Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Waiting for the other shoe to drop...

If you haven't been following the daily blog postings from Gary Brecher, you're missing out. Right now, it's the best thing on the internet. You may not agree with everything he writes (and probably won't), but there's a lot of interesting ideas he writes about that you just don't find anywhere else.

His post today was titled 'Is There an Al-Qaeda?'.
I wish now I’d said the first thing that came into my head when I started hearing about Al Qaeda, which was, “No, it can’t be. Violates every rule of guerrilla organization.”
[T]he idea is that it’s a central clearinghouse for dozens of different guerrilla groups, sharing an Islamic ideology but representing different countries and tribes and languages.
The last thing any sane guerrilla group wants to do is to go to an international guerrilla jamboree like the Boy Scouts. Sure, you’ll share ideas and prop up each others’ morale—and in the meantime, the informers—because every decent-sized guerrilla group must assume it’s been penetrated—will be taking careful notes, taking quiet candid pictures, and putting together organizational charts.
I'd quote more, but you should really read the whole thing.

Personally, I'd thought about this from a different angle. Specifically, I think of government agencies like the CIA as a kind of lumbering behemoth. Like most of the government, they're probably not good at forecasting new threats and scenarios. Bureaucracies tend get very set in their ways, and forecasting these kind of events is probably just an inherently very difficult task. To this extent, I wasn't surprised that they didn't see September 11 coming - they just weren't looking for that kind threat.

But once you get their attention (and September 11 certainly succeeded in doing that), THEN they started turning their attentions towards infiltrating, undermining and arresting the various jihadist groups. And they're probably not bad at that job. Bureaucracies can be quite effective when you need to do a single task over and over. Which is my guess for why there haven't been any major terrorist attacks in the US since then - it's hard to organise and carry out a large-scale terrorist plot when the FBI and CIA are trying to investigate and disrupt you at every step of the way. It's much easier to do it the first time when you're some no-name group that they're not on the lookout for.

What this suggests is that future large-scale attacks are probably less likely to occur due to clandestine groups, and more likely to be organised by states. In other words, it's much easier to plan a terrorist strike on the US if I'm the Iranian government using Iranian agents training in Iran than if I'm some jihadist in a radical mosque in the US that's probably been infiltrated by the FBI.

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