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The Civilian Side of the War on Terror By: Dana R. Dillon
Hoover.org | Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On December 5, 2006, Taliban fighters repulsed a company of British Royal Marines attacking a village on the Helmand River in Afghanistan. The Marines enjoyed substantial air and artillery support, but the Taliban fighters were victorious, Reuters reported, and bragged that they had the expertise to defeat any army in the world. Although the fighting resulted in the death of only a single Royal Marine, their defeat demonstrated a new Taliban ability in conventional tactics and a first-order strategic change in the war on terrorism.

The frequently pronounced goal of the American and Allied strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is to train and equip their respective armies so that American and allied soldiers can depart; “As Iraqis stand up,” administration officials quip, “American forces will stand down.” The Department of Defense (dod) program in support of that strategy is called Building Partnership Capacity (BPC) and it is the major program in the dod’s security cooperation strategy.

Yet the battle on the Helmand River throws the whole concept into question. Despite the billions of dollars spent to train and equip the Iraqi and Afghan armies, it is doubtful that this program will create armies superior to the Royal Marines. And if the Royal Marines cannot defeat an entrenched Taliban force, what are the prospects for the Afghan Army after nato leaves Afghanistan?

This problem is not isolated to Afghanistan or Iraq. Since 9/11, the United States has provided in excess of $100 million a year to the Philippines, the most American aid to any country in East Asia, much of it in the form of security assistance. In addition, the American military continues a brisk training schedule with the Philippine Armed Forces. As a consequence, the Philippine military has demonstrated a marked increase in capability. In September 2006, a Philippine Marine unit encountered and killed Khadaffi Janjalani, commander of the notorious terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, during a six-hour gun battle in which the majority of the marines were killed or wounded.

Major General David Frodovich, commander of special operations forces in the Asia Pacific, said, “We’re building capacity when we’re in various locations and leave these areas when they are capable of doing it on their own. ”[1] Despite the best efforts of American and Philippine military leaders, however, the terrorist threat in the Philippines is growing. In 2006 the Philippine Armed Forces kept Abu Sayyaf on the run, instigating 49 engagements with the rebels, killing or capturing 81 of its members. Nevertheless, Abu Sayyaf remains a dangerous threat.

In July 2002, at the conclusion of a six-month operation involving thousands of U.S. and Philippine armed forces against Abu Sayyaf, U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone said, “Abu Sayyaf rebels are a spent force after a U.S.-Philippines military operation, but the conditions that bred them could just as easily bring forth a new Southeast Asian ‘terror’ group.”[2] Four and half years later, in January 2007, General Hermaogenes Esperon, Chief of the Philippine Armed Forces, estimated Abu Sayyaf’s strength at 452 fighters — approximately the same size it was before it was supposedly destroyed in 2002. In the same announcement, he noted that the communist New People’s Army (NPA) still numbered 7,100 rebels. This latest contrasts with the NPA’s strength during 1990s, when it was estimated at fewer than 6,000 active members and dwindling.

This global insurgency, whether state-supported, local, transnational, narco-terrorist, Islamist, or neo-Communist, has access to a variety of underground economies, including drug trafficking, religious charities, and illicit government sponsorship. Members use these resources to develop their own building partnership capacity (BPC) programs. These are distributed through the internet, and have proved to be resilient in the face of modern armies and successful in exploiting the insurgents ’ substantial asymmetrical advantages.

Among the advantages: American, allied, and coalition forces are fighting the terrorists literally in their backyards; it costs terrorist/insurgent groups little money to move, house, or feed their fighters. Meanwhile, American troops must be shipped from halfway around the world and logistically supported, at great expense, at their new, often isolated, locations.

Nor do terrorists need expensive training programs: They can learn how to manufacture an improvised explosive device (IED) or dig a fighting position impervious to air assault simply by logging on to the internet and visiting the terrorist training site of their choice. Americans, meanwhile, spend billions on building the capacity of friendly armies to fight them.

Insurgents can log on to the internet and visit the terrorist training sites of their choice.

