Saturday, August 24, 2013

Jacob N. Shapiro's "The Terrorist's Dilemma"

Jacob N. Shapiro is assistant professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University and co-directs the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Terrorist's Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations, and reported the following:
The pagination gods must be smiling on me as page 99 really nicely encapsulates key arguments in The Terrorist’s Dilemma.

I argue that terrorist organizations face many of the same managerial requirements as business firms and government bureaucracies. They too need to make sure their employees follow procedure, do what their bosses want them to, and don’t take advantage of their positions for personal enrichment. Yet the standard managerial tools that we all use---tracking spreadsheets, expense reports, and so on---are risky to hang onto if one is trying to manage a secret army. If I misplace my expense report, it’s no big deal. If a terrorist operative does, he or she is risking death or imprisonment and may compromise the whole group.

Page 99 comes at the end of a chapter that analyzes 109 internal documents from al-Qa’ida in Iraq. I quote a document which analyzes the group’s problems in 2006-7. After detailing a host of mistakes the author cites thirty-two specific ways that local leadership councils could do better, including:
7. To refrain from turning the state into a formal one and to ensure that the statehood is void of bureaucracy in all its administrative affairs.

8. To use the principle of greed and fear to hold all leaders and soldiers accountable for dereliction.

19. Make the soldiers adapt to honesty with their [Emirs] writing down any obstacle or problems in front of the accused ones and document[ing] the complainer’s issues and details to confirm its accuracy.
How the middle goal is to be accomplished without a modicum of bureaucracy to identify and track dereliction is unclear, especially when it comes to financial matters. The latter is a bureaucratic procedure that might help achieve number 8, but is inconsistent with number 7.

Page 99 thus encapsulates the core tension terrorists must deal with. On the one hand, they would like to have paperwork-free covert structures so that they can get on with the business of conducting spectacular attacks while minimizing their chances of being caught. On the other hand, it’s hard to manage any group of people without a bit of bureaucracy. That your workers are ideologically motivated killers doesn’t alter that fundamental truth.

Terrorist groups are thus inherently constrained. The paperwork and communications they need to manage anything beyond a handful of people create vulnerabilities that government forces can use against them.
Learn more about The Terrorist's Dilemma at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue