Intelligence briefing

Before September 11, the Muslim world, Central Asia and the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden were given scant coverage in the media. Now, even with the network cameras full on, the public is still getting only fragmentary, and sometimes misleading, information about the region, its recent history and the background of those the United States believes to be responsible for the East Coast atrocities.

But one doesn’t need to have access to top secret intelligence reports, or parachute into Kabul to better understand the background of the present conflict and where it might be leading. All one has to do is consult a number of recent, authoritative, and in some cases prophetic, books. The revelations in these books can be disturbing, but useful if one is to know the enemy, follow the war, the news … and the money. Here are a few of the most informative—and chilling—by those who had been looking hard at the region, the threat, the terrorists, Islam and the West’s relationship to Central Asia and the Middle East well before the latest attack.

Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia,
by Ahmed Rashid.

This is a thorough, gripping report by a respected Pakistani investigative journalist on the Cold War and post-Cold War history of the Afghan region. It includes a detailed account of how the CIA, Britain’s MI-6 and Pakistani intelligence, trying to create an Islamic threat to the Soviet Union, recruited more than 100,000 Muslim radicals—including bin Laden—from around the world to support the Afghan Mujaheddin from 1982 to 1992, eventually helping to “midwife” a worldwide terrorist Frankenstein. Rashid also looks at so-far frustrated efforts to build a pipeline through the region to open world markets to the 100 trillion cubic feet of proven, natural gas reserves in neighboring Turkmenistan, along with the effects of the opium trade on the region.

The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama Bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism,
by Simon Reeve.

This is a rich, detailed and prophetic look at bin Laden and the network of terrorist groups arrayed against the United States and other nations by a London Sunday Times journalist. The writing is first class. Besides bin Laden, the author gives us a close-up of the lesser-known, but critically important figure of Ramzi Yousef—the British-educated terrorist who planned the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy,
by Robert Kaplan.

The author of Balkan Ghosts gives us a stark view of deprivation and desperation in most of Asia and Africa, particularly through the Muslim world. His travelogue offers sober warnings on overpopulation, environmental degradation and social chaos that leaves hundreds of millions of people feeling they have nothing to lose—warnings, says the author, the West ignores at its peril.

Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons,
Jonathan B. Tucker (Editor).

Fears are rising that terrorists might strike next with chemical and biological weapons (CBW) terrorism. Even before September 11, Congress had allocated billions of dollars for counter-terrorism and “consequence management” programs against such weapons. Nevertheless, this anthology, put together by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, points out that the United States has been lax in promoting international efforts to limit such weapons in the past, and has concentrated more money on military hardware and on reaction to CBW than on prevention. The book, featuring reports by experts, focuses on concerns about the vulnerability of civilian populations to chemical and biological attacks.