The terrorists know the political terrain, and money from criminal activities and international “charitable” donations allows them to gain local support by providing micro-incomes and funding clinics and other services usually provided by indigenous governments. And they do so at costs well below what the United States is spending on foreign aid.

The principal problem, though, is that military activities are not sufficient to destroy an insurgency. Indigenous governments must resolve the problems that give rise to the insurgency by providing services, institutional reform, and economic development. The American military has the capability to supply many government services on a limited basis, but it does not have the assets to replace a civilian government or to provide the assistance a government normally delivers to its citizens.

Additionally, it is a costly misuse of highly skilled and expensively equipped combat troops to require them to treat sewage, repair power grids, or perform customs inspections. I heard one Army general say, “We’ve been trained our entire professional lives to break things and kill people and the war on terrorism is requiring soldiers to perform tasks that they are not trained or equipped to accomplish. ” This is even more difficult to understand when there are numerous domestic issue-oriented government agencies, such as Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Energy, with the professional skills and institutional mandate to contribute to the nonmilitary tasks in the war on terrorism. But they are not yet making substantial contributions.

The role of the military in counterinsurgency operations is to provide a shield, behind which the interagency community can assist the terrorist-affected country in institutional reform and economic development. But that shield is not impermeable or unending. As we have seen on the Helmand River in Afghanistan, the longer there is no credible government reform or economic development, the more difficult it is to maintain the shield.

To counter the asymmetric advantage of home-grown insurgencies, policymakers in Washington must move beyond purely military solutions and take advantage of the gamut of nonmilitary assets, including economic, social, political, and law enforcement resources that constitute America’s own asymmetric strengths. No other country in the world has greater resources, skills, and international standing to bring to bear against our enemies.

To coordinate the military and civilian agencies operating in geographic theaters, the president should appoint a civilian theater commander of sufficient experience and authority to understand and integrate all facets of the interagency community, especially the traditionally domestically oriented agencies that have so far been largely sidelined. In Washington, the president should appoint a person with sufficient authority to discipline the interagency community and negotiate budgets with Congress for nonmilitary capacity- building through training and technical assistance for terrorist-affected countries. And Congress should fund international program budget requests from traditionally domestic agencies.

Mobilizing the interagency

The army’s latest counterinsurgency field manual, fm3–24, “Counterinsurgency,” states unequivocally that nonmilitary factors are “primary,” and suggests a ratio of 80 percent political to 20 percent military in counterinsurgency activities.[3] From the military’s point of view, dod is providing the shield in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, but the rest of U.S. government agencies and departments, with missions and skills critical to prosecuting the other 80 percent of the counterinsurgency campaign, have not appeared.

American spending on military efforts is 12 times higher than spending on civilian counterinsurgency activities. According to a recent report released by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “it can be argued that the disparity in the ratio between investments in military versus civilian approaches threaten U.S. success. ”[4]

Of course, a simple cost comparison is not sufficient to draw conclusions about American strategy because of the inherent expense of military activities. But the budget disparity does demonstrate the lack of emphasis on nonmilitary solutions.

Over the decades of the Cold War and in the post-Cold-War development of counterterrorism policy, the traditional foreign policy-oriented agencies — the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the intelligence community — steered the national security policymaking apparatus through a sophisticated body of interagency organizations led by the National Security Council. Domestic policy-oriented agencies, like Agriculture, Interior, and Transportation, were largely left out of the foreign policy arena to focus on their domestic missions. Even agencies with obvious international missions, like the Department of Commerce (DOC) or the United States Trade Representative (USTR), were usually left out of national security policymaking.

But in the current national security environment, as noted in fm3–24, “Some of the best weapons for counterinsurgency do not shoot.” In this new environment, digging a well is more important than digging a foxhole; training a policeman can be more important than training a soldier; and restoring electrical power can restore the legitimacy of a government. The agencies with the skills and expertise to best accomplish those goals in Iraq or Afghanistan are the same agencies that do those jobs every day in the United States. But the old national security policymaking apparatus has not caught up to the new environment. The ability of the administration and Congress to mobilize these other agencies will be one of the most important factors in the successful conclusion of the war on terrorism.

