Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Origins of Terrorism

If you're wondering why I'm not writing anything profoundly entertaining or deeply philosophical, I am in the middle of reading a book called Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind. It's an interesting book so far, but it definitely reads like an academic primer. It's an amalgamation of several noted authorities in the field of politics, psychology, terrorism and history. This book was first published in 1990 and republished in 1998. It appears to still be valid.

The first chapter is written by Martha Crenshaw, professor of government, Wesleyan University and author of Encyclopedia of World Terrorism; International Encyclopedia of World Terrorism and Terrorism in Context. I have not read any of these books or know anything about the individual authors involved in writing "Origins of Terrorism" so I have no preconceived ideas about where the book is intended to go. So far, the first chapter is a basic primer and starts out by refuting terrorism as an outcropping of social or economic class, but is specifically a logical decision taken by groups as a strategy that is more specifically related to an organizations size, resources and, interestingly, time.

Size and resources as a factor towards "rational" decisions to engage in terrorism is directly related to the size and ability of an organizations opponent, the size and following of the organization (ie, numbers and potential following restricted due extreme positions that are, for the most part, rejected by the majority) and, finally, the organizations perceived ability to make changes socially or politically through non-violent means. The last may be affected by living within or opposing totalitarian or authoritarian regimes that, by nature, are extremely oppressive and brook no opposition, regardless of how moderate, and when regimes enact even more draconian measures in response to terrorism, embed the feelings of hopelessness to effect change.

The issue of time has two points:

1) The terrorist organization feels that time is limited to effect the changes that they wish to occur.

2) The time is appropriate due to political and/or economical instability.

I argued last June and again in October 2004 that the timing of Al Qaida's attack on the US on September 11 was not solely due to their operational constraints.


And what about the timing?

As noted, Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants were not scruffy goat herders without education or understanding of finance. They understood it perfectly well and had been using it to invest money and collect dividends by which to support their own endeavors and launder money. They understood perfectly well the condition of the US economy. The plan had been in place for nearly five years and, yet, had not been unleashed. We could speculate about operational issues and training, etc, but, if we look at the last years of the Clinton administration and the financial indicators, we can see that the US economy was in a "boom". Certainly, an attack would have set us back, but would not have had the impact on a growing economy that it would have on an economy in recession.

With the recovery of August 2001 looming, it was now or never for Al-Qaida to strike and they did. According to some reports, Sheik Khalid had actually tried to get it off the ground in April when the recession had first been called, but that had been postponed due to operational issues. (blue bars on graph are times of recession; provided by US Census Study: Income, Poverty and Health Insurance


Of course, this is not the sole factor, but I believe that, if we dismiss the attacks as random or expressly related to operational ability of cells or expressly related to other individual acts, such as the Iraq war, or solely motivated by a political situation, we would be missing the point and thus missing important indicators that should alert us to higher risk of attacks.

I also believe that it is unwise for so called experts to promote the idea that terrorist acts committed by separate cells who call themselves different names are not directly related to a central plan or operation center. For instance, the terrorist cells in England are being touted as if they were stand alone operations that selected the target and dates of the attack based on the cells sole decision. Nor is it likely that their "reason" for the attack was the sole motivator.

There are too many factors that indicate the timing and targets were based on specific plans and recent history and arrests tell us how these cells interact with a central command, approving of operations and essentially "flipping the switch".

First, we have the arrest of Mohammed Noor Khan, the collator and central information dessiminator whose job included taking operational plans, surveillance materials and financial projections, send them up to bin Laden and Zawahiri for approval. He would then forward messages between the cells and bin Laden's "board of directors" to obtain further instructions or directions on accomplishing these operations.

Khan's arrest nor the arrest of other top operations officers does not mean that this type of centralization and direction has disappeared from the greater Al Qaida organization. Reports from Britain also indicate the arrival of a suspected Al Qaida officer two weeks prior to the action and leaving within hours prior to the actual event which points to a central operations director.

The attacks had a multi-faceted purpose and approach.

1) Tony Blair was re-elected but with a diminished majority (even if only slightly).
2) Public sentiment in Britain was continuing to decline on the legitimacy and viability of maintaining an Iraq presence.
3) Attacks in Iraq were losing public support and publicity mainly due to the public becoming ennured to the daily attacks far away from the countries involved and that these attacks were being perceived more and more as products of a local civil war and not part of the political statement of the Islamists against "imperial forces".
4) The G8 was meeting in the country and many political leaders would be a direct witness to the attacks.
5) Live 8 and G8 with commiserate attendees of large audiences and protestors meant that security operations would be split and more vulnerable as well as giving Al Qaida travellers cover to arrive in and out of the country.
6) Trains and buses are part of the economic structure of England as mass transportation is the substantial system through which workers, shoppers and tourists travel to the city, all of which directly affects the finances of London, if not England as a whole.
7) The major strategic impact of attacking otherwise "taboo" targets (ie, civilians in their everyday places) that stirs panic and possibly additional reprisals or depradations against Muslims, thus enforcing in more people's minds the Islamist claim that the war is between the western infidel and Islam.

Thus, covering the entire gamut of strategic endeavors from propaganda, political, financial and psychological.

What I've found interesting over the last several weeks is the continued attempts by "analysts" to place the "cause" of the attacks on only one or two of these strategic points and not the totality or convergence of these points as if al Qaida and its affiliates were too simple to analyze, evaluate and operate based on a larger operational plan.

Further, it cannot be emphasized enough that the members of the first cell did not "spin up" in the last six to twelve months. Mohammed Saddique Khan had lived in Leeds for over four years and Germaine Lindsay had arrived sometime in 2002, very near the time that Tanweer and Hussain began to experience "religion". Al Nashar, who seems to have dropped off the public radar, also moved there in 2000. All of which points to plans for attacks being put in place for several years and held to make the most of multiple strategic purposes.

The attacks in Madrid had similar purposes including affecting public opinion, affecting politics and affecting a financial main stay of Spain: transport.

Looking at these factors may point to where and when the next attacks might take place. For instance, what country has the next upcoming elections? Which country is likely to experience a political turn over that may directly affect how that country deals with terrorism (eg, Germany's conservative party that is more closely related to the US seems to be gathering more support; elections are coming up; are there any political or financially important programs coming up? This doesn't have to be in the next two or three months, but within the next two years. The other country that is at the most risk is Italy since it also is supporting US efforts in Iraq. The question should expand to the financial situation of any of these countries).

The Egypt operation has similar strategic goals. There is political unrest with Mubarek being challenged for top office. Egypt is supporting Iraq and has ties to Israel. The recent kidnapping of an Egyptian envoy (and possible murder) caused Egypt to withdraw its diplomatic mission. They attacked a secured, civilian location that was a tourist attraction, the main economic resource for Egypt.

I believe that the idea being floated today that these groups are simply ideologically sympathetic to Al Qaida and are not controlled by a central directive or strategy with specific intents and operations is a fallacy that is: a) being propagated by Al Qaida in order to throw off searching and destroying the central command structure as well as adding to the fear that there are many more of them than actually exists; b) dangerous to strategic and operational planning by opposition forces that may try to spread its resources to thin to cover all of these possibilities.

I will continue to review the book and give further reports on its points and application.

1 comment:

Mixed Humor said...

Another solid piece...well thought out and articulated.