Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 12, 2015

Proactively professional and non-partisan

Filed under: Resilience,State and Local HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 12, 2015

First proposition: Terrorism is the strategic application of opportunistic violence to achieve political purposes.

Second proposition: The political purposes of several radical Salafist groups are advanced when terrorist attacks are made against the United States.  The perceived success of such attacks enhance the recruiting potential of the group that can claim credit and serves to improve the power-position of that group vis-a-vis other radical groups.

Third proposition: The political purposes of several radical Salafist groups are advanced when United States military force is deployed in Muslim-majority territories.  This enhances the ability of such groups to portray themselves as legitimate defenders of Islamic peoples under attack and/or occupation.

[Readers are encouraged to utilize the comment function to raise objections to any or all of these propositions.]

First observation: To the extent the foregoing propositions are broadly accurate (if inevitably reductionist), it is reasonable to anticipate that one or more radical Salafist groups are actively engaged in motivating and/or coordinating a terrorist attack on the United States.  An especially sophisticated group would try to choose a time and target designed to prompt new or increased US military operations in Muslim-majority territory. Given prior patterns of behavior, a dramatic attack late in the US election season or early in the new President’s administration might be conceived as having particular potential. (Al Qaeda, in any of its surviving forms, might be especially motivated to launch a well-coordinated attack to differentiate and resuscitate its brand in competition with the more free-lance ISIS approach.)

Second observation: Barring a significant terrorist event, it seems unlikely the US presidential campaign will give substantive attention to terrorist threats, counter-terrorism, or other aspects of homeland security.  Nor is there evidence any current candidate is especially well-qualified on these issues. As a result, any well-timed and creatively targeted terrorist attack might well produce significant surprise and — especially when surprised — American political processes are predisposed to dramatic responses.

Recommendation:  To the extent these observations are plausible, there would be potential benefit if homeland security professionals in the United States would be proactive during the presidential election season communicating the “draw-play” potential of terrorist attacks and discussing a wide range of US strategic options.  Such activity would be designed to 1) reduce the surprise factor associated with any such attack and 2) discourage US responses that play into the political purposes of radical Salafist groups.

[If the observations and recommendations survive reader scrutiny, it would be especially interesting to hear suggestions about how homeland security professionals could engage in this process.]

–+–

The principal author of the prior 400 words does not want to be identified. Let’s call him “Paul Brown”.  He is a self-described homeland security professional currently employed by a State.  Philip Palin has helped shape the language above and will — sometimes in conversation with the author, sometimes not — attempt to respond to reader comments, critiques, and suggestions.

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17 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 12, 2015 @ 10:35 am

Let me deal with the first proposition first!

First proposition: Terrorism is the strategic application of opportunistic violence to achieve political purposes.

My definition is TERRORISM is the infliction of physical or emotional harm on innocents.

Given the history of TERRORISM IMO acts of TERRORISM rarely succeed on a political basis and TERRORISM MORE A RESULT OF MENTAL ILLNESS AND/OR RELIGION as opposed to sustained and evolved political theory.

The absence since 9/11/01 of TERRORIST ACTS in the USA since 9/11/01 is purely the product of error in definition and semantic failures.

Note the continued absence,e.g., of a federal anti-lynching law or in any of the 50 states.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 12, 2015 @ 10:40 am

Second proposition: The political purposes of several radical Salafist groups are advanced when terrorist attacks are made against the United States. The perceived success of such attacks enhance the recruiting potential of the group that can claim credit and serves to improve the power-position of that group vis-a-vis other radical groups.

It is not the success of terrorist attacks but perceived power relationships that drive TERRORISM and its recruits. Dr. Stanton Samenow, PhD, has long written of his study of the thrill-factor driving many criminals. The same IMO for terrorists. Humanity loves to have physical and emotional control over others.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 12, 2015 @ 10:47 am

Third proposition: The political purposes of several radical Salafist groups are advanced when United States military force is deployed in Muslim-majority territories. This enhances the ability of such groups to portray themselves as legitimate defenders of Islamic peoples under attack and/or occupation.

This seems a defensible proposition. Why? The US military is a largely Christian entourage and the struggles of Islam to expand control over non-Islamic peoples and areas are in reality nothing but religious wars often prompting Christian predators using culture, finance, and organized violence.

There seems to be a strong tradition of pedophilia and mysgomy in both Christianity and Islam. Boring out in the desert?

Comment by Arnold Bogis

November 12, 2015 @ 2:15 pm

With the caveat that I’m not sure any subject gets substantive attention during a presidential campaign, the topic of terrorism at least is often mentioned. It is in the context of foreign policy rather than homeland security, but with the attention given to ISIS in particular I’d suggest terrorism will get its due.

Other homeland security related topics on the other hand…

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 12, 2015 @ 3:49 pm

Arnold and Bill: Thanks for the feedback. A few quick back-at-ya’s:

The principal author of the post, “Paul Brown”, considers ISIS to be a pseudo-state entirely appropriate for a foreign and defense policy debate. Rather than being a non-state-actor, he views ISIS as a wanna-be state that has shown sufficient viability to be treated mostly as such (even as he accepts it is not convenient or prudent to officially extend such recognition). But from this perspective, citizens of the United States claiming allegiance to ISIS and committing violent acts against the United States might best be prosecuted as traitors.

Bill Cumming’s comment on the second proposition is not inconsistent with Paul’s own perception (he is not as prepared to pile-on Bill’s effort to tackle the desert religions at-large).

