A counter-terrorism bleg

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Military | Posted at: Friday, 23 September 2011

In case you weren’t aware, I am a military operations research analyst for the U.S. Army.  One of the stories associated with the origins of my field of work involves a study of Royal Air Force bombers returning to England after missions over the Continent during WWII.  Time and time again the same parts of aircraft were pockmarked with holes from enemy anti-aircraft fire.  A study was convened to determine ways to reinforce those areas of the aircraft in order to protect the crew.  Prior to the study’s conclusion Patrick Blackett, an experimental physicist and early operations research proponent, offered the seemingly counterintuitive idea that the focus was completely wrong.  Instead of looking at where the holes were, they should concentrate on where the holes weren’t.  Since every part of the aircraft was equally likely to be hit by enemy fire, the real threat to the safety of the crew was in those areas of returning aircraft that almost never saw damage–his idea being that, when damage occurred in those areas, the aircraft likely didn’t return. 

Blackett’s mathematically based intuition, was of course, correct.  The areas of returning aircraft that exhibited comparatively little damage were places like cockpits and fuel tanks.  The larger lesson was that sometimes what we see obscures our ability to see what isn’t there.

I offer that background to accompany this Stratfor article about “lone wolf” terrorist attacks.  In recent months I’ve noticed that the focus of anti-terrorism has begun to shift to include countering so-called lone wolves and Al Qaeda “inspired” individual actors.  Major Nidal Hassan’s attack on soldiers at Fort Hood is often identified as one such example. This Stratfor piece by Scott Stewart rejects that focus.  Stewart’s key point is this: “When a group promotes leaderless resistance as an operational model it is a sign of failure rather than strength.”

Tragic though the loss of life from lone wolf attacks is, that tragedy obscures our vision of what isn’t there. And what isn’t there is an organized threat.  As a military assessor, my counter-intuitive observation is that a shift to lone wolf attacks might in fact be an indicator of having achieved a desired effect against an enemy organization.  In other words, is it possible that an increase in lone wolf attacks, along with a corresponding fall in organized activity, means that we are succeeding?

I passed this idea around to a few others today and would like your thoughts as well.  I’d particularly like some help with this question:  how would you distinguish between what I’ve postulated and “an army of Davids” networked enemy?

UPDATE:  Thanks for all the responses.  I’m working on piecing this together, though unfortunately, much of it may be for a product that I can’t share.

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48 Responses to “A counter-terrorism bleg”

  1. Instapundit » Blog Archive » BOB KRUMM IS ASKING FOR YOUR HELP on a counter-terrorism problem…. Says:

    [...] BOB KRUMM IS ASKING FOR YOUR HELP on a counter-terrorism problem. [...]

  2. Stan Beck Says:

    I am just an older guy who has watched politic and war from the sidelines but when your instructions to the combatants is “Try to buy a gun and kill some people” you have lost control of the battlefield.

    To expand on it a bit, when the statement “You can buy full auto rifles at gunshows” is also included in the instructions you know that their field intelligence is gone too.

  3. Mike Jackmin Says:

    “how would you distinguish between what I’ve postulated and ‘an army of Davids’ networked enemy?”

    I think what you might really be asking is, how do we distinguish between an effective distributed threat, and an ineffective one?

    If that’s the case, compare known examples of both, and look for the distinguishing characteristics.

    The distributed threat can be quite effective tactically, but they would generally have problems with focus, cohesiveness, intelligence sharing, and so on. That’s where I’d look for the distinguishing traits.

  4. Richard Aubrey Says:

    It depends on your definition of “success”. It would take about 220 shootings like that at Ft. Hood to make up for one 9-11. If you don’t count the wounded,some of whom are likely crippled permanently.
    Cumulatively, that isn’t likely to happen.
    But an accumulation of lone wolf attacks, here, there, someplace else, running the totals up to a dozen killed a month or something, is going to result in a demand to “do something”. Unlike car accidents, Muslim lone wolf attacks would offer the prospect of an enemy, a place to go to take care of business, somebody to blame in general besides the individual, non-connected reckless driver.
    What concerns me is the prospect of harassment of women in, say, shopping malls by gangs of Muslim men who think they get to say who’s a whore and who isn’t, followed by juror null because you can’t exclude Muslims from a jury. So far, that sort of thing happens in the MENA and parts of Europe.
    That will be real explosion.
    Lastly, while you can’t run a Beslan, including prepositioned weapons and accumulated explosives, on a lone-wolf basis, three guys who manage to keep their planning off the ‘net could be a problem.

  5. Lorenzo Poe Says:

    Mo Atta and his group had lots of help with funding, logistics, housing and were successful.
    T McVeigh was also successful but to a lesser extent. Fewer casualties. Smaller network, two at most three enablers.
    N hassan’s lone wolf type attack was the least successful. No getaway/or martydom. No followup attack. No one sending out messages from even a non-existent group to drive fear.
    An Army of Davids would drive us to a set goal. More intense screening at airports, stand-offs between parking lots and buildings, x-ray all incoming shipping containers for example.
    In the sane part of the US it has driven states to expand CCW to include more people and more places.
    And in the insane part, to use the FBI to push splinter groups to make claims and threats.

  6. Peter Says:

    I would submit that the lone wolf attacks are a sign of desperation and disgust among the leadership of the enemy. They must know that with enough of these attacks the population of Muslims in the west will be exterminated.

    I am generally a nice fellow. I go out of my way to avoid running over small animals. I do not care to whom one worships, if anyone at all. Nor, in all my years has anyone ever needed my permission to be black, brown or some shade in between. Still, there is one thing:

    I would trade the life of every single Muslim (or anyone else) to save so much as a skinned knee on one of my grandchildren. I am not alone in this.

    Too many of these lone wolf attacks and the government will be powerless to prevent a slaughter not seen since the Dark Ages.

  7. Sam Says:

    It strikes me that the difference is definitional. A networked army of davids is coordinated by definition — that’s the networking. It’s not a hierarchical coordination, but other forms of organized human activity are known and sometimes more effective than hierarchy. So you have to look at how the networking you assert works, and who facilitates and influences it. By contrast, the plea for lone wolf attacks is more of a tactic. It is probably true that it’s a sign of weakess or failure, but it doesn’t have to be true. It could also be a diversion. It lacks real networking, or it would be something different. As such, it’s not like the army of davids situation, in my view.

