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Point counter point: Aaron Zelin & Phillip Smyth

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a simple jeu d’esprit ]

It’s actually rather sweet, and possibly a matter of GMTA, but Aaron Zelin and Dan Byman both favor a word I’m fond of myself: archipelago.

SPEC DQ Zelin Byman


Aaron noted the commonalities of topic and phrasing, and tweeted:

to which Phillip Smyth responded:


Phillip’s example of imitation / flattery involves a pun on the name of the Prophet’s first battle, that of Badr:

SPEC DQ Smyth George


Please note that there is absolutely nothing to be gained from these juxtapositions but sheer delight — there’s no “actionable intelligence” therein — yet two extremely sharp analysts nevertheless find them of sufficient interest to exchange tweets about them.

An eye for symmetries, similarities, parallelisms and oppositions will not always come up with useful correlations, but it’s nonetheless an aspect of mind that’s close to both creativity (see Arthur Koestler) and what bin Laden analyst Cindy Storer (in Manhunt) called “magic” —

not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic.



  • Aaron Zelin, The Islamic State’s Archipelago of Provinces
  • Daniel Byman, The Islamic State Archipelago
  • Phillip Smyth, Hizballah Cavalcade: Breaking Badr
  • Suzannah George, Breaking Badr
  • The useful analysis is in the sources, and the useful description of analytic magic is currently easily accessible at the 9’14” point in HBO’s Manhunt on YouTube.

    Playing at Peace

    Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — in which Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Phillip Smyth get into role ]

    The United States Institute of Peace is holding what it terms a PeaceGame today and tomorrow:

    The current PeaceGame series is tackling one of the timeliest and most challenging of issues confronted by the U.S. government and stakeholders worldwide: the global rise of radical groups and violent extremism. Building on a successful first session in December exploring the political and economic roots of extremism and violence, our June event will focus on the human element: why do today’s extremist movements attract recruits worldwide, and how can the international community more effectively both counter this appeal and manage the reintegration of radicalized individuals.

    That’s an interesting topic all right — but when it comes to role-playing “stakeholders worldwide” there are going to be some interesting participants..


    Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, for instance, is playing the Islamic State:

    Formally naming IS “Daesh” in the game seems to me to be a curious choice, since it’s unlikely to be the term by which IS members self-identify in “real life”. Note that the US isn’t named “Crusaders” although there are some stake-holders who might think of the US that way.


    Daveed gets into role as IS, and Pillip Smyth, playing Shia, responds likewise:

    And thus I learn a new insult — “nasibi” apparently being the derogatory term Shiites use to describe thier opponents — roughly comparable to Sunnis labeling Shiites “rafida”.


    You can watch the event live here:


    Nada Bakos characterized an early response within the game thus:

    Do we ever get farther than analysis paralysis? That’s an open question..

    DoubleFlag in Tikrit

    Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — more exectly, flag / stone — but a DoubleLogo either way ]


    I like this because of the twinning of logos in the image, a sort of DoubleQuote in the Wild, and also because of the parallelism of opposites it proposes in the wording of its text portion — Shia militia vs Sunni IS.

    Grurray asked me whether it was the Hezbollah flag, and I made my guess but asked Phillip Smyth, who covers Shia militias in Iraq on Aaron Zelin‘s Jihadology.net at Hizballah Cavalcade. He replied:


    For further details on Shiite militias, see Phillip’s…

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