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Recruitment, poetry and tears

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — Hegghammer on testing and trusting as precursors to AQ recuitment ]
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I’ve been having trouble finding any of the anasheed Ibn Siqilli was posting on his site, many of which have been taken down — but this one, found in a comment of his on Leah Farrall‘s site, has somehow survived:

Craftsmanship in search of emotion, in service to the jihad.

Thomas Hegghammer has a fascinating article out titled The recruiter’s dilemma: Signalling and rebel recruitment tactics from which I’ll only tease you with the bits of special interest to me, viz those that speak to religion (roughly, scripture and ritual), and culture (narrative, music and poetry).

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First, matters clearly involving religious piety and its expressions:

At the same time, personal piety at the time of recruitment was certainly a necessary condition for joining. Failure to observe any of the basic rituals or engaging in sinful behaviour – by skipping prayers, smoking, or watching Hollywood films – would have constituted a very negative sign. Moreover, even at the far end of the piety spectrum there were small signs that distinguished the extremely pious from the very pious. These signs were not in material objects such as clothes, but rather in body language and habits. QAP martyrdom biographies would highlight the piety of some but not of others, which suggests some variation. Judging from texts and videos, the behaviours that were appreciated included reading the Qur’an at every available spare moment, weeping while reciting the Qur’an, frequent minor pilgrimages (umra) to Mecca, efforts to acquire religious knowledge, etc. However, to observe these signs, recruiters needed to already be in direct contact with the recruit.

Piety, however, was not enough. Recruiters would also need to see signs of ideological commitment of a more political nature, in particular approval of violent activism.

Particularly interesting to me here is the sentence, These signs were not in material objects such as clothes, but rather in body language and habits.

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And then, culture…

To find out whether a person had really been abroad for jihad, recruiters would solicit signs of jihad experience, either by engaging the recruit in conversation, or if in a larger group, steer the conversation toward the topic of foreign jihad fronts. They would presumably look for displays of three types of knowledge, the combination of which would be very hard to acquire for a person who had not been to any of the major battlefronts.

The first was knowledge of people, places and events specific to the conflict in which the recruit claimed to have taken part. [ more … ]

The second type of distinctive knowledge was weapons expertise. [ more … ]

The third type was familiarity with ‘jihad culture’, a set of peculiar practices and artistic expressions that emerged in the Arab Afghan community in the 1980s and developed in subsequent jihad fronts. One important component was anashid, battle hymns sung a capella during training and socializing. A similar component was poetry. Arab fighters in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya would continuously compose new poems and recite them in the camps. Veterans would be familiar with at least part of this material and would share it during social gatherings in the kingdom. Yet another aspect of jihad culture was the telling of war stories from the time of the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate successors. While some of these stories were part of the basic religious education of most Saudis, it required extra effort to learn many or all of them, and to be able to cite them verbatim, as custom required. In the training camps and the trenches, such stories were told all the time (Nasiri, 2006), so jihad veterans typically knew many more such stories than the average Saudi.

Of course, non-veterans could acquire some of this knowledge if they wanted to, but to mimic jihad experience, impostors would need to emit large and consistent clusters of correct signs – a considerable challenge.

I’m reminded of Abdullah Azzam‘s book The signs of Ar-Rahmaan in the Jihad of Afghanistan, which I quoted in an earlier post Of war and miracle: the poetics, spirituality and narratives of jihad.

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Here’s how bad we are at learning the local mores of the various war zones we keep dropping in on, in the words of FPRI’s Adam Garfinkle, in Mali: Understanding the Chessboard, posted recently:

As the article says, when the Tuareg rebellion in Mali gained steam after the denouement of the Libya caper, greatly stimulated by the return of heavily armed Tuareg brethren from that fight, these three Tuareg commanders defected to the rebels, bringing soldiers, vehicles, ammunition and more to the anti-government side. Anyone who was surprised by this is at the very least a terminal ignoramus. And anyone in the U.S. military who failed to understand the ethnic composition of the country’s politico-military cleavages, such that he let U.S. Special Forces training be lavished on Tuareg commanders, was clearly insufficiently trained to do his job. And believe me, that’s about as nice a way to put that as I can summon.