  8. Eddie Baird Says:

    Dear Mr. Krumm,

    Aas a former Federal prosecutor I developed my thirty foot pounds of torque theory. An engineer will tell you that a foot pound of torque is a twisting force. Take a monkey wrench two feet long and apply one pound of pressure on the end and you get a twisting force of two foot pounds. Length times pressure equals foot pounds of torque.
    It was my observation that when one applied thirty foot pounds of torque to the cat’s tail, the cat will hit high C. WOOW! The cat will scream: “its illegal, its immoral, its fattening. Besides that I don’t want to go to jail or pay the fine!” Then all the other cats hear him scream and they say: “I wasn’t doing that in the first place and I sure won’t do that in the future!”
    This way you can use the”Army of Davids” theory in reverse. You can use the network to scare all the other wannabes.
    The value of that particular cat is directly proportional to the pitch of the scream you can elicit from him. Somebody commented: “Gee wiz, Baird! Isn’t that a little rough on the cat?” I replied: “Yes. But there always seem to be plenty more of them!”
    The Coast Guard was having problems with false distress calls. One day they caught one. I called my newspaper reporter friend in and told him my thirty pounds of torque story. Our cat performed his role with alacrity. The judge gave him two years in the pen for one phone call! The network did its job. The Coast Guard did not get any more false distress calls for years after that.
    So, networks can be a double edge razor blade! Glenn Reynolds was right!

    Sincerely,
    Eddie Baird

  9. Dan Says:

    One of the hallmarks of the AQ attack is a multiple event, headline grabbing attack against a high profile target (see 9/11, Madrid, London). I think a distributed AQ attack would still have some of those hallmarks (a couple of lone gunmen attacking multiple thematically similar soft targets at the same time) so as to distinguish the attack from the garden variety “American nut shoots up the mall” attack we see here every few years. Remember that AQ wants to send a political message as much or more than it wants to demoralize its enemy by killing civilians. Look for the political message in the target and structure of attack and you will find a distributed attack. By the way I agree with you and the first poster that this tactical shift by AQ reflects a degradation of their organizational and operational structure, not adoption of a distributed attack model.

  10. Mark Fischer Says:

    As I see it, a networked enemy would be acting toward a goal, even if the attacks were spread out geographically and over time, and the nature of the goal should be determinable.

    Discounting elegant and complex thriller-fiction plots, an organized asymmetric-warfare actor will be more successful if he keeps his plans simple and his variables to a minimum, and relies on surprise, overwhelming force against a weak defense, and operating within the enemy’s reaction time. His resources are limited, so he uses them in support of the main objective, and makes less use of diversionary attacks and misdirection. Under those circumstances, I think the shape and intended goal of a coordinated attack would become visible quickly, even if (or perhaps especially if) the actor is a decentralized network.

    Let’s face it, we haven’t had that many examples of organized domestic attack to work with. 9/11 was it. They spent their assets and had nothing left to work with here. Most attempted attacks since have been marked by a singular lack of competence.

    I don’t see Al Qaeda as being run by a guy with a Nehru jacket and a Persian cat, but you’d think an organized effort would yield something more than Richard Reid and his shoes.

  11. Travis Says:

    This looks like a good example of a networked enemy:

    http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100728_escalating_violence_animal_liberation_front

  12. Morton Doodslag Says:

    Let’s face it – tossing in the single attack by T. McVeigh is a red herring in this discussion. When you say “lone wolf” you mean Muslim terrorist attack, and I don’t think most of these pigs act without the knowledge of at least a portion of their community…

    This is what the a Muslims bring to America and Europe: terrorism.

    While most may not wish to personally pick up or pack a bomb, enough Muslims support terrorism to insure that It will continue. The recent 2011 Pew poll said that 49% of Muslims in the West support suicide operations in “defense of Islam”. It discovered that 5% of Muslims IN AMERICA openly and strongly support al Qaida, 9% refused to opine about al Qaida, (which means they support it strongly but just don’t want to say so), and something like 14% liked some things about al Qaida…

    So I’d suggest that it’s not just a red herring to discuss T. McBeigh viz. Islamic terrorism – but the notion that these bastards are “acting alone” is not supported by the facts.

    The notion that these latest spate of terrorist attacks are “lone wolf” could be interpreted as another propaganda effort to assert that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. I don’t think the average American is afalling for that BS – as well they shouldn’t.

  13. Miriam Says:

    I does not mean that we are succeeding. It means that the enemy has shifted tactics and the battlefield context has changed.

    I have said for years that (one of) the only things that has kept the US safe in recent years is al-Qaeda’s ego – which kept it focused on trying to wage large-scale attacks. I predicted that it was only a matter of time until al-Qaeda and its ilk shifted to smaller scale attacks on our soil that are near-impossible to prevent – like what Israel and other countries have dealt with for years from localized violent radical groups.

    I said that once al-Qaeda and those it inspires realize that they can disrupt, paralyze and terrorize an entire society with a few random, small-scale attacks, they and their cohorts will be able to wreak havoc in our country. Think DC sniper in multiples across the US.

    At that time I called for preventative measures and training in all major ciites in situational awareness of the kind that exists in societies like Israel that have been accustomed to such tactics for years (leave a lunch bag or pack of cigarrettes on a bench there and see what happens in five minutes or less).

    What I said was largely ignored – the only place where this kind of awareness is beginning to take hold is NYC – (‘see something, say something’) and that campaign has not really been adopted by the general public as of yet, nor is it anywhere near the level of awareness that exists in other places.

    About a year ago a perfect storm emerged on the terrorism front: The Muslim Brotherhood began to openly call for anti-
    American jihad; al-Qaeda (in one of its publications) called for an increase in smaller-scale attacks; and recruitment (including self-recruitment/indoctrination) in the US (prisons, immigrant communities, military, etc) was reported to increase and take hold in greater numbers. I predicted at that time that a major shift was taking place due to these simultaneous developments.

    The above also takes place against a backdrop of increasing ‘cloud-based’ (i.e., internet) jihadism – which can operate independent of a geographic base for training and indoctrination.

    Needless to say, the rise of the Arab Spring, and its recent coopting by Islamist movements throws a major additional variable into the mix with as yet unknown results, as does the deteriorating security situation on Israel’s borders and the call for a non-negotiated Palestinian state co-led by Hamas. All of these more recent developments will affect the larger Jihadi mindset in various still to be determined ways.

    When in battle, the only relevant question is: Has the enemy been eliminated? If the enemy has not absolutely and decisively been rendered a nonexistent threat, then any change in the battlefield has to be seen as a regrouping maneuver, a shift in tactics or a change in the conditions of the battlefield (or all three simultaneously).

    The question for our purposes is: Has violent Islamist jihad (and its counterpart – stealth Islamist jihad) been eliminated as a significant threat? Clearly the answer is no. Multiple attacks (both large and small) have been foiled (or have failed) over the last several years.

    Looking at the dearth of large-scale (successful) violent attacks and an increase in smaller scale attacks as a sign of victory over the adversary is as foolish as removing a tumor and then saying that the remaining cancerous cells that are migrating, adapting and preparing to multiply is insignificant.

    Your question takes two possible scenarios and tries to fit a complex set of conditions into one of those two boxes. This may make for interesting academic papers or articles, but does not do a service when it comes to describing and dealing with a shifting and evolving reality – with real world implications.

