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Well, it’s a DoubleQuote, and well, it’s by Julian Assange

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — & details suggest IS/AQ and the alt-right are at least somewhat comparable ]

Jihadists and hard right, comparables?


Arie Perliger‘s 2012 report for West Point’s Countering Terrorism Center, Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right runs a hefty 148 pages, but it opens with two epigraphs, each of which similarly compares jihad with the ambitions of far right violent extremists:

This operation took some long-term planning and, throughout the entire time, these soldiers were aware that their lives would be sacrificed for their cause. If an Aryan wants an example of ‘Victory or Valhalla’, look no further (Thomas Metzger, Leader of the White Aryan Resistance, in response to 9/11 attacks)

… We should be blowing up NYC and DC, not waiting for a bunch of camel Jockeys to do it for us (Victor Gerhard, Vanguard News Network)


The thing is, the mode of terror in Charlottesville, ramming pedestrians with a car or truck, itself “rhymes” with all too many earlier attacks, in a series including the 2006 attempted murder by SUV at the University of North Carolina, the 2013 incident which ended with the murder of Lee Rigby in London, incidents in Dijon, Nice, Stockholm and Westminster — not to mention one incident in Tiananmen Square, and a slew of vehicular ramming attacks across the years in Jerusalem.

The second issue (2010) of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula‘s magazine Inspire recommended the tactic:

— and while the majority of incidents listed in Wikipedia’s article on the topic were perpetrated by jihadists, the tactic has also been used against Muslims — by no means necessarily jihadists or even sympathizers themselves — in the Finsbury Park Mosque attack earlier this year.


This brings such great repute on jihadists, islamophobes, alt-right, whomever.

Not Checkers, not Chess, no Go, Gen Perkins — it’s Calvinball time

Friday, July 7th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — on changing our very notions of game and challenge — or unanticipating the unanticipated ]

Reading David Perkins, Big picture, not details, key when eyeing future from last year, and thinking:


It’s scary to read Gen. Perkins — the head of TRADOC — disagree with him, sometimes quite sharply along the way and particularly when he talks about games — and then wind up agreeing with the second half of this, his closing sentiment:

So now that we know what game we are playing and assumedly what is required to win it, we can employ these insights to lay out a path toward building the Army our country will need in 2025 and beyond. It is our duty, and our country depends on us to get it right.

We don’t know what game we are playing, nor — love that word “assumedly” — what is required to win it. And if I’m right about this, how can our potentially mistaken insights help us “lay out a path toward building the Army our country will need in 2025 and beyond” — when “getting it right” is liable to be an emergent property, only recognizable as such in retrospect?

Let me cut to my main objection, for which Gen. Perkins’ checkers and chess games are analogies. Of the two games, Perkins said:

Checkers and chess are played on the same style board, but the games are far from similar. For a long time, the Army has designed forces based on a “checkers-based” world outlook. Today, we’re switching to a “chess-based” appreciation of the world.

I’ll come back to this game metaphor in time, but the paragraph I first halted at, for which the games paragraph I just quoted is a metaphor, is this one:

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, we lived in a “complicated” world, but one with a single defining enemy for which we could plan against. In today’s “complex” world, there is no single defined future foe with relatively known capabilities, doctrines and intent. This is not a minor point, as designing and building the future Army rests upon what kind of world we expect to see.

I’m not at all sure jointness will mean anything at all like “cross-service cooperation in all stages of the military processes, from research, through procurement and into operations’ — whether the services be Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, or also include the National Guard, whether we think in terms of Land, Sea, Air, and Space, or throw in Cyber. What if jointness is better conceived of in terms of heart, mind and soul?

Our command structure isn’t structured along those lines, so we can’t put the Chief of Staff of the Heart, the Commandant of Minds, and the Chief of Soul Operations under the Chairman and Vice-Chairman and call them the Joint Chiefs — the very absurdity of the phrasing makes the whole idea almost ridiculous.

And yet heart, mind and soul — or for that matter, the Buddhist body, mind and speech — are the fundamental building blocks of a full and sane human personhood, and their social equivalents the equivalent bases of a full and sane human society.

Maybe heart, mind and soul are more basic than land, air and sea?

Did we ever think of that?

