I wrote a lot last year about the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. There’s a new article by an Israeli investigative journalist that tells the story we already knew, and adds a bunch of interesting details. Well worth reading.
Entries Tagged "Hamas"
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This, from a former CIA chief of station:
The point is that in this day and time, with ubiquitous surveillance cameras, the ability to comprehensively analyse patterns of cell phone and credit card use, computerised records of travel documents which can be shared in the blink of an eye, the growing use of biometrics and machine-readable passports, and the ability of governments to share vast amounts of travel and security-related information almost instantaneously, it is virtually impossible for clandestine operatives not to leave behind a vast electronic trail which, if and when there is reason to examine it in detail, will amount to a huge body of evidence.
A not-terribly flattering article about Mossad:
It would be surprising if a key part of this extraordinary story did not turn out to be the role played by Palestinians. It is still Mossad practice to recruit double agents, just as it was with the PLO back in the 1970s. News of the arrest in Damascus of another senior Hamas operative though denied by Mash’al seems to point in this direction. Two other Palestinians extradited from Jordan to Dubai are members of the Hamas armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades, suggesting treachery may indeed have been involved. Previous assassinations have involved a Palestinian agent identifying the target.
There’s no proof, of course, that Mossad was behind this operation. But the author is certainly right that the Palestinians believe that Mossad was behind it.
The Cold Spy lists what he sees as the mistakes made:
1. Using passport names of real people not connected with the operation.
2. Airport arrival without disguises in play thus showing your real faces.
3. Not anticipating the wide use of surveillance cameras in Dubai.
4. Checking into several hotels prior to checking in at the target hotel thus bringing suspicion on your entire operation.
5. Checking into the same hotel that the last person on the team checked into in order to change disguises.
6. Not anticipating the reaction that the local police had upon discovery of the crime, and their subsequent use of surveillance cameras in showing your entire operation to the world in order to send you a message that such actions or activities will not be tolerated on their soil.
7. Not anticipating the use of surveillance camera footage being posted on YouTube, thus showing everything about your operation right down to your faces and use of disguises to the masses around the world.
8. Using 11 people for a job that one person could have done without all the negative attention to the operation. For example, it could have been as simple as a robbery on the street with a subsequent shooting to cover it all up for what it really was.
9. Using too much sophistication in the operation showing it to be a high level intelligence/hit operation, as opposed to a simple matter using one person to carry out the assignment who was either used as a cutout or an expendable person which was then eliminated after the job was completed, thus covering all your tracks without one shred of evidence leading back to the original order for the hit.
10. Arriving too close to the date or time of the hit. Had the team arrived a few weeks earlier they could have established a presence in the city thus seeing all the problems associated with carrying out said assignment thus calling it off or having a counter plan whereby something else could have been tried elsewhere or in another country.
11. And to take everything to 11 points, not even noticing (which many on your team did in fact notice) all the surveillance you were under, and not calling the entire thing off because of it, and because you failed to see all of your mistakes made so far and then not calling it off because of them.
I disagree with a bunch of those.
EDITED TO ADD (4/13): The Cold Spy responds in comments. Actually, there’s lots of interesting discussion in the comments.
Most counterterrorism policies fail, not because of tactical problems, but because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what motivates terrorists in the first place. If we’re ever going to defeat terrorism, we need to understand what drives people to become terrorists in the first place.
Conventional wisdom holds that terrorism is inherently political, and that people become terrorists for political reasons. This is the “strategic” model of terrorism, and it’s basically an economic model. It posits that people resort to terrorism when they believe—rightly or wrongly—that terrorism is worth it; that is, when they believe the political gains of terrorism minus the political costs are greater than if they engaged in some other, more peaceful form of protest. It’s assumed, for example, that people join Hamas to achieve a Palestinian state; that people join the PKK to attain a Kurdish national homeland; and that people join al-Qaida to, among other things, get the United States out of the Persian Gulf.
If you believe this model, the way to fight terrorism is to change that equation, and that’s what most experts advocate. Governments tend to minimize the political gains of terrorism through a no-concessions policy; the international community tends to recommend reducing the political grievances of terrorists via appeasement, in hopes of getting them to renounce violence. Both advocate policies to provide effective nonviolent alternatives, like free elections.
Historically, none of these solutions has worked with any regularity. Max Abrahms, a predoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, has studied dozens of terrorist groups from all over the world. He argues that the model is wrong. In a paper published this year in International Security that—sadly—doesn’t have the title “Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists,” he discusses, well, seven habits of highly ineffective terrorists. These seven tendencies are seen in terrorist organizations all over the world, and they directly contradict the theory that terrorists are political maximizers:
Terrorists, he writes, (1) attack civilians, a policy that has a lousy track record of convincing those civilians to give the terrorists what they want; (2) treat terrorism as a first resort, not a last resort, failing to embrace nonviolent alternatives like elections; (3) don’t compromise with their target country, even when those compromises are in their best interest politically; (4) have protean political platforms, which regularly, and sometimes radically, change; (5) often engage in anonymous attacks, which precludes the target countries making political concessions to them; (6) regularly attack other terrorist groups with the same political platform; and (7) resist disbanding, even when they consistently fail to achieve their political objectives or when their stated political objectives have been achieved.
Abrahms has an alternative model to explain all this: People turn to terrorism for social solidarity. He theorizes that people join terrorist organizations worldwide in order to be part of a community, much like the reason inner-city youths join gangs in the United States.
The evidence supports this. Individual terrorists often have no prior involvement with a group’s political agenda, and often join multiple terrorist groups with incompatible platforms. Individuals who join terrorist groups are frequently not oppressed in any way, and often can’t describe the political goals of their organizations. People who join terrorist groups most often have friends or relatives who are members of the group, and the great majority of terrorist are socially isolated: unmarried young men or widowed women who weren’t working prior to joining. These things are true for members of terrorist groups as diverse as the IRA and al-Qaida.
For example, several of the 9/11 hijackers planned to fight in Chechnya, but they didn’t have the right paperwork so they attacked America instead. The mujahedeen had no idea whom they would attack after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, so they sat around until they came up with a new enemy: America. Pakistani terrorists regularly defect to another terrorist group with a totally different political platform. Many new al-Qaida members say, unconvincingly, that they decided to become a jihadist after reading an extreme, anti-American blog, or after converting to Islam, sometimes just a few weeks before. These people know little about politics or Islam, and they frankly don’t even seem to care much about learning more. The blogs they turn to don’t have a lot of substance in these areas, even though more informative blogs do exist.
All of this explains the seven habits. It’s not that they’re ineffective; it’s that they have a different goal. They might not be effective politically, but they are effective socially: They all help preserve the group’s existence and cohesion.
This kind of analysis isn’t just theoretical; it has practical implications for counterterrorism. Not only can we now better understand who is likely to become a terrorist, we can engage in strategies specifically designed to weaken the social bonds within terrorist organizations. Driving a wedge between group members—commuting prison sentences in exchange for actionable intelligence, planting more double agents within terrorist groups—will go a long way to weakening the social bonds within those groups.
We also need to pay more attention to the socially marginalized than to the politically downtrodden, like unassimilated communities in Western countries. We need to support vibrant, benign communities and organizations as alternative ways for potential terrorists to get the social cohesion they need. And finally, we need to minimize collateral damage in our counterterrorism operations, as well as clamping down on bigotry and hate crimes, which just creates more dislocation and social isolation, and the inevitable calls for revenge.
This essay previously appeared on Wired.com.
EDITED TO ADD (10/9): Interesting rebuttal.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.