    The question we should be asking is ‘how best can we adapt and change to counter a threat that is adapting, mutating and metastasizing?’

    Here are some references:

    Muslim Brotherhood declares war on US:
    http://rubinreports.blogspot.com/2010/10/muslim-brotherhood-declares-war-on.html

    Hizb-ut-Tahrir calls for violence:
    http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-violent-shift-in-hizb-al-tahrir%E2%80%99s-rhetoric

    AQAP calls for small-scale attacks:
    http://www.criticalthreats.org/yemen/expanding-campaign-violence-al-qaeda-arabian-peninsulas-english-language-magazine-july-13-2010

    Likewise:
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2010/11/21/al-qaeda-threat.html

    Homegrown radicalism an increasing threat:
    http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/threat-homegrown-islamist-terrorism/p11509

    Feel free to contact me if you want at the email entered above.

  14. L.A. Grant Says:

    Is a shift from area bombing to the occasional smart weapon a sign the targeted nation is winning? Maybe.

    I think it would require a demonstration that all attacks are unrelated amateur attacks instead of an infrequently successful tactic.

  15. jdkchem Says:

    I see that no one has read “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. I also see that people have forgotten the DC sniper.
    When the objective news media refuses to use the word islam and looks for a way to blame Sara Palin then you’ve already lost.
    Contrary to the opinion of the “experts” lone wolf terrorism can be very effective. Remember the DC sniper? People would not leave their homes and the media and the police refused to entertain the idea that the prick could be black. I am surprised that the media hasn’t found a way to blame Sarah Palin.
    What I’ve concluded over the past 10 years is that islamic terrorists are stupid and if they ever get smart we’re screwed. We’ve been playing to their level for years in large part because of the leftards in the government and the media.

  16. joe Says:

    I think it is a sign of failure, and in my thoughts also a sign of strength in the USA. We have shown, more as citizens than as organized leadership, that the USA is willing and able to protect and defend itself. I have seen more and more ordinary citizens take actions and attitudes that fly in the face of the PC attitude-which by the way was a partial cause of failure of the organized leadership of the USA (see above)- and become proactive in the defense of their country.
    I have always been of a belief that my safety is by and large my responsibility. Some leaders in the USA have tried to convince the populace otherwise and yet events in the last decade have shown that they are unable to completely provide that safety. I do not think all these leaders did this out of malfeasance yet more out of ignorance and arrogance. I see more citizens take a more active role in their own safety and that is a huge setback for the terrorists. Where many in the USA were willing in the past to overlook or ignore threats, that is no longer the case. 15 years ago the terrorists had an active and participating foe that was limited to agencies with acronyms. Now the active and participating foe is a multitide of citizens in every town, city, berg, metropolis, or hamlet in the US.

  17. asdf Says:

    Ultimately, the goal isn’t to defeat al Qaeda. That’s just a means to an end: national security.

    As technology improves, things which used to require large hierarchical organizations can now be accomplished by trained individuals acting alone. Look at biotech. Plagues which required armies of phd’s and millions of dollars now require masters degrees and tens of thousands. Hacking and other IT attacks: the same. Note that these are self-propagating weapons: the initial investment is quite low to cause global chaos.

    You’re identifying three kinds of threat. Traditional organizations typically have many advantages– but defeating them is much easier as well. With an army of davids, there’s no head to cut off, no bottlenecks to exploit. There’s also no one to negotiate with. This is bad news for aspiring insurgent leaders, but even worse news for us (the targets). Defeating them requires a much greater emphasis on propaganda/marketing and building social institutions than it does outwitting particular enemy leaders.

    With lone wolves, even those rules don’t apply. They can pop up anywhere. Hassan was at least plugged into a network of likeminded thugs– it is just the Army’s decision to blind themselves to it. What about the bored and socially ostracized 17 year old who in the past might have been a school shooter? Or the guy who might otherwise have become a serial killer, but has a degree in microbiology? Traditional law enforcement waits for a crime to occur. Can we afford such an approach when the crime can affect millions? Finding these people relies on the science of outliers and extreme events.

    So I think the changed emphasis is appropriate. The army’s job isn’t to destroy organizations, it’s to eliminate threats. The nature of the threat is changing. Just because the enemy organization and its leader is losing doesn’t mean we’re necessarily winning.

  18. John Murdoch Says:

    I think there’s an obvious difference between the Lone Wolf (Nadal Hasan, for instance) and an “Army of Davids” cell:

    Architecture, planning, logistics, and the political statement.

    I think many people do not realize that the attack on the WTC was successful *specifically* because of the unusual structural design of the towers. We tend to dismiss bin Laden and Al Qaeda as cave-dwellers; bin Laden was an experienced construction manager. Somebody with an understanding of the structural properties of the steel in those buildings worked with someone with an understanding of the thermal properties of jet fuel; they, with others, spent a bunch of time figuring out how to get a enough thermal energy into a couple of buildings to bring them down.

    That has three elements: architecture (the vision for the whole thing); planning (how to do it); and logistics (e.g. getting the box cutters in place in the planes before the terrorists got on board).

    There’s a fourth element, an element that is essential to terrorism: the political statement. The Big. The Dramatic. The Awe-Inspiring.

    Muslim knuckle-dragger shooting up a waiting room kinda lacks all of that, no?

    By contrast, suppose that I were planning an op as part of my role as chef de guerre of the Pennsylvania Dutch Liberation Army. (“An independent Pennsylvania Dutch homeland, or an affiliated minor league baseball franchise in Allentown. Machts Nichts.”)

    In how many places do underground communication cables (i.e. fiber optic) cross the Mississippi River? Let’s rent a houseboat, and some scuba gear, and float down the river–keeping track of all the places where there are “do not anchor here” signs.

    A couple of guys could probably do the job in a couple of weeks–depending upon how long their supply of Yuengling Lager lasted.

    Later that summer, those same two guys take the same trip all over again–with watertight detonators and underwater explosives. Very, very small explosives.

    On the first night of the World Series, which fails to include our glorious Pennsylvania Dutch homeland, we bring the auslander occupiers to their knees–by wiping out a whole bunch of fiber, simultaneously, right across the middle of the country.

    Financial chaos would ensue.

    1. Architecture: the whole plan;
    2. Planning: the boat, the gear, the details, the timer/detonators, the explosives;
    3. Logistics: how to get all the parts and pieces in play;
    4. The Political Statement: Make the Auslanderen sit up and take notice of the Justice of our cause.

    Recruiting some knucklehead to do something stupid with a gun ain’t serious terrorism–in these parts we call it the first day of hunting season. But a reasonably creative “Army of Davids” could go a lot of damage, and make a lot of political impact, far easier than most people realize.

