error in a world where, for the first time in history, 1 billion people are suffering from chronic hunger. But the fragility of world food markets has been underscored by the tragic events of this summer.

The brutal wildfires and crippling drought in Russia are decimating wheat crops and prompting shortsighted export bans. The ongoing floods and widespread crop destruction in Pakistan are creating a massive humanitarian crisis that has left more than 1,600 dead and some 16 million homeless and hungry in a region vital to U.S. national security. These and other climate crises trigger widespread food-price volatility, disproportionately and relentlessly devastating the world's poor.

Less noticed has been the spiking price of wheat -- up 50 percent since early June. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization recently cut its 2010 global wheat forecast by 4 percent amid fears of a scramble among national governments to secure supplies. As wheat prices climb, demand for other essential food crops such as rice will increase as part of a knock-on effect on world food markets, driving up costs for consumers. In particular, Egypt and other countries that depend heavily on Russian wheat might see dramatic price increases and unrest in the streets.

Fortunately, there are signs we will likely avoid a repeat of the 2007-2008 food crisis, when prices jumped as much as 100 percent and led to deadly riots in Port-au-Prince and Mogadishu. This year, bumper crops in the United States, alongside replenished wheat stocks globally, may be adequate to offset shortages due to the fires in Russia. But these short-term measures should not lull us into complacency or a false sense of confidence. We still have neither a strategy nor a solution to ending global hunger.

In the short term, the United States must implement U.S. President Barack Obama's promise to commit $3.5 billion to food security assistance. Since he made the pledge in 2009, only $812 million has been allocated. Surely the United States can do better, and at a faster pace. Emergency food aid is needed now to prevent famine and needless deaths in Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and northern Nigeria. Congress should increase U.S. contributions to the World Food Program and insist on accountability and reform in the distribution of more than $2 billion in annual U.S. food aid. And the Emergency Food Security Program, which allows greater flexibility in international food assistance by allowing purchases from local producers, cash transfers, and food vouchers, is a step in the right direction and deserves congressional support.

Looking beyond the immediate crisis, the United States and other developed countries must renew long-neglected investments in agriculture assistance across the developing world, targeting small farmers as the fundamental drivers of economic growth. In Africa, for example, agriculture employs more than 60 percent of the labor force and accounts for 25 percent of the continent's economic output. And yet, Africa continues to struggle: Nearly 10 million people in the northern Sahel region are suffering from extreme hunger, and most countries still lack adequate investment in agricultural and road infrastructure to facilitate the development of value-added products and new markets.

While the United States provides more than half of the world's food aid, agriculture assistance today stands at only 3.5 percent of overall U.S. development aid, down from 18 percent in 1979. Not surprisingly, agricultural productivity growth in developing countries is now less than 1 percent annually.

We must also improve how this assistance is targeted. We can reap lasting results by focusing on soil and water conservation and improved crop varieties rather than carbon-intensive fertilizers. Scientific research and appropriate biotechnology can deliver significant crop yield gains and water savings if conducted in a safe and transparent manner. We also must invest in women, who represent up to 80 percent of the food producers in many developing countries, but frequently lack the support and services that will allow them to reinvest hard-earned agricultural gains into health and education for their families.

Internationally, the United States must lead efforts to ensure open and well-regulated agricultural markets. Farm subsidies and tariffs in rich countries must be reduced and commodity markets made more transparent. A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development indicates subsidies for agriculture in the world's richest countries rose to $252.5 billion, or 22 percent of farmers' total receipts in 2009. And impediments to free trade between developing countries must be eliminated.

The Group of Twenty leading developed and developing nations must uphold their pledges of $22 billion to enhance global food security by sending real money out the door. The multilateral Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, a new global partnership funded by commitments from the United States, Canada, South Korea, Spain, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is to be commended for issuing $224 million in initial grants to help increase food security and reduce poverty in five developing countries. 

But lasting gains in agricultural productivity will require something more -- action to confront climate change. Food shortages resulting from severe crop losses will occur more frequently and take longer to recover from as more people become vulnerable to extreme weather events like the droughts and flooding we see today in Russia and Pakistan. The World Bank predicts that developing countries will require $75 billion to $100 billion a year for the next 40 years to adapt to the effects of climate change on agricultural productivity, infrastructure, and disease.

This year, we may be able to limit the damage to a single supply shock in Russia and Eastern Europe. But even in the best of times, our global food system is stretched to the breaking point by the ever-present challenges of population growth, increased demand from changing diets, higher energy costs, and more extreme weather. Experts at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimate global agricultural productivity must double by 2050 to keep pace with increased demand. Unless we take immediate action, we are destined to race from food crisis to food crisis for generations to come, with grim consequences for the world's poor and our own national security.

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