Monday, October 16, 2006

Review: "Unconquerable Nation"

Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation, a well-regarded expert on terrorism, recently released a book titled Unconquerable Nation: Knowing Our Enemy, Strengthening Ourselves.

I found the book to be excellent. Much of it deals with the strategy for addressing the terrorist threat overseas (i.e., Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe, etc.), but the last chapter specifically discusses homeland security. I want to highlight a few of Jenkins' key findings that relate to local efforts to prevent terrorism. Jenkins writes:

Most of the jihadist terrorist attacks since 9/11 have been at local initiative, carried out by local cells inspired by al Qaeda’s ideology ... An entire terrorist plot may proceed under the radar of national intelligence services.

The more than 600,000 sworn police officers in the United States are in the best position to monitor potential homegrown terrorists. They know their territory. Recruited locally, they are likely to be ethnically closer to the communities they serve, they are more aware of local changes, and they are more acceptable to local community leaders. Unlike federal agents, local police do not rotate to another city every few years. They are in the best position to identify “hot spots” for terrorist recruiting, talk to local merchants and community leaders, and develop local sources of intelligence. As we have seen in many cases, local police, through routine criminal investigations, community policing, or dedicated intelligence efforts, may be the first to pick up leads to terrorist plots.
So, not only are local police capable of preventing terrorism, in some cases they are better positioned to prevent terrorism than their federal counterparts.

In assessing the threat, Jenkins points to a significant vulnerability that jihadists are increasingly relying upon: low-level criminal activity.
Eager jihadists must now provide their own funding, which they do through petty crime or even from their own resources. Although not an entirely new phenomenon . . . this intersection between low-level crime and terrorism has become a signature feature of today’s more-decentralized jihadist operations.
Any low-level criminal activity places the group at risk of detection, which is critical to any preventive effort. In its recent "Trends in Terrorism: 2006" report, the Congressional Research Service also commented on terrorists' increasing tendency to fund their activities through illegal means.

Jenkins also discusses recruiting, which I recently examined. Recruiting is not only critical to the strategic goals of jihadist terrorists; it is also one of their most critical points of vulnerability. While recruiting, terrorists must reveal themselves to those outside their trusted circle. When authorities know the methods of terrorist recruiting, they are in a better position to intervene. Jenkins writes:
As is done in all armies, jihadist recruiters target impressionable adolescents and men in their twenties. Few recruits are married or have children. More often they are lonely young men seeking to belong to something. Joining a secret elite gives them a special sense of power.

The recruiting vocabulary focuses on humiliation, shame, and guilt, contrasted with dignity, duty, and honor. A volunteer doesn’t sign up for jihad and board a bus to basic training. Initiation into jihad is a multistep process that usually begins in a religious setting, at a mosque, religious school, or study group, but it can also start at a student meeting, bookstore, street corner, cybercafe, or cellblock—anywhere young men assemble.
A simple intervention to foil recruiting is to maintain a presence. When recruiters are not completely certain that they are secure, they drastically reduce their activities. If recruiters see every potential recruit as a potential mole for authorities, or if recruiters feel that their activities are being observed in any way, this tends to have a chilling effect on recruiting.

All-in-all, I found the book to be very much worth reading.

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