Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Deterrence in Cyberspace: This Just Might Work

It's not a perfect idea, but the idea of confronting terrorists on their own territory just might work.

Deterrence: Cold War Strategy for
War on Terror in the News

"U.S. adapts Cold War idea to fight terrorists"
International Herald Tribune (March 18, 2008)

Right after 9/11, it looked like there might be no way to prevent another massive terrorist attack on the United States of America.

Now, counterterrorism officials from the administration, military and intelligence aren't so sure. They may have found a way to use a "posture of deterrence" against today's terrorists, similar to the deterrence policy used against the former Soviet Union.

Although the policy of deterrence wasn't exactly popular, at least on college campuses, it did help protect America from a nuclear attack, until the Soviet Union folded in the early nineties.

Deterrence in Cyberspace

A "posture of deterrence" against organizations like Al Qaeda can't be the same as it was during the Cold War, of course. There isn't an equivalent of the Kremlin, or factories, or other facilities.

In fact, there's very little territory that Islamic terrorists actually hold in the 'real' world.

In the world of ideas, it's a different story.

Islamic terrorists get support by claiming that they support 'true Islam.' Take that claim away, and their ability to act will be greatly reduced.

Quoting from the International Herald Tribune article:

"A primary focus has become cyberspace, which is the global haven of terrorist networks. To counter efforts by terrorists to plot attacks, raise money and recruit new members on the Internet, the government has mounted a secret campaign to plant bogus e-mail messages and Web site postings, with the intent to sow confusion, dissent and distrust among militant organizations, officials confirm."

It's arguable that, as the good guys, we shouldn't do things like that. I'm not going to make that argument. I'll admit to a bias here: I'm an American, not Muslim, and breathing. I'd like to keep it that way.

Deterrence Strategy May be Working

The 'deterrence' strategy may be working. In 2003, Al Qaeda was planning to kill Americans by releasing cyanide in New York City subways. There's no doubt that, if it had been carried out, the attack would have resulted in massive casualties.

"Zawahiri reportedly called off the plot because he feared that it 'was not sufficiently inspiring to serve Al Qaeda's ambitions,' and would be viewed as a pale, even humiliating, follow-up to the 9/11 attacks."

The posture of deterrence isn't just a matter of sending bogus emails and making misleading posts.

"Terrorists hold little or no terrain, except on the Web. 'Al Qaeda and other terrorists' center of gravity lies in the information domain, and it is there that we must engage it,' said Dell Dailey, the State Department's counterterrorism chief.

"Some of the government's most secretive counterterrorism efforts involve disrupting terrorists' cyberoperations. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, specially trained teams have recovered computer hard drives used by terrorists and are turning the terrorists' tools against them."

Another part of the deterrence strategy is diplomatic. American officials have been very quietly suggesting that Muslim leaders might say that mass murder and Islam aren't the best match. There may have been some success:
  • Saudi Arabian top cleric, Grand Mufti Sheik Abdul Aziz al-Asheik, warned Saudis not to sign up with unauthorized jihadist activities - in context, that was aimed at wannabe martyrs going to Iraq to fight the U.S.-led forces
  • Islamic Jihad (Egypt) top leader Abdul-Aziz el-Sherif recently finished a book that "renounces violent jihad on legal and religious grounds"
"Unauthorized" jihadist activities? That leaves room for interpretation. Just the same, I think this is good news.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.