Hearts, Minds, and Dollars
In an Unseen Front in the War on Terrorism, America is Spending Millions...To Change the Very Face of Islam
Another strategy being pursued is to make peace with radical Muslim figures who eschew violence. At the top of the list: the Muslim Brotherhood, the pre-eminent Islamist society, founded in 1928 and now with tens of thousands of followers worldwide. Many brotherhood members, particularly in Egypt and Jordan, are at serious odds with al Qaeda. "I can guarantee that if you go to some of the unlikely points of contact in the Islamic world, you will find greater reception than you thought," says Milt Bearden, whose 30-year CIA career included long service in Muslim societies. "The Muslim Brotherhood is probably more a part of the solution than it is a part of the problem." Indeed, sources say U.S. intelligence officers have been meeting not only with the Muslim Brotherhood but also with members of the Deobandi sect in Pakistan, whose fundamentalism schooled the Taliban and inspired an army of al Qaeda followers. Cooperative clerics have helped tamp down fatwas calling for anti-American jihad and persuaded jailed militants to renounce violence. These sensitive ties have led to at least one breakthrough--the July arrest in Pakistan of al Qaeda's Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, whose computer held surveillance files of the New York Stock Exchange, the World Bank, and other financial targets. Khan's capture led to a dozen arrests in London. "Engagement," says one official, "is absolutely key."
"Blowback" The emergence of the Muslim World Outreach strategy comes as America's frontline troops in the war of ideas may finally be hitting their stride. Despite its slow start, the CIA has received dramatic increases in money, people, and assets. It still lacks an integrated approach to attacking the roots of Islamic terrorism, insiders say, but individual CIA stations overseas are making some gutsy and innovative moves. Among them: pouring money into neutralizing militant, anti-U.S. preachers and recruiters. "If you found out that Mullah Omar is on one street corner doing this, you set up Mullah Bradley on the other street corner to counter it," explains one recently retired official. In more-serious cases, he says, recruiters would be captured and "interrogated."
Intelligence operatives have set up bogus jihad websites and targeted the Arab news media, but they are being exceedingly cautious. Unlike the good old days of the Cold War, spreading propaganda in the Internet age can easily result in "blowback," with stories ending up in the U.S. media. "They're a bit sheepish," says a CIA veteran. Indeed, some of the acts seem decidedly minor league. "The biggest that I heard about was a large banner at a major soccer game," adds the former spook. "They considered it a rousing success." Getting talented officers and linguists into the field also continues to be a problem, made worse by the drain of the Iraq war. "In Iraq," jokes a former top spy, "we have 300 there, 400 ready to go, and 400 just back" --virtually the entire overseas staff of the clandestine service.
At CIA headquarters outside Washington, the agency's analysts have also been busy. The CIA's Office of Transnational Issues has created a Global Information and Influence Team, charged with pulling together assessments of key U.S. targets. A public diplomacy conference hosted by the group in February focused on strategies to influence six nations, according to an agenda for the meeting. On the list: China, Egypt, France, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Venezuela. Also under CIA auspices is a Cyber-Influence Conference Series, which brings in cutting-edge experts from industry to explore how to combat terrorist use of the Internet.