How do things like this (still) happen, after what we should have learned from years of dealing with Iraqis and Afghans and others on their home turf? I happen to know someone who teaches in the U.S. military education system, and this person happens to be a field-experienced Harvard Ph.D. in anthropology. This person tries very hard to clear away the thick fog created by the innocent Enlightenment universalism that pervades the American mind—the toxic fog that tries to convince us that all people, everywhere, are basically the same, have the same value hierarchies, the same habits of moral and tactical judgment, and mean the same things by roughly comparable translated words.

Now imagine how good we’d be at infiltration, getting the anasheed, poetry and stories right…

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Games of telephone and counter-telephone?

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — embassy or consulate — a minor detail for an editor, perhaps, but all the difference in the world for Ambassador J Christopher Stevens ]
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Here’s a screen grab of a piece posted on the Atlantic site today:


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The article itself is worth your time, and I’ll get back to the screen grab later. Here’s the text para that interests me:

In the famous “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US” Presidential Daily Brief of August 6, 2001, one of the major analytic points was that “Al-Qa’ida members — including some who are US citizens — have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks” (emphasis added). Notice that this analysis uses two hedges in a single sentence. Given the lack of certainty on the issue, such linguistic dodging made sense — as it does in report after report where individuals are discussing information below the level of actionable intelligence.

Leah Farrall has been tweeting about the way this characteristically cautious phrasing used by analysts gets lost as “the higher up the food chain an analytical report goes the greater the tendency for bosses in [the] food chain to add their two cents worth” — so that by the time it reaches the politicians, “there is absolutely WMD.”

The shift from “apparently” to “absolutely” is an interesting one.

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The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate featured a section on the nomenclature of such distinctions, which I trust and imagine was directed more at its readers than towards the analysts who produced it:

What We Mean When We Say: An Explanation of Estimative Language

When we use words such as “we judge” or “we assess”—terms we use synonymously — as well as “we estimate,” “likely” or “indicate,” we are trying to convey an analytical assessment or judgment. These assessments, which are based on incomplete or at times fragmentary information are not a fact, proof, or knowledge. Some analytical judgments are based directly on collected information; others rest on previous judgments, which serve as building blocks. In either type of judgment, we do not have “evidence” that shows something to be a fact or that definitively links two items or issues.

Intelligence judgments pertaining to likelihood are intended to reflect the Community’s sense of the probability of a development or event. Assigning precise numerical ratings to such judgments would imply more rigor than we intend. The chart below provides a rough idea of the relationship of terms to each other.

We do not intend the term “unlikely” to imply an event will not happen. We use “probably” and “likely” to indicate there is a greater than even chance. We use words such as “we cannot dismiss,” “we cannot rule out,” and “we cannot discount” to reflect an unlikely—or even remote—event whose consequences are such it warrants mentioning. Words such as “may be” and “suggest” are used to reflect situations in which we are unable to assess the likelihood generally because relevant information is nonexistent, sketchy, or fragmented.

In addition to using words within a judgment to convey degrees of likelihood, we also ascribe “high,” “moderate,” or “low” confidence levels based on the scope and quality of information supporting our judgments.

• “High confidence” generally indicates our judgments are based on high-quality information and/or the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgment.
• “Moderate confidence” generally means the information is interpreted in various ways, we have alternative views, or the information is credible and plausible but not corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence.
• “Low confidence” generally means the information is scant, questionable, or very fragmented and it is difficult to make solid analytic inferences, or we have significant concerns or problems with the sources.

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You could think of these as counter-telephone measures — attempts to avoid the distortions and corruptions that tend to arise when a message is passed from one person to another, And that’s important a fortiori when an ascending food-chain of transmitters may wish (or be persuaded) to formulate a message that will assure them the favorable attention of their superiors — but also because the higher the report goes, the closer it gets to decision-time..

As the Atlantic article says, this kind of “linguistic dodging” (aka attention to nuance) makes sense “in report after report where individuals are discussing information below the level of actionable intelligence.”

Inevitably there’s a shift in tempo between contemplation and action.

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Anyway, messages tend to get distorted as they’re passed along.

