Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Event on East African Piracy @ GW Homeland Security Policy Institute

I was part of a panel yesterday on "East African Piracy: Sources, Challenges & Potential Policy Responses" at GW's Homeland Security Policy Institute. The other panelists were:
  1. Charles Dragonette (LinkedIn), senior maritime operations analyst, Office of Naval Intelligence
  2. Mark Kimmitt, retired Brigadier General and former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs
  3. and Martin Murphy, senior fellow, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
The discussion was moderated by Frank Cilluffo, director of HSPI, and Stephen Carmel, HSPI senior fellow and senior vice president, Maersk Line, Limited. To learn more about the event, see this post on the HSPI website and the Issue Brief (in PDF format), and full audio of the event appears below. American intelligence specialists who follow Somalia appear almost unanimously, at least in their public comments, to believe that there is no link between Somali pirates and terrorism or extremist groups like al-Shabaab. All of the other members of the panel also expressed this view. I was the lone dissenting voice. I suggested that although evidence to the contrary is sparse, they should first debunk the October 31, 2008, report titled "Unholy High Seas Alliance, Africa" in Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor. Although this report may be faulty, it provided evidence of a connection between pirates operating out of Kismayu in southern Somalia and the al-Shabaab extremist organization located in that port town. It suggested the link is fragile and based on mutual financial and logistical interests, not ideology. The two groups shared training, and the pirates sometimes smuggled weapons for al-Shabaab. The Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) first deputy prime minister recently charged that pirates were transporting for a profit foreign jihadi extremists to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab. The TFG has, of course, a vested interest in making this claim in order to attract more western support. My point is that one should not dismiss out of hand a connection between some of the pirates and extremist groups like al-Shabaab even it the pirate motive is simply making money.

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