Editorial: Undermining national security

IssueDecember 2015 - January 2016
Comment by Milan Rai

Noam Chomsky once observed that the dirty little secret of ‘national security policy’ is that ‘security is at most a marginal concern of security planners’. He was speaking of the United States, but the lesson generalises, certainly to the UK.

We can see this in the reaction to the ‘Islamic State’ terror attacks in Paris in November, which killed 130 people.

Policymakers in Britain, France and elsewhere are knowingly increasing the power of IS recruiters and commanders, by pursuing airstrikes in Syria, and the continued use of drones.


On 19 November, four former US drone operators wrote an open letter to president Barack Obama, saying: ‘We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone program has overseas and at home.’

The four who spoke up were Brandon Bryant (30), Michael Haas (29) and Stephen Lewis (29), who operated the sensors on Predator drones that guided missiles to their targets, and Cian Westmoreland (28), a communications technician.

They wrote in their letter: ‘We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay.’ The drone programme ‘is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.’

The top counterterrorism official under US presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, Richard Clarke, told Democracy Now! in 2014 that when drones kill civilians, ‘you cause enemies for the United States that will last for generations.... So you may actually be creating terrorists, rather than eliminating them’.

Clarke referred in particular to a US drone attack on a wedding party in Yemen on 12 December 2013 which killed 12 civilians. Surviving family members received $1m from the Yemeni government, probably funded by the US government.

British-supported massacres

One recent airstrike in Yemen was carried out by the Saudi-led coalition on 28 September, reportedly killing 131 members of a wedding party in the village of Wahijah/al-Wahga, outside of the port city of Mokha/Mocha.

While initial casualty estimates are sometimes inflated, it is striking that this is almost exactly the same number of civilians killed in the Paris attacks.

This was just part of a pattern of Saudi attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. In October, Amnesty International warned that there was ‘damning evidence of war crimes’ by the Saudi-led coalition, and called for the suspension of arms sales.

The British government told the BBC in September it was providing technical support and precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia for the campaign in Yemen.

‘Active oppression’

The role of an aggressive foreign policy in stoking terrorism has been acknowledged by counter terror experts again and again – in private. Thus one of the key conclusions of the 2004 joint home office/foreign office report, ‘Young Muslims and extremism’:

‘It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment amongst Muslims including young Muslims is a perceived “double standard” in the foreign policy of western governments....

‘This perception seems to have become more acute post-9/11 . The perception is that passive “oppression”, as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to “active oppression” – the war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam.’ Now, add ‘Syria’.

Topics: Terrorism
See more of: Editorial