Special Operations Expertise

Combating Terrorism

For the Courage of the Founders

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For the Courage of the Founders

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Terrorists are inept: Al Qaeda and other terrorists/organizations are frequently described as "highly trained." They are not. Navy SEALs are highly trained; Rangers, Green Berets, Marine Recon etc. have spent years learning how to shoot, move, communicate, infiltrate, exfiltrate, and conduct actions at the objective area. These professional organizations spend many more years practicing, exercising and honing those skills. Terrorists may be cunning; they may even be accomplished killers with some technical and tactical acumen. However, they most certainly are not highly trained, not by the standards of the United States. Most of you have probably seen the video of terrorists practicing Close Quarters Battle room entries (shooting inside buildings). What you may not know is that the terrorists demonstrate extremely bad technique. They sweep their partners with their weapons; they hop and shoot from poor stances. Or you might recall the clip that for some reason was played over and over again of terrorists "training" on a horizontal ladder. The horizontal ladder is similar to, but in worse repair than, the ones that are on nearly every playground in America. Is that supposed to be some type of challenge? Look at it a different way--on September 11, 2001 terrorists attacked 50, 000+ unsuspecting, untrained (for the attack they were a victim of), innocent people in four office buildings. The intent of the kinetic attack, presumably, was to kill as many people as possible, yet they succeeded in killing well less than 10 percent of a very dense target. That is terrible mission execution.

The importance here is that the relative ability of the forces involved, again in real terms, is important and should be directly considered in the strategy development process. Juxtapose the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the attacks of 9/11. Each resulted in sweeping changes in American philosophy and strategy and each resulted in a war. The critical difference was the reason for the change. In 1941 it was because there was a belligerent nation with a fleet and an army that could, if unchecked and allied with other countries, bring about the destruction of the United States. In 2001 it was because the nation was fearful and was not taking the time to objectively analyze reality and make well thought out decisions.

There is no terror mastermind: There is no such thing as a terrorist mastermind. The term is, first of all, an oxymoron. If a person were a mastermind he would not choose to be a terrorist because he would know that terror was not going to achieve his goals. He would know that in fact, in all of history, terror when exercised by an unempowered minority with limited reach has never succeeded at achieving the organizations goals. Certainly there have been masterminds that used terror—Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, etc.—but this type of person used terror within a greater strategy. Significantly, the terror was used within the person’s (expanding) scope of control to maintain the organization and allow it to grow The terror was used within a sphere of influence over which person exercised some amount of control. The terror was not an offensive weapon. The transitional terrorists that we are dealing with now are not that caliber of foe.

Masterminds build organizations like General Electric, the United States or Microsoft. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union5 is an infinitely more capable organization than Al Qaeda and is better positioned to influence American policy, as evidenced by the strike of 2002. Terrorists by their own actions demonstrate that they have a poor functional understanding of the world around them and the socio-economic forces that drive that world in a progressive fashion. They have no concept of large numbers like 270 million or the significance of small numbers like 11 (the number of active duty aircraft carriers in the US arsenal). In their world of ignorance and hate, they concoct grandiose plans that will not achieve their goals. Unfortunately, the targets of terror, us, don't readily appear to understand this very fact. This problem adversely affects our ability to understand our foe, and subsequently prioritize our assets and action to defeat him.

Eric Harris of Columbine fame wrote of stealing a plane and crashing it into NY City—mastermind?

Terror strategists are short sighted—There is a popular theory in antiterrorism thought that expounds the strategic vision of terrorists. Basically the theory is that the terrorists are thinking over a long-term time horizon in the execution of their strategic vision. Until the events of 2001 this theory made sense and seemed to be supported by observations that reflected a patient organization with a deeply held, though false, religious imperative and conviction. The theory is no longer valid. Plainly put—given a continuum of a thousand years and given all the opportunity to sculpt the future in those thousands of years— the attacks of 9/11 were not part of a good plan. If the terrorists really had solid long-term strategic vision they would have necessarily known that before conducting an attack of the magnitude of 9/11 they would have to build a stronger and more influential organization. They would have to have a strong grass roots effort, preferably within the United States, have allies, have an economy, be able to influence large numbers of people and be building consensus within the international community while establishing a viable and important organization. In other words, an intelligent strategist would have spent the time, money and energy building capability to rival their foe, and then perhaps they could succeed. Killing a few thousand people meant/means nothing. It never will. The terrorists thought—in ignorance—that they had a viable plan, but they did not. A true strategic planner seeks to create a future reality in which they have an advantage and can see their goals accomplished—Al Qaeda can’t profess success or strategic vision. An important note is that the failure of the strategy by definition means that the strategy was flawed. That a mistake was made or something was improperly considered is not an excuse. Enron was enormously successful right up until it collapsed; that was poor strategy. Al Qaeda enjoyed some minor popularity right up until it committed suicide; that was poor strategy. The specific point being, our foes are not strategic planners; they are tactical planners with a need for short-term gratification. We should use that knowledge to our advantage.

Terrorism is not a global organization: The rhetoric is comforting. It makes sense that it would take a global organization to attack the United States. However it is not true. Terrorists have a global reach, because of the transportation system that the progressive world built, which is different than a global organization. General Electric is a global organization, as are the Peace Corps, Mitsubishi, China; Al Qaeda is not. The ability to conduct business in multiple countries does not make your organization global. It simply means you have a travel budget. Estimates vary, but it is widely assumed that the terrorist training camps of Al Qaida have placed thousands of trained killers in our midst. Where are they? Have they all been arrested or killed? Or were they just taking a free trip out of their poor and oppressive environment? When a global organization trains and sends out talent, that talent builds the organization. A global organization can and does conduct operations around the globe on a continuous and consistent basis. Al Qaeda does not meet the definition.

5The ILWU is NOT a terrorist organization nor is there any intent to make a connection between them and terrorism. The intent of this example is to show that when intelligent men and woman want to be able to influence a large company or country, they spend the time, energy and effort to build an organization that actually wields the resources to force that country or company to the negotiating table. Those people are masterminds--and they enjoy success, instead of extermination—because of it.  

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Copyright 2003-2007 by Thomas Rancich. Printing, copying, creating or transmitting of electronic copies of this transcript in whole or in part without the written consent of Mr. Rancich is expressly forbidden and will be construed as constituting copyright infringement.

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