May 8, 2011

Will death stop terror? No, says one expert

Medford, Oregon - May 8, 2011

Will death stop terror? No, says one expert

By Paul Fattig
Mail Tribune
May 08, 2011 2:00 AM

Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, Rick Francona was mighty glad to see the last of Osama bin Laden.

But the Port Orford resident, while understanding the desire of many to express jubilation over the demise of the 9/11 mastermind responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 in that attack alone, found the high-fiving demonstrations in poor taste.

"Some of it looked like a European soccer victory celebration," he observes. "People need to remember this was a very dangerous military operation in which we had up to 40 young American lives at risk.

"This is not a circus — this is deadly serious business," he adds.

What's more, he takes exception to the Monday-morning quarterbacking following Sunday night's (our time) raid by Navy SEALS on bin Laden's walled compound in Pakistan.

"I am a little disturbed that some are now second-guessing these Navy SEALS," he says. "You want an overwhelming force because that leads to fewer casualties on both sides when you seize the objective. There are so many unanswered questions going into a dangerous mission like this."

By now you rightfully suspect that Francona knows a bit more about the subject than your average resident along Oregon's picturesque coast.

Or anywhere across the nation, for that matter.

Francona, 59, is a nationally known Middle East expert. He is a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer whose focus was the Middle East. The former lieutenant colonel is fluent in Arabic and was Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's personal interpreter during the Gulf War.

He is the author of Ally to Adversary: An Eyewitness Account of Iraq's Fall From Grace, a book praised by critics at The London Times and the Washington Post. He also is an expert resource called by national TV news shows in the years following 9/11 to get his perspective on the evolving situation.

A Vietnam War veteran, he has worked with the shadow agencies — the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. During one of his missions with the CIA, he slipped covertly into northern Iraq to help groups that opposed Saddam Hussein.

But his intelligence experience wasn't restricted to the Middle East: He worked closely with SEALs in Bosnia when they were deployed to arrest five war criminals.

His wife, Emily, also is a former intelligence officer in the Air Force, having retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Although you won't see Francona much on national programs now that the wars have become old news, he still is called upon for public speaking engagements and writes a blog — — about the Middle East.

The death of bin Laden doesn't mean the end of terrorism as we know it, he concludes. In fact, al-Qaida on Friday acknowledged bin Laden's death and has vowed revenge.

"No, I don't think his death will change much the threat from al-Qaida," he says. "It has metastasized into various areas in the Middle East."

And the hottest spot now appears to be Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, where American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is leading al-Qaida's faction in that country, he says.

"That seems to be the new power base for al-Qaida, especially with the weak government in Yemen," he says. "Yemen could be the new Afghanistan.

"Once the president of Yemen steps down, and we know it is going to happen, we don't know who will replace him," he adds. "We don't know if the replacement will be friendly to the U.S."

What experts do know is that the killing of bin Laden was a necessary step in the fight against terrorism, he says.

"It was a good step which had to be done, but I don't think it will lessen the terrorist threat," he reiterates. "His death has a greater impact on our capabilities, giving our military and intelligence people a shot in the arm."

Meanwhile, what many are calling the Arab Spring uprisings, as people throughout the Middle East revolt against dictatorships, merits close watching, he stresses, noting the political upheavals could provide openings for terrorist groups.

"There are some real opportunities there for chaos and mayhem," he says. "I think we are on the verge of some dangerous times."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at