    (BTW–this is a hypothetical. The PDLA’s demands were met several years ago when the Phillies moved their AAA franchise to A’town. And the Yuengling brewery expanded, so the boys are plenty distracted from other kinds of mischief.)

  19. Rev. Jay Says:

    I think it’s important to setup the terms of what we want to talk about, as that pretty much explains what we’re looking for.

    An “Army of Davids” style of attack should generally have some key similarities: 1) Group of people that weren’t generally connected previously, 2) multiple “central locations” where similarly minded terrorists can meet up (websites count), 3) pooling of resources (any type) across several different groups and 4) heavy communication among separate groups.

    This is contrasted with a “lone wolf” style of attack, which I would quantify by: 1) network pre-exists attack planning, 2) plans were made by the network with limited insight gained from other sources (mostly weapons construction), 3) local resources only and 4) very limited communication between networks.

    This sets up that “Army of Davids” actions should be continuous across locations and time frames. You would be seeing them at some regularity, even if there are a few major networks (like AQ about 1 year after 9/11). The “lone wolf” style will be much more limited in timing and reach. Especially tending towards attacks that can be pulled off by 1-2 people.

    There will be something of a continuum effect to each axis of discussion, due to the interconnected nature of the world, but I think the signs of the rapid decline in the Jihadi networks is that another Madrid or London attack haven’t happened. What coordinated attacks we do see in the West these days are generally down to groups of 2-3 people. That suggests the network effects needed for the “Army of David” style are much more limited than they were before.

    The more the networks are compromised, the harder it is to transfer information and experience among separate networks. Once the communication is completely stopped, the individual networks only have access to “open” information, which means they would still be dangerous, but they likely can’t pull off a mass-attack.

  20. Gene Says:

    This gets us to the point of an armed citizenry and the responsibility of each individual in maintaining public order. We cannot depend on the ‘authorities’ to guard us 24/7 and in every possible venue. Rather it is the expectation of armed citizens–the unorganized militia–to mop up these bit actors.

    If citizens had the expectation and encouragement to take on that role, how much different history could be. A gun in the hands of an otherwise peacable citizen on 9-11 for instance (or an armed pilot). Don’t give that stuff about guns going off and planes crashing–they did anyway.

    Or, the Mumbai shootings. They were successful because wolves had a field day among unarmed sheep. Had that occurred in my home state of Wyoming, there is a 100 percent probability that said terrorists would have encountered armed citizens; long before the police arrived.

  21. Atomic Says:

    I am immediately reminded of three things:

    1. The Battle of Athens, Tn (1946 – see Wikipedia).
    2. Sun Tzu’s commentary that only the General should know the plan.
    3. The Prussian Army directive that everybody should know the plan.

    The Battle of Athens was a citizen revolt against corrupt voting. The people, largely WWII veterans, knew combat tactics and had a common goal, but were hindered by lack of effective communications.

    Sun Tzu thought that by only the General knowing the plan, he could strike suddenly and suprisingly, as there were no leaks for spies to pass on to the enemy.

    The Prussian Army tactic of having everybody in the loop, at least as far as goals were concerned, made their forces very hard to neutralize, because leadership losses were immediately replaced by lower ranks, even down to the remaining corporals driving on to the objective as best they could.

    If the enemy leadership is reduced to herding Lemmings by standing on the rock at cliffside and shouting “Onward!”, they’re in deep trouble. Once they run out of lemmings, they’re done. Further, they’ve lost sight of the goal. One hundred saboturs running around the countryside can be ruinous, but a hundred suicide bombers can be fired only once. Further, if they’re all off attacking random targets, they’re even less effective. They have no set goal and no communications with the leadership to guide or redirect them.

    At that point, the enemy is hoping their target will simply give up based on nusiance. Absent effective communications and goals, tactical and strategic, they’re simply violent noise.

  22. toadold Says:

    How effective has the lone wolf approach been. If regarded as a “media” war tactic, not very. A lone wolf would have to kill someone “important” before a politician in the US would speak up and insist on a reprisal on the motivators, usually a mosque, peer group, or website. Ideological lone wolf operations can be lost in the “noise” of the truly insane lone wolves. Also notice the reluctance of the PC press to even mention Islam when military personnel are targeted.

  23. js Says:

    As another Army OR analyst I have given this some thought. My first inference is that you’re correct in that we have had some pretty significant successes, but that we’re a long way from done. That’s pretty obvious.
    Beyond that, however, we have to ask whether the enemy is simply smart and patient. I suspect he is. If you’re getting your backside handed to you, you lay low and reevaluate your options. I have never understood why they didn’t attack our fragile and barely-defensible assets throughout the nation, and indeed the world. They have no shortage of smart guys who could plan and execute these operations.
    That’s the big question. Why aren’t these guys executing soft targets? My fear is that they do plan to do so, but on their time line, not ours.
    And I’m pretty sure that checking nursing moms and old ladies in wheelchairs at airports isn’t going to do a thing to slow them down. Rather it puts our attention and assets against things that don’t matter a bit.

  24. jaymaster Says:

    IMO, lone wolf attacks are either the end game after the organization has been broken, or the “pre-game”, before coordination is contemplated or accomplished.

    A distributed attack requires some kind of prior organization, training, and most importantly, communication. There will most certainly be a leader somewhere, at some point in time.

    Maybe you can find some folks at the DEA to chat with, as this would seem to be their bread and butter. I.E., dealing with a lone wolf pot grower who has a couple hundred plants in his basement, versus going against a sophisticated organization with multiple production sites, established trafficking routes, money operations, etc. I would expect they have established tactics for combating the different types of structures, and they might even have some case studies on what happens when certain types of operations are brought down and disintegrate.

    And note, I have no relationship with the DEA. I just happen to be watching “Marijuana Wars” on TV at this very moment!

  25. fact check it Says:

    I don’t think you can honestly say Major Hassan was a “lone wolf” with the amount of contact he had with Anwar al Awlaki. I think political correctness has pushed the “lone wolf” idea; otherwise we would have to treat mainstream Islam as a terroristic threats.

  26. Ken Moore Says:

    Lone wolves seem poorly networked. A linking social network is a force multiplier and can be recruited to either expand terror or shrink it. (Recent riots in the news have a sub-theme of self-organized tipsters sending names and video to police). It seems appropriate to match the lone-wolf threat level with squads of Davids, not a whole army of them. Also, as Baird at #8 observes, an existing network of bad actors can be used to upload our message too.

  27. Conrad Chu Says:

    Lone wolf attacks may share the same goals, but, are otherwise uncoordinated. Between an Army of Davids network with mutual support towards that goal and lone wolves that simply work towards the same goal the effective difference is mutual support yielding a superior result.

    Lone wolves might cooperate, but, once they start providing mutual support they become an Army of Davids. Does that answer your question?

  28. Narniaman Says:

    I think the question is so much “if” as “when”.

