Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Al Qaeda Recruiting

I recently came across a useful analysis of terrorist recruiting: this chapter of the McGraw Hill Homeland Security Handbook.

In the chapter, RAND analysts Scott Gerwehr and Sara Daly point out the importance of recruiting to the jihadist cause. Simply put, if jihadists do not successfully recruit, their ability to function is seriously impaired.

As described by others who have reported on terrorist recruiting, it is commonly accepted that terrorist recruiters generally make subtle initial contact, followed by more intense contacts, finally resulting in the loss of the recruit's individual identity and the acceptance of the group's identity.

Recruiters focus their efforts on those who have little identity, feel lost, lack effective social support structures such as family, etc. According to Gerwehr and Daly, this means that:

[I]f a recruiter attempts to weaken targets’ family or community bonds in order to get them to join (e.g., by emphasizing a religious duty to go to war), an effective countermeasure is to strengthen or preserve those social networks (e.g., by emphasizing the religious imperative to protect and preserve one’s family).
One unique aspect of Gerwehr and Daly's analysis is their categorization system for terrorist recruiting strategies. For local homeland security professionals, I thought the most relevant of these strategies was the "seed crystal" method:
In this case recruiters may seek to provide a context for self-recruitment. This may be compared to lowering the temperature of a glass until the water inside it cools and then ice crystals form as the seeds of a complete freeze. Once individuals emerge within the population as new recruits, they will often follow the pattern of the infection. In "seed crystal" recruitment, critical variables include the type of environmental forces being used to "chill the glass," and the durability of the ‘‘freeze.’’
The authors conclude that "the seed crystal approach may be most successful in diasporas or populations where open recruiting is difficult or impossible."

The "seed crystal" method seems to describe the experience of the 2005 London subway bombers.

For local homeland security professionals, the challenge seems to be both "taking the temperature" of the local environment (i.e., the "glass") and figuring out ways to prevent the atmosphere from being "chilled," so that terrorist seed crystals do not form.

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