Paul wants to think about Bill’s definition of terrorism. I am fascinated by what I understand to be Bill’s angle because I consider the credible demonstration of political intention as a helpful protection against prosecutorial over-reach with terrorism statues. I don’t want the mentally ill or many others prosecuted as terrorists. But I hear Bill making the case that since “terrorism” gets top-drawer attention, such prosecutions could be helpful in generating more social-political engagement with outbreaks of violence. This issue is worth its own post-and-comments.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 12, 2015 @ 5:31 pm

Thanks Arnold and Phil! In fact it is the definition of “innocent” that is the problem in my definition not the definition of the word “terrorist”!

As to Paul we know ISIS has a flag but do they have a song? Joking it is just that what is a nation-state may in fact be undefinable despite a United Nations.

Comment by TwShiloh

November 12, 2015 @ 8:21 pm

Very interesting post! A couple of observations/questions:

1) Is there anything about this post that could not have been written 4, 8, 12 or more years ago. In short, is it trying to explain a general human (or American) condition or explain something unique about our current time?

2) It seems to me there are a number of built in disincentives for any candidate to trying to describe the draw-play strategy. I suspect it wouldn’t require a very skilled sophist to twist the argument into one of ‘cutting and running’ or being a ‘rabid isolationist’. I can’t imagine homeland security professionals getting a sufficient platform to compete with national candidates.

3) Probably nit-picking but I’d disagree that terrorism is necessarily the ‘strategic’ use of force. I suspect its use can be driven by tactical considerations just as frequently.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 13, 2015 @ 5:30 am

TwShiloh: Paul Brown is ready to remove “strategic” from his proposed definition. He perceives that strategic aspirations tend to amplify the potential terrorist impact, but you are right: tactical considerations are at least as frequently in the driver’s seat.

Paul Brown absolutely agrees that it is very difficult for political candidates to discuss the draw-play threat (and many other aspects of the terrorist threat). He suggests that most political candidates could not have effectively discussed a cold-war containment strategy until thought-leaders effectively set-the-stage for such a discussion.

And the principal author of the post absolutely agrees that it would have been very helpful if some critical mass of knowledgeable folks had been having an open — compelling — conversation about terrorism and counter-terrorism at least four, probably five, presidential election cycles ago. He perceives, however, that there is a convergence of intentions, aspirations, present/prospective actions, and calendar that renews the importance of discussing the issue in the current context.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 13, 2015 @ 5:40 am

Bill: Thanks for the link to John Feffer’s piece. Unfortunately plausible, at least enough to think about. Certainly not inevitable, especially if we think and act to avoid.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 13, 2015 @ 10:01 am

There was discussion of domestic terrorism as far back as LBJ and Nixon but far overshadowed by Great Power politics and strategic missile attacks.

Also Trump seems to have struck a chord with his wall. Many of my Mexican American and Mexican friends say that such a wall could well prompt a revolution in Mexico with the norther Mexican states breaking off and trying to join the USA and/or 30-40 million people marching north for food and security.

Time will tell. But readers of this blog and others know that I think Mexico and the USA are in fact one country. The undercutting of the Mexican economy post-NAFTA could well be documented as the caused mainly by the rise of China. Now transportation costs alone might again favor Mexico.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 13, 2015 @ 5:17 pm

Extract from a comment by Phil:

“And the principal author of the post absolutely agrees that it would have been very helpful if some critical mass of knowledgeable folks had been having an open — compelling — conversation about terrorism and counter-terrorism at least four, probably five, presidential election cycles ago.”

IMO there was such a discussion but all focused on state-sponsored terrorism and the technologies of the time.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

November 13, 2015 @ 6:40 pm

Have to agree with Bill on his last point about the tone of terrorism conversation several presidential election cycles ago.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

November 14, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

Soooooo….terrorism likely to be a topic of conversation during the primaries?

Comment by Arnold Bogis

November 14, 2015 @ 1:33 pm

And no offense to “Paul,” but just because political discussion of terrorism does not follow his/her vision of useful conversation does not mean it does not occur.

Providing one’s own definition works for a journal article, not an effort to influence political discourse.

And it is unclear to me how homeland security professionals can influence this discussion. Federal officials are explicitly barred from engaging in the political process. State and locals are mostly lacking influence. And the few outside analysts that have gravitas are pretty much set in terms of which “team” they support and their narrative.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 15, 2015 @ 5:04 am

Arnold: Two responses one from Paul, one from me.

Paul is focused on how political discourse — even more, social choice — can be influenced by discussion of terrorism. His original motivation for writing the Thursday post was aimed at trying to engage the influence-deficit which he agrees currently characterizes the relationship of homeland security professionals with the public and with political decision-makers. He also shares your concern for existing impediments for engaging the conversation, but is trying to advocate that these are impediments to be overcome.

From me, not Paul: It sounds like both you and I expect the Paris attack to prompt more discussion of terrorism during the campaign. In a weird (at least to me) way we saw this happen in the Des Moines debate. The event was originally intended to focus on the economy. But from at least 2 and a half of the three candidates on the stage and John Dickinson it seemed to me the issue was less terrorism and much more an external enemy with a significant “Fifth Column” capability. This strikes me as very different than a discussion about terrorism. What was/is your take based on the reaction so far by the various candidates?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 15, 2015 @ 8:49 am

Paul Brown asks readers to review again his original post, replace the words “United States” with “France” and recognize that important regional elections in France are scheduled for December 6 and 13. The anti-immigrant, arguably anti-Muslim far right was already expected to do well. Was Saturday’s attack a draw-play to both pull France further into Syria and pull the French polity further apart?

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