Bombing and Boots-on-the-Ground are Not the Antidote to World-Wide Terrorism!
HUMINT/Psychological Warfare are far more Appropriate.
The recent tragic terrorist attacks in Paris showed once again that those Belgian/French citizens involved in the different raids were, as I had predicted from Algeria, Morocco and other parts of North Africa. What is confusing the picture is the fact that they grew up in France, Belgium or some other part of Europe. Also, the fact that they may or may not have trained in Syria is certainly relevant but not really essential to the defeat of ISIS or some 100 other known terrorist groups fighting in Syria.
One thing that I have learned from my thirty years in counter-terrorism is that nothing surpasses the effectiveness of acquiring Human Intelligence [HUMINT] on the ground, be it in France, Belgium, Syria or wherever potential terrorists might reside. Most terrorist groups have a distinct signature of operations. They may have arisen de novo; or, they may have been trained in certain locations which have been monitored for some time –like the Taliban in Afghanistan; Al Qaeda in Iraq; ISIS in Syria.
For the most part, our collective capability to monitor signal/electronic [SIGINT/ELINT] communications from around the world, have been quite impressive.We, Americans, have been able to penetrate most of the internet chatter occurring worldwide on a 24/7 basis. What we are sorely deficient in is having developed a cadre of intelligence operatives who can and will penetrate different terrorist groups in Syria or wherever they may arise. It’s a major problem that we have had in the Intelligence Community for several decades as the internet arose in a burst of glittering innovation.
HUMINT is a tedious, boring, time-consuming statecraft that does not really reward the particular operatives who have dedicated their lives to it. It’s not a statecraft that is sexy anymore. Granted, HUMINT has been portrayed in the past by flippant novelists like myself, Tom Clancy, Brian Geller [Mission Impossible] or others; as something that a Jack Ryan or a Bourne would utilize in order to eventually resolve the particular crises with his gun or with his physical prowess. That’s called fiction, dear readers.
We, ordinary citizens, rarely appreciate the fact that some of the best intelligence operatives were simply those people [women, men, children] who could penetrate a culture; subsume his/her identity; and then assume the statecraft technique of gathering mundane intelligence [which is not usually hidden in a triple-sealed vault]. In the past, many of our actors have acted as quite effective spies doing very ordinary jobs in distant places. For example, Julia Child was an operative in China helping to train the Viet Minh anti-Japanese fighters. David Niven was a brilliant German linguist and military operative who could penetrate enemy intelligence and then be able to predict what the Nazi Luftwaffe would do.
Again, HUMINT, requires different types of people who are able to speak a particular foreign language; understand the culture of those people with whom we want to monitor; and then be able to manipulate or anticipate their subsequent behavior. During the Iraq War, the US Marines hired a group of women anthropologists who went into the various areas of conflict and as a result of their ability to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of those Muslim women, acts of terrorism and fighting went down over 90%. It’s not rocket science. Yet, HUMINT is a very particular kind of skill where psychology, anthropology, and nation-state behavior converge into one discipline.
I received my first taste of this statecraft at the Political Science Department at M.I.T during the early 1970’s. I was trained by sophisticated Professors who had been taught by the OSS; and then the CIA. Unlike any program at Harvard or anywhere else, the discipline of strategic thinking alongside of ‘out-of-the box’ conceptualization was highly encouraged.
The teachers in MIT department were literally intellectual giants:
▪ Harold Lasswell[ Politics and Personality]
▪ Lucian Pye [Mao And The Cultural Revolution]
▪ Ithiel de Sola Poole [ The Internet, Social Media and Their Political Consquences].
▪ Prof. Kaufmann [Strategic/Tactical Nuclear Wars].
The aforementioned department/program was funded by the CIA/DARPA. Unfortunately, the political science dept. at MIT is now engaged in heuristic concepts based on big data and simplistic notions of human/nation-state behavior. Clearly, programs change. Different times demand different ways of thinking. However, as far as I am concerned, human behavior and nation-state behavior has not and will not change. More importantly, the terrorism problem of today is the same one we had twenty and thirty years ago—and for centuries.
We, Americans, should remember that the American Revolution started with a terrorist act: the Boston Tea Party’s defiance of British Law, throwing tea into the Charles River. Those of us who were involved in the Lebanese Civil War during the 1970’s-80’s know that ISIS is no different from the various Sunni Palestinian groups [PLO, PLFP, PLA] who were fighting each other; as well as, the Christian Phalangists in Beirut proper. The quicker we use effective HUMINT penetration of the various fighting groups in Syria [ISIS], the sooner we can resolve that tragedy.
More bombings will do nothing; except make us, naïve observers, feel that something bold and destructive has been done. Unfortunately, aerial bombardment has never been shown to be effective-- either during WWII, the Vietnam War, or now. Let’s go back to basics of human behavior: who, what, where, when and why. At least let’s give psychological warfare a chance! Terrorist groups have never been destroyed using outside forces. Most of them have been eviscerated from within.
Plus ca change; moins ca change!
The more that things change; the less they really change.