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Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil Hardcover – March 1, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
In a compact and cogent addition to the literature on terrorism, two expert journalists join forces for a portrait of how a Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, N.C., was broken up a little more than a year before September 11. In clear prose with a minimum of political ax-grinding, Newman (The Covenant) and Diaz (Making a Killing) provide biographies of cell leader Mohammed Youssef Hammoud (from his origins in the Shiite slums of Beirut) and member Said Harb; the FBI agents and federal prosecutors (who overcame bureaucratic inertia and civil libertarian–fostered barriers to accumulate the evidence that led to Hammoud's prosecution); and many incidental players along the way. They also provide clear historical summaries of the religious and ethnic divides in the Middle East, and portraits of lesser-known phenomena such as the role of Paraguay (and its borders with Argentina and Brazil) in providing havens for international terrorists. The authors' skill at characterization of friends and foes puts a great many thriller writers in the shade, and at no point do they fall into stereotyping. Embedded in the book is an argument for the kind of interagency intelligence sharing that is still in its infancy. (Mar. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Before the terrorist attack of 9/11, Hezbollah in Lebanon had been responsible for more American deaths by terrorism, according to Newman and Diaz. The cell network of this "party of God" is broad and contains substantial sleeper cells throughout the U.S. that have been scrutinized by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Drawing on those investigations, the authors profile the activities of a Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, North Carolina. They detail activities involving cigarette and drug smuggling to operating front charitable organizations, all aimed at financing the purchase of weapons, high-tech equipment, and fraudulent passports. From its inception, the group has also received substantial support from Iran. While revealing our vulnerability to terrorists penetrating out national borders, the authors argue for greater latitude for law enforcement agencies to operate in controlling our borders, balanced against concerns about erosion of civil liberties. This is a frightening look at the need to recognize the potential for further terrorist danger on American soil and what will be required to prevent it. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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One of the leaders entered on a phony passport from South America. Even though security is better since 9/11, this book reveals the incompetence of government in allowing illegals to obtain multiple identities. A couple of years ago I played golf by chance with an retired FBI agent who worked counter terrorism out of DC. He said there was a Hezbollah cell in every major city. Not sure they have the firepower to do much damage, but we will see one day.
Readability is a hallmark of this book, which recounts how U.S. federal and local law enforcement collaborated to break up the Hezbollah Charlotte cell. Members were using seemingly innocuous cigarette smuggling and other illicit activities to raise massive amounts of funds for Hezbollah. U.S. investigators arrested several members in July 2000, with guilty verdicts being handed down in late June 2002.
Authors Barbara Newman and Tom Diaz present the legal and bureaucratic obstacles that investigators faced when trying to prosecute the Hezbollah cell. One was the FBI's "Chinese Wall," a series of restrictions that prevented information sharing between agents working on criminal cases, and those dealing with terrorism. In the Charlotte case, aggressive investigators were able to craft innovative means to skirt these obstacles and break up the cell.
The authors argue that tough, aggressive measures are needed to combat terrorists on American soil, and believe that these can be effective without damaging the liberties that Americans hold most dear.
They make a number of other important claims, some of which were corroborated in the U.S. government's 9/11 Commission report. One is that notwithstanding sectarian differences, there is extensive cooperation between Sunni and Shia terror groups, including Al Qaida and Hezbollah.
Beyond alerting Americans to the presence of terrorists on our soil, this book is a valuable contribution to the debate on how we should deal with the problem. U.S. government officials at home and abroad would do well to read it, and reflect on it.
Obviously the vast majority of Arab-Americans, Muslims included, are peaceful, upstanding citizens who make a vital contribution to American diversity, in-tune with our immigrant heritage. Yet this book is an eerie reminder that hostile groups do exist, retaining a lethal ability to strike. Hezbollah's strong ties to Iran make this an especially disturbing possibility. As the authors note, Hezbollah's 1992 and 1994 Argentina attacks on Jewish interests also sent a clear message to the U.S.: we can do in America what we did here.
Those who want to do us harm will always have the advantage of exploiting our society's freedoms. Yet one hopes that the lessons of the Charlotte case and the 9/11 attacks will lead American authorities to increase their vigilance and aggressiveness without destroying civil liberties. Barbara Newman and Tom Diaz believe this balance is possible.
This book would have been stronger, and more credible, with more substantiation. To take one example, the authors assert that Hezbollah perpetrated the 1996 Khobar Towers attack in eastern Saudi Arabia. While this is a highly probable claim, there is no definitive proof that establishes Hezbollah's involvement, as far as I know. If there is documentation or testimony that would lend weight to the claim, the authors should have cited it. Otherwise, they should have acknowledged the ambiguity involved.
This book explains some of the answers about who they are, how they get here, and what many of them do once they are here. And it explains, suspense and all, how a cell of terrorists in Charlotte was rounded up.
The moral of this tale is simple. We could have stopped the 9/11 terrorists a couple of times, had we simply allowed our intelligence people and crime investigators to cooperate. We will need to be prepared for more terror. And unless we do something to prevent it, one day there will be an even bigger disaster.
We are vulnerable to attacks on our food, water, power, and transportation. "The biggest threat to our civil liberties is our continuing inability to deal with the threat [of terrorism] in a reasonable time." Obviously, if several hundred thousand Americans were to die in one or more terrorist attacks, both that and our response to it would reduce our liberties severely.
Here are the concluding recommendations, some of which may seem a little repetitive, of this rather exciting and thought-provoking book:
* Realize that a determined army of radical Islamists long ago declared war on America
* Realize that Hezbollah is in the front rank of this army
* Avoid making scapegoats of our law enforcement and intelligence agenicies as institutions
* Put handcuffs on the terrorists, not the law enforcement agencies
* Understand as a nation that the goals of those agents who hunt terrorists is not to harm the innocent but to catch and convict the guilty
* Do a better job of controlling our borders
* Come up with a consistent national form of secure identification
* Study the "trip wires" of organized terrorism so that we will know when they are being triggered
* Integrate our vulnerability to terror into our national thinking
* Honor those in law enforcement and counterterrorism who combat the terrorists
I'm not sure exactly what we ought to do. But I think this is a great time to decide, before some major attacks hurt us and also panic us into making quick decisions that we may later regret.
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