Terrorism as a tool of political change has been a part of warfare since the first civilizations began waging war against each other. Israeli Sicarii were cloak-and-dagger Zealots who raided and burned towns loyal to the Romans, as part of a larger uprising against their Roman rulers. Bandit organizations throughout history have created protostates, and committed acts of terror (then called banditry) against central governments, all to fulfill what Carl von Clausewitz called “politics by other means,” in his book On War, Vol. 1. Technology and innovation in organization has transformed the way groups use terrorism to fight opponents. Al Qaeda turned terrorism into a business, while the Islamic State (ISIS) implemented terror through campaign organizing and “crowdsourcing.” Both, while not possible without technological developments like the Internet and mobile communications, are management innovations for which governments have been slow to respond.
In the Business of Terror
Guerrilla organizations like the Viet Cong, the National Liberation Front for Algeria (FLN), and Hezbollah have fought traditional guerrilla style campaigns, tied to a strong political programme and/or commitment to national self-determination. According to Steve Coll in his book Ghost Wars: the CIA, Bin Laden, and Afghanistan, what made groups like Al Qaeda different from these, aside from the rejection of territorial aspirations, was the sophistication of recruitment from abroad. In the immediate vicinity of their bases, operatives used local religious schools, Madrasas, to radicalize young Muslims. These schools were funded by outside groups and governments, especially Saudi Arabia, and were set up in refugee camps throughout the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the group also obtained recruits from Mosques with sympathetic and radicalized Imams throughout the Islamic and Western world. They were recruited, trained, and deployed from central locations organized by Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and individual operatives would organize cells to carry out attacks.
The 9/11 attacks are the perfect case study for Entrepreneur Terrorism. The Hamburg Cell, radicalized and trained in the late 1990s, was a group of 4 German Arabs who were radicalized in a mosque in Hamburg, Germany. After having accepted a call to wage jihad, they traveled to Afghanistan and were selected by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to fly American airliners into the World Trade Center and Washington D.C. based targets. After having learned techniques relevant for their mission, they received financial and technical assistance to travel to the US, take flight lessons, and obtain materials to ensure swift takeover of the airliners. The 9/11 Report recommended a variety of security measures, including revamped processes of intelligence sharing, special security measures at airports, and new efforts to target and track suspected terrorist operatives.
Terror Organizing 2.0
ISIS took the entrepreneurship model of terrorism and combined it with the guerrilla warrior, state-building model of warfare, where terror is a component of state-building, but with a strong political organizing component abroad. Rejecting the pure business model that Al-Qaeda perfected in the 1990s, the Islamic State took the mantel of leadership for the entire Islamic world and called together anyone who would fight for the caliphate. They rallied disaffected Sunnis in Iraq and disgruntled rebels from Syria, and obtained the military expertise of disenfranchised Baathists from Iraq to form an army. While taking major cities and towns, they use terror in mass executions, bombings in urban centers, and media terror by way of public executions. Although conditions of disunity and lack of political will for action abroad allows ISIS to act with a greater degree of freedom, ISIS makes its ground war conventional while using terrorism to strike its enemies around the world.
The Islamic State has attracted thousands of foreign fighters to join its cause in Syria and Iraq’s civil war, through a sophisticated marketing and recruitment operation. But more importantly, ISIS is “crowdsourcing terrorism,” based on reporting from Lara Jakes and Dan De Luca, by directly recruiting through the Internet in countries around the world, without direct infiltration. As De Luca pointed out when evaluating efforts to Crowdsourced Terror, there is no defense against these homegrown terrorists until they commit their intended acts. Because recruitment can circumvent immigration and visa processes by communicating directly with large audiences via Facebook or other social media platforms. It was Tashfeen Malik’s case of declaring her allegiance to ISIS, allegedly being radicalized after having obtained entry to the United States, is a disturbing affirmation. In the case of terror entrepreneurship, policymakers and military leaders can pre-empt them, because these actions are not spontaneous, and require multiple levels of communication and coordination. Therefore, more opportunities exist to spoil the attack. Passive radicalization through social media is less porous and, with a strong message behind it, can create instant action.
No Defense, Except Offense
Because the ease of communication through the Internet has become an integral part in a terrorist manager’s toolbox, more cooperation with online and social media companies is necessary, and greater security safeguards and checks to flag behaviors connected to planning terror attacks required. A commitment to cybersecurity is necessary to track, stop, and counter organizing via the Internet, alongside traditional monitoring practices of local figures inside communities who help radicalize locally. Furthermore, governments get better about fighting messaging war that is inherent in ideological struggles, which terrorism is a historical component of. That means the governments of the US, France, etc must be capable ot diminishing the power of ISIS’ message, which the measure of success is the decline of homegrown terror attempts and decrease in the number of foreign fighters traveling to join their ranks. Ultimately, the best response is to directly remove the terrorist organization in question. In the case of ISIS, we must destroy the organization through direct ground action, either by an international coalition of the major powers (now France, Iran, Russia, the UK, and the USA), or through unilateral action by one power (with possible bilateral action with both the Syrian and Iraqi Governments respectively).