Counterterrorism Perspectives from the CIA and the FBI, featuring Philip Mudd


Philip Mudd, Former Deputy Director, National Security Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Former Deputy Director, National Counterterrorism Center, Central Intelligence Agency, delivered incisive remarks on al Qaeda and US responses today at The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI), where Mudd is also a Senior Fellow.

“We do not face a terrorist group,” said Mudd, referring to al Qaeda. “They believe they are expanding a revolution. The end is not terrorism, and terrorism is not a strategy. The end is to foment revolution over decades.” Mudd offered his comments on al Qaeda, its affiliates, and likeminded individuals, as well as reflections on his long career combating these entities, as part of HSPI’s Policy & Research Forum Series. Frank Cilluffo, HSPI’s Director, moderated the discussion

Mudd approached his topic from two points of view: the US view and the adversary’s view. He identified a three-part typology of the threat: 1) al Qaeda core—still a formidable threat; 2) affiliated organizations—such as Jemaah Islamiyah, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—that share al Qaeda’s intent and ideology, and look to build their capabilities; and 3) “like-mindeds”—people who feel wronged and are swept along by the global revolution.

Mudd noted many improvements in US strategy and capabilities since 9/11, but he argued that the key error made by the adversary was in killing too many local civilians—from the Philippines and Pakistan to Iraq and North Africa. It was this error that provided the opening for the US to have success.

Mudd did credit al Qaeda with some victories. Given the goal of fomenting revolution, al Qaeda has been successful in influencing those they have not been able to touch directly. Mudd also stated that the adversary thinks in terms of “decades and centuries” rather than a shorter, Western timeframe. Despite suggesting that a down year is simply vindication to al Qaeda that they are being tested, Mudd struck a cautiously optimistic chord: “I think the wave has crested and the movement is dying, but I don’t know what the end looks like.”

Mudd also took direct aim at several problems the US faces in combating al Qaeda and its affiliates. He argued against focusing on the killing or capturing of key individuals as a means of assessing progress, because al Qaeda is more than a group of people planning attacks. “The power of the organization is not just in conducting attacks, it’s in persuading others to think and act as they do.” Mudd characterized the organization as “like fabric,” with people involved in training, financing, planning, and producing false documents. The question is, “how quickly are threads coming out so it frays and rips?” If the US operational tempo slows, the adversary can restore the fabric.

Mudd closed with a warning that al Qaeda and its affiliates want a victory that only we can give them. “We should think about how we react,” said Mudd. “We will lose people in this country. As we grieve for people who are murdered, we should think about how we react to a movement that is dying.”

Cilluffo in turn noted the importance of bridge figures—such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Omar Hammami, both “jihadi rock stars”—who propagate al Qaeda’s narrative on the internet, including in chat rooms and interactive forums, and help facilitate radicalization. Cilluffo added, “I think there is a role for the US government to push back and facilitate the adversary’s narrative falling under its own weight.” Mudd agreed that bridge figures were critically important individuals, who have spread al Qaeda’s ideology beyond the core. He observed further that the real danger was if affiliates establish a safe haven and gain ideological traction.

Featured Speaker:

Philip Mudd, Former Deputy Director, National Security Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Former Deputy Director, National Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency; Senior Fellow, Homeland Security Policy Institute

Speaker Biography

Philip Mudd, Former Deputy Director, National Security Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Former Deputy Director, National Counterterrorism Center, Central Intelligence Agency; Senior Fellow, Homeland Security Policy Institute

Mr. Mudd joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1985 as an analyst specializing in South Asia and then the Middle East. He began work in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center in 1992 and then served on the National Intelligence Council as the Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia (1995-98). After a tour as an executive assistant in the front office of the Agency’s analytic arm, Mr. Mudd went on to manage Iraq analysis at the CIA (1999-2001).

He began a policy assignment at the White House in early 2001, detailed from CIA to serve as the Director for Gulf Affairs on the White House National Security Council. He left after the September 11 attacks for a short assignment as the CIA member of the small diplomatic team that helped piece together a new government for Afghanistan, and he returned to CIA in early 2002 to become second-in-charge of counterterrorism analysis in the Counterterrorist Center. He was promoted to the position of Deputy Director of the Center in 2003 and served there until 2005.

At the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Security Branch in 2005, FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed Mr. Mudd to serve as the Branch’s first-ever deputy director. He received a Presidential nomination to become Undersecretary of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security in early 2009 but later withdrew his nomination, returning to the FBI as its Senior Intelligence Adviser. Mr. Mudd resigned from government service in March 2010.

Mr. Mudd is the recipient of numerous CIA awards and commendations, including the Director’s Award; the George H.W. Bush Award for excellence in counterterrorism; the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal; the first-ever William Langer Award for excellence in analysis; and numerous Exceptional Performance Awards.

During his assignments at CIA and the FBI, Mr. Mudd has commented about terrorism in open and closed Congressional testimony, and he has been featured on all major networks and in print media as a specialist in counterterrorism.

Mr. Mudd graduated cum laude from Villanova University with a B.A. in English Literature (1983), and he earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Virginia (1984).


FBI. (2008) "New Intelligence Tools." Inside the FBI. Podcast. Washington, DC: FBI

Frontline. (2006) Interview with Phil Mudd. "The Enemy Within." Transcript. Boston, MA: WGBH

Mudd, Philip. (2010) "Close to Home in Pakistan." The AfPak Channel. Washington, DC: Foreign Policy

Mudd, Philip. (2010) "Mirandizing terrorists: Not so black and white." Washington, DC; Washington Post

National Counterterrorist Center (2008) NCTC Report on Terrorism. Arlington, VA

National Counterterrorist Center. (2010) NCTC Website. Arlington, VA

National Security Branch. (2010) NSB Website. Washington, DC;

Temple-Raston, Dina. (2010) "New Terrorism Recruits: Jihad Lite?" All Things Considered. Washington, DC: NPR

About HSPI's Policy & Research Forum Series

HSPI's Policy & Research Forum Series spotlights cutting-edge security policy solutions and innovative research. The Series is designed to provide thought leaders in the United States and abroad with a uniquely constructive venue in which to discuss current and future security issues and challenges.