9/11 9 Years Later and The Paradigm Shift In Terrorism and Antiterror
Nine years after 9/11 and just where are we in the battle against terrorism? Have we been agile and learned as a people how to deal with terrorism as a whole or have we failed at even seeing the rudiments of what is happening? Who are the terrorists today and what is their aegis? Most of all, where do we go from here and have we just been lucky to have not been hit with another large scale attack?
These are some of the questions asked by the Bipartisan Policy Center in their paper “Assessing The Terrorist Threat” and I have to say, quite an interesting, if not disheartening read. The white paper is a fact statement on where we are in understanding terrorism as a whole today as well as how to potentially fight against it and protect ourselves from it. I guess the real point though that must be made is that we can only try to protect ourselves against it but in the end as the quote was cited from the IRA after failing to kill Margaret Thatcher in 1984;
“Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”
It’s a particular statement that actually has made its way into the security industry many times over the years in my experience when talking about attacks and trying to prevent them. The reality of it though is very prescient.
We will miss something sometime and we will not be as lucky as we have been with the attacks by Faisal Shahzad or Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab. In short, there is no fool proof protection against a lone gunman (or bomber) bent on killing someone and we need to get that through our heads as a country first. We need to deal with things a little more judiciously and not so much as a knee jerk reaction, which was our default position post 9/11.. and for about 8 years.
Since 9/11, Al Qaeda has been on the run but it has changed its methodology of outreach as well as its operational methods because of this very fact. As we set loose the dogs of war thinking that we could bottle up the genie that had been uncorked earlier, we instead set in motion a paradigm shift with our actions. This was exacerbated by the failure to capture or kill (more capture than kill as mandate) OBL and Ayman. They are still the titular standard bearers for the movement and as any good tactician would do, assessed the terrain and the situation and changed gears to best suit their end goals. In this case, the already used “cell” mentality (independent cells working semi autonomously) was modified to make them more autonomous as well as to become propaganda wings as well as fighting units.
In short; if Osama could not come to the cell, then the cell would operate on its own with little oversight.
- Commanders would be given more autonomous operational latitude and marching orders to recruit not only from the Middle East, but everywhere that the internet can reach. If the enemy has you cornered, then you use your assets (fifth column) behind enemy lines.. In this case recruit Westerners.
- Attacks would not have to be spectacular events like 9/11 but smaller, these will only serve to make the enemy unbalanced, scared, reactive
- Affiliate (Franchise) between groups to have assets everywhere
- En-culture the “lone wolf” individuals through the e-jihad to act (no need for money or training or visits to jihadi camps aka Nidal Hassan)
- Incorporate a set of “westernized” communications methods (inspire and English jihadi boards) to get the message out to converts and emigre’s
- Sow propaganda to youth (western) because they are most susceptible to it (inspire’s “green” message from OBL for example) to get them on board
All of these processes have been instituted over the last 9 years as we attempted to fight the war in Iraq (creating AQI Al Qaeda in Iraq and Zarqawi) and Afghanistan, all the while dividing our forces and efforts. Both of these actions did little to destroy AQ, and in fact only succeeded in fragmenting AQ more, and creating their terror 2.0 means and methods.
AQ need not be destroyed now because in the grand scope of things, it is just a banner to flock to.
So it is now that this report and the non partisan group creating it, has hit the nail on the head. AQ has evolved and is still evolving while our counter terrorism efforts and war fighting has not. An example of this would be just how long it took the US and the Army to declare that Iraq had become and Insurgency and war fighting operations needed to be counter-insurgent. It took too long. Who was to blame? Can we be more agile? More importantly, can we learn from this white paper and adapt our methods too counter theirs?
The New Jihadi:
Somali’s: Another trend found in the white paper is the shift of recruits from the west as the propaganda begins to take hold. The largest of this group has been the Somali’s. In the US groups of young US boys of Somali descent started to disappear from places like Minnesota. They turned up in Somalia and Yemen training for Jihad and fighting with AQ/AQAP/Al-Shebab (the youth) Just how they were radicalized is not really known, but it can be assumed that the internet had something to do with it. All of the boys came from non radical middle class homes and showed no outward tendencies… Then they just disappeared.
Caucasians: Jihad Jane, Adam Gadahn, and others who may be true converts to Islam or just mentally ill individuals, have also been another mine to plum by AQ. As the response to jihadist terror was to look for anyone brown and strange, this paradigm shift to “white and acclimated” seems a natural enough approach. As lessons learned, one might just take a look at the Russian illegals program that was just taken down to see how that works. One wonders then just how many of this type of jihadi is being groomed now to infiltrate for later activation? As the paper says, it does not need to be a big attack to set this country off running in a new scared direction.
Asiatics: AQ has been heavily recruiting and active in Malaysia and other pacific rim countries with Muslim populaces. This is mentioned in the white paper but only briefly. I would add to that area that MUCH of the jihadi online sites are now hosted within Malaysia as well as have large Malay language sections. As this has mostly fallen off the radar, or not been on it to start, this needs to be addressed.
In all, the idea that jihadists are just Middle Eastern is a fallacy and the public as well as certain portions of the government and security infrastructure needs to be cognizant of this. The makeup of the jihadi is no longer a mono-type.
Jihad 2.1 E-Jihad
The last part of this picture is not really covered in this white paper and I think they are missing a large piece of the puzzle. This is the online piece. Not only the propagandizing online but also the use of the internet as an attack vector now. I don’t really want to say the bugaboo word, but I guess I have to.. “cyber-warfare” uhoh, there I said it…
What I have been seeing online in the last couple of years is a new tasking of jihad online. With the endless news cycles on cyberwar, the jihadi’s have been paying attention and have been trying in small steps to learn the means to this end. A recent search I carried out, made the linkage between the Shamikh site and the Gaza Hackers. Another search turned up evidence that Eastern European hackers are now getting involved in some of the jihadi propaganda as well. If this trend continues then we are about to see more activity online by those jihadi’s with technical skills and an ax to grind.
It was even hinted at yesterday that a current email worm/virus/malware that hit many email systems was in fact created by a jihadist hacker organization. This was only a matter of time really.
So where does that leave us? It leaves us with a new battle space that our government and military are still trying to understand and to formulate plans, actions, and groups to contend with.. Though, in 2008 Al-faloja and other sites were taken down as part of a large honeypot sweep by “unknown” governments. Coincidentally, that happened around the anniversary of 9/11… So maybe we will see some more of that today huh? In any case, the net effect though, was that the jihadi’s began to study computer security and hacking.
Net/net we are screwed in many ways.
This country has much to learn about being agile in dealing with AQ and its spawn. We have been too busy with the brute force attempts at blowing them up with military might and not so much spending time to understand the enemy so as to outwit them. Granted, the attacks by the drones program that the Obama administration put into place has been very effective at containment and keeping the AQ HQ unbalanced. This program though, has been very divisive in the general community for its secrecy and collateral damage, but, its been working.
This will not however help with all of the cells out there now spawned by our actions and OBL’s call to arms.
In the end, this war will never end as long as there are people who wish to fight it and a banner to flock to.