Jan 13, 2010

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Failure as a Strategy

Some thinking on terrorism that may be of interest:

The recent al Qaeda sponsored attempt to blow up an Northwest Airways flight is an example of an interesting, but likely inadvertent strategy:  failure.  Given the earlier example of 9/11, even failed attacks provide the following benefits:

  • New and sweeping rules on airline passengers (most inane) and beefed up security.
  • New military/intelligence efforts launched against Yemen.
  • A potential substantive review and expansion of the broken no-fly lists and other substantial/expensive “systemic” overhauls.

In sum, the attack generated more expense (a nice return in red ink for a relatively small effort) even though it failed.

NOTE:  This is hilarious given the only thing that did work to stop the attack was (again) quick thinking/heroism on the part of the passengers on the flight.  This implies that the real reason for all this ‘action’ is more about bolstering nation-state legitimacy (why do we spend all this money in taxes on these massive bureaucracies) than preventing attacks.

Failure is interesting, as a strategy, because it doesn’t require the necessary planning, funding, and training required for a potentially successful attack.  As a result, attacks can be made quickly across a broad spectrum of targets.  If al Qaeda did embrace failure as a strategy, we could expect them to:

  • Increase the frequency.  Since the level of effort required is very small, do more to generate substantive returns in red ink/securitization/bureaucratization.  Since suicide isn’t even a requirement for the attacker, it would likely make it easy to hire them (payment to families for the effort would attract a vast pool of applicants).
  • Expand the venues.  Attack more types of places.  Schools, malls, etc.  Terrorist attacks are treated differently than even much more violent attacks by postal citizens in the same venues.  Why?  They are outsiders and the fear is that these attacks will be systemic rather than one offs.
  • Embrace more ethnicities/races to expand the profile of the terrorist.  The use of a Nigerian student is a first step on this.  Expand this profile to include Chinese, Indonesians, etc. to generate sweeping fear of all “outsiders.”  Spread the bureaucratic restrictions on travel that would be generated in reactions to these attacks far and wide.

From Global Guerrillas, December 31, 2009

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  1. The chances of dying in a Terrorist Attack against the United States are still high enough that recruitment of Non-Muslims is a problem.

    There isn’t really any need to recruit Non-Arabs, though, when you consider America’s deep seated aversion to any kind of Racial Profiling!

    “•Embrace more ethnicities/races to expand the profile of the terrorist. The use of a Nigerian student is a first step on this. Expand this profile to include Chinese, Indonesians, etc. to generate sweeping fear of all “outsiders.” Spread the bureaucratic restrictions on travel that would be generated in reactions to these attacks far and wide.”

    Okay, that would be an advantage of getting Non-Arabs involved.

    AQ is connected to a significant Islamic Terror group in Indonesia, so maybe they could work out a deal with them where they trade them a Rookie Terror Foot Soldier in exchange for some Bomb Training, Money, or whatever.

  2. avatar
    phil white said:

    Failure may have been intentional. The lack of hundreds of dead men women and children avoids rallying netural countries to America’s side.

    Still the terrorist “attempt” allows neo-cons political ammunition to keep us involved in the mideast.
    Also since Obama is committed to winding down our involvement in Muslim countries, there is an opportunity to make Yemen the next Irag/Afghanistan.
    This is quite possibly what Al Quaeda wants. To keep us killing Arabs/Muslims in their own countries so as to create more radicalization/reqcuitment opportunities.
    Immediately the news came out Yemenies were claiming credit and the bomber was singing like a canary.
    We are told the explosive used was the same as Richard Reed, the shoe bomber had
    a failure with several years ago.
    Any terrorist organization able to get bomb material past snifers and onto a plane should be competent enough to not use the same failure prone material twice.

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