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Terrorism Future: Tactics, Strategy, and Stealth Peter S. Probst Institute for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence It is a pleasure to be here in Moscow and to have an opportunity to share my thoughts with such a distinguished group of experts. I want to focus my remarks on future trends, because the better we anticipate future challenges the more effectively we can marshal and allocate our resources. The world as we know it is in a state of flux and transition and, therefore, it should come as no surprise that terrorism, too, is undergoing fundamental change. Terrorism has become the tactic of choice for extremist groups and rogue states. This is because it is effec- tive and cheap, and sponsorship can often be disguised or denied. STATE-SUPPORTED OR STATE-SPONSORED TERRORISM In recent years, state-sponsored terrorist attacks against U.S. interests have significantly declined a trend I attribute to our improved methods of detection, our demonstrated capability to fix responsibility, and most importantly, our te- nacity and commitment to hunt down the perpetrators and bring them to justice. We tracked, captured, tried, and convicted Ramzi Yousef, the architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. We tracked, captured, tried, and convict- ed Mir Amal Kanzi, the assassin of two Central Intelligence Agency employees murdered as they sat trapped in their cars waiting to enter the Agency com- pound. We tracked, captured, tried, and just a week ago convicted four Bin Laden operatives, three of whom directly participated in the bombings of our embassies in East Africa. And we tracked and captured six others involved in the plot, who currently are awaiting trial. Because we have demonstrated our ability to determine and fix responsibil- ity for such acts, I believe states will be much more selective in their use of 260
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FUTURE TRENDS AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION 261 terrorism against American personnel and installations, reserving the terrorist card for times when they believe their vital core interests are threatened or for times they believe a terrorist act can significantly advance their strategic agenda and, therefore, is worth the risk. And there is risk. States have territory, vital infrastructure, and economic interests all of which are vulnerable to retaliatory measures that run the gamut from disruption to destruction. Because state-sponsored terrorism will be an increasingly high-stakes game, such state-sponsored attacks, although fewer, will likely be massive in order to rivet attention and exert maximum leverage. And because, if caught, the price to pay would be so high, such attacks will likely exhibit increased sophistication and more professional tradecraft to maximize deniability and deflect responsibil- ity. In fact, we may not even be able to assign blame or determine that the catastrophe that occurred was, indeed, the result of a terrorist operation. Disguis- ing a terrorist operation as an act of God or an unfortunate accident may well become the terrorist's preferred method of operation because it maximizes plau- sible denial and the work of the security services if they are even brought into investigate the incident. The only area in which I see state-sponsored terrorism increasing is opera- tions directed against dissidents and regime critics living abroad. This is be- cause, to date, no world power has taken serious, sustained action to penalize state perpetrators. MOTIVATION In general, we see religiously motivated terrorism as increasingly ascendant, and politically motivated terrorism in decline. Religious zealots whether mem- bers of a group or cult are generally less constrained than are their politically motivated counterparts and, therefore, are more likely to engage in operations that cause mass casualties. The religious extremist answers to a constituency of one his guru or his god. Political terrorists, in contrast, answer to multiple constituencies. Most po- litically motivated terrorists have made the operational calculus that the murder of hundreds of innocents would only alienate the less violence-prone members of their group, supporters on the periphery, potential recruits, and other constitu- encies in a position to advance their political agenda and with whom they could make common cause. WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION We are currently facing an unprecedented challenge. Religious zealots (i.e., terrorists with the "will" to carry out mass casualty operations) are now in a position to build or buy improvised weapons of mass destruction. Zealotry pro- vides the "will" to inflict horrendous carnage; proliferation provides the
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262 HIGH-IMPACT TERRORISM "means." This nexus of will and means has forever changed the face of terror- ism and the nature of the threat that confronts us all. DEVOLUTION OF POWER AND WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION An emerging and significant threat is represented by improvised biological, chemical, and radiological devices that exploit technologies that once were the sole preserve of world and regional powers. The ability to decimate large popu- lation centers and wreak havoc on an unprecedented scale has devolved from nation-states to groups and now even to the individual. The possibility of an individual's acting alone and employing such a device is an emerging reality and as close as tomorrow's headlines. Whether they be nations or lone individuals, proliferation enables those traditionally at the mar- gins to play a major role on the world stage. Improvised weapons of mass de- struction will be the great equalizers of tomorrow, providing the means for the disaffected and deranged to directly impact the core interests of world powers. Proliferation has changed the nature of terrorism and elevated it to a strategic threat. Cults and single-issue groups that respond to a religious imperative (such as violence-prone antiabortion groups) will likely be drawn to such operations and use them to extort concessions and significant political advantage from gov- ernments and other target groups. ETHNICITY AS A MOTIVATOR Just as religiously motivated terrorism is increasingly ascendant, I believe ethnically driven terrorism may soon represent a challenge of near-similar mag- nitude, particularly if it has a religious or mystic overlay and is grounded in real or perceived historic oppression and injustice. For decades, when immigrants settled in a new country, they tried and were often able to integrate themselves into the society of their adopted land. More recently, a new trend has emerged wherein immigrant populations, even when encouraged to meld with the society of their new country, opt to segregate themselves from the mainstream and to retain and reinforce their eth- nic identity. They view their new home as a temporary "home of convenience" adopted for economic or other advantage their emotional, political, and cultur- al loyalties belonging to their country of origin. The prime reason for this attitudinal change, I believe, can be traced directly to the technological advances of the twentieth century. Rapid, relatively inex- pensive air travel makes visits to the homeland and the family left behind almost routine. Also contributing to the maintenance and strengthening of such ties is the continuing drop in the cost of international phone calls. To regularly hear the voice of one's mother or sister recount their very personal heartaches and those
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FUTURE TRENDS AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION 263 of the homeland immeasurably strengthens the emigrant's emotional bond to his country of origin and to the family members left behind. Yet perhaps the most important technological advance has been the devel- opment of the Internet, which permits inexpensive, real-time communication via e-mail, on even a daily basis. Internet-based telephone transmissions will soon cost little more than a local telephone call and be ubiquitous. Emotional ties to the homeland are also reinforced by satellite television, which keeps the emigrant informed of homeland developments often via vivid and lurid video clips and incendiary commentary, as well as through more be- nign cultural programming that features traditional music and drama of the emi- grant group in its native language. Throughout the Western world, enclaves are developing that to varying de- grees are ethnic and political outposts of the home country or region and mirror the attitudes and anger that spur the home-grown conflicts. Even as a child growing up in New York City, I saw my home town not so much as coherent entity but as a series of contiguous ethnic enclaves divided by language and culture where, most often, the issues of the enclave were the issues of the homeland. Many ethnically based terrorist groups draw their financial and political strength from communities of the diaspora and often a continuing stream of recruits as well. Militants from the home country often are on a continuing circuit. They visit and speak at a variety of meetings where they solicit dona- tions, mobilize political support, and recruit the most promising. In my own country, a whole range of terrorist groups draw from their respective expatriate communities. Traditional ethnic rivalries and hatreds no longer stop at national borders, but are played out in the streets and media of countries far removed from the site of conflict. Few major ethnic conflicts remain local. Most have become increas- ingly transnational a trend that I believe will increase. The once vaunted ho- mogeneity of European countries such as Germany and France has long been a thing of the past. Instead, large immigrant populations that to varying degrees have been excluded from the political process will, I believe, successfully chal- lenge traditional elites and the political power brokers. A Europe without bor- ders is increasingly a reality, but I believe it will evolve into a panorama of city- states that most closely will resemble an ethnic patchwork quilt. As a consequence, ethnic rivalries, tensions, and hatreds, many of Middle Eastern, North African, and Balkan origin, will be played out with increasing ferocity on the European landscape. NEW ARENAS OF CONFLICT Cyberspace is one of the most challenging new arenas of conflict not only for nations but for terrorists as well. We already have caught a glimpse of the future in the recent "Hacker War" between the Palestinians and Israelis. The
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264 HIGH-IMPACT TERRORISM success of some of these operations went beyond defacing home pages, but included some fairly sophisticated denial-of-service attacks. Nations as well as terrorist groups, I am sure, closely monitored these developments to identify "lessons learned" and determine how best these could be applied to refine their respective cyberwar capabilities. As countries modernize, they become increasingly dependent on sophisti- cated technologies, with computers both running and linking vital, once dispar- ate systems into a national infrastructure. Technological advances, although in- creasing efficiency and dictated by economy, may have the unintended consequence of increasing system vulnerability through the elimination of re- dundancy and accelerating centralization. (Having all our eggs in one basket may make economic sense but creates unnecessarily lucrative targets for our terrorist adversaries.) Because of its complexity and interdependence, critical infrastructure pre- sents unique targeting opportunities to a technically sophisticated adversary. Complex national infrastructures are vulnerable in that they all have critical nodes or choke points that, if properly attacked, will result in significant disrup- tion or destruction. Such an attack may be computer generated. For the techni- cally challenged, more conventional assaults employing truck bombs, dynamite, or cable cutting may be used to unleash a chain of events whereby a service grid, pipeline, or air traffic control system collapses in a cascading effect. Major power failures that black out large parts of a country, systemic prob- lems with the air traffic control systems, and breaks in highly vulnerable gas and oil pipeline systems are covered in exquisite detail by the press and industry publications and are dissected and analyzed on the Internet. Terrorists, as part of the attentive public, are increasingly aware that national infrastructure represents a lucrative and vulnerable target. Most significant terrorist groups and movements have home pages on the Internet and use the Internet to propagandize, fund-raise, and recruit. Some use the net for near real-time operational communication. They may employ encryp- tion and steganography routing their messages through a series of anonymous remailers and multiple service providers as a strategy to enhance their security. Increasingly such organizations view the Internet as an offensive weapon what might be called a "weapon of mass disruption." Cadres are being trained in the exploitation of viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and sniffers all of which can serve as significant force multipliers. There well may come a day when some terrorist groups will exist only in cyber-space, never meeting face to face, each member insulated from the other and communicating only through the Internet to carry out denial-of-service at- tacks and other offensive operations against net-dependent countries and target groups. Assassination by computer is only a keyboard away.