    Consider — let’s say that you led an Islamic terrorist organization and you again wanted to shut down air transportation. Obviously it would be a bit more of a challenge to hijack an airliner now than it was back on September 10, 2001.

    But — you could quite easily shut down a number of major airports just by having a few of your Jihadi’s eager to gain admittance to the great Islamic Celestial whorehouse by. . . .merely setting off suicide vests while waiting in a crowded TSA line at several major airports.

    However. . .just when would be the right time to do it? Would you do that now. . .with an election coming up in a year, realizing that a US president that you regard as weak and a buffoon could lose as a result of your actions, resulting in the election of another “cowboy” like George Bush?

    Or would you wait until the day following the 2012 elections, secure in the knowledge that for the next four plus years the leader of your hated rival would be the clueless Barry Obama?

  29. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Three guys with semi-autos and a couple of hundred rounds go into a school.
    I suppose “lone wolf” could apply to three guys who get together and decide to do something. As long as they keep their yaps shut and don’t do anything stupid to call attention to themselves, we have no opportunity to forestall it.
    It would be a bad idea to be a Muslim within fifty miles of that place.
    Especially if you’re tone deaf. After Beslan, the locals wanted to put up a memorial. The local imam complained it would make Muslims look bad to memorialize the massacre. So he was against it.
    If any bunch is tone deaf, it’s imams. Or, perhaps, they know they can say anything and it costs them nothing.
    Question for the analysts is what to do in the aftermath of the massacre. Hope to take the guys alive, I suppose, and run down their contacts, with the ACLU and various white shoe firms in DC hassling every warrant and subpoena.

  30. Kevin Says:

    The way you determine whether it’s a sole actor or not is post attack forensics. You find and search place they lived or worked for the last 5 years, every computer they might have used, every fixed or cell phone they owned or had access to, get the cell location records, get the fedex and UPS records for every place they lived or worked, interview people who saw them regularly, try to find surveillance in businesses of them and anyone with them, etc. Essentially all the things that the FBI and NSA do every time.

    There will be a LOT of bogus leads there, but network traffic analysis is about the only way you can determine this. It’s really hard to run a conspiracy where you never contact in any way any other conspirator.

  31. David R. Graham Says:

    Have you ever been in the line?

    The concept of “lone-wolf” is a red herring. Who benefits from the use of such a concept? Those supporting the “lone-wolf.”

    Who isn’t networked? Even a mendicant begs food and uses man-made shelter. And aren’t berries and caves nodes of the network of life? The concept of a “lone” anything is a howler and, when inside OR and strategic and tactical intel and decision-making cycles, dangerous and possibly seditious.

    The flak-holes and army of davids metaphors are interesting and useful to a point — e.g., the federal prosecutor’s illustration of back-charging a distributed network to collapse or degrade it, a tactic common also in battle AOs. They do not reach the heart of the problem, which in the first metaphor is suppressing the AA batteries and in the second metaphor defeating the army/network, davids or otherwise.

    So-called “lone-wolf” operations can have a range of origins, possibly including several specifics from within that range. Not in that range, or the specifics of it, is an individual acting on their own. Everyone single one of us and every single node of life is networked, david-sized or otherwise.

    Islam is an enormous network comprising countless david-sized networks all with clearly visible, loudly proclaimed, fully meant leadership and goals. Even the various flavors of Islam call Islam a nation, and indeed the only global, one-world nation, comprising the only legitimate (meaning specifically, God-sanctioned/willed) religion, culture and morality. Islam also comprises Islamic nation states run by families networked in geo-strategic associations with non-Islamic nation states and their ruling families.

    So in itself, Islam is a jumble of claim and fact pushed and pulled by clerics and scholars on the one hand (pushing the one-world nation/ummah of Islam, with themselves at its center, of course) and ruling families on the other (pushing hegemonistic geo-strategic agendas related to Islam but also if not more related to their own greed for power and luxury).

    None of that is taken seriously by US strategic leadership or analysis. Who’s weak? Who’s winning.

    The thing not seen here, typically, are the Islamic clerics and scholars, who are comparable to the AA batteries in the first metaphor, and the Islamic ruling families, who are comparable to the army of davids in the second metaphor. Instead of looking at these sources of Islamic aggression of both the seemingly “lone-wolf” and the “large-scale” kinds, US national strategic resolve focuses, almost entirely, on swatting flies, namely, the numerous proxies groups, comparable to those flack holes that are seen, who are supported by and do the bidding of nation states and their ruling families, on the one hand, and who are egged on ideologically and hidden tactically by clerics and scholars on the other hand.

    In only one case, so far, has a nation state and its ruling family been the target of US strategic resolve: Iraq. Nothing at the Saudis, nothing at Iran, nothing at China, nothing at Russia, nothing at Syria, nothing at Afghanistan, nothing at Venezuela, nothing at Mexico — all supporting terrorist attacks, through proxies, on the USA.

    AQ has indeed been weakened, as has Taliban, but both are mere proxies. Their Iraqi support was removed but their Saudi and other supports remains in place. There has been, back to the metaphor, no suppression of “AA fire” from famiglia Saud. In fact, famiglia Saud has been welcomed to set up “AA batteries” inside the USA (e.g., lawfare, “advisors” all over US departments and agencies, student groups, inter-religious advocacy and propaganda). This to appease Islam under the cover of Constitutional freedoms. In consequence, the nation’s “bombers” (its line military) are taking plenty of gratuitous “flak” and losing a whole lot not only in KIA but also in destruction of social and familial structure. Less than 1% of USA population bears the security burden, such as it is, for the over 99%.

    All while “leaders” and analysis obsess about flies: AQ, Taliban, Haqqani. A Roman aphorism applies here: Aquila non capit muscas: the eagle does not hunt flies.

    And then there is China, and Russia, and Iran …. Not even on the radar for stopping their terrorist and hegemonic activities against then USA. Analysts and strategic decision-makers should serve three or four tours in the line with a rifle shooting back before they are considered qualified to pick topics for review.

  32. BC Says:

    The much-heralded resistance movement of WWII was largely an “Army of Davids.” An increase in uncoordinated, partisan attacks against the German war machine would not be considered – either then, or now – as a symbol of German “success.” And for decades, US military doctrine has aimed to promote similar “lone wolf” capabilities amongst indigenous peoples across the world, largely through training offered by US Special Forces. The US Army Rangers trace their heritage back to Robert Rogers, who one could reasonably label a “lone wolf” who trained and organized others of his breed.

    Combatants who fight for the same goals and ideology are, in the most basic sense, a coordinated force. An increase in “lone wolf” attacks represents merely a shift in tactics, as the enemy adapts to changing battlefield conditions. Only a decrease in all forms of enemy action can be considered “success.”

    And remember, David didn’t need an army to bring down Goliath. There was only one of him.

