Training Our Enemies
By Patrick Devenny
FrontPageMagazine.com, October 18, 2005
Last month, NBC News correspondent Lisa Myers tracked down one Jihad Jaara, a veteran Palestinian militant who currently resides in Ireland. Jaaraâ€™s career as a terrorist has been a remarkably effective one. As a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade â€“ a violent militia tied to Yasser Arafatâ€™s Fatah party â€“ Jaara supervised and planned dozens of assassinations and bombings against a wide-range of American and Israeli targets. One of the more reprehensible actions authorized by Jaara was the kidnapping of Avi Boaz, a 72-year-old American architect who was abducted by Al-Aqsa terrorists while he waited at a Palestinian police checkpoint. His bullet-riddled body was found a few hours later, dumped just outside of Bethlehem. Upon being questioned by Myers, Jaara swore that he had renounced such terrorism, a claim that was dismissed by former associates, who identified him as an important interlocutor between Hezbollah and various Palestinian terrorist groups.
What distinguishes Jaara from many of his fellow Palestinian terrorist leaders is that he plied his bloody trade while simultaneously serving as an officer in the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, a body assigned with combating militants. His official status gave Jaara the ability to travel freely throughout the territories, enabling him to plan his attacks while enjoying the protection afforded to Palestinian officials by the Israelis. While his position gave him some advantages, Jaara was unhesitant when asked what single factor had most contributed to his transformation into a successful terrorist: small-arms training supervised by officers of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The fact that the CIA trained a man such as Jihad Jaara is hardly surprising. For almost ten years, the American government has been engaged in a series of hopelessly misguided endeavors designed to train and fund the Palestinian security services, an initiative which can be deemed, politely, as a dismal failure. Tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars have simply disappeared into the covert bank accounts of corrupt Palestinian officials, while CIA-trainers recklessly lent their considerable combat expertise to fanatics such as Jaara.
The misguided attempt began in 1996, when the CIA led an effort â€“ engineered by then deputy director George Tenet â€“ to train the Palestinian authorities in anti-terror tactics. The initiative was secretly authorized by President Clinton, who later signed a Presidential order sanctioning the expansion of the program to include chaperoned tours of the CIA and FBI headquarters buildings for Palestinian security chiefs. The covert training and funding operation continued over the next two years, existing wholly outside of the publicâ€™s view.
In 1998, President Clinton â€“ anxious to cement his legacy as Middle East peacemaker â€“ pushed for an expanded and formalized security assistance effort which would be included as a provision in the WyeRiver agreement. While the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was initially reluctant to accept such an idea, Clinton managed to browbeat the Israeli delegation into compliance, an acquiescence which ensured the continuation and growth of the formerly covert training program. In doing so, the President ignored the warnings of several veteran Israeli counter-terrorist officials, who repeatedly warned their American counterparts that several high-ranking Palestinian terrorists such as Al-Aqsa Brigades leader Nasser Awis were simultaneously serving as senior security officials in the Palestinian Authority, with responsibility for conducting counter-terrorist operations.
Within months of the Wye agreement, the first Palestinian trainees arrived aboard U.S. government aircraft. Their training regimen was rigorous, far superior to the domestic â€œboot campsâ€ offered by the Palestinian government or terrorist groups. The Palestinian units were ferried to various military installations, where they were given advanced small-arms training on firing ranges normally used by the U.S. Army and special forces units. Additionally, the recruits were taught how to effectively protect high-value targets and â€œmotorcade operations,â€ skills that could easily be transferred into protecting terrorist leaders from Israeli capture. Many of the former CIA trainees turned terrorists have since praised the CIA course, including Jaara, who made a point to extol the CIAâ€™s â€œshootingâ€ course. Perhaps most disturbingly, however, was that the Palestinian officers were given â€œinterrogationâ€ training, which, in the hands of those who work in the espionage services of groups such as Fatah, could prove extremely valuable.
American officials reasoned that â€“ emboldened by their new training â€“ Palestinian authorities would immediately and aggressively crack down on terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who were consistently breaking ceasefire agreements during the late 1990s. To the U.S. governmentâ€™s dismay, many of the Palestinian security officers quickly joined or began aiding the very terrorist groups which they had been trained to combat. Security personnel were also observed transferring arms and their American training to militia groups such as the Tanzim, which was led by convicted terrorist Marwan Barghuti.
Indicative of the Clinton administrationâ€™s staggering ignorance over this issue was a class of 18 Palestinians brought to a top-secret location near CIA headquarters in 1998 for a course in â€œanti-terrorist techniques.â€ American officials failed to realize, however, that most of the men hailed from cities where militant infiltration of the police forces was acute, such as Nablus. Not surprisingly, as detailed in the San Francisco Chronicle, several of the students went on to become some of the most dangerous terrorists in the Palestinian territories, including the infamous Khaled Abu Nijmeh, who used his CIA training to supervise multiple suicide bombings in 2001 and 2002 in Bethlehem. More than half of the original class of 18 went on to become fighters in the Al-Aqsa brigades.
Beginning in 1999, Israeli government officials began suggesting that the American training effort be scaled back, in order to better judge its overall effectiveness. In addition, Prime Minister Ehud Barak complained to the White House that Yasser Arafat was using his seemingly close relations with the CIA to bolster his negotiating position, which had become increasingly aggressive. Tel Avivâ€™s requests fell on deaf ears in Washington, which stubbornly clung to the pipe dream that Arafatâ€™s police forces would â€“ given enough American aid and training â€“ eventually confront the various militant organizations. This expectation was abruptly dashed during the intifada of 2000, in which large numbers of Palestinian police joined militant groups in fighting the Israeli Defense Force. The sight of Palestinian police stripping off their uniforms and engaging in raging street battles with Israeli forces became commonplace. At the same time, the Palestinian authorities failed miserably to curtain the actions of terrorist organizations, who operated with total impunity inside the territories.