Round Rock New Neighbors is a social organization of women welcoming women in the Round Rock area since 1978. Both "new" and "old" neighbors are welcome. For more information: rrnewneighbors.org [Barnes & Noble requires that RRNN's book club be open to the public, so you do not need to be an RRNN member to attend book club, and both men and women are welcome and do attend. ]
The Friends of the Georgetown Public Library’s Hill Country Authors Series events will be listed here.
Round Rock Public Library Book Group meets monthly at 7:00-8:30 PM. Check the library website for more information, or ask Carla.
Monday, May 17, 2010
We Asked Fred Burton Many Questions
Fred Burton, author of Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorist Agent visited our book club at Barnes & Noble on May 17, 2010. This was the most exciting author visit we have had! I took 8 pages of notes! How am I going to get them into a readable blog posting? Well, I'm going to try. Disclaimer: I am not an expert on this topic, and I may have misunderstood Fred or missed important points. I may have some of this just plain wrong! Please correct me or disagree by making comments, using the "comments" link below the post.
In 1986, Fred Burton was one of 3 men who were the first officials in the Counterterrorism Division of the Diplomatic Security Service of the U.S. Department of State. In his book, Burton describes a number of episodes in chasing, capturing, and losing terrorists in the '80s and '90s...all before 9-11-2001.
I think one of the main questions on everyone's mind was how Fred was able to write this book without giving away secrets and/or getting into trouble for giving away secrets. Fred answered this question for us before we asked it: He said he did not give away sources, methods, or names of undercover agents. He said he did confer with some friends who had experience writing about espionage, so he know what he could safely include in the book. The manuscript for Burton's book was looked at by the government, and almost nothing was changed.
Fred told us that there is a lot of political intrigue involved with international fighting of terrorism. Each country has its own interests, even though some countries have some interests in common. This often thwarts attempts to get information about specific terrorist activities. Fred said that one of the more positive outcomes from 9-11 is that there is more global cooperation in fighting terrorism.
Another roadblock was and is a lot of red tape among the United States governmental agencies. Fred said that when he was working for DSS, there were literally hours of arguing among the FBI, CIA, and the DSS as to who would who would ambush the suspects, who would interview them, and who would write the report. Currently, there are so many guidelines for undercover agents that many agents are frustrated. Homeland Security, according to Fred, is broken. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the Los Angeles Police are currently more successful at antiterrorism, because they have fewer restrictions and are extremely well manned. This is good, as the terrorists tend to target locations with a lot of population.
The biggest problems (I think he said) are the lack of HUMINT (human intelligence) and the inability to interpret any intelligence we get. It is extremely difficult to get a spy into the networks of terrorist organizations, primarily because they tend to be divided into family groups and/or groups of close friends. With such limited intelligence, of course it is hard to interpret it.
Some of Fred's answers to questions from the audience: (Some answers actually answered several questions, so your specific question might not be listed here verbatim.)
How did they catch the man who recently failed with the car bomb in New York City? There are hundreds of men who have similar backgrounds and U.S./Pakistan ties. Pakistan sometimes helps us, if it's in their interests. Also, the NYPD is a very effective agency, which stayed on top of the situation. If I missed a link in there while taking notes, feel free to correct me with a comment.
Is the press hurting things by broadcasting information as to how a bomb would better be made? No, the press is small compared with the real dangers. Bombs are not hard to make and can be effective once they are perfected and practiced. The "underwear" bomb was almost successful, except that the guy's sweat inactivated it, but it would be easy to get one of that kind of bomb to do a lot of damage. The creators of this bomb have not been found and may be making more. This is why we need to get x-ray screening at our airports. However, the bad guys can get into the air traffic system by starting at small airports that have less sophisticated screening.
Afghanistan? We have failed in Afghanistan, partly due to the extreme differences in cultures. They don't want or need our help, and we should cut our losses and theirs by getting out. The Taliban will probably rule Afghanistan, and the drug industry will continue to flourish. The country is in a state of chaos, with no order except some in Kabul. President Karzai has little real power and may be involved in the drug trafficking. Wikipedia says he is sometimes called "Mayor of Kabul" rather than President of Afghanistan. Here is a link to the Wikipedia article. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamid_Karzai
Iran? Whoa! Bad! Iran has "...the most sophisticated intelligence in the world..." according to Fred Burton. They have penetrated everywhere except Israel (see below). They have taken advantage or our openness and have trumped us every time we have tangled with them. They have stolen our technology and enrolled many of their citizens at our universities. They have a thriving propaganda machine that helps them create sentiment against us in their country and in the world.
Iran as it affects Israel? Iran wants nuclear strike capability and they are focused on Israel. It would take 12 minutes for a bomb to go from Iran to Israel. Ever have problems with a neighbor? Iran hates us because we support Israel. Israel is fighting for its very existence (for a change) against Iran getting "the bomb." Fred Burton doesn't see how the U.S. can help Israel in a war emergency.
Saudi Arabia? The Saudi future is in danger because of dwindling oil supplies. Their system is headed toward collapse.
The News Media? All inaccurate and biased.
How Can We Protect Ourselves? Fred said, "I don't go to malls!" That says it all. The terrorists will continue to target heavily populated areas, using small bombs. Stolen medical waste can be used to create "dirty" bombs. Al Qaeda likes New York City. The Washington DC subway, particularly the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom (!) are likely targets. Someone can leave a bomb on a subway and walk out - no need for suicide. Wall Street and the White House and our nuclear plants are well protected. The issue(s) will continue.
Our government tends to suppress hearings involving security breaches and terrorism. Partly because Homeland Security is ineffective, the hearings are minimized and postponed. It seems the government would rather we got riled up about other latest news than issues of Homeland Security weakness. I sometimes feel that our news gives away too much information, but I guess Fred would counter that the terrorists already have all that information and more. So, if you want to do something, you can email/contact Janet Napolitano, Secretary in charge of Homeland Security http://www.dhs.gov/index.shtm, or Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives and ask that the public be given the full story on hearings and that hearings be performed and given full attention.
Other Media Mentioned: Fred mentioned that the movie Syriana was based on the life of a friend. He mentioned Body of Lies, book by David Ignacious and also movie. Fred said our intelligence technology is even more sophisticated than that depicted in the movie! Fred will publish a new book soon, telling the story of the investigation of the assassination of Joe Alon.
Do you have anything to add about Iran or anything that was touched upon at the discussion? There seemed to be a lot of interest in the entire presentation, and I suspect anything anyone has learned about any of these topics through reading would be welcomed by the rest of our group!
In closing, I will say that we all are grateful to Frank for bringing Fred to us and to Fred for his visit and for answering our questions! In response to a question about what he considers the take-home message of his book, Ghost, Fred Burton said he recorded how the events affected him and that he hopes his readers will judge for themselves.