Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Terror Threat: Top-Down or Leaderless?

"International Terrorist Incidents, 2001"
US Department of State
(Image from Wikipedia)

The heading for my blog entry today is borrowed from an article, "The terror threat today: Top-down or leaderless," by Elaine Sciolino and Eric Schmitt in yesterday's International Herald Tribune, Seoul edition (June 9, 2008), and the article's implications are significant enough for the so-called 'War on Terror' that I wish to draw attention to the battlelines being drawn between Bruce Hoffman and Marc Sageman:
On one side is Bruce Hoffman, a cerebral 53-year-old Georgetown University historian and author of the highly respected 1998 book "Inside Terrorism." He argues that Al Qaeda is alive, well, resurgent and more dangerous than it has been in several years. In his corner, he said, is a battalion of mainstream academics and a National Intelligence Estimate issued last summer warning that Al Qaeda had reconstituted in Pakistan.

On the other side is Marc Sageman, an iconoclastic 55-year-old Polish-born psychiatrist, sociologist, former CIA case officer and scholar-in-residence with the New York Police Department. His new book, "Leaderless Jihad," argues that the main threat no longer comes from the organization called Al Qaeda, but from the bottom up -- from radicalized individuals and groups who meet and plot in their neighborhoods and on the Internet. In his camp, he said, are agents and analysts in highly classified positions at the CIA and FBI.
I'm linking to the online edition of the International Herald Tribune, which has a different heading: "Al Qaeda threat has analysts split into 2 opposing camps" (June 8, 2008), so the article can be read online there.

Depending on who is right, there are some broad implications. If Sageman is correct, then good, fairly inexpensive police work is all that one needs, for terrorist groups will be local and often not especially competent. If Hoffman is correct, then a large, expensive, international counterterrorist effort is still needed, for terrorist groups will often be linked to each other, be guided by terrorist masterminds, and be trained by experts at faraway camps.

I go with those who say that both approaches are needed, for even if Sageman is largely correct, can we risk the possibility that Hoffman is partly right? Al-Qaeda's training bases may have been eliminated in Afghanistan, but do we know that there are none in Pakistan's Northwest Terrtories? Do we know that there are none elsewhere in the world? Do we know what innovative ways that terrorist cells might have of training themselves? Should we assume that clandestine international organizations intent on carrying out terrorist acts can no longer prove effective? I don't know much about these things myself, but I don't want to assume that we need not worry about these things.

Anyway, read the article by Sciolino and Schmitt, and if you're still interested, go read Bruce Hoffman's scholarly article in Foreign Affairs (May/June 2008): "The Myth of Grass-Roots Terrorism: Why Osama bin Laden Still Matters," a review of Marc Sageman's Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-first Century, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). Sageman will have a response in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs.

I'd like to analyze this better, but my internet connection was down most of the morning, and I'm sick with a sore throat from overwork reading and grading essays, so I have too little time and energy for doing more today.

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At 5:48 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Hi there,

As someone who uses the IHT for your news, you might be interested in the blog for readers of the IHT, called www.ihtreaders.blogspot.com

Additionally, you might also find intersting a blog called www.aplaceintheauvergne.blogspot.com which follows world events, not via traditional news hierarchies (pages on Europe, Asia, Americas, Editorial, Commentary, Business, Culture, Sports etc) but which weaves a more connected global daily narrative through which to follow the world's story.

Kind regards,


At 7:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, I'll take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree, both approaches are still required.

The "bottom-up" variety has the numbers and the availability of a wide number of targets and opportunities. Plus their theater of operations simply meets the tactical side of the equation.

Al-Qaeda however (seemingly) reduced to being effective in co-Taliban operations along the Afghan/Pakistan border regions still has the patience that strategic operations requires.


At 3:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I agree with everything but your last point:

"the patience that strategic operations requires."

On this, I beg to differ from your subject-verb disagreement.

(Or is "strategic operations" grammatically similar to "economics"?)

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, perhaps: "Strategic operations require patience." Or, "Patience is one requirement for strategic operations and Al-Qaeda has been patient in the past."

Not of course that this is not a somewhat widely held belief. I just wanted to ensure that by writing it that way, I'd not receive an "F." By not being grammitically correct I knew you'd realize no editor would have allowed such structure.

Thus, you'd not judge me for plagiarism.


At 5:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely both approaches are needed. Terrorism has always been a threat from both organized groups and individuals. Even if Al-Qaeda is weakened, another group will rise in its place, funded partly with revenues from the oil we use to power our buildings and vehicles.

At 7:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

So . . . you intentionally made an error to escape the charge of plagiarism, you 'grammitical' little varmint!

That's an "F" for 'fooling' me!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

My thoughts, too, Sonagi.

Jeffery Hodges

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