Aug 21, 2008

MI5 state obvious, media goes into shock

The Guardian has the info.

Am I terribly shocked? No. But then again, I studied terrorism using something other than Parliamentary statements and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. You know, with people who have spent their entire lives studying terrorists, mapping personalities, conducting interviews, modelling radicalization etc.

Marc Sageman in particular has been noting and publishing the trends MI5 have produced since the publication of his Understanding Terror Networks, if not before. Nothing in this report is really new from that. Religious novices? Check. Socially excluded or removed second or third generation immigrants? Check. Low incidence of mental illness? Check.

I'm surprised any of this is even considered news. Anyone who has been following the academic terrorism literature knew this stuff a long time ago. We have reports going back to the Red Brigades and UVF that rule out mental illness, or a particular personality type.

Other background details are interesting, highlighting the difference between the old Al-Qaeda (the professionals in their late 20s to 30s, who have families etc) and the new Al-Qaeda, the kids in their late teens or early 20s. The diversity of background, from sober, nearly areligious (until recently) professional family man with no criminal background, to the kid who has been caught taking drugs and possibly served a sentence for a violent crime, who cannot even read Arabic, is enormous.

And those are just two of the many profiles one could come up with. Factor in racial background, gender, educational history, geographical location etc and you quickly lose anything that resembles a useful description of a potential terrorist.

Even worse, terrorists often tailor their recruitment methods to avoid profiles. By concentrating on certain segments on the population, you just increase the evolutionary adaption of an organization. As the 7/7 bombings show, anyone who had been looking for foreign born, or all Pakistani radicals, for example, would have been caught out. And yes, you could argue the converse, that in fact some lives might have been saved, but the true mark of terrorism is targeting weak points, taking advantage of the unexpected and unconsidered. As soon as you focus on one area, and it becomes obvious (and believe me, with the internet, it will), then terrorist groups will regroup and attack from unexpected directions.

The best way, as Sageman notes, is to map the relationships between known violent radicals, facilitators of violent teachings and those who are involved in activity which is linked to terrorism. Target the smugglers (people or otherwise), the money launderers, the radical Imams with links to training camps in Pakistan or Indonesia or the Middle East. That is how you deal with Islamic terrorism.

And lets not overlook the possibility of a resurgence of rightwing, nationalist terrorism either. Its picking up in the USA, currently, and there could be international implications, when we consider how many have adapted themselves to narrative of the War on Terror, and the persistent Eurabia bullshit.

Anyway, a welcome report, and I am glad to see MI5 seem to know what they are doing.

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