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Under Cover Among The Terrorists

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Jewish Press July 16, 2003

Editor`s Note: This past spring, HarperCollins released a book titled Terrorist
Hunter: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman Who Went
Undercover to Infiltrate the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in
America. For obvious reasons, the author was billed as
“Anonymous.” Just prior to its publication, “60 Minutes” did a
segment on the book and named some alleged terror fronts the
author had found in the U.S. In a subsequent lawsuit filed by
some of those accused groups, “Anonymous” was revealed to be
an Iraqi-born Jew named Rita Katz, who serves as director of
the Site Institute, an international terrorist-investigation and
information group.

Katz was interviewed recently by Kathryn Jean Lopez,
editor of National Review Online. Following are highlights of
their discussion:

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Did you expect to be outed
when you decided to write the book? Were you prepared for it?

Rita Katz: Writing the book was a decision I had made after
long deliberation, a significant part of which was considering the
possibility of being outed. I had hoped that by publishing it as
“Anonymous“ and by altering some identifying details about
myself, I would be able to deliver my message without being
exposed. Anonymity was important as many of the things I did
and wrote about in the book can enrage many radicals and will
surely make me quite a few enemies. But the importance of
getting my message across outweighed the risks, and I decided
to go ahead and write the book in spite of the potential danger. I
knew for certain that most journalists — usually the people who
try to expose an anonymous author — would not do so in my
case. Some journalists have used me as a source before and
understood the importance my anonymity. Yes, I did hope that I
would remain anonymous, but I also took certain precautions in
case I was exposed, and I now continue to work on a number of
things to ensure my safety.

Some of the groups you pinpoint as terror fronts are
taking those claims to court. Do you stand by everything
in your book, everything you have said and written
(including on (60 Minutes,” which is being sued)?

I cannot at this time discuss the specifics of the lawsuit or
the individual plaintiffs, but as I had noted in a press release in
response to this lawsuit, I stand firmly behind what I wrote in
Terrorist Hunter and what I said on “60 Minutes.” I will gladly
guide any judge or jury through the mass of information I
compiled before writing my book….

When did you start to and how did you get involved
in the undercover-dangerous-terror investigations?

Little could I imagine when I responded to an employment
ad in a paper, just over five years ago, that my career would
evolve the way it did. It all started by pure chance. I was looking
for a job, responded to an ad, and was hired to work for a Middle
East research institute. I wasn`t trained or instructed there, but
rather on my own initiative and quite accidentally I started to
study a certain charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and
Development (HLF), and I realized that this was a front group
for Hamas. After a few months, I wanted to get to know in
person the people I studied so closely, so I went to a fundraiser
of theirs dressed as a Muslim woman. Soon thereafter I was
attending conferences, visiting mosques, participating in rallies
and the more I did, the more I discovered the enormity of the
problem of radicalism on U.S. soil.

Can you still do what you have been doing, now that
people know who you are?

Of course! The lawsuit brought against me, I believe, is an
attempt to shut me up and slow down my investigations. It will
achieve the exact opposite. I am more enthusiastic now about
my fight against terror than ever before. I will certainly continue
with my work, I will continue to consult with the government on
counterterrorism investigations, and I will continue to provide
information on terrorists and their supporters and financiers to
the media and to anyone who might need it to stop terrorists
from attacking us again. My message to the bad guys is that
nothing will stop me from monitoring them, preventing them
from attacking us, and helping to bring them to justice.

It must be downright frightening, sometimes, going
to work. In one point in your book, you are pregnant,
wired with a recorder, at a jihadist conference (where
you hear, among other things, the usual calls for “Death
to Jews“) and someone else, possibly a journalist, gets
into a confrontation for doing what you were doing —
recording, taking notes. Did you ever think, “No, I can`t
do this anymore?“

Frightening is an understatement. During certain times,
such as the widely televised lynching of two Israeli soldiers in
the West Bank, attending some of these meetings, particularly
the smaller ones, was terrifying. Being a Jewish woman among
inflamed Muslims calling for jihad against Jews and death to
Jews, I knew that I would face grave consequences if I were
exposed. Other difficult experiences I had were actually in open,
public rallies, where various people told sob stories about how
they were abused because they were Muslims or Arabs. Some of
these stories were really heartbreaking. But then came the
leaders of the Muslim community and expressed their views,
and that put me back on track. One such example was with
Abdurahman al-Amoudi, who was considered by many a
moderate Muslim leader and, as such, was a regular visitor to
the White House. In a public rally he stated his support for
Hamas and Hizbullah, two designated terrorist organizations. I
recorded him, gave the videotape to the media, and this in fact
brought an end to his lobbying career with the administration.
But in spite of the danger, I never had a point where I wanted to

What do your kids and the rest of your family think
of what you are doing?

For quite some time, my kids knew very little about what I
do. But there`s only so much you can hide from your kids. So
now that they know exactly what their mom is doing, they — as
well as my husband — do their best to support me. They all
believe in what I do, they believe in me, and I think that they
are very proud.

You grew up a Jew in Iraq. What was that like?

I grew up in a rich family, surrounded by love and by servants
who took care of all my needs. We lived in a huge mansion and
went to a private school. We were happy. I had no idea that we
were sitting on a ticking time bomb until my father was
suddenly taken by Saddam`s people and accused of spying for
Israel. Since that day, our world fell apart. We suffered terrible
abuse, all of us, until we were able to leave Iraq.

When and why did you leave Iraq?

My father was tried in one of Saddam`s kangaroo courts
and hanged in broad daylight, in Baghdad`s central square, to
the cheers of a half a million spectators. My family and I we
were held under house arrest in a small hut in Baghdad, and we
suffered additional abuse and other tragedies, until my mother
was finally able to orchestrate a daring escape. My father was
hanged in 1969, and we escaped two years later, through Iran,
to Israel.

Have you been back to Iraq since liberation? If not,
do you hope to?

No, I have not been to Iraq yet after we left it three decades
ago, but I would definitely go there when it becomes possible. I
would very much like to try to retrieve my father`s remains and
bring them to a decent burial in Israel. That could finally bring
closure for me, and even more so for my mother. And although it
is a very long shot, I would also like to try to find some
documents that might reveal what exactly happened and why
my father was chosen as a scapegoat by Saddam`s people. There
are many questions in my mind that remain unanswered, and
perhaps I will be able to retrieve something in Iraq to help me
learn what actually transpired there.

You do a lot of consulting with government intel and
law enforcement. Is that a sign of U.S. intelligence
shortcomings still?

I do work with government agencies on counterterrorism
investigations, but this is not a sign of the government`s
shortcomings. On the contrary, this is a very positive
development. As I describe in the book, my research is based
mostly on public records: old publications, tax documents, trial
transcripts, and so on. I compile the information I find, I connect
the dots, and then give my conclusions as leads to the
government. As I have studied many Islamic terrorist
organizations, their front groups, and their financiers in great
depth, and as I understand their mentality and their language
well, I could assist the government in such investigations.
However, I do not provide “intel“ information per se. The
government gets its intel by recording, wiretapping,
surveillance, etc. Before 9/11, I tried to give the government
important leads, but many of these leads weren`t taken
seriously. These same leads of mine, and, of course, many
others, were picked up by the government after 9/11 — and a
large number of investigations stemmed from them.

What would you consider our most important
successes in the war on terror?

One important achievement is the freezing of assets of
terrorist financiers and shutting down large sources of money to
terrorist organizations. Without proper funding, terrorist
attacks cannot take place. Another significant blow to Al Qaeda
and to the global network of terrorists that had evolved out of
that organization was, at least to some extent, the war in
Afghanistan. It had destroyed several of Al Qaeda`s training
camps and hampered its ability to train new recruits. The war
made it more difficult for al Qaeda to orchestrate a major,
sophisticated attack in the scope of 9/11. But the success in
Afghanistan resulted in only a temporary setback for the
terrorists. It didn`t crush them completely, but rather scattered
them around the globe….The war has to be more comprehensive
and to target the causes, the financing, and the education for
jihad. And that is why I think that our most important
achievement thus far is the profound change in the general
perception of the global threat of Islamic fundamentalism to
America and the West. What used to be considered a nuisance
before 9/11 is now properly deemed a major threat to the free
world. That conceptual change is demonstrated in various ways.
One example is the enactment of the Patriot Act, that may assist
government agencies in the war on terror. Another is the in-

creased collaboration with other countries, such as Germany
and Britain, in that war. And thirdly, the government had
finally realized that there is no distinction between terrorist

There are miles to go yet, though, as you tell vividly
in your book. What have been our biggest mistakes? What
must be addressed if we are ever to win the war on

Changes need to be made both in strategy and in tactics. As
for the latter, the short-term fight needs to include the capture
of al Qaeda operatives and the destruction of their
infrastructure. To do that effectively and to be able to prevent
another attack on us, law enforcement agencies have to correct
some critical operational flaws. The most serious, in my view, is
the competition between agencies and the way some agencies
refuse to cooperate with others in the war on terror. I give a
number of very disturbing examples demonstrating that pattern
in my book. Another problem is that certain law-enforcement
agencies approach Islamic terrorism as if it were a criminal
investigation: find the culprits if you can, put them in jail, end of
story. But Islamic terrorism is different from organized crime on
several levels and it needs to be confronted accordingly. For
terrorists, money is not a goal, but rather a means. Islamic
terrorists, unlike other criminals, have no value for life, not even
their own. Without understanding their motives and way of
thinking, they cannot be defeated. Therefore, Islamic terrorism
needs to be studied in depth, and it needs to be addressed as a
global, long-term problem. Which brings me to the strategic
planning of the war on terror. The only way we can win this war
is if we, the West, will force countries, governments, and
organizations that educate, preach, and fund jihad to stop what
they are doing. As long as radical Muslim clerics will preach for
jihad, and as long as Saudi textbooks will teach their youngsters
that we, the “infidels,“ will always be their enemies, Islamic
terrorism will not be eradicated. Through political pressure,
diplomacy, sanctions, and similar measures, the West,
spearheaded by the U.S., has to force governments such as that
of Saudi Arabia to stop spreading this incitement and to
engender a new generation that does not have that blind, vicious
hate against the West and everything it represents. And then —
in a generation — we will be able to win this war once and for all.

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