Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Jacob N. Shapiro - The Terrorist's Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations

This book by Professor Jacob N. Shapiro (Yale) sounds like an interesting, insightful, and useful book on terrorism's dilemma: how to run a terrorist organization's bureaucracy while simultaneously maintaining secrecy. I don't know if I'll have time to read it, but I found a useful interview in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. Here, for example, he speaks on how to exploit the weaknesses in terrorist operations:
There are several things being done already, such as aggressively tracking down various leads, following the signals that are created, and giving them relatively higher priority. It is not the case that the threat prior to 9/11 went undetected, because it was detected. What happened is the signals were not treated with sufficient gravity, and that has been rectified. What I think could be done, or what is not being done in a particularly aggressive way, at least as far as I know, is sowing more seeds of discord within organizations: getting on the chat-rooms and black websites that various militant organizations use and stoking ideological disagreements. Stoking disagreements about what's tactically acceptable. Providing misinformation about technical matters. All kinds of things that increase the need for communications within organizations are going to lower the production possibilities frontier that organizations can get to, given their levels of activity.

I think the other thing that is not being done enough is working to publicize the externalities that groups cause. We know that people in many countries get angry at the consequences militant groups cause for civilians, and it lowers support for them. We know that in most cases, these guys are tremendously vulnerable to information shared by noncombatants, by civilian and by nonparticipants who happen to notice something going on. And that suggests that there is a lever that can be used by policymakers, which is really aggressively getting the word out about just how bad the activities of many of these groups are. And it happens to some extent, but not as much as I think would be valuable. If the Voice of America says it, in many populations, it doesn't have the credibility of a local press outlet saying it. But there are lots of ways you can subsidize NGOs and other organizations that make it easier for local press outlets in lots of countries to report on what groups are doing. I think a lot of our public diplomacy is very centrally focused and coordinated on getting out the message of the U.S. government, as opposed to making it easier for the people to get basic facts about what the groups that we find problematic are doing. (Interview by Ian Philbrick and Henry Shepherd, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, October 10, 2013, Washington, D.C.)
I'm struck by the fact that the first of these two can be done freelance, by private individuals who have the necessary skills for passing as a terrorist and infiltrating online communities to disrupt them. I wouldn't recommend this, however, because if one is too skilled in passing as a terrorist, one might end up arrested by the government on the charge of terrorism.

As for the second of these two, blogs such as my own can play a role in critiquing Islamism, not that Islamist terrorists care about what infidels think, but they do care what Muslims think, and I know that some Muslims read my blog . . .

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