Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blake W. Mobley's "Terrorism and Counterintelligence"

Blake W. Mobley is an associate political scientist with the RAND Corporation. Before joining RAND, he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency as a counterintelligence analyst in the Middle East and Washington, D.C and specialized in non-state actor counterintelligence issues.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Terrorism and Counterintelligence: How Terrorist Groups Elude Detection, and reported the following:
Terrorism and Counterintelligence is about terrorist groups and how they protect their secrets and operate clandestinely -- efforts known as counterintelligence. The book explores the common strengths and weaknesses of terrorist counterintelligence strategies with a deep dive analysis of al Qaeda, the IRA, the Egyptian Islamic Group, Palestinian Fatah, the infamous Black September organization, and numerous “embryonic” terrorist groups.

The central argument is that counterintelligence vulnerabilities are unavoidable for terrorist groups. Additionally, most terrorists’ efforts to reduce their vulnerabilities introduce new security weaknesses. A terrorist group's organizational structure, popular support, and access to controlled territory significantly shape these vulnerabilities, which, I argue, can be systematically exploited by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Page 99 brings the reader to the very core of the argument. A comparison of Fatah and Black September shows how the groups’ counterintelligence strengths and weaknesses varied according to their organizational structure and popular support. I note that Black September’s highly centralized command structure promoted significant vulnerabilities—specifically, standardized security procedures and centralized personnel databases, which the Jordanian and Israeli security services were able to exploit. However, the group’s centralized command structure was also a source of strength. It allowed Black September to “respond quickly” to security breaches, “replacing agents and changing its codes” to prevent extensive damage to the organization.

On page 99 I also highlight how Fatah’s extensive popular support campaigns and media outreach—contrasted sharply with Black September’s “radio silence”—won Fatah many recruits and sympathizers in the population. However, Fatah’s leaders began to “crave publicity” and frequently subjugated counterintelligence concerns to enjoy the media limelight. As a result, they exposed “sensitive details to the media” on numerous occasions and were unable “to go back underground” when they tried to reanimate their clandestine infrastructure. As I explain later in the book, most terrorist group leaders are seduced by the allure of publicity and the group’s secrecy is a frequent casualty.

The key takeaway from page 99, and the rest of the book, is that terrorist counterintelligence vulnerabilities are common, predictable, and, with some ingenuity, can be exploited.
Learn more about Terrorism and Counterintelligence at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue