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The Terrorist's Dilemma

The Terrorist's Dilemma

Metadata

Highlights

  • The willingness to kill civilians as a legitimate means to a political end is certainly radical, but, terrorists are every bit as, if not more, venal, self-important, and short-sighted as the rest of us. This is exactly why their organizations employ many of the same managerial tools that we find in business firms and government bureaucracies. (Location 210)
  • Terrorist groups are, for the most part, small organizations operating somewhat secretly without the power to take and hold territory. (Location 221)
  • The groups that eventually win political power, or even major concessions, do so not on the strength of their violence, but on the back of large-scale political mobilization and participation in normal politics.3 (Location 224)
  • Using too much violence, or hitting the wrong targets, can be just as damaging to a cause as employing too little. (Location 236)
  • The organizational challenge in precisely calibrating violence stems from the fact that political and ideological leaders, or the principals, must delegate certain duties—such as planning attacks, soliciting funds, and recruiting—to middlemen or low-level operatives, their agents. (Location 245)
  • Strategies to control the resulting agency problems all entail security costs. (Location 248)
  • This is what makes terrorist groups unique; the tools that would bring more control, management, and insight are the very tools that put these groups at risk. (Location 249)
  • The terrorist’s dilemma is simple: leaders need to control how violence is executed and how finances are managed, but the tools to do so create some measure of operational vulnerabilities and therefore increase the likelihood of operatives being caught and a group compromised. (Location 254)
  • U.S. Department of Defense’s Harmony Database. (Location 278)
  • The terrorist’s organizational dilemma, maintaining control while staying covert, creates two fundamental tradeoffs that will frame much of this discussion. The first is between operational security and financial efficiency. (Location 320)
  • The second tradeoff is between operational security and tactical control. Here agency problems and other group dynamics lead to counterproductive violence. (Location 323)
  • Wilson’s core insight is that the nature of an agency’s production and the environment in which it operates creates pressures that jointly determine how it will organize. (Location 331)
  • At the end of the day, these examples will highlight that terrorists are, for the most part, not nearly as capable or committed as the most successful of their kind might make one think. As a result, their organizations are nothing close to the threat that many in the policy community once claimed them to be. (Location 348)
  • Leaders giving up valued control in exchange for survival can signal counterterror success. (Location 378)
  • leaders in terrorist organizations, or potentially violent organizations, are often the ones preventing operatives from engaging in higher levels of violence. (Location 384)
  • Although the attacks may seem an obvious example of how terrorist groups are especially deadly and highly capable, I would argue they in fact provide evidence to the contrary. The attacks were only possible because al-Qa’ida had the space to operate, organize, and create a hierarchical system under which thousands of terrorists were trained and monitored. (Location 421)
  • Ultimately, it was multiple errors by the counterterrorism community that enabled the events of 9/11 to take place, not the fact that al-Qa’ida was able to operate a complex mission without a great deal of hierarchy and the accompanying security vulnerabilities. (Location 448)
  • Historically, terrorists choose hierarchy and formal organization whenever the security situation allows them to do so. (Location 465)
  • From the mid-1990s through late 2001, al-Qa’ida made every effort to become a fully bureaucratized organization, complete with employment contracts specifying vacation policies,38 explicitly documented roles and responsibilities for different jobs including detailed descriptions of the experiences required for senior leadership roles,39 security memos written by a specialized security committee,40 and standardized questionnaires for those arriving at training camps.41 (Location 466)
  • In response to these and other key losses, al-Qa’ida allegedly convened a strategic summit in northern Iran in November 2002, at which the group’s consultative council decided that it could no longer operate as a hierarchy, but instead would have to decentralize.42 Essentially, al-Qa’ida traded operational control and financial efficiencies for security and organizational survival.43 (Location 475)
  • Terrorism gains much of its power from the exaggerated weight society gives to its practitioners’ capabilities. (Location 510)
  • No small group of individuals can bring down a state, much less a functioning modern economy such as Israel, Pakistan, or the United States. Even weak states such as Afghanistan and Yemen are not placed at risk by the isolated actions of small groups.51 (Location 512)
  • Long before western companies such as online shoe company Zappos starting offering newly trained employees $2,000 to leave the company, bin Laden offered new recruits $2,400 if they changed their mind about wanting to commit to his group.52 Zappos has been lauded for this “buyout” offer as it encourages people who are not committed to the organization’s values and mission to leave. (Location 519)
  • As a starting point though, we just need to observe that terrorist decision making in strategic situations has three salient traits.55 First, terrorist organizations match means to ends, as in the example above in which bin Laden set salaries to make sure everyone stayed sufficiently motivated given other options.56 Second, they examine a limited number of options, choosing the one that yields the highest expected gain. In the first Bali bombing, for example, and in the 2003 Casablanca bombings, the terrorists considered a subset of available targets, took into account how well defended they were, and adjusted their target choices when site-specific protections lowered the expected impact from hitting the original targets.57 Third, in strategic interactions, terrorists and government officials typically consider the impact of their actions in a fairly nuanced way. A 1992 Hamas policy memo outlining the pros and cons of participation in the first Palestinian municipal elections, for example, considers Hamas’s possible actions and Fatah’s reactions to them.58 (Location 539)
  • Abu Bakr Naji’s The Management of Savagery is probably the most well-known example of Islamist terrorists analyzing how best to organize,60 but (Location 554)
  • For more on why, see Scott Ashworth et al., “Design, Inference, and the Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” American Political Science Review 102, no. 2 (2008): 269–273. (Location 635)
  • Magnus Ranstorp, “Hizbollah’s Command Leadership: Its Structure, Decision-Making and Relationship with Iranian Clergy and Institutions,” Terrorism and Political Violence 6, no. 3 (1994): 303–339. See also Magnus Ranstorp, Hizb’allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 67–78. (Location 731)
  • Zaki Chehab, Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of the Militant Islamic Movement (New York: Nation Books, 2007), 77. It was in part because of such concerns that Hamas required potential trainees at camps in Sudan, coming from inside the Occupied Territories, to be recommended by the central leadership in Damascus; see Matthew Levitt, Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 186. (Location 738)
  • Operatives’ views of how to use violence almost always deviate somewhat from that of their leaders. (Location 804)
  • we need to define what we mean by “preference divergence,” which requires differentiating between divergence in underlying preferences and divergence in induced preferences. (Location 842)
  • As my colleague Eli Berman has long argued, Hamas is so effective exactly because its extensive network of nonviolent community institutions provides a rich set of mechanisms for mitigating agency problems by carefully screening agents and holding them accountable when necessary. Hence, it is less vulnerable to Israeli agents and less likely to have operatives take undesired actions than any other Palestinian group.25 (Location 925)
  • within the population of new terrorist recruits, there is almost always a distribution of commitment to the cause. Those who facilitate suicide bombings in Iraq, for example, are not typically willing to send their own children to conduct attacks.52 Some (Location 1044)
  • This risk differential driven by government counterterrorism practices exacerbates the selection effects identified above. Essentially, the lenient treatment observed for those tasked with managing funds and distributing them to operational cells means that the threshold level of risk acceptance and commitment required for participation in support activities is much lower than for participation in tactical roles. Thus, individuals with a given level of commitment might participate in support activities while balking at other roles within the organization. Seeking to maximize operational capability, terrorist groups would concentrate such individuals in support roles, freeing up the true believers for riskier operational duties.62 (Location 1079)
  • In other words, unless the recruiter knows a huge number of potential members, he is likely to place individuals in the riskiest positions they will accept and will thus end up with less committed individuals filling financial roles. (Location 1116)
  • The first mechanism is that people who are good at conducting violence, those who make ideal recruits as far as their ability to carry out operations, often have an underlying preference for violence, leading them to seek more violence than is politically desirable. (Location 1129)
  • There is something of a trap here for any organization that adopts limited nonterrorist uses of violence in response to government pressure. Such organizations are often forced to adopt more violent tactics than the strategic situation demands in order to retain the allegiance of their most radical cells. (Location 1145)
  • The second mechanism is that those operating underground often receive different information about the political impact of their actions than their leaders. In larger groups, in which the leadership is organizationally isolated from operational cells, or when it is geographically separated from them, these informational differences can be quite problematic.79 (Location 1155)
  • In the early 1950s, the Malaysian Communist Party (MCP) had problems enforcing a decision to use more discriminate violence because members who had become proficient at violence naturally wanted to put their skills to use.87 This problem of gradual preference divergence had an interesting impact on the Italian Red Brigades. Over time the group had to devote an ever-larger portion of its energies to attacks that appealed only to the membership, ones that ended up being costly in terms of outside support.88 (Location 1180)
  • Overall we see three internal dynamics leading to preference divergence over tactics: (1) individuals recruited because of their skills in violence will tend to have an underlying preference for more action, or different actions, than leaders would prefer; (2) leaders and their covert operatives receive different information about the world; and (3) the cognitive dynamics of underground organizations lead operational units to see the world differently than their leaders, typically interpreting the same information as implying more violence. All three result in agency problems. For counterterrorism operations this means (Location 1192)
  • Providing funds only on a need-to-have basis, for example, is an effective way for principals to prevent less-committed individuals from taking advantage of funds that are in their control. (Location 1209)
  • By increasing the frequency of transfers and reducing their size, leaders built up better knowledge about the nature of the relationship between what was being spent and the success rate they observed. This reduces the scope of what the agents can get away with. However, because each additional transfer entails communications and financial transactions, there is a security cost to this strategy. (Location 1212)
  • Not only do they lose a future income stream, but even when not attacked violently are typically ostracized, losing familial and community connections as well. Such a strategy is central to the success of the hawala funds transfer system and many other financial networks operating in loosely regulated environments, including diamond traders and bankers in medieval Europe.100 It is also used extensively in Islamist terrorist organizations with both al-Qa’ida and JI encouraging intermarriage among members’ families.101 (Location 1247)
  • This is analogous to the role of education as a screening mechanism for business firms.114 The argument in that context is that most of what you learn in college is not of direct value for most corporate jobs, but that those for whom college is hard will not be good at those jobs. College thus serves to screen, not to educate. (Location 1301)
  • This only served to reinforce my conviction that diehard extremists are either imbeciles or traitors.115 (Location 1311)
  • Ultimately, all strategies to reduce agency problems also come with security costs. (Location 1318)
  • The security-control tradeoff creates a dilemma when: preferences over tactics are not perfectly aligned, so that some agents want to attack different targets or want to conduct more or fewer attacks than their leaders;118 principals cannot perfectly monitor their agents’ tactical planning nor wield a threat of violence over them; and political goals are being placed at risk by the types of tactics operatives would employ if left to make their own decisions. (Location 1323)
  • The security-efficiency tradeoff creates a dilemma under similar conditions when: agents below the leadership are less than perfectly committed or want to spend money differently than leaders would like;119 principals cannot perfectly monitor their agents’ uses of money nor credibly punish them for observed infractions; and resources are constrained so that leaders will not just accept the financial inefficiencies created by agency problems. (Location 1328)
  • The political goals of the Provisional IRA required great care in the application of violence. The group had to place sufficient military pressure on the British to compel them to give up Northern Ireland, while at the same time avoiding excessive violence that could cost them the support of moderate Catholics or make it politically impossible for British politicians to “abandon” the Protestant majority. (Location 1342)
  • Hamas looks quite similar to Hezbollah, but both are organized quite differently than Palestinian Islamic Jihad. What matters for organizational choices is not that these three groups share an “Islamist” ideology. What matters is the specific operational guidance drawn from their political goals. (Location 1353)
  • groups under heavy government pressure will organize in ways that give up control and efficiency relative to otherwise similar groups under less pressure. (Location 1411)
  • group’s solutions to these tradeoffs should vary in response to four factors: (1) the discrimination in the use of force demanded by a group’s political goals; (2) the level of uncertainty operatives face about which attacks will serve the political goal; (3) the amount of preference divergence in a group; and (4) the level of government security pressure. (Location 1424)
  • We will be more precise later in the book. For now, the key point is that terrorist groups suffer the same managerial challenges as any other human organization. In terrorist organizations, these challenges lead inescapably to the twin security-efficiency and security-control tradeoffs. (Location 1429)
  • Looking at memoirs and autobiographies written by terrorists or former terrorists provides a way to fill in this evidentiary gap. Former participants in a broad range of groups have written memoirs, and this chapter looks at one hundred such accounts from participants in forty different groups. For these purposes, terrorist groups are defined as those whose use of violence regularly violated the principles of distinction and proportionality under the law of armed conflict for at least one year of their existence. (Location 1795)
  • Using these memoirs to assess the pervasiveness of organizational dilemmas in terrorist groups is thus a conservative approach and unquestionably underestimates the extent of the dilemmas. (Location 1812)
  • The majority of memoirs describe hierarchical organizations with multiple levels of authority, and many report intense disputes over which targets to hit and how to carry out attacks. Overall, it is striking that so many terrorist memoirs contain accounts of exactly the kinds of organizational problems I discuss in earlier chapters. (Location 1816)
  • The memoirs that were analyzed in detail span the modern history of terrorism, from Marxist groups in Russia in the late nineteenth century and Western European leftist groups in the 1970s, to Islamist groups today. Fifty-five of these memoirs were written by participants in nationalist groups, thirty-nine by participants in social revolutionary groups (or mostly leftist groups seeking major changes in society), seven by participants in social reactionary groups, six by participants in jihadi groups, and one by an anarchist. (Location 1829)
  • Understandably, those who survive the experience of being part of a terrorist group or operation have a tendency to want to share their story, and thus a fair number of former terrorists write memoirs.8 Because terrorism continues to be a fascinating subject, many of these memoirs are actually published, and a large number are translated into English. (Location 1842)
  • Five important findings became clear through this analysis. First, the majority of groups experience problems because of the heterogeneous preferences of their members. Of the memoirs, seventy-nine of 108 report nontrivial agency problems. Second, most groups are decidedly hierarchical and eighty-eighty of the memoirs discuss three or more levels of authority in the organization. Third, security-reducing monitoring of group members is common; thirty-two memoirs mention it. This monitoring ranged from the Warsaw Underground’s audit department,11 and the Irgun’s detailed tracking of weapons given to them by Jewish soldiers in the British Army,12 to the Mau Mau requirement that commanders provide village leaders with receipts for food expropriated during the Emergency.13 Fourth, rates of record keeping are roughly similar in nationalist groups (19 of 55) and social revolutionary ones (11 of 35). Table 3.1. Organizational Issues in Terrorist Memoirs Fifth, there is a great deal of variation in how much these phenomena are observed together. Across memoirs the tetrachoric correlation—a measure of how much memoirs that contain evidence of one pattern also have evidence of another—ranges quite a bit. All memoirs discussing disagreements over strategy and tactics also report multiple levels of hierarchy. Most memoirs reporting disagreements over spending also report disagreements over targets; the correlation between these indicators is 0.66. Few memoirs report operatives being punished, but of those that do, most also report political and tactical disagreements. (Location 1873)
  • if we define bureaucracy as the combination of hierarchy and security-reducing paperwork, then 28 percent (30 of 108) of the terrorists in our sample observed enough bureaucracy to report it in their memoirs. (Location 1889)
  • they show that terrorists consider the tradeoffs between security and control, that they often face disagreements over money and tactics, that they have problems maintaining discipline, and that operatives are regularly punished for taking actions which harm groups in some manner. (Location 1897)
  • Critically, Qassem is not claiming his fighters refrained from killing collaborators because they agreed with the leadership’s political logic. He is saying that they wanted to seek revenge, that their preferences were in fact very different from their leaders’, but that they were restrained from doing so by the threat of being found out and punished. (Location 1927)
  • That terrorist safe havens make organizing easier is a rather obvious point, but policy makers have often been misguided about what makes a piece of territory a safe haven. Essentially, policy makers are wrong to be concerned about the existence of ungoverned spaces; their concern should be about improperly governed spaces.29 Such areas provide a much more effective safe haven.30 (Location 7121)
  • Areas without functioning state institutions, however, do not provide the kind of safe haven in which one can put the terrorist equivalent of a back office. The security vacuum creates problems for the terrorists too. In a series of reports from Somalia in the 1990s, Mohammed Atef (also known as Abu Hafs), details the challenges of operating in a failed state. Prominent among these are problems with local bandits, the costs of corruption in neighboring states, and the ability of Western forces to act in ungoverned spaces.33 (Location 7133)
  • What made Afghanistan so useful to al-Qa’ida from 1995 onward was not an absence of state institutions; it was that al-Qa’ida could operate under the protection of a sovereign state, relying on that state’s sovereignty to shield its infrastructure from potential attack by Western forces. (Location 7146)
  • That al-Qa’ida decentralized did not mean that was a preferred or more dangerous organizational form; rather, it meant that al-Qa’ida opted for security when faced with a hard choice between security and other values. Organizational changes toward less formal, more networked structures in al-Qa’ida and like-minded groups suggests strongly that governments’ efforts are succeeding. (Location 7180)

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title: The Terrorist's Dilemma longtitle: The Terrorist's Dilemma author: Jacob N. Shapiro url: , source: kindle last_highlight: 2020-01-24 type: books tags:

The Terrorist's Dilemma

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Metadata

Highlights

  • The willingness to kill civilians as a legitimate means to a political end is certainly radical, but, terrorists are every bit as, if not more, venal, self-important, and short-sighted as the rest of us. This is exactly why their organizations employ many of the same managerial tools that we find in business firms and government bureaucracies. (Location 210)
  • Terrorist groups are, for the most part, small organizations operating somewhat secretly without the power to take and hold territory. (Location 221)
  • The groups that eventually win political power, or even major concessions, do so not on the strength of their violence, but on the back of large-scale political mobilization and participation in normal politics.3 (Location 224)
  • Using too much violence, or hitting the wrong targets, can be just as damaging to a cause as employing too little. (Location 236)
  • The organizational challenge in precisely calibrating violence stems from the fact that political and ideological leaders, or the principals, must delegate certain duties—such as planning attacks, soliciting funds, and recruiting—to middlemen or low-level operatives, their agents. (Location 245)
  • Strategies to control the resulting agency problems all entail security costs. (Location 248)
  • This is what makes terrorist groups unique; the tools that would bring more control, management, and insight are the very tools that put these groups at risk. (Location 249)
  • The terrorist’s dilemma is simple: leaders need to control how violence is executed and how finances are managed, but the tools to do so create some measure of operational vulnerabilities and therefore increase the likelihood of operatives being caught and a group compromised. (Location 254)
  • U.S. Department of Defense’s Harmony Database. (Location 278)
  • The terrorist’s organizational dilemma, maintaining control while staying covert, creates two fundamental tradeoffs that will frame much of this discussion. The first is between operational security and financial efficiency. (Location 320)
  • The second tradeoff is between operational security and tactical control. Here agency problems and other group dynamics lead to counterproductive violence. (Location 323)
  • Wilson’s core insight is that the nature of an agency’s production and the environment in which it operates creates pressures that jointly determine how it will organize. (Location 331)
  • At the end of the day, these examples will highlight that terrorists are, for the most part, not nearly as capable or committed as the most successful of their kind might make one think. As a result, their organizations are nothing close to the threat that many in the policy community once claimed them to be. (Location 348)
  • Leaders giving up valued control in exchange for survival can signal counterterror success. (Location 378)
  • leaders in terrorist organizations, or potentially violent organizations, are often the ones preventing operatives from engaging in higher levels of violence. (Location 384)
  • Although the attacks may seem an obvious example of how terrorist groups are especially deadly and highly capable, I would argue they in fact provide evidence to the contrary. The attacks were only possible because al-Qa’ida had the space to operate, organize, and create a hierarchical system under which thousands of terrorists were trained and monitored. (Location 421)
  • Ultimately, it was multiple errors by the counterterrorism community that enabled the events of 9/11 to take place, not the fact that al-Qa’ida was able to operate a complex mission without a great deal of hierarchy and the accompanying security vulnerabilities. (Location 448)
  • Historically, terrorists choose hierarchy and formal organization whenever the security situation allows them to do so. (Location 465)
  • From the mid-1990s through late 2001, al-Qa’ida made every effort to become a fully bureaucratized organization, complete with employment contracts specifying vacation policies,38 explicitly documented roles and responsibilities for different jobs including detailed descriptions of the experiences required for senior leadership roles,39 security memos written by a specialized security committee,40 and standardized questionnaires for those arriving at training camps.41 (Location 466)
  • In response to these and other key losses, al-Qa’ida allegedly convened a strategic summit in northern Iran in November 2002, at which the group’s consultative council decided that it could no longer operate as a hierarchy, but instead would have to decentralize.42 Essentially, al-Qa’ida traded operational control and financial efficiencies for security and organizational survival.43 (Location 475)
  • Terrorism gains much of its power from the exaggerated weight society gives to its practitioners’ capabilities. (Location 510)
  • No small group of individuals can bring down a state, much less a functioning modern economy such as Israel, Pakistan, or the United States. Even weak states such as Afghanistan and Yemen are not placed at risk by the isolated actions of small groups.51 (Location 512)
  • Long before western companies such as online shoe company Zappos starting offering newly trained employees $2,000 to leave the company, bin Laden offered new recruits $2,400 if they changed their mind about wanting to commit to his group.52 Zappos has been lauded for this “buyout” offer as it encourages people who are not committed to the organization’s values and mission to leave. (Location 519)