Consider, for instance, the caption to the photograph that graces the Atlantic piece at the top of this post:

The U.S Embassy in Benghazi burns following an attack in September. (Reuters)

There’s only one problem there. The US didn’t have an Embassy in Benghazi — they had a Consulate — and that’s not a distinction that lacks a consequence. Whatever else may be the case, Ambassador Stevens would certainly have been better guarded had he been back in Tripoli in his embassy.

Whoever wrote that caption wasn’t as deeply immersed in the situation as the former CIA analyst who write the article. And when you’re not deeply immersed, it is perilously easy to get minor but important details wrong.

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A host of lessons on the web, with room for admiration

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Farrall and McCants, debate and discourse]
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There’s a whole lot to be learned about jihad, counter-terrorism, scholarship, civil discourse, online discourse, and social media, and I mean each and every one of those, in a debate that took place recently, primarily between Leah Farrall and Will McCants.

Indeed, Leah still has a final comment to make — and when she makes it, that may be just the end of round one, if I may borrow a metaphor from a tweet I’ll quote later.
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1.

Briefly, the biographies of the two main agonists (they can’t both be protagonists, now, can they? I believe agonist is the right word):

Dr. Leah Farrall (left, above) is a Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre (USSC). She was formerly a senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and the AFP’s al Qaeda subject matter specialist. She was also senior Intelligence Analyst in the AFP’s Jakarta Regional Cooperation Team (JRCT) in Indonesia and at the AFP’s Forward Operating Post in response to the second Bali bombings. Leah has provided national & international counter terrorism training & curriculum development. She recently changed the name of her respected blog. Her work has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, and elsewhere.

Dr. William McCants, (right) is a research analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies at CNA, and adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University. He has served as Senior Adviser for Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State, program manager of the Minerva Initiative at the Department of Defense, and fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. He edited the Militant Ideology Atlas, co-authored Stealing Al Qa’ida’s Playbook, and translated Abu Bakr Naji‘s Management of Savagery. Will has designed curricula on jihadi-inspired terrorism for the FBI. He is the founder and co-editor of the noted blog, Jihadica. He too has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic and elsewhere.
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2.

Gregory Johnsen, the Yemen expert whose tweets I follow, noted:

Watching @will_mccants and @allthingsct go at it, is like watching heavyweights spar for the title about 17 hours

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross commented on the civility of the exchanges:

it was an excellent model of argument within this sphere. Competitive analysis is important, and it is generally best when conducted in the open, as this has been. Further, the exchange has been respectful and collegial, something that is atypical for today’s debates.

Between those two comments, you have the gist of why this debate is significant — both in terms of topic and of online conduct.
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3.

The debate started with a blog post by Leah, went to Twitter where the back and forth continued for several days, was collated on Storify, received further exploration on several blogs, turned sour at the edges when an article on Long War Journal discussing Leah’s original blog post draw some less than civil and less than informed drive-by remarks in its comments section, and continues…

And to repeat myself: all in all, the debate is informative not only about its topics — issues to do with terrorism and targeting — but also in terms of what is and isn’t possible in online dialog and civil discourse on the web.
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4.

Leah Farrall’s Some quick thoughts on reports Abu Yahya al-Libi has been killed was the counter-intuitive (but perhaps highly intuitive) blog post which began the debate, and perhaps her key paras were these:

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.

I say, “counter-intuitive” because, as Leah herself notes, this is not the received opinion — “Right now you’re probably scoffing at this” she writes. And I say intuitive because Leah may be the one here who whose insight comes from herself not the crowd, who sees things from a fresh angle because she has a more wide angle of vision, who is in fact intuiting a fresh and revealing narrative…

Not that she’s necessarily right in this, and not that it would be the whole picture if she was — but that she’s challenging our orthodoxies, giving us food for thought — and then, having read her, we need to see how clearly thought out the response is, how strongly her challenge withstands its own challenges… how the debate unfolds.
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5.

I am not going to summarize the debate here, I am going to give you the pointers that will allow you to follow it for yourselves.

It is very helpful indeed for those who are interested in this unfolding debate, that Khanserai has twice Storified the initial bout of tweets between Farrall and McCants.