  33. Jay Ostrander Says:

    I think he wants us to put ourselves in the shoes of the terrorists. Brainstorm what we could do to cause the most damage and create the maximum terror with limited resources. Look around. But if you come up with something that is extra diabolical, you might want to email rather than post.

  34. FM Says:

    Coordination and support differentiate networked attack from lone nutjobs.

    Consider a hypothetical effort to place N teams of 2-4 terrorists trained as trigger pullers armed with pistols at N major malls right into the crazy after-Thanksgiving-sales shopping rush here in the US (if they can find parking). They would need intelligence (US shopping habits around the holidays), targeting (which malls?), training, firearms (acquisition of which is not as simple as AQ apparently believes for an unconnected foreign national), ammunition, transportation both for prepositioning and attack, some form of secure communications, and above all money.

    Unless these teams are somehow supposed to self finance through some criminal enterprise (which would raise the operations profile enormously), it seems to me the best way to find them would be to watch for the money supply channel. The communications channel for command and control are also important, but I think the haystack is just too big to find that needle.

    The money angle would not work to identify the lone nutjob, but not much would – anyone who thinks Major Hassan would not have gone off if his emails to the Middle East had all bounced is fooling themselves.

    And don’t let me get started on the TSA security theater efforts – the expanded Air Marshal program, the armed pilot program, and the effectiveness to date of alert passengers all have done far more for flight safety than all of the TSA baloney put together – which in my opinion is why the latest attempt at aircraft (via printer toner cartridge devices shipped as cargo) avoided passenger flights completely.

  35. Edwin Leap Says:

    While it may signify a lack of cohesive leadership, it could also represent a kind of ‘if they aren’t against us, they’re for us’ mentality. That is, if I were organizing a large operation I would view the unconnected, unaffiliated ‘lone wolf’ as an excellent distraction and increased ‘noise’ to cover my own larger efforts. Might even consider encouraging it now and then. Having worked as an emergency physician for al most two decades, I know taht one very disruptive person can cause enormous havoc and can get inside the heads of staff pretty quickly, causing them to lose sight of other important duties. As a terrorist act, that has value. As an aside, from a WMD standpoint, lone-wolf attacks would be relatively difficult due to the technology necessary.

  36. Peter Says:

    My question is this: Against what are we seeking to defend?

    If we’re trying to defend against organized terrorism, sure, we’re doing an OK job right now (although the threat is morphing into different kinds of organizations, and as we whack one group in one part of the world, another is popping up elsewhere. Yemen, Somalia, various Philippine islands, Pakistan, Kashmir, India (more Maoist than Muslim right now) . . . the list goes on and on.

    (On the topic of ‘organized’ terrorism, I’m waiting to see terrorists from different ideological and/or theological persuasions start supporting each other, both in terms of infrastructure and preparations, and in terms of operations. What if a Maoist terror cell in India draws weapons, explosives and training from a Kashmir-based Muslim terror cell? What if Somali pirates are financed in their efforts by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in order to get their hands on a fully loaded oil tanker which can be sailed into a major port and blown up there? That’s not at all an impossible dream . . . the security at Mumbai, for example, is woefully inadequate.)

    However, ‘lone-wolf’ attacks aren’t limited to individuals. UAV’s can be (and have been) built by amateurs for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, using hobby-type radio-controlled aircraft as a platform. Low-end explosives are child’s play to assemble; even high-end explosives are accessible in countries with large, intensive mining operations and poor security. They can still be smuggled across borders with relative impunity (witness the number of illegal immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border). Put all that together, and a ‘lone wolf’ operator (or group of operators) with Al Qaeda or Hezbollah sympathies (and there are plenty in various parts of South America, as you’re doubtless aware), and you have a recipe for a real counter-terrorism headache.

    My greatest nightmare is still a Beslan-style strike against a US elementary or middle school. There’s virtually no security in place ‘on the ground’ to guard against it, and the weapons needed for such an attack can all be sourced within the USA – no need to smuggle them across the borders at all. Hell, with the ATF playing fast and loose with the law right now, you might even find the US Government providing the firearms!

    *Sigh*

  37. Davidstwocents Says:

    A of D networked adversary:
    * Peer relationship among individual actors
    * Can work individually towards a common goal.

    * Analogous to a class project.
    Participants are helpless to punish, fire or chastise fellow classmates who don’t pull their weight. They can only do their best.
    * The class project is set by someone with a long term goal.
    * The classmates work individually OR CONTRIBUTE individually towards the common goal. (It is a critically important distinction. Not all of the studio company gets to be actors on the stage).
    * The assignment of the common goal IS the networked part of the action.
    * The individuals are trusted to pick their own tactics that support the overall strategy.
    * Network ‘chatter’ increased to coordinate strategy.
    * e.g. “Destroy the time machines during the first harvest.” might be a message to support an overall strategy. The timing is loosely specified. The target(s) are loosely specified.
    *Summary so far: Given a general ‘directive’ to “destroy time machines during the first harvest” as a class project.
    * The individuals in the class will work to implement the goal.
    * It is understood universally when the first harvest is. It is given away by all the harvesting going on. First time of the year. . .
    * How to destroy time machines is an open ended task. They could be sent into the future, you could travel to the past and remove the critical infrastructure needed for their development, or you could just get a big hammer and beat it to small pieces.
    * SigInt indicators.
    * Expect increased chatter assigning time (generally) and target (generally) to support overall strategy (generally).
    * Expect increased individual research into [target] to learn about it.
    * Expect increased travel to areas containing [target]. First to learn about it, second to implement plan.
    * Expect purchasing spree between learning about it and plan implementation. One reason is to obtain necessary material to implement plan. The second reason is that you can’t take it with you.
    * Might even see increased debt levels at this time. Why not borrow the money from the victim if you don’t anticipate having to pay it back?

    Lone Wolf, e.g. Violent Criminal Actor.
    * Target is truly random with regard to overall strategy. Target is unlikely to be truly random to the individual violent criminal actor. The VCA will have a strong personal reason for picking a particular target.
    * Lone actor has no time scale. They can take as much time as they need to accomplish their goal.
    * Lone actor is more likely to put all resources into their final VC act. It is their life goal, after all.
    * If VCA seeks increased debt it will be part of long term overall plan that supports long term timeline that is getting closer to execution.
    *Before, during and after execution there will be no outside battlespace preparation for the acts of a lone VCA. They seem to be more into manifestos.

    Lone VCA summary; same example.
    * No significant leadtime in any SigInt. Might be a ‘bomb-threat’ style warning ahead of time.
    * Might have spent a significant portion of life learning about time machines. Might actually work with the time machine, or have spent much personal effort trying to obtain employment with International Time Machine company, or the Bureau of Time Machine Safety and Environmental Impact Assessment, if that was the only way to get near the time machine.
    * No significance of the time to any outside overarching strategy. The time may well be significant to the VCA; may correspond to a general ‘Not in our back chronology’ protest movement event or holiday, but in a way significant to an individual. It will probably make time protestors everywhere look like real shitheads in the media.

    Contrasts between methods:

    Were commonalities between different VCA’s observed to:
    * Share a Timeline. When did key events happen?
    * Did several ‘random’ VCAs move to an area near time machines in the period leading up to their action?
    * Does it support an overall strategy?
    * Were time machines, tine machines and tiny machines all singled out for attention?
    * Was there battle space preparation ahead of time?
    * Did the media highlight the discriminatory hiring practices of time machine cleaners?
    * Was the danger of time machines discussed in great detail in the media apriori?
    * Was it pointed out how 90% of all illegal time machines came from a particular nationality that has a nasty time machine culture of anti-social chronology?
    * How almost no judges and law enforcement personnel are EVER hired from anti-time machine cultures?

    * Was their any chatter ahead of time setting a common goal?
    * Did the VCA’s take a trip to the location of their planned Final Destination beforehand?
    * Why? If it was a life project, why did they not just move there so they could be close at hand for brainstorming?

  38. Zain Says:

    How about moving the TOP posts column over so it does not cover up part of the blog. Thanks.

  39. Owen J Says:

    I retired as an Intel analyst in 2001, after 20 years in the biz (contractor, working mostly on threat analysis and projection and IW/IO for every agency but the Army). What you are asking cannot easily be addressed in comment and I don’t have enough current data to make firm conclusions.

    But basically, when you see “lone wolf” and small group attacks (the London bombing might qualify) I assess that it is because you are degrading the operational integrity of a larger organization to the point where little else is possible.

    The key element here is that terrorist orgs obviously face a trade-off between security and cell size; there is only a certain size to which local groups can grow before the mutual trust required by the members degrades to the point of compromise – basically: how many people can you get to know well enough to trust with your life? That number is small.

    To engage in large, complex, or coordinated operations, the cells must operate within a larger infrastructure that can provide the necessary guidance, coordination, and operational support. Generally speaking, this requires a state actor to provide a safe harbor and who can deploy and manage the requisite international support structures.

    If these structures are disrupted and state actors are constrained (as they have been) local cells are reduced to planning and executing local operations on an ad hoc basis, and such ops are often easier to detect and less effective.

    So the basic conclusion is I think is correct. Further, the “Army of Davids” approach does not work well for terrorist groups because it assumes the availablity of an overarching supporting infrastructure that allows the “Davids” to work synergistically and not at cross purposes. Generally speaking terrorists do not have this absent a state sponsor or other international actor with sufficient breadth and reach.

    If you have more specific questions you wish to — and can — discuss and can access my email, I am happy to entertain them. (And I will forbear to bill you.)

  40. Owen J Says:

    One more point, though I bit tangential: One thing I did a lot of work on in the 90s was studying critical infrastructure vulnerability. During that study I developed a good understanding of what terrorists like to attack and attack and why — which was (very unfortunately, to make an understatement) — proved right on 9/11.

    It is key to understand what terrorist groups are trying to achieve and how they perceive they are going to achieve it. Once that is understood, assessment of their behavior becomes much easier, as does preemption. Currently, I believe this is poorly understood.

    I will supply you with a link to my detailed thoughts on this matter upon request.

    BTW: I personally (and professionally) think Stratfor is out to lunch most of the time – I stopped reading them years ago.

  41. woofty Says:

    My narcissistic, some what unstable, partially insane side is bouncing around some thoughts in regards to your question. Much of my thinking isn’t politically correct either, so I’ll apologize ahead of time for this.

    First off, to my mind, the concept of the, “War,” is off. It still seems like people are playing the body-count game. Like a nation can win a war by killing X number of people. It reminds me of some thing from a Vietnam era where body count some how equals victory.

    This makes me wonder is recruitment up? Is the number of governments supporting terrorists up? What is the reason these people are fighting to begin with? Are you fighting a nation or a culture/idea/philosophy/shared societal law? Also, who are the real leaders? Are the ones planning, and planting the bombs, carrying out assassinations, and attacking soldiers the people actually leading the terrorists? Where do the ideas about attacking and murdering others come from? Who is spreading these ideas; the “frontline,” combatants or different groups? People can probably tell where I’m heading with this, but I’m trying to avoid pissing too many folks off by dancing about the issue. So let’s look at this from a slightly different angle. I think an example of a pretend battle might serve best. These ideas will hopefully illuminate the ideas around my above questions, and relate to my later thoughts on the lone wolf.

    In our battle a 50 enemy combatants were eliminated. Let’s also say the area’s terrorist leader is killed in the battle. I see this as the equivalent of taking out an under strength company, and its captain, plus a good chunk of the company command structure. You won a battle. Sixth months later you repeat this process, in the same area. Hey, that’s 100 enemy killed. Sixth months later, you do the same thing. That is 150 killed, and 3 enemy captains taken out. Let’s say our military does this a number of times, for 6 or so years. You’ve killed 300 enemy combatants, 6 enemy commands, all in one area. That’s quite a score card. Of course, no seems to be interested in the fact that the enemy keeps finding new captains, and another 50 combatants to throw into battle. Now, this begs the question about what has been done to curb recruitment. Which side’s psy-ops is winning, and why? As a side note, fanatics love democracies.

    The current lone wolf attacks demonstrate a leaderless resistance how exactly? Should one review current intelligence reports on Pakistan and the ISI? How about Iran, Syria, or the direction Turkey is taking? How many governments are trying to engage terrorists in, “talks?” I wonder, when one takes out terrorists, how many different countries are the terrorists from? Has any one stopped the supplies, training, or mouth pieces recruiting these people, or the culture that spreads the ideology behind the attacks? All I see any one winning is a little breathing room between recruitment drives.

    When I hear of a lone wolf attack, what I see is, “message successful.” I don’t think the lone wolf attacks are a sign of a leaderless group at all. I think it means the culture, and ideas behind what drives terrorists is reaching farther. The enemy recruitment outreach program is succeeding. I’d even emphasize this point considering the countries, and institutions the attacks are taking place.

  42. Owen J Says:

    woofty: good points there, but this is debatable: “When I hear of a lone wolf attack, what I see is, “message successful.” I don’t think the lone wolf attacks are a sign of a leaderless group at all. I think it means the culture, and ideas behind what drives terrorists is reaching farther….”

    What matters most is how the terrorist organizations themselves perceive these attacks. Depending on how and where and what and when, they may have sent their message succesfully and they may not have. Inspiring lone-wolf attacks do not always forward their purposes.

    You are right about the body-count mentality providing lousy metrics. The real metrics are a lot more complicated, and lone-wolf attacks need to be assessed in accordance with those.

