By Rebecca Rodriguez
On May 15, 2014, Bruce Riedel, counter-terrorism expert and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst, discussed the future of American security at Dartmouth College. The discussion, hosted by World Outlook, allowed students to ask Riedel questions concerning terrorism, intelligence gathering, and future of foreign policy.
Riedel began the discussion with a brief talk regarding American security and its future. America, he believes, has been developing a new foreign policy, much of which is coming from the Republican Party. He predicts that because of these changes the 2016 election will feature a choice not narrow in contours. Riedel emphasized that Americans need to ask themselves what are the nation’s interests and what are we willing to fight for
Riedel then went on to address the issues and the limitations of counter-terrorism. He explained that the biggest misperception surrounding terrorism was that Al Qaeda is or has ever been a monolithic, well-organized, global terrorist organization. Until the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, much of the organization had been driven underground; it is only recently that that the group has again gained strength. Concerning the limitations of counter-terrorism, Riedel has confidence in American capabilities however recognizes that it is particularly difficult to make progress simply because there is little information about many groups and their members. Similarly, attacks planned by few individuals, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, have short gestation periods and are therefore practically impossible to be discovered and prevented.
Concerning the NSA and American intelligence, Riedel acknowledged that the NSA has yet to make a compelling case for what seems to be a superfluous amount of data collection. However, he personally believes more is better in order to protect the nation’s interest. As far as the recent releases of intelligence, Riedel believes that Snowden has had the most impact as he released many methods of intelligence collection. Subsequently there has been a noticeable changed in the behavior of Al Qaeda’s communications. However, he is confident that Snowden will one day be tried and convicted.
Riedel’s following remarks concerning a regime change in Saudi Arabia, the Syrian crisis, and relations with the UAE all relate to the question of American interests. As far as Syria and Saudi Arabia, Riedel emphasized the instability and unpredictable nature of the situations, again leaving the questions up to a matter of American decisiveness. He reiterated that Americans should decide in broader terms what our interests are and where we are willing to get involved.
Bruce Riedel is senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, part of Brookings’ new Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. Riedel also serves as a senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.