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FUTURE TRENDS AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION PRIVATIZATION OF TERRORISM 265 Another emerging phenomenon is the privatization of terrorism as personi- fied by Osama bin Laden. Individual players such as bin Laden increasingly operate as virtual state sponsors. They provide significant financial, logistical, and operational support that traditionally were the province of a rogue state's security apparatus. Figures such as bin Laden, however, have an advantage over traditional state supporters of terrorism in that they have few equities or offer few levers that we can manipulate to exert pressure. Not being a state, they have no territory we can bomb or vital infrastructure that we can hold hostage, disrupt, or destroy. NEW ORGANIZATIONAL MODELS To avoid capture, terrorists, I believe, will increasingly adopt new organiza- tional models and move toward a form of organization called "leaderless resis- tance." The premise is that if there are no chain-of-command and no communi- cations between headquarters and operatives in the field, the risk of penetration and discovery is minimized assuming basic principals of tradecraft are prac- ticed. The idea is that small, totally independent cells of individuals will strike when they find a lucrative target and believe the moment propitious. The lone-actor model the singleton is the most difficult adversary to identify and apprehend. Until recently such an operator was more of a nuisance than anything else, but with the proliferation of knowledge concerning impro- vised weapons of mass destruction such an individual may, on occasion, repre- sent a strategic threat. We cannot arrest him because we do not know who he is or, in truth, if he even exists. Since we cannot go to him, we will have to induce him to come to us and self-identify. This is a difficult but not an impossible task. Some thoughts on how this might be accomplished can be explored during the discussion period. I think we have to keep in mind that foremost terrorism is a tactic and form of psychological warfare. It usually is part of a broader ideological campaign. If we are to improve our counterterrorism capabilities, we not only have to appre- hend the bombers and assassins but more importantly deal to effectively with the ideological motivations and psychological needs that draw new recruits and in- spire them to die for a cause. To effectively combat terrorism, I believe we must embrace the stiletto over the broadsword. This means increased reliance on co- vert action with heavy emphasis on deception, black operations, gray and black propaganda, in-depth psychological and motivational studies of key personnel, and a thorough understanding of the rational and nonrational factors that influ- ence the decision making calculus of the terrorist leadership and the motivational commitment of the rank-and-file. Too often, we are handicapped by our profes- sional mindset.
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266 HIGH-IMPACT TERRORISM A primary objective is to create an operational tool kit of interrelated, com- plementary capabilities and programs that are woven into an operational tapestry as part of an overarching campaign. One task is to identify, exacerbate, and ultimately manipulate to our advantage the paranoia, schisms, and rivalries that are rife within any terrorist group. Our objective is to cause the group to turn on itself and, ultimately, self-destruct in a paroxysm of paranoia. Such tactics work, unlike brute military power, which history has shown to be counterproductive particularly when used alone in ethnic or religious conflicts. Such a one-dimen- sional approach sows the seeds of future conflict, perpetuates the cycle of vio- lence, and ultimately plays into the hands of our adversaries. To be successful, we must think imaginatively what Americans call "think- ing outside the box." To be successful, we must understand what motivates key members of the terrorist groups we are targeting. We must learn what they value, what they fear, and how they weigh operational decisions, and we must study their operational predilections. We must also learn to see ourselves through the eyes of our terrorist adversaries. The world as we know it is forever changed. Our strategies, tactics, and capabilities need to reflect these new realities if we are to successfully navigate the treacherous waters of this "brave new world." How well we succeed will ultimately determine the winners, the losers, and the price paid by each.
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