  43. ez Says:

    I remember reading this http://betweenhopeandfear.blogspot.com/2004/09/delphi-age_17.html

    It’s about the Delphi effect and thats what you are attempting to use here. Part of the problem is that the other side is doing the same thing, even if they don’t know it.

    I would try to disrupt communication between enemy players as a start. A lone wolf isn’t really a lone wolf. He’s heard about the need to carry out an attack and is acting on that need. When we start seeing lone wolves come together is when we have a real problem.

    Here’s a Wiki on the subject:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi_method

  44. David R. Graham Says:

    “The money angle would not work to identify the lone nutjob, but not much would – anyone who thinks Major Hassan would not have gone off if his emails to the Middle East had all bounced is fooling themselves.”

    Hassan was long-since profiled from multiple directions as a “nutjob.” His command structure left him in place. There was every opportunity to stop him. Careerism in his command structure is the culprit, maybe saved some careers but ended many. Selfishness is dangerous to those in its AO.

    “As an aside, from a WMD standpoint, lone-wolf attacks would be relatively difficult due to the technology necessary.”

    Yes, and points to the state-sponsorship necessity mentioned by Owen J. Example: the weapons grade anthrax Saddam provided for the attacks in USA after 11SEP01. Classic one-two punch using different attack systems, aka towards “full spectrum warfare.”

    And with China, Russia and Iran in WMD developments, are USA analysts insouciant or smug about that, as they were regarding Saddam?

    Just before 11SEP01 came Dark Winter:

    http://www.upmc-biosecurity.org/website/events/2001_darkwinter/

    “BTW: I personally (and professionally) think Stratfor is out to lunch most of the time – I stopped reading them years ago.”

    Me too.

    So with all this analysis, some even pointing to the key fact, state-sponsored terrorism, why did Bill Clinton decide the 1993 WTC attack was a legal not a warfare problem? Presumably he knew of the analysis.

    With all this analysis, how did KSM’s team get through on 11SEP01? Presumably CIA’s CTC knew the analysis, but what, wanted it to say something else and said that instead?

    With all this analysis, why did GWB tell the nation to go back to the malls rather than putting her on war footing? Presumably he knew nations do not fight global wars unless they are all in on the project. Presumably he knew the multi-national profile of terrorism supporters. Someone told him less than 1% of the population could fight a global war while over 99% had a food fight amongst themselves, porked-up and snorted dope?

    With all this analysis, how did Nissan get through at Hood? He was a known quantity.

    I propose one answer for all four of those questions: careerism. And down the line, compounded careerism by refusing to admit the disastrous effects of previous careerism, and correct them. I think there are some darker factors as well, but careerism will do as a diagnostic to reform the whole deformity, darker factors included.

    The nation has been flummoxed and hurt by her analytical component. Her intellect has failed her and she sorrows in pain while blows continue to rain down on her because that intellect is self-serving rather than serving self-less-ly. Her injuries are self-allowed.

    This enemy that calls itself Islam is not a mystery, not vague, not stateless and not omnipotent. It is a known known. There are about it no unknown unknowns or even known unknowns except at the tactical level. Strategically, it is known. It has no ineluctable historical destiny to rule the world or even a small part of it. Neither are or do the other nation states attacking the USA.

    This war has been going on for ten years inconclusively. That is insane. TSA is a risible metric of that. No analysis can justify that laziness. It’s time to win the war and it’s time the analytical power of the nation did their job to make that happen. Sudden and relentless reform indeed.

    Please bear with my stentorian tone. See though it if you would please and take the underlying points under consideration.

  45. john Says:

    In other words, is it possible that an increase in lone wolf attacks, along with a corresponding fall in organized activity, means that we are succeeding?

    Yes, but do not get complacent. But I do not think we will see an increase because lone wolfs are losers. Wolfs operate most effectively in packs.

    how would you distinguish between what I’ve postulated and “an army of Davids” networked enemy?

    An “Army of Davids” by definition is an organization and not a “Lone Wolf”.

    Human psychology requires a support group that provides reinforcement for your activities. Ted Kaczynski was a aberration. The beltway sniper had a support group, even if he was his accomplice. Identifying these groups and following their communications will enable the analyst to identify threats, hopefully before they go off.

  46. Dennis Morehouse Says:

    ‘Lone wolf attacks’ may be designed to be the equivalent of Torpedo 8 at Midway. All eyes were on the torpedo bombers until the dive bombers hammered them. Maybe they’re unknowingly actually part of a network.

    Lone wolf attacks, as reported in the media, have been almost laughably inept. Even Nidal Hassan killed far fewer than he SHOULD have been able to. And, even he was somewhat networked.

    A networked attack will (obviously) use a network but that network will provide planning, targeting, possibly logistic support, communication and coordination; and it will use lone wolf attacks as a blind to point us in the wrong direction.

    If they want publicity, think dams, bridges, large public gatherings; in significant numbers and executed near simultaneously. And focus on soft targets. They certainly will.

    How to guard against it? Not sure. You’ll have to find the plot first…

  47. Harry Lenchitz Says:

    “…is it possible that an increase in lone wolf attacks, along with a corresponding fall in organized activity, means that we are succeeding?”

    This retired analyst says – certainly we are succeeding, but only against the best-organized activity.

    However, and this is the deadly serious condition, we have succeeded in causing more enemy resources to be shifted toward less-organized (lone-wolf, irregular, choose your term) attacks.

    History illustrates this situation, not only in war, but in law enforcement.

    When scarce law enforcement resources are disproportionately directed against organized crime, then individual and small-group crime proliferates.

    Biology also provides useful examples.

    It is sometimes easier to eradicate elephants (which require an extensive supply chain to thrive) than it is to eradicate fleas.

    Our human enemies are infinitely creative, self-motivated, and self-organizing.

    With organized support, our enemies may be spectacularly successful, such as on 9-11.

    Absent organized support, there are no limits to the number and severity of “Fort Hood” style attacks.

    Takeaway – until and unless we decide to identify and defeat our enemies, we will continue to expend scarce resources, and time, preventing repetitions of successful enemy attacks, even as our enemies adapt to the changing environment.

    Just my opinion, for what it’s worth.

    Harry

  48. Russ III Says:

    The lone wolf threat is overblown and recently a topic of too much discussion. I was glad that Stratfor asked us to consider re-evaluation.

    Actually, no human enemy is ‘infinitely creative.’ It takes teams to really excel.
    There is an AQAP subgroup that is definitely into extending the creativity of those sympathetic to its objectives to a high degree. We might want to consider how this could be exploited to contain those who would adopt tactics that are described.

    Or can we get out front intellectually and look for the signals of training for new kinds of ops?

    Since I am posting after Awlaki and AQAP’s media boss were killed, I think we should explore Internet stimulated attacks that are not organized cells as a decent extension to the ‘lone wolf’ discussion.

    Thanks,
    Russ