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JFK Plot: Broader Implications

With scant time to reflect very deeply about the most recent domestic terror plot some initial thoughts come to mind that will require further development as events and time allows:

  • We are, and will continue to have to fight them everywhere. There was never any “here” or “there” to begin with, and we had no choice but to take the fight to the enemy. Iraq was less a trigger for terrorism than 9/11 was.
  • Their words resonate. That most home-grown plots are not top-flight AQ-actual endeavors is less a statement on their capability and reach and more proof of their compelling message.
  • Throw out most if not all of your preconceptions. The argument about Sunni-Shia cooperation has received considerable if dismissive press, but as my colleague has pointed out, when it comes to hating us there is no better ally than your “enemy.”
  • Technology is a double-edged sword (swallow it). That the alleged plotters used Google Earth will no doubt revive old arguments about the “security problem” that the Internet poses. We cannot stop the rush of technology; we should embrace it and leverage as they do.
  • Big, serious terrorism is hard. The tougher the job the fewer people you can trust, which is good for us but also a signal to future homegrown plotters of the value of aiming small in order to miss small.

2 Comments

Michael,
Technology is indeed a double-edged sword, and the more frequently terrorists utilize web-based technologies the more data is available to identify and track them. I won't elaborate beyond this point, but I can assure you that research has been ongoing and we're close to implementing a way to ID and track the enemy in this new domain of warfare.

Regarding your "aiming small in order to miss small", absolutely right, and I'm hoping that none of the bad guys grasp the power of the long tail when applied to terrorist acts.

Identifying the `promising' recruitment pools for terrorists is as important for counter-terrorists as for terrorist leaders. There are both general characteristics of such promising pools and ones specific to a part of the world. Well-known general targets include drop-out lower middle class young men vulnerable to criminality, psychopathy or sexual inadequacy. Leaders - themselves often drop-outs from the upper class - know that what these youths need is male bonding, patriarchal discipline and a stripped-down male monotheistic religion. But then occasionally, as with the Guyanese plotter, we have one drawn from a special `local' population: an old immigrant likely of mixed race, humiliated by a lifetime of manual work at a top technological facility. To grasp his course to violent Islam we would have to familiarize ourselves with both the Carib society from which he originates and that of the many-layered one of immigrants to NY.