Breaking the national security policy monopoly

T o find a solution to the interagency problem and win the war on terrorism, Congress and policymakers must first break the mindset that insists that national security policy is the exclusive domain of a handful of agencies. It is not well known, but all U.S. government agencies participate in a broad range of international activities that relate directly or indirectly to national security issues. For example, the U.S. Forest Service trains police in Africa to protect African national parks against poachers. The Department of Labor has programs covering human trafficking, forced labor, and child labor. The Department of Transportation is responsible for a number of transportation issues that cross international boundaries, including maritime shipping and air transportation. In fact, every major U.S. Government agency has an international affairs office to deal with those of its responsibilities that do not stop at the U.S. border.

doc and ustr also have international engagement portfolios, but they are not yet connected to national security strategy. In fact, the disconnect between national security policy and economic policy is a major weakness of the current national security establishment. It is an axiom of counterinsurgency doctrine that economic development is critical to a successful strategy, and many of the regional combatant commanders traditionally look to the State Department ’s United States Agency for International Development (usaid) for assistance in developing the economy of terrorist-affected countries.

In the Philippines, for example, usaid spent $70 million in 2006 on education, disease control, economic development, and various governance programs. All are very worthy and critical to a counterinsurgency strategy, but the Philippines was experiencing an economic meltdown unrelated to those issues. In 1998, the Philippines attracted $2.2 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI), but since then it has experienced a rapid decline, dropping to only $347 million in 2003, according to World Bank figures. In other words, the Philippines lost almost $2 billion a year in economic investment. usaid’s $70 million cannot hope to fill or even repair that gap.

In this new environment, restoring electrical power can restore the legitimacy of a government.

Neither usaid nor any other government aid program can expect to fill a $2 billion gap for every country affected by terrorism; nor do handouts build economies. Instead of focusing on usaid foreign aid alone, American strategy should leverage the skills and expertise of doc, ustr, and other trade and economy-oriented agencies to engage terrorist-affected governments in negotiations promoting trade and economic development — using usaid programs to build government capacity to enforce trade agreements.

To see the efficacy of such an approach, one need look no further than the Philippines’ neighbor, Vietnam. In 2000, the U.S. and Vietnam signed a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement. While the Philippine economy was imploding, Vietnam ’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew rapidly, from $31.5 billion in 2000 to $51 billion in 2005. Additionally, fdi almost doubled from $2.1 billion in 2000 to $3.9 billion in 2005, according to U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council figures. During the same period, usaid gave only modest amounts of aid to Hanoi ($6 million in 2005), two-thirds of which was aimed at building Hanoi’s capacity to conform to the bilateral trade agreement, and, in 2006, the agency was able to stop providing aid to the country altogether.

Significantly, ustr has not negotiated a trade agreement with the Philippines since the1989 trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA), which is little more than a statement of principles and is ineffective in promoting trade except as a basis for additional agreements. There were no follow-on agreements, not even a bilateral investment treaty (BIT). Nor is the Philippines in the queue of countries waiting to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA). The same gap is found in Iraq and Afghanistan. ustr negotiated tifas with Afghanistan in 2003 and Iraq in 2005, but there are no bits or ftas in force with either country. There is a regional Middle East Free Trade Initiative, which is intended to “expand and deepen economic ties through Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFAs), Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), and comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), and . . . enhance the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program for eligible countries.” But Morocco, Jordan, and Israel have been the major beneficiaries, while integration of Iraq and Afghanistan into the regional and global economy has lagged.

Iraq’s economic problems, already very significant in 2003, were greatly aggravated when the Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded the Army, fired all Ba ’ath party officials and dispensed shock treatments to Iraq’s command economy. Those well intentioned actions ultimately threw millions of Iraqis out of work. The unemployment rate is estimated to be as high as 60 percent, with 50 percent inflation and 1.5 million Iraqis fleeing abroad. As Paul Brinkley, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, said of the economic problems in Iraq, “I believe there’s an indisputable correlation between people’s livelihoods and unrest, civil unrest, social unrest.”[5]

The Department of Defense announced its own solution, in January 2007, to restart Iraq’s state-owned factories as a means of reemploying Iraqis and getting them off the rolls of the insurgents. Although reopening Iraq ’s state-owned factories is undoubtedly long overdue, dod is not the best agency to manage the process. The department’s mission is “to provide military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of the United States. ” It is the mission of the doc “to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce.”

Admittedly, there are probably very few doc officials familiar with the procedures and challenges of restarting Iraq’s state-owned factories, but there is certainly more critical expertise in that subject at Commerce than at Defense. What ’s more, doc has already created Iraq and Afghanistan Investment and Reconstruction Taskforces that offer a variety of services for businesses interested in investing in those countries; and doc personnel have developed some expertise in the nature and structure of the Iraqi economy. Additionally, the Department of the Treasury can advise Iraq on macro-economic issues like inflation, and in the areas of monetary affairs, trade and investment policy, and debt strategy. The Department of Justice can provide assistance on controlling corruption. Joined with doc’s existing programs, encouraging ustr to negotiate additional trade agreements and providing knowledgeable training and technical assistance to the Iraqis on restarting their state-owned factories could transform the economy — and the war.

Border control is also vital to the war on terrorism. From Iraq to the Philippines, terrorists and insurgents get their guns and money through smuggling. Furthermore, cross-border infiltration or exfiltration is a common means of evasion or reinforcement for insurgents and terrorists. Terrorists smuggle guns, money, and people across Iraq ’s borders with Syria and Iran, or from Pakistan to Afghanistan. In Southeast Asia, terrorists in Thailand ’s deep south cross the Thai-Malaysia border without difficulty. Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists easily cross between the Philippines and Indonesia. Thus, extending U.S. border security expertise to terrorist-affected countries through training and technical assistance would benefit those countries and the United States.

Many in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) believe that capacity building is the means of addressing these security vulnerabilities, and one of the most cost-effective and lasting force multipliers to U.S. efforts in the war on terrorism. The recognized experts in the areas of maritime security, border management, and fraudulent document detection are at DHS, but Congress has not yet granted it the authority to administer international training and technical assistance. dhs currently provides training and technical assistance only if and when a specific request is received and funds are provided. Competing with other federal departments and programs for limited funds controlled by the Departments of State and Defense, dhs efforts ultimately lack consistency or strategic direction.

In some terrorist-affected countries, like Iraq, energy security and production is a major concern of U.S. strategy, but the Department of Energy (DOE) is also overlooked in the counterinsurgency struggle. doe has many key competencies for building partner capacity not duplicated in any other agency, such as toxic waste management, expertise in running and repairing fossil fuel refineries, energy efficiency, and helping countries resolve technical problems with their energy systems. After the invasion of Iraq and the publication in 2004 of National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 36, “United States Government Operations in Iraq,” hundreds of doe employees reportedly volunteered for duty there, but deployment of doe personnel was limited by budget constraints. Consequently, doe did not open its own office in Iraq until 2007.[6]

Building confidence in the interagency

Impatient with the myriad obstacles to mobilizing the interagency, and in need of some kind of results in Iraq and elsewhere, the Department of Defense does not hesitate to take on nontraditional roles, becoming the “default responder,” as described in the Quadrennial Defense Review. State and Defense formed interagency Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) to transfer control of territory to the Iraqis. The prts are to accomplish a number of goals, and funding includes an $84 million budget to promote agriculture development. But of the 18 agricultural advisors required for the prts, only two were from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the first six were from dod.

Furthermore, the Defense Department seldom participates in the interagency community outside of its traditional coordination processes. For example, the Commerce Department is one of the few government agencies with a published plan for international cooperation. Called the National Export Strategy (NES), it is a strategic plan for fy 2004–09, and includes a booklet of country fact sheets for the top 50 U.S. trading partners. The 2006 nes was written by the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC), of which Department of Defense is one of 19 member agencies. Yet a senior Commerce official characterized dod participation in the tpcc as infrequent and lacking direct channels.[7] The nes gives priority to certain countries and regions, but there is no indication in the document that the National Security Strategy or dod input was used to identify those regions, and the priorities do not include Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Philippines.

Few government agencies are able to deploy personnel to combat zones with adequate preparation or protection.

Discussing the obstacles of interagency cooperation, some dod officials have argued that the many in the interagency community do not have the resources or capability to lead national security activities. For example, the dod budget in 2003 was $440 billion, while the doc budget was only $5.8 billion, and while dod has almost 1.4 million uniformed personnel, the doc has only 36,000 people. These comparisons hide more than they show, however. For example, a “big” delegation for a bilateral trade negotiation is only 25–30 people drawn from different agencies; equipment is laptop computers and telephones; facilities are conference venues and hotel rooms. A round of negotiations normally lasts only a week or two. And although there may be several rounds in the course of negotiating an agreement, they are not year-long rotations to inhospitable terrain. The capacity of ustr and doc to negotiate trade deals is undoubtedly limited by resources, but the gap between what they can do and what they could do is measurable in millions of dollars, not the dod-size bills of billions of dollars.

Another alleged weakness of the interagency is that it does not have the ability to assign personnel to combat zones. The Combatant Commands (COCOM) urgently need interagency specialists to participate in planning, but most of the cocoms are headquartered in the United States. It is unlikely to be difficult to get interagency volunteers to spend a year-long rotation in Hawaii with Pacific Command or in Florida with Central Command. Additionally, most of the missions and organizations of the non-foreign-policy federal agencies are duplicated by state and local governments. If the burdens of interagency personnel become so heavy that a federal agency is unable to meet the demand, then state and local government agencies can also be called on to provide volunteers from among their appropriately skilled personnel. So far, the only shortage the interagency community is experiencing is the authority and funding to send their volunteers.

Finally, the mission and comparative advantage of the interagency community are to build the capacity of foreign governments to perform those nonmilitary functions for themselves, not to have U.S. agencies do it for them. Training and technical assistance are what is needed, and most U.S. agencies have schools and courses that can train foreign personnel in the United States. Again, the shortage is authority and funding.

Ultimately, some, and perhaps many, American civilians will have to go into combat zones. Most government agencies lack the infrastructure to deploy their personnel to combat zones with adequate preparation or protection. The military, on the other hand, are masters at deploying to inhospitable, unfriendly, and isolated locations. The military ’s comparative advantages in the interagency process are planning and security. Although it cannot guarantee everyone ’s safety in a war zone, the Pentagon can assume responsibility for deploying personnel from U.S. government agencies, contractors, and even authorized nongovernmental organizations. Preparations should include pre-deployment training with military-compatible equipment and integration into the military ’s security umbrella once they arrive. These precautions would not eliminate the danger, but they would inestimably improve the actual and perceived security of interagency personnel, permitting them to focus on the mission they were sent to accomplish.

Finding a solution

The bush administration recognized the weakness of the interagency participation, and in 2005 issued NSPD–44, “Management of Interagency Efforts Concerning Reconstruction and Stabilization.” The purpose of the directive was to improve coordination among interagency members for the global war on terror. The Department of State was made responsible for managing U.S. efforts, and a new position of Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization ( c/rs) was created to assist the secretary of state. Unfortunately, neither NSPD–44 nor the creation of c/rs resulted in greater involvement of the traditionally domestic agencies in the war on terrorism. To resolve that problem the president must issue another directive explicitly instructing that all government agencies become involved with the global war on terror.

Furthermore, the president should consider whether making a single agency the lead provides sufficient vigor and discipline to the process. Giving the lead to one agency is like a shepherd telling the sheep to herd themselves. The president could assign the responsibility for instilling discipline and direction in the ranks of the cabinet to the vice president, who is the only other person with the authority to do that. Additionally, the vice president customarily works closely with Congress and could lobby congressional leaders for war-related items in the budgets of traditionally domestic agencies, thus breaking the logjam of resources that has choked domestic interagency participation to date. The c/rs could then be reassigned to assist the vice president. To return to the analogy of the shepherd, the vice president would become the dog that both guards and directs the flock.

The other side of the interagency coin is in the field. The cocoms have all created Joint Interagency Coordination Groups (JIACG) to improve interagency coordination. But though jiacgs work well with diplomatic issues, natural disasters, and other nontraditional roles of the military, they are just coordination groups — the cocom commander has no authority over agency policies or budgets.

A politician would be unlikely to endorse policies that cost millions of jobs, as happened on Bremer’s watch.

Another problem is the role of the domestic agencies versus the national security responsibilities of the cocom commander. Although economic issues affect national security, there is almost no role for the military commander in influencing the economic direction of a region. The same applies to education, transportation, law enforcement, energy, and labor issues, among others. To win the counterinsurgency war, where nonmilitary activities encompass 80 percent of the effort, the president should appoint a new kind of regional envoy, who would be his direct representative, with authority over the budgets and policies of all U.S. government agencies operating in the theater.

The president should take great care in selecting the regional chief and should look beyond candidates from the foreign policy and national security fields. Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) for post-war Iraq, held a position similar in authority and staff to that delineated here. And although his undoubted ability and competence as a career Foreign Service Officer won him the position as head of the cpa, it seems unlikely that a politician, accustomed to answering to voters and competing political elites for his decisions, would endorse policies that cost millions of jobs, as happened on Bremer ’s watch. The regional civilian chief should already have the on-the-job experience to understand the complexities of civil administration and the art of political compromise. The ideal candidate would not be a military officer, either; that person would be redundant to the numerous generals already in theater. Rather, the new chief of regional security should be a former state governor or big-city mayor.

In order to properly finance these efforts, Congress would need to fund the international programs of traditionally domestic-oriented agencies to provide money for training and technical assistance for foreign government officials. A good model is the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, managed by the State Department and executed by the Department of Defense. Congress should create a similar program for the war on terrorism, managed by the Department of State, with each of the other agencies able to draw on the money. This could be one large technical assistance and training program or a series of specialized budgets. For example, several different agencies — including usaid, Department of Justice, dhs, and Transportation — train police in terrorist-affected countries. Competent law enforcement contributes directly to U.S. interests in the global war on terror, and indirectly by helping to build the legitimacy of terrorist- and insurgency-besieged governments. To complement imet, Congress could establish an International Law Enforcement Education and Training (ILEET) program and similar ones for energy, transportation, agriculture, and other areas of civilian expertise. Further, it could open hearings on the role of traditionally domestic agencies in the war on terrorism to divine the obstacles to their participation.

None of these changes or preparations can guarantee success in the war on terrorism. The current policy of surging the military in Iraq and Afghanistan can succeed with the cooperation of the Iraqi and Afghan governments and a surge in the participation of the traditionally domestic agencies. The military will undoubtedly regain control of the streets of Baghdad, at least temporarily, which will give the interagency an opportunity to help cooperative governments reform and develop their economies enough to satisfy their disaffected populations. The president must press his cabinet to provide the interagency teams and Congress to provide the resources to deploy them.

Finally, it is critical that the interagency, once deployed, not do the job for the host-nation government. “[L]ong term success requires establishing viable hn [host-nation] leaders and institutions that can carry on without significant U.S. support, ” says the Army’s field manual. Americans cannot and should not expect ideal democracies with free market economies. Tolerably representative government and a globally integrated economy are good enough.

Dana Dillon is a retired Army officer, a frequent commentator on national security issues and author of The China Challenge (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).


Richard Halloran, “‘The Tip of the Spear’ in the War on Terror,” RealClearPolitics.com (May 6, 2006).

2. C.S. Kuppuswamy, “Philippines: The US Campaign Against Abu Sayyaf,” South Asia Analysis Group Paper 498 (July 23, 2002).

3. U.S. Army fm3–24 “Counterinsurgency” (September 2006), 1–22.

4. Richard Lugar, Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate, “Embassies as Command Posts in the Anti-Terror campaign” (December 15, 2006).

5. Quoted in Pauline Jelinek, “Pentagon helps to restart old Iraq factories in jobs programs” International Herald Tribune (January 4, 2007).

6. Department of Energy official, interview with the author (January 9, 2007).

7. tpcc official, interview with the author (November 15, 2006).

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