Former FBI Agent on Al Qaeda: We Never Dealt with Ideology

Melanie Arter | September 29, 2014 | 1:15pm EDT
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A child walks past a wall bearing graffiti about the al-Qaeda network in northern Nigeria's Kano state, one of 12 where shari'a has been imposed for the last decade. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam, File)

( – Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, who has tracked al Qaeda for years, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopolous” that the U.S. never dealt with the al Qaeda ideology, “and that is a problem.”

“We have been, you know, dealing with al Qaeda, with the threat al Qaeda brings. We have been successful in diminishing some of the threat in the short term, but we never dealt with the ideology,” said Soufan, who led the investigation into the attack on the USS Cole and even investigated the events surrounding 9/11.

In fact, Soufan said, more people adhere to the terrorist mastermind’s ideology today than in 2001, the year of the 9/11 attacks.

“Today after trillions of dollars that’s been spent, after thousands of lives around the world that have been lost, we have more people adhere to the ideology of Osama bin Laden in 2014 than we had in 2001,” he said.

Khorasan, an al Qaeda cell in Syria made up of top terrorist officials in Asia, was targeted in U.S. air strikes last week. Obama administration officials say the terrorist group planned to target airplanes with undetectable bombs.

The purpose of the airstrikes was to disrupt an "imminent attack or attack entering the last phases of execution," the Associated Pressquoted John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, as saying Friday at a luncheon of the Washington Aero Club.

Soufan said the ideology of these groups is the threat, not the group itself.

“So that gives you an idea that the threat is not a group. The threat is in the ideology. There are different groups, sometimes we call them ISIS, sometimes we call them al Qaeda, now people are calling Khorasan a new group. However, we never dealt with ideology, and that is a problem,” Soufan added.

When asked how confident he was that the U.S. could defeat al Qaeda, Soufan said, “We have to know our enemy.”

“I mean, Sung Tzu said a long time ago, if you know your enemy and know yourself, you will win 100 times in 100 battles. Look for example about the Khorasan group. Khorasan is a region in central Asia that includes part of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They refer – al Qaeda refers to the leadership in northern Pakistan as Khorasan,” said Soufan.

“So for them saying the brothers in Khorasan is like them – is like us saying headquarters or the headquarters in Washington, D.C., so it’s not a new affiliate. It’s not a new group. It is simply al Qaeda as we know it and as we always knew it,” he said. “So first, we have to learn about our enemy. We have to identify the enemy.

“And if we don’t do this with ISIS, and if we don’t target the incubating factors that are making ISIS popular among thousands of youth around the world, then I think we’re going to have a lot of difficulties in dismantling it and defeating it,” Soufan added.

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