Khanserai’s second Storify is the one to read first, as it offers the whole sweep of several days of tweeting. That’s the full braid. Khanserai’s earlier Storify is worth reading next. It concerned itself solely with Leah’s significant definitional distinctions regarding discriminate vs indiscriminate targeting and targets vs victims.

There’s a lot to read and even more to mull right there, but the persevering dissertation writer for whom this is the ideal topic will then want to read a number of significant posts triggered by the debate:

Jarret Brachman was among the first to comment on al-Libi’s reported demise, in a post titled In a Nutshell: Abu Yahya’s Death. I don’t know if his post appeared before or after Leah’s, but his comment is congruent with hers:

The cats that Abu Yahya and Atiyah had been herding for so long will begin to wander. They will make mistakes. They will see what they can get away with. Al-Qaida’s global movement cannot endure without an iron-fisted traffic cop.

I look forward to Brachman’s comments on al-Libi’s “other important role: that of Theological-Defender-in-Chief for al-Qaida”. Another day…

McCants’ On Elephants and Al-Qaeda’s Moderation posted on Jihadica first paraphrases Farall:

Leah argues that the US policy of killing senior al-Qaeda Central leaders is wrongheaded because those leaders are “a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu.” Leah compares these strikes to the practice of killing older elephants to thin a herd, which leaves younger elephants without any respectable elder to turn to for guidance as to how to behave. By analogy, killing senior al-Qaeda Central leaders means there will be no one with enough clout to rein in the younger generation of jihadis when they go astray.

He then argues that while there “might be good reasons not to kill al-Qaeda Central’s senior leaders with drones but their potential moderating influence is not one of them” — and proceeds to enumerate and detail them. His conclusion:

It is hard to imagine a more virulent current in the jihadi movement than that of al-Qaeda Central’s senior leaders. Anyone with a desire or capability of moderating that organization was pushed out long ago. AQ Central may have moderated in how it conducts itself in Muslim-majority countries, but it certainly hasn’t moderated toward the United States, which is what has to be uppermost in the minds of US government counter-terrorism policymakers.

Other responses worth your attention — and I know we’re all busy, but maybe this is an opportunity to dig deeper something that shouldn’t only concern those in search of a dissertation topic — would include:

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross’s The Strategy of Targeting al Qaeda’s Senior Leadership posted at Gunpowder and Lead contains the most thoughtful counterpoint to Leah’s point that I have found:

contrary to Farrall’s argument, a strategic opponent actually seems far more dangerous than an indiscriminate opponent

Clint Watts should be read and pondered, too. His post, It’s OK to Kill Senior al Qaeda Members in Pakistan, tackles Leah’s position from several angles, one of which focuses on her “law enforcement” perspective on terror:

I am with Leah that in an ideal world, it would be great to capture, convict and imprison terrorists. This approach only works when there are effective criminal justice methods for implementing it.

I wonder how he views military vs law enforcement attempts to corner Joseph Kony, but that’s off topic. To return..

Bernard Finel, too, posted a thoughtful piece on The Unsatisfying Nature of Terrorism Analysis, and wrapped up his post with the words:

In short, I’ll keep reading Farrall, McCants, and GR because they are smart, talented folks. They know a lot more than I do. But I can’t help by feel that there just isn’t enough there to make their arguments convincing on a lot of scores.

Those are the heavyweights weighing in, as far as I can see — feel free to add others in the comments section. But then…
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6.

But then there’s Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Beast, asking Are Drones Defensible? in what I found to be a lightweight contribution. As I read it, Sullivan’s key question is:

if you’d asked me – or anyone – in 2001 whether it would be better to invade and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq to defeat al Qaeda, or to use the most advanced technology to take out the worst Jihadists with zero US casualties, would anyone have dissented?

as if such a hypothetical — asking about popular opinion rather than ground realities, which are a whole lot more complicated either way — was the right question to be asking. And his conclusion, interesting but unsubtle: “drones kill fewer innocents”.
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7.

Oh, lightweight is more or less okay in my book, as is the strong affirmation of a strong position.