  • As a starting point though, we just need to observe that terrorist decision making in strategic situations has three salient traits.55 First, terrorist organizations match means to ends, as in the example above in which bin Laden set salaries to make sure everyone stayed sufficiently motivated given other options.56 Second, they examine a limited number of options, choosing the one that yields the highest expected gain. In the first Bali bombing, for example, and in the 2003 Casablanca bombings, the terrorists considered a subset of available targets, took into account how well defended they were, and adjusted their target choices when site-specific protections lowered the expected impact from hitting the original targets.57 Third, in strategic interactions, terrorists and government officials typically consider the impact of their actions in a fairly nuanced way. A 1992 Hamas policy memo outlining the pros and cons of participation in the first Palestinian municipal elections, for example, considers Hamas’s possible actions and Fatah’s reactions to them.58 (Location 539)
  • Abu Bakr Naji’s The Management of Savagery is probably the most well-known example of Islamist terrorists analyzing how best to organize,60 but (Location 554)
  • For more on why, see Scott Ashworth et al., “Design, Inference, and the Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” American Political Science Review 102, no. 2 (2008): 269–273. (Location 635)
  • Magnus Ranstorp, “Hizbollah’s Command Leadership: Its Structure, Decision-Making and Relationship with Iranian Clergy and Institutions,” Terrorism and Political Violence 6, no. 3 (1994): 303–339. See also Magnus Ranstorp, Hizb’allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 67–78. (Location 731)
  • Zaki Chehab, Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of the Militant Islamic Movement (New York: Nation Books, 2007), 77. It was in part because of such concerns that Hamas required potential trainees at camps in Sudan, coming from inside the Occupied Territories, to be recommended by the central leadership in Damascus; see Matthew Levitt, Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 186. (Location 738)
  • Operatives’ views of how to use violence almost always deviate somewhat from that of their leaders. (Location 804)
  • we need to define what we mean by “preference divergence,” which requires differentiating between divergence in underlying preferences and divergence in induced preferences. (Location 842)
  • As my colleague Eli Berman has long argued, Hamas is so effective exactly because its extensive network of nonviolent community institutions provides a rich set of mechanisms for mitigating agency problems by carefully screening agents and holding them accountable when necessary. Hence, it is less vulnerable to Israeli agents and less likely to have operatives take undesired actions than any other Palestinian group.25 (Location 925)
  • within the population of new terrorist recruits, there is almost always a distribution of commitment to the cause. Those who facilitate suicide bombings in Iraq, for example, are not typically willing to send their own children to conduct attacks.52 Some (Location 1044)
  • This risk differential driven by government counterterrorism practices exacerbates the selection effects identified above. Essentially, the lenient treatment observed for those tasked with managing funds and distributing them to operational cells means that the threshold level of risk acceptance and commitment required for participation in support activities is much lower than for participation in tactical roles. Thus, individuals with a given level of commitment might participate in support activities while balking at other roles within the organization. Seeking to maximize operational capability, terrorist groups would concentrate such individuals in support roles, freeing up the true believers for riskier operational duties.62 (Location 1079)
  • In other words, unless the recruiter knows a huge number of potential members, he is likely to place individuals in the riskiest positions they will accept and will thus end up with less committed individuals filling financial roles. (Location 1116)
  • The first mechanism is that people who are good at conducting violence, those who make ideal recruits as far as their ability to carry out operations, often have an underlying preference for violence, leading them to seek more violence than is politically desirable. (Location 1129)
  • There is something of a trap here for any organization that adopts limited nonterrorist uses of violence in response to government pressure. Such organizations are often forced to adopt more violent tactics than the strategic situation demands in order to retain the allegiance of their most radical cells. (Location 1145)
  • The second mechanism is that those operating underground often receive different information about the political impact of their actions than their leaders. In larger groups, in which the leadership is organizationally isolated from operational cells, or when it is geographically separated from them, these informational differences can be quite problematic.79 (Location 1155)
  • In the early 1950s, the Malaysian Communist Party (MCP) had problems enforcing a decision to use more discriminate violence because members who had become proficient at violence naturally wanted to put their skills to use.87 This problem of gradual preference divergence had an interesting impact on the Italian Red Brigades. Over time the group had to devote an ever-larger portion of its energies to attacks that appealed only to the membership, ones that ended up being costly in terms of outside support.88 (Location 1180)
  • Overall we see three internal dynamics leading to preference divergence over tactics: (1) individuals recruited because of their skills in violence will tend to have an underlying preference for more action, or different actions, than leaders would prefer; (2) leaders and their covert operatives receive different information about the world; and (3) the cognitive dynamics of underground organizations lead operational units to see the world differently than their leaders, typically interpreting the same information as implying more violence. All three result in agency problems. For counterterrorism operations this means (Location 1192)
  • Providing funds only on a need-to-have basis, for example, is an effective way for principals to prevent less-committed individuals from taking advantage of funds that are in their control. (Location 1209)
  • By increasing the frequency of transfers and reducing their size, leaders built up better knowledge about the nature of the relationship between what was being spent and the success rate they observed. This reduces the scope of what the agents can get away with. However, because each additional transfer entails communications and financial transactions, there is a security cost to this strategy. (Location 1212)
  • Not only do they lose a future income stream, but even when not attacked violently are typically ostracized, losing familial and community connections as well. Such a strategy is central to the success of the hawala funds transfer system and many other financial networks operating in loosely regulated environments, including diamond traders and bankers in medieval Europe.100 It is also used extensively in Islamist terrorist organizations with both al-Qa’ida and JI encouraging intermarriage among members’ families.101 (Location 1247)
  • This is analogous to the role of education as a screening mechanism for business firms.114 The argument in that context is that most of what you learn in college is not of direct value for most corporate jobs, but that those for whom college is hard will not be good at those jobs. College thus serves to screen, not to educate. (Location 1301)
  • This only served to reinforce my conviction that diehard extremists are either imbeciles or traitors.115 (Location 1311)
  • Ultimately, all strategies to reduce agency problems also come with security costs. (Location 1318)
  • The security-control tradeoff creates a dilemma when: preferences over tactics are not perfectly aligned, so that some agents want to attack different targets or want to conduct more or fewer attacks than their leaders;118 principals cannot perfectly monitor their agents’ tactical planning nor wield a threat of violence over them; and political goals are being placed at risk by the types of tactics operatives would employ if left to make their own decisions. (Location 1323)
  • The security-efficiency tradeoff creates a dilemma under similar conditions when: agents below the leadership are less than perfectly committed or want to spend money differently than leaders would like;119 principals cannot perfectly monitor their agents’ uses of money nor credibly punish them for observed infractions; and resources are constrained so that leaders will not just accept the financial inefficiencies created by agency problems. (Location 1328)
  • The political goals of the Provisional IRA required great care in the application of violence. The group had to place sufficient military pressure on the British to compel them to give up Northern Ireland, while at the same time avoiding excessive violence that could cost them the support of moderate Catholics or make it politically impossible for British politicians to “abandon” the Protestant majority. (Location 1342)
  • Hamas looks quite similar to Hezbollah, but both are organized quite differently than Palestinian Islamic Jihad. What matters for organizational choices is not that these three groups share an “Islamist” ideology. What matters is the specific operational guidance drawn from their political goals. (Location 1353)
  • groups under heavy government pressure will organize in ways that give up control and efficiency relative to otherwise similar groups under less pressure. (Location 1411)
  • group’s solutions to these tradeoffs should vary in response to four factors: (1) the discrimination in the use of force demanded by a group’s political goals; (2) the level of uncertainty operatives face about which attacks will serve the political goal; (3) the amount of preference divergence in a group; and (4) the level of government security pressure. (Location 1424)
  • We will be more precise later in the book. For now, the key point is that terrorist groups suffer the same managerial challenges as any other human organization. In terrorist organizations, these challenges lead inescapably to the twin security-efficiency and security-control tradeoffs. (Location 1429)
  • Looking at memoirs and autobiographies written by terrorists or former terrorists provides a way to fill in this evidentiary gap. Former participants in a broad range of groups have written memoirs, and this chapter looks at one hundred such accounts from participants in forty different groups. For these purposes, terrorist groups are defined as those whose use of violence regularly violated the principles of distinction and proportionality under the law of armed conflict for at least one year of their existence. (Location 1795)
  • Using these memoirs to assess the pervasiveness of organizational dilemmas in terrorist groups is thus a conservative approach and unquestionably underestimates the extent of the dilemmas. (Location 1812)
  • The majority of memoirs describe hierarchical organizations with multiple levels of authority, and many report intense disputes over which targets to hit and how to carry out attacks. Overall, it is striking that so many terrorist memoirs contain accounts of exactly the kinds of organizational problems I discuss in earlier chapters. (Location 1816)
  • The memoirs that were analyzed in detail span the modern history of terrorism, from Marxist groups in Russia in the late nineteenth century and Western European leftist groups in the 1970s, to Islamist groups today. Fifty-five of these memoirs were written by participants in nationalist groups, thirty-nine by participants in social revolutionary groups (or mostly leftist groups seeking major changes in society), seven by participants in social reactionary groups, six by participants in jihadi groups, and one by an anarchist. (Location 1829)
  • Understandably, those who survive the experience of being part of a terrorist group or operation have a tendency to want to share their story, and thus a fair number of former terrorists write memoirs.8 Because terrorism continues to be a fascinating subject, many of these memoirs are actually published, and a large number are translated into English. (Location 1842)
  • Five important findings became clear through this analysis. First, the majority of groups experience problems because of the heterogeneous preferences of their members. Of the memoirs, seventy-nine of 108 report nontrivial agency problems. Second, most groups are decidedly hierarchical and eighty-eighty of the memoirs discuss three or more levels of authority in the organization. Third, security-reducing monitoring of group members is common; thirty-two memoirs mention it. This monitoring ranged from the Warsaw Underground’s audit department,11 and the Irgun’s detailed tracking of weapons given to them by Jewish soldiers in the British Army,12 to the Mau Mau requirement that commanders provide village leaders with receipts for food expropriated during the Emergency.13 Fourth, rates of record keeping are roughly similar in nationalist groups (19 of 55) and social revolutionary ones (11 of 35). Table 3.1. Organizational Issues in Terrorist Memoirs Fifth, there is a great deal of variation in how much these phenomena are observed together. Across memoirs the tetrachoric correlation—a measure of how much memoirs that contain evidence of one pattern also have evidence of another—ranges quite a bit. All memoirs discussing disagreements over strategy and tactics also report multiple levels of hierarchy. Most memoirs reporting disagreements over spending also report disagreements over targets; the correlation between these indicators is 0.66. Few memoirs report operatives being punished, but of those that do, most also report political and tactical disagreements. (Location 1873)
  • if we define bureaucracy as the combination of hierarchy and security-reducing paperwork, then 28 percent (30 of 108) of the terrorists in our sample observed enough bureaucracy to report it in their memoirs. (Location 1889)
  • they show that terrorists consider the tradeoffs between security and control, that they often face disagreements over money and tactics, that they have problems maintaining discipline, and that operatives are regularly punished for taking actions which harm groups in some manner. (Location 1897)
  • Critically, Qassem is not claiming his fighters refrained from killing collaborators because they agreed with the leadership’s political logic. He is saying that they wanted to seek revenge, that their preferences were in fact very different from their leaders’, but that they were restrained from doing so by the threat of being found out and punished. (Location 1927)
  • That terrorist safe havens make organizing easier is a rather obvious point, but policy makers have often been misguided about what makes a piece of territory a safe haven. Essentially, policy makers are wrong to be concerned about the existence of ungoverned spaces; their concern should be about improperly governed spaces.29 Such areas provide a much more effective safe haven.30 (Location 7121)
  • Areas without functioning state institutions, however, do not provide the kind of safe haven in which one can put the terrorist equivalent of a back office. The security vacuum creates problems for the terrorists too. In a series of reports from Somalia in the 1990s, Mohammed Atef (also known as Abu Hafs), details the challenges of operating in a failed state. Prominent among these are problems with local bandits, the costs of corruption in neighboring states, and the ability of Western forces to act in ungoverned spaces.33 (Location 7133)
  • What made Afghanistan so useful to al-Qa’ida from 1995 onward was not an absence of state institutions; it was that al-Qa’ida could operate under the protection of a sovereign state, relying on that state’s sovereignty to shield its infrastructure from potential attack by Western forces. (Location 7146)
  • That al-Qa’ida decentralized did not mean that was a preferred or more dangerous organizational form; rather, it meant that al-Qa’ida opted for security when faced with a hard choice between security and other values. Organizational changes toward less formal, more networked structures in al-Qa’ida and like-minded groups suggests strongly that governments’ efforts are succeeding. (Location 7180)