The following is part one of our interview with terrorism expert Steve Emerson. Mr. Emerson is the founder and executive director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism (the link can be found under the blogroll menu to the right of the site). He is also a bestselling author. His most recent book is entitled Jihad Incorporated.
We wanted to get Mr. Emerson on after we had Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Bin Laden tracking unity at the CIA, on earlier this month. Mr. Scheuer and Mr. Emerson disagree on several aspects of the War on Terror, as will become apparent in the second part of our interview with Mr. Emerson which I will post on Wednesday.
I don't agree 100% with either one, but they are both experts and their opinions and insights combined give us a solid picture of what we are facing in our enemy and how we can defeat it.
We are pleased to be joined by terrorism expert, bestselling author, and founder of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, Steve Emerson. Mr. Emerson, thank you for joining us.
Price: What are your thoughts on the announcement of a government-owned company from the United Arab Emirates—a country that has very questionable ties to terrorism—purchasing a 20% share of the NASDAQ stock exchange?
Emerson: Well, there are laws governing the ownership of certain strategic infrastructures in the United States by foreigners, and I think this might be construed as a potential threat—not that it's overt or anything, but that a strategic component like the stock exchange being held in the hands of foreigners would not be consistent with a safe America.
Price: There was a recent article in The L.A. times, I believe, that described how al-Qaeda is ramping up efforts to merge and acquire other Islamic terrorist organizations. Can comment on or verify this?
Emerson: I cannot. That's the first I have heard of that, so I don't know. But in general, al-Qaeda has grown by acquisition not by expansion of membership. It grew exponentially in the 90s by merging with Egyptian Islamic jihad, and then of course it's become linked with Uzbeki jihad—the Uzbekistan movement—and become linked with the Egyptian vanguards; it's become linked with the Taliban of course, so it's growth has really been through mergers and acquisitions than actual constituents. This would not be inconsistent with that.
Price: Do you see them continuing that process? Is it possible that they get to a point where they begin to move with groups that don't necessarily have the same exact goals in mind—on a strategic level?
Emerson: The reason that different groups emerge is that there's always a slight ideological difference. It's like the Trotskyites and the Maoists. They ultimately had the same goal of destroying the West, but they had slight, different nuance views of how to do it. Those are the types of differences that make up the differences of these jihadist groups in the Bin Laden [inaudible].
Price: We have now seen several tapes from Osama Bin Laden and one of Ayman al-Zawahri, is there anything to make of these tapes other than the fact that they typical release tapes around the 9/11 anniversary?
Emerson: The only thing that it would appear, at least at a minimum to be, is that they feel much more secure in the positions they are now in, in order to release these tapes so frequently after such a hiatus—especially from Bin Laden himself. Does it indicate an impending attack? I don't know. I don't think there is any type of correlation between messages and attacks anymore. There used to be in the 90s, but not after 9/11.
Price: Do you believe, that since we are seeing more types and you believe that they may feel more secure, that Bin Laden still has some operation influence and control?
Emerson: It's my belief that Bin Laden is a figurehead. He's an icon. He's an inspirational symbol. He's not really calling the shots. He's not operationally involved. Zawahri is an operations man. He's the executive vice president, so it's much more likely that al-Zawahri is calling the shots and making the arrangements, and also, Zawahri, I think, is the person who would be going back and forth between operatives in Pakistan and his safe house in Waziristan.