Unsolicited Advice on Terrorism to UVa Basketball Player Austin Katstra

Dear Mr. Katstra,

First of all, thanks for your terrific work on the greatest team ever which I think we are all safe in assuming would have repeated last year’s championship this year if the season hadn’t been shut down. Maybe I’m biased. The point is I’m a fan and an alumnus who found very disturbing an article titled “Virginia’s Austin Katstra lays the foundation for a career in counterterrorism.”

That article reported: “Austin Katstra’s interest in counterterrorism began on May 2, 2011. That’s the day U.S. forces killed Osama Bin Laden. Katstra didn’t know much about the terrorist nearly a decade ago, so the then-middle schooler researched Bin Laden and started to learn about how the U.S. responded to Bin Laden’s acts of terrorism. With a former marine as a step-grandfather, Katstra already had some interest in helping his country, but the interest spiked when learning more about counterterrorism.”

I often speak to college and high school classes about war and peace and discover that many students are unaware of basic facts. I also talk with veterans of and active duty members of the U.S. military (and the CIA and other agencies) and they tell me that had they known some basic facts they wouldn’t have joined up. Of course, you may be far better informed than any of them. UVa is a great school, after all. But, because it’s so important, and I mean no offense, may I just briefly ask a few questions that you can skip right over if they’re old news to you?

Are you aware that the U.S. government repeatedly turned down offers to hand Bin Laden over to a third nation to be put on trial, preferring instead a war that would go on for almost 19 years so far?

Have you come into contact with the understanding that “if the CIA had not spent over a billion dollars arming Islamist militants in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, empowering jihadist godfathers like Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden in the process, the 9/11 attacks would have almost certainly not taken place”?

Are you familiar with the U.S. plans for war on Afghanistan that pre-dated September 11, 2001?

Have you seen the predictable excuses that Bin Laden gave for his murderous crimes? They each involve revenge for other crimes committed by the U.S. military.

Are you aware that war is a crime under, among other laws, the United Nations Charter?

Are you aware that al Qaeda planned September 11th in numerous nations and U.S. states that, unlike Afghanistan, the United States chose not to bomb?

Are you familiar with the gross failures of the CIA and FBI leading up to 9/11, but also with the warnings they gave to the White House that went unheeded?

Are you aware of the evidence of the role played by Saudi Arabia, close U.S. ally, oil dealer, weapons customer, and partner in the war on Yemen?

Did you know that British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed to the future war on Iraq as long as Afghanistan were attacked first?

Did you know that the U.S. government relied on help from Charlottesville to launch the war on Iraq? It’s true. When the experts at the Department of Energy refused to say that aluminum tubes in Iraq were for nuclear facilities, because they knew they could not possibly be and were almost certainly for rockets, and when the State Department’s people also refused to reach the “correct” conclusion, a couple of guys at the National Ground Intelligence Center were happy to oblige. Their names were George Norris and Robert Campus, and they received “performance awards” (cash) for the service. Secretary of State Colin Powell used Norris’ and Campus’ claims in his U.N. speech despite the warning of his own staff that they weren’t true.

Are you aware that the Taliban had practically eradicated opium prior to the war, but that the war made opium one of the Taliban’s top two sources of funding, the other being, according to an investigation by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. military?

Are you aware that the war on Afghanistan has killed huge numbers of people, devastated the natural environment, and left the society very vulnerable to coronavirus?

Are you aware that the International Criminal Court is investigating the overwhelming evidence of horrendous atrocities by all sides during the war on Afghanistan?

Have you noticed the habit of just-retired U.S. military officials admitting that much of what they’ve been doing is counter-productive? Here are just a few examples in case you’ve missed any of them:

U.S. Lt. General Michael Flynn, who quit as head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in August 2014: “The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict.”

Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer, who says the more the United States fights terrorism the more it creates terrorism.

The CIA, which finds its own drone program “counterproductive.”

Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence: While “drone attacks did help reduce the Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,” he wrote, “they also increased hatred of America.”

Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “We’re seeing that blowback. If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”

Sherard Cowper-Coles, Former U.K. Special Representative To Afghanistan: “For every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be 10 pledged to revenge.”