What I’m suggesting here, in fact, is that the challenges we face may differ from previous challenges in this: that they won’t fall into the expected mold, they won’t look to us like challenges at all, we won’t categorize or react to them as such — in short, that they will be oblique to our assumptions and expectations.

One other point of disagreement, briefly:

by 2005 we confronted a well-understood problem in Afghanistan and Iraq, and began optimizing much of the Army to meet that current threat

Oh really? You could have fooled Zarqawi!


Getting back to games, we have some very nice comparisons and metamorphoses already “in play” in the strategic literature. Perkins’ “Checkers to Chess” is one, “Ghess to Go” is another and more sophisticated example — Scott Boorman‘s The Protracted Game: A Wei-Ch’i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy is the classic here — “Chess to Star Trek’s 3-D chess” is another one worth considering, or “Chess to Mjolnir’s Game” for that matter, “Go to Buckminster Fuller‘s World Game” yet another, while “Go to the Glass Bead Game” is clearly one which would fascinate me personally..

But I’m convinced, as I’ve said before, that the game we need to understand is the one known as Calvinball:

Calvinball — Calvin and Hobbes‘ favourite game to play. There is only one main rule in the game — that you can’t play it the same way twice.

Now that game idea is an audacious one, rivaling and perhaps even surpassing Peter Suber‘s awesome game, Nomic:

in which the rules of the game include mechanisms for the players to change those rules, usually beginning through a system of democratic voting. Nomic is a game in which changing the rules is a move.

When I meantion Calvinball, I not infrequently quote the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre:

Not one game is being played, but several, and, if the game metaphor may be stretched further, the problem about real life is that moving one’s knight to QB3 may always be replied to by a lob over the net.

Now that’s talking!

And Roland Barthes:

This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxing-match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time… The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result.

Switching games?

We’re blurring game-boards in real time, according to CTC Sentinel editor-in-chief Paul Cruikshank:


Okay, here’s another mind in the Natsec arena, that switches the playing field from “game as cricket or chess” to “game as zero-sum or non-zero sum” — President Rouhani of Iran, writing an op-ed in the Washington Post — Iran, mark you, in WaPo — who says:

The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.

Rouhani is pretty conservative in Iranian terms, though we sometimes consider him a reformer — but very “other” in his thinking, compared to ours. And if we wish to game him, our Red Team must be able to think as ably and otherly as he does.

How would TRADOC suggest we adapt to a shift in games of that sort?


H/t The Strategy Bridge.

Mental health and terrorism

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — turbulence (ie complexity) at the confluence of motives ]

Shaping strategy — Constant turbulence and disruption


Mental health and terrorism — a major article in today’s CTC Sentinel describes the nuances. From the conclusion:

What we see from the existing research is that lone-actor terrorism is usually the culmination of a complex mix of personal, political, and social drivers that crystalize at the same time to drive the
individual down the path of violent action. This should be no different for those inspired by the Islamic State. Whether the violence comes to fruition is usually a combination of the availability and vulnerability of suitable targets and the individual’s capability to engage in an attack from both a psychological and technical capability standpoint. Many individual cases share a mixture of personal life circumstances coupled with an intensification of beliefs that later developed into the idea to engage in violence. What difers is how these influences were sequenced. Sometimes personal problems led to a susceptibility to ideological influences. Sometimes long-held ideological influences became intensified after the experience of personal problems. This is why we should be wary of mono-causal ‘master narratives’ about how this process unfolds. Mental health problems are undoubtedly important in some cases. Intuitively, we might see how in some cases it can make carrying out violence easier. In other cases, it may make the adoption of the ideology easier because of delusional thinking or fixated behaviors. However, it will only ever be one of many drivers in an individual’s pathway to violence. In many cases, it may be present but completely unrelated. The development of radicalization and attack planning behaviors is usually far more labyrinthine and dynamic than one single factor can explain, be it mental disorders (today’s go-to silver-bullet explanation), online radicalization (another popular silver-bullet explanation), or root causes that encompass socio-demographic characteristics.

We must also bear in mind that the relationship between mental health problems and terrorist engagement is just one part of the story. Given the scale and types of violence being conducted by the Islamic State, many perpetrators will develop mental health problems as a byproduct of involvement as opposed to it being a driver of involvement.

Myanmar between Woolwich and Al-Aqsa 2: graphical innovation

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — in which jihadis utilize the graphical technique known as kinetic typography for what may be the first time — follow on to part 1: interfaith hatred ]


Today the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point notified their mailing list of the launch of their Militant Imagery Project online. It’s a very helpful resource, covering much of the same issues as Artur Beifuss & Francesco Trivini Bellini, Branding Terror: The Logotypes and Iconography of Insurgent Groups and Terrorist Organizations and Asiem El Difraoui, The Jihad of Images — which I discussed briefly in Jottings 7: Two for the iconography of terror a while back.

The CTC explains:

The use of propaganda and imagery by terrorist groups has long been an understudied dimension of the broader field of political violence. This project explores the use of imagery and visual themes by militant groups, focusing largely on jihadist media production. Jihadist organizations and individuals inspired by their message are prolific producers and distributors of visual propaganda, and their efforts have expanded exponentially online. However, these images frequently utilize themes which can be inscrutable to those not familiar with the sub-culture. It is our hope that this project will provide academics, practitioners, and students with a basic contextual understanding of the ideas these images convey before they turn to the larger questions of why they are employed, how they work, and what responses they may elicit.

It is in that spirit that I would point you to the following three screengrabs from the Al-Shabaab video I discussed in my previous post…


Imagine the images tilting and changing, as the words spoken on the soundtrack are gradually spelled out typographically on screen in this sequence:

Jihad was now global. Jihad in the West — Madrid — London — Paris — Boston — Jihad was now coming home to the West, And it was making a dramatic entrance… WOOLWICH ATTACK

Here are the screengrabs:


These three screengrabs illustrate what may well be the first use of the technology called “kinetic typography” or more simply “moving text” in jihadist propaganda. Somali news outlet Harar24‘s Editorials team claim it’s a first, writing:

It is not unusual for jihadi videos to be laden with high graphics and effects. However Al-Shabaab this time used a never technique never adopted before in any jihadi videos, kinetic typography.

The best way to investigate kinetic typography in depth is via Marco Papale‘s video site, the Kinetic typography Channel on Vimeo.


I don’t intend to embed the Shabaab piece itself, but here for your further illumination is the Grandmaster Flash sample rom which the screengrab at the top of this post was taken, in full:

That’s kinetic typography!

Leah Farrall posts on culling elephants and AQ

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Abu Yahya al-Libi, targeted killings, impact on terrorism ]


My (ex, late, respected) father-in-law Donald Atwell-Zoll co-wrote the book on Managing Elephants, so I suppose you could say it’s a matter of family interest. In any case, I thought these were pretty neat opening paras from an LA Times article a while back, with a dateline from S Africa:

Some teenagers are raising hell in the untamed bush here, tormenting the wild animals and giving tourists a terrible fright.

Such rowdiness may sound typical for adolescents, except these delinquents are running amok in one of South Africa’s most popular game reserves. They have killed rhinos. They have charged cars of safari-goers. And to make matters worse, they are elephant-sized — well, to be precise, they are elephants.

That’s the problem, here’s what they figured out:

“There appears to be a discipline problem among the young elephant bulls,” said Douw Grobler, veterinarian at Kruger National Park, where many of the elephants at Pilanesberg once lived. “There is a missing link in the elephant population at Pilanesberg. There is a need for the presence of adult elephant bulls. They act as the disciplinarians.”

Okay, got that? Let’s get down to business.


Today my twitterfeed briefly buzzed with speculation that Abu Yahya al-Libi had been targeted and killed in a drone strike. The tweets were pleasantly sprinkled with humor — but when the talk got serious, sometimes enthusiasm got the better of caution.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, level-headed as usual, was among those to make it clear that the initial reports — including an anonymous US official confirmation — of al-Libi’s deaths came with no guarantee of accuracy. But he also noted his willingness to rethink his picture of the overall continuing strength of AQ if al-Libi does in fact turn out to have been killed. With, say, confirmation from an official AQ media channel.

Aby Yahya al-Libi is certainly a significant figure in AQ, as Jarret Brachman‘s many posts and Foreign Policy piece on the man attest. His one sentence summary:

If true, a cataclysmic blow to the future of al-Qaida’s General Command.

But it was Leah Farrall who (IMO) got the bigger picture. And in doing so, she was reminded of those young elephants going on the rampage, and the “need for the presence of adult elephant bulls” to calm them down and give them some discipline.

From Leah’s blog entry, Some quick thoughts on reports Abu Yahya al-Libi has been killed, then:

First, I’ll believe it when al Qaeda acknowledges it.

This of course won’t stop the chest beating celebrating his killing.

And if he has in fact been killed, I wonder if those who think this is a victory (and those supporting the strategy of extrajudicial killings more generally) have given ample thought to the fact that he along with others who have been assassinated were actually a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu. And yes, given his teachings I do note a certain irony in this, but sadly, it’s true.

What is coming next is a generation whose ideological positions are more virulent and who owing to the removal of older figures with clout, are less likely to be amenable to restraining their actions. And contrary to popular belief, actions have been restrained. Attacks have thus far been used strategically rather than indiscriminately. Just take a look at AQ’s history and its documents and this is blatantly clear.

Leah continues — I’ve made only a minor cut between paras here —

I’m working on a more detailed, research driven piece on this. But in the meantime, the best way of summing up the consequences of a strategy of killing off leadership instead of using a criminal justice approach lies with what happened in a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa many years ago.

A culling program was implemented to kill off all the older generation elephants owing to overcrowding. Juveniles were spared. However, without the presence of the older elephants they then proceeded to go on rampages, killing other animals and causing such havoc that the rangers thought they’d have to cull them too. Until that is, someone chanced upon the idea of bringing in older elephants from another wildlife park, who ended up bringing the juveniles into line and enforcing discipline, something that had been missing since the cull of the older generation.

Right now you’re probably scoffing at this. Scoff away, because this example has come up time and time again in conversations I’ve had with folks who know this milieu very well because they’ve lived in it. Along with it has been concern expressed for the future, for what will happen when authoritative voices who can restrain the actions of those left and, importantly, those newer folks still seeking to join the cause, no longer exist. When indiscriminate becomes the norm.

So before anyone goes off celebrating another “number” in the death count, it is worthwhile remembering there will be consequences from this short sighted and reactionary path chosen to deal with threat…


It’s not hard to find evidence of that “moderating force within a far more virulent current” that Leah mentions.

From West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center alone, we’ve had the recent Letters from Abbottabad: Bin Ladin Sidelined? with bin Laden expressing displeasure at Faisal Shahzad having broken his citizenship oath in attempting to attack the United States, and warning Yemeni leaders against using Americans who have taken the oath in that way.

Even more recently, in her comments on Fadil Harun’s memoirs, Beware of Imitators: Al-Qa`ida through the Lens of its Confidential Secretary, Nelly Lahoud discusses what she calls “a jus in bello-like framework devised by [AQ’s] Legal Committee”, noting:

The spirit driving Harun’s manuscript is the desire to produce a corrective history of al-Qa`ida distinguishing it from jihadi groups acting in its name. He believed that unlike al-Qa`ida, many jihadi groups have deviated from the true path of jihad. In his opinion they lack a sound ideological worldview and many of their operations, particularly those which involved resorting to “tatarrus” (i.e., the use of non-combatants as human shields), are in breach of what he deems to be “lawful jihad.” He therefore decided “to write about al-Qa`ida… to make clear to everyone the sincerity and uprightness of its path with respect to jihad and other religious, worldly and political issues.”

and further:

it is evident that Harun’s sentiments were not isolated. The internal communication between a number of well-known al-Qa`ida figures [gathered at Abbottabad and recently released to CTC] indicate that they too were alarmed by the conduct of regional jihadi groups and their indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Bin Ladin in particular was distressed by their conduct and, like Harun, was dismayed by their irresponsible understanding of “tatarrus,” which led to the unnecessary deaths of civilians and tainted the reputation of the jihadis.

So there you have it: the older bull elephants don’t like the undisciplined ways of the youngsters…

And what do we do? We cull the ones who are calling for restraint…


How does Leah conclude her analysis? You’ll remember she said, “there will be consequences from this short sighted and reactionary path”? Here are her almost-final words — and whether you agree fully with her analysis or not, they are words to be considered seriously by those rethinking strategy and making policy decisions:

These consequences will not play out in areas where extrajudicial killings take place, but in indiscriminate attacks in capital cities in the west. I wonder then how those who advocate the current policy plan to deal with this and the implications it will pose for the social contract.

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