The editors at Long War Journal clearly feel strongly about Leah’s suggestion, and make no bones about it in a post titled US killing moderate al Qaeda leaders, like Abu Yahya, says CT analyst — which I don’t think is quite what Leah was saying — and opens with the sentence “This is one of the more bizarre theories we’ve heard in a while.”

That, you’ll notice, is a pretty bluntly phrased attack on Leah’s ideas, not her person. But what follows is interesting.

In the comments section at LWJ we see comments like “I assume this young lady is paid for her thoughts. If so by whom? Is she the ACLU lawyer? If so when was her last interview with Abu Yahya al Libi” and “Leah Farrall is one of these many Peter Panners who form a loosely knit confederation of self identified intellectuals with little or no understanding of violence & of those presently arrayed against ‘us'”…

You don’t see comments like those on the other sites I’ve mentioned, and to my mind they show surface ignorance of the deep knowledge that informs the main participants on both sides — and perhaps as a corrollary, the absence of the civility that characterizes the debate as a whole.
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8.

My own interest in terrorism / counterterrorism is explicitly limited to the ways in which theological drivers manifest, and while I read a fair amount about the broader issues into which theology enters, I’m no expert, humble and (inside joke) for the moment at least, more or less clean-shaven.

I am waiting for Leah Farrall’s response to the debate thus far, but have no expectation of being the best proponent of any of the positions or nuances involved: I leave that to the experts, and am glad they are on the case, every one of them.

Two broad context pieces that have caught my attention:

Francine Prose, Getting Them Dead in the NY Review of Books
Patrick B. Johnston, Does Decapitation Work?

For myself, then, the main point here is to acknowledge the knowledge and insights of those who know what I can only guess, or perhaps catch out of the corner of my eye. The second lesson: that there’s much to be found in Joseba Zulaika‘s book, Terror and Taboo: The Follies, Fables, and Faces of Terrorism.

Even a brief glimpse of the book when Leah mentioned it has convinced me once again that Zulaika’s is a voice worth attending to.
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But wait, I am a Howard Rheingold friend, I’m concerned with dialog and deliberation and decency in discourse, not just terrorism and CT — and here I have no need for disclaimers.

What I learn here is that attentive listening to all (the folks in the comments section included) brings knowledge, that incivility frequently accompanies ignorance, and — I hope you will forgive me going all aphoristic here — that nuance is an excellent measure of insight..

This is a debate to admire and follow.

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Leah Farrall posts on culling elephants and AQ

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

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

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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…

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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…

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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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The Blog Formerly Known as…

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Leah Farrall on the state of counterterrorism ]
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Until recently, friend and blog-friend Leah Farrall‘s highly-regarded blog carried this header:

No more.

Leah, the former al-Qaeda subject matter specialist and senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police — Andrew Exum once called her the “Aussie goddess of all things counter-terrorism” — hasn’t been blogging a whole lot recently.

Today, the header of her blog looks just a little different. It now reads:

To understand why, you’ll want to read the series of seven posts she uploaded today under the new header.

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The title for the series goes with the first post:

When words have consequences: on labeling children “terror spawn,” and some stories and thoughts on agency …

The series continues:

II: The situation of children born into jihad
III: Bin Laden’s children
IV The situation of other children and the lack of options
V Understanding the pressures against leaving and the dangers it can entail
VI Addressing this issue without exploiting already traumatized victims

Leah concludes the series with a post in which she lays out a more general critique of the field, and explains the reasoning behind her decision to change the name of her blog:

VII A Personal Prologue.

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Caitlin Fitz Gerald (@caidid) was among the first to note Leah’s posts on Twitter, and wrote:

Confirmed: @allthingsct series is required reading. Set aside some time this weekend, start here and read all 7.

J.M. Berger (@intelwire) took the time to do so, and tweeted:

Just finished the entirety of @allthingsct’s epic series starting here and I cannot stress enough that you shld read it.

It is a great exposition of something rarely discussed, with broader implications as well. Also very human.

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Leah has written a moving and courageous essay: I commend it highly.

Addendum:

I have also invited Leah to write a guest-post for us here at Zenpundit expanding on her critique of current trends in counterterrorism, and she’s agreed. So that’s something to keep an keen eye out for, date uncertain at this point.

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