Spy: ‘Somebody’s got to do it’
But then Tejas Fest has never had a speaker like Fred Burton, who delivered an alternately riveting and chilling address Saturday morning at the city library.
Burton, a former counterterrorism agent, is author of the best-selling “Chasing Shadows,” which deals with a 37-year quest to bring justice in a 1973 assassination linked to a terror group.
He played a big role in bringing Ramzi Yousef, mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, to justice.
Burton helped to free several hostages during his long career, including Father Lawrence Jenko, the Roman Catholic priest who was held captive for over a year in Beiruit in 1985-86.
HIT LIST—Burton said at one time he was listed on an Al Queda hit list but that he’s more concerned about drug gangs he’s encountered in the thankless, and nearly impossible, quest to secure America’s southern borders.
Listeners got a primer on terrorism from a man whose business was once to get inside the minds of people obsessed with bringing this nation to its knees.
Burton said terrorists aren’t necessarily focused on killing great amounts of Americans, although they’d consider that something like a side benefit.
Obviously a place like Rockdale is at low risk for such attacks but Burton thinks even major cities like Austin are also unlikely targets.
“But there are places around Houston where damage could be done which would raise the price of gas $2 overnight,” Burton said. “That’s the kind of thing which would do real harm to the economy.”
However, American counterterror efforts since 9-11 have been so successful, Burton believed Al Qaeda doesn’t have the resources to pull off such an attack.
But Burton actually hinted he even checked out Rockdale before confirming that he would attend Tejas Fest.
Burton thinks the drug wars, w ith their assoc iat ed gang v iolence , willonl yget wor se,andwill spread, and that drug car tels are ingr ained in the bor der cult ure Wh y? “ The probl em far su r- passes what we, as a nation, are prepared to deal with,” he sa id. Burton said it ’s a combination of politics and apat hy. “The (drug) cash flow ing into Me xico prett y much is the Mexic anecono my,” he said .“The furt her nort h you ge t, the le ss proximity to the threat, the less peopl e even t hink of t his as a problem,” he said.
“ I don’t see asolution for thepro blem ,” he said,citing the “unim aginable cor r up tion” involved in the drug culture.
MOTIVE— Burton sa id some of the oldes t motiv es to “turn” clandestine operatives, and obtain crucial informat ion, st ill work.
“We use th e ac ronym MICE , mone y, id eo lo g y, compr omi se, ego,” he said . “Those still work.”
Burton wasinvolved inthe “Aw a rd s for Jus t ice” pro g ra m which offered $20 million cash for informat ion on t he whe re- abouts of Osama Bin Laden.
“I’ ve paid out $1.2 million in cash to a person who ratted out Ramz i Yousef,” he said. Burton praised President Ba rack Obama’s decision to allow the Nav y Seal attack which assassinated Bin Laden. “ Th ere were so many t hi ngs which could ha ve gone wrong,” Burton sa id. But Burton said he’s seen a lot of absurdit y at the higher levels of government in dealing with securit y issues, “both from Democrats and Republicans.”
“A ll Washin gton und erstands ab out a problem is to throw money at it ,” he said .
SHOCKER— Being married to a spy is not a life of glamour.
“My wife didn’t actu ally know what I did,” he said. “When the y tele v ised th e ret ur n of Fat her Jenko live on televi sion, she was watching people get of f the plane with him and I was one. I’d been involved in get ting his relea se.” Burton said he would not rec - ommend anyone enter the life of a counterter rorism agent, despite his obvious succe ss. “Ittake salotoutofyou,” he sa id. “You’re always dealing with issues of betraya l.” Why did he do it? “I assumed that liability freely,” he said. “I figured if I did n’t do it , no one wou ld.”