Sunday, February 18, 2007

A man alone ain't..

Simulated Laughter reads an al-Qa'ida document and asks if the terrorist disorganisation is moving to a new phase of "lone wolf" individualised terrorism. They argue that this would be a very bad thing. I disagree. I suspect the core of the disagreement is probably a cognitive framework issue.

Laughter argues that the worst acts of terrorism, short of the obvious, in the US have been the work of such "lone gunmen", for example the Oklahoma City bombing, and works from there to conclude that Al-Qa'ida lone gunmen would be even worse. Thinking in terms of the IRA and the history of guerrilla warfare, I reckon that these acts are very rarely effective in terms of the terrorist's aims. More broadly, it's arguable that the "propaganda of the deed" has never been an effective strategy - compare the history of the 20th century and the gap between the effectiveness of anarchist individual terror and Marxist (or anarcho-syndicalist) organising.

After all, if your beef is with State power, it makes no sense to give the state more opportunities to implement repression. Repression is something the state has a significant comparative advantage in producing. It loves the stuff. And, historically, theories of "backlash" and such are usually either wishful thinking, or an effort to torment the working class into revolution.

On substantives, I suspect the effectiveness of such "lone wolves" in producing terrorism would be quite a lot less than the existing network model. In fact, I think I'm going to pick up the ball in terms of IT analogies applied to terrorism, and boot it further down the road. Successful 4GW organisations/disorganisations display not just scale-free networking, but service-oriented architecture. In organising an attack, the highly-connected nodes in the network draw on services provided by others on an ad-hoc basis. For example, someone may have access to secure money transfers, Linux clue, explosives, contacts, without necessarily being very connected to the terrorists. The organisational model sees the highly-connected nonleaders, if that is a word (and it should be), grab bits and pieces from participants (witting or otherwise) in adjacent networks and combine them into an act of war.

What would make this model more dangerous, and partly fulfil SL's conclusions, would be if the proportion of these services that have to be sourced within the worldwide jihadi movement was to fall.

1 comment:

A.E. said...

I appreciate the thoughtful, in-depth critique (and apologies for the double-post on your Cheney entry). I have a response here:

http://simulatedlaughter.blogspot.com/2007/02/4gw-vs-lone-wolves.html

I agree though, that it is a problem of cognitive framework. There's many different models at play right now--"lone wolf," traditional insurgency, 4GW, 5GW, state-supported terror, etc. I think it's likely we'll still be facing all of them in the future, no matter which one comes out dominant.

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