Matthew Hoh, Former Marine Officer (Iraq), Former US Embassy Officer (Iraq and Afghanistan): “I believe it’s [the escalation of the war/military action] only going to fuel the insurgency. It’s only going to reinforce claims by our enemies that we are an occupying power, because we are an occupying power. And that will only fuel the insurgency. And that will only cause more people to fight us or those fighting us already to continue to fight us.” — Interview with PBS on Oct 29, 2009

(Matt is a friend and I know he would be happy to speak with you.)

General Stanley McChrystal: “For every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.”

— Lt. Col. John W. Nicholson Jr.: This commander of the war on Afghanistan blurted out his opposition to what he’d been doing on his last day of doing it.

Did you know that terrorism predictably increased from 2001 through 2014, principally as a predictable result of the war on terrorism? Of course a basic question that a good education should bring one to ask about any field is this one: “Is it working?” I assume you’ve asked that regarding “counter-terrorism.” I assume also that you’ve looked into what distinctions, if any, truly separate a terrorist attack from a counter-terrorist attack.

Are you aware that 95% of all suicide terrorist attacks are indefensible crimes conducted to encourage foreign occupiers to leave the terrorist’s home country?

Did you know that on March 11, 2004, Al Qaeda bombs killed 191 people in Madrid, Spain, just before an election in which one party was campaigning against Spain’s participation in the U.S.-led war on Iraq. The people of Spain voted the Socialists into power, and they removed all Spanish troops from Iraq by May. There were no more bombs in Spain. This history stands in strong contrast to that of Britain, the United States, and other nations that have responded to blowback with more war, generally producing more blowback.

Are you aware of the suffering and death that polio used to cause and still causes, and how hard many have worked for years to come very close to eradicating it, and what a dramatic setback these efforts were handed when the CIA pretended to be vaccinating people in Pakistan while actually trying to find Bin Laden?

Did you know that it isn’t legal in Pakistan or anywhere else to kidnap or to murder?

Have you ever paused and listened to whistleblowers about their regrets? People like Jeffrey Sterling have some eye-opening stories to tell. So does Cian Westmoreland. So does Lisa Ling. So do many others. Ask me, if you’d like to get in touch with any of them.

Were you aware that much of what we think about drones is fictional?

Are you familiar with the dominant role the U.S. plays in weapons dealing and war, that it’s responsible for some 80% of international arms dealing, 90% of foreign military bases, 50% of military spending, or that the U.S. military arms, trains, and funds the militaries of 96% of the most oppressive governments on earth?

Did you know that 3% of U.S. military spending could end starvation on earth? Do you really believe, when you stop to consider it, that the current priorities of the U.S. government serve to counter terrorism, rather than to fuel it?

We have real crises facing us that are far more severe than terrorism, Mr. Katstra, no matter where you think terrorism comes from. The threat of nuclear apocalypse is higher than ever. The threat of irreversible climate collapse is higher than ever and massively contributed to by militarism. The trillions of dollars being dumped into militarism are desperately needed for actual defense against these dangers including spin-off catastrophes like coronavirus.

I think a remark this week by the Prime Minister of Norway encapsulated what’s wrong with current thinking. She said that since coronavirus had arrived by surprise, more money must be dumped into war preparations. This misses both the fact that governments knew about coronavirus back in November and the fact that we could be far better prepared for health crises if our resources weren’t so heavily spent on militarism already.

Trump openly says he wants troops in Syria for oil, Bolton openly says he wants a coup in Venezuela for oil, Pompeo openly says he wants to conquer the arctic for oil (with which to melt more of the arctic into a conquerable state). What does this madness have to do with countering terrorism? Noam Chomsky, whom Pat Tillman was listening to before he was killed, has always pointed out the shortest path to reducing terrorism: “Stop engaging in it.”

We’re in a moment right now, Mr. Katstra, of realization and shifting priorities. Oil is now worthless but wars for oil are supposedly “essential.” This is a time to recognize what’s needed and what services are actually a service. UVa has put up banners thanking health workers for their heroic service. There are hundreds of types of heroic service going on right now. None of them have to do with making government secret from people. None of them have to do with spying on people. None of them have to do with lying, cheating, and stealing. None of them have to do with blowing up people with missiles from robot airplanes.

The “intelligence community” is neither. Community, like intelligence, is to be found completely elsewhere. I hope you find it. I hope you find a way to help not just a country but a world that will survive or not as a whole. Let me know if I can help.

Best of luck,

David Swanson

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and was awarded the 2018 Peace Prize by the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation. Longer bio and photos and videos here. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook, and sign up for: