Category Archives: National Security Reform

Terrorism in European Diasporas: Al-Qaeda, the Tamil Tigers, and the Importance of Ideology.

By Jessica Ward
Crowd Outside Kings Cross station from bombing

In his book, Leaderless Jihad, Marc Sageman presents a bottom up model for al-Qaeda terrorist radicalization, claiming that individual level social factors are responsible for radicalization, to the extent that “al Qaeda had no need for a separate recruitment program”1. He posits that European Muslims are particularly sensitive to radicalization because of an increased rate of failure to assimilate. This basis of this theory is that the logic behind radicalization doesn’t have a lot to do with ideology itself. It is instead connected to social factors such as the influence of family and friends, “it turns out that joining the global Islamist terrorism social movement was based to a great degree on friendship and kinship”2. Max Abrams supports this theory, claiming that “most individuals engage in a cost benefit analysis of whether to participate in an organization based on its personal inducements, which have little if any connection to the organization’s stated goals” and that “many terrorist foot soldiers and even their leaders never develop a basic understanding of their organization’s political purpose”3. Inherent to this model is the idea that ideology is unimportant, and what are important to the radicalization process are friends, family, and social networks. This is why diasporic populations in Europe are more vulnerable to radicalization then Muslims living in their home countries or America4: alienated, they hang out at mosques and join other young Muslim men, eventually going from ‘just a group of guys’ to terrorists.

This theory has been subject to harsh criticism, citing the continued strength of al-Qaeda central leadership, and claiming that what we need to fear is “the realization of strategic organizational decisions al Qaeda made at least a decade ago” and that al-Qaeda is dangerous because:

“Al Qaeda is much like a shark, which must keep moving forward, no matter how slowly or incrementally, or die. Al Qaeda must constantly adapt and adjust to its enemies’ efforts to stymie its plans while simultaneously identifying new targets. The group’s capacity to survive is also a direct reflection of both its resilience and the continued resonance of its ideology,” Hoffman 5.

The supporters of this “grassroots model” do not claim that it extends beyond al-Qaeda. Although Sageman mentions the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and Abrams does support his findings with those concerning the IRA, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), the Red Brigades, and the Weather Underground amongst others, this model, which claims to be based on social scientific principles, makes no claim to be anything but very specific and not broadly applicable. But if this model of terrorist radicalization is correct, and “the link between a Diaspora and terrorism appears strong,”6 then what kind of evidence is there for radicalization of European diaspora populations for causes other than Islamist terrorism?

One group which offers a strong contrast to al-Qaeda’s patterns of radicalization in diasporic populations is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an ethno-nationalist group based in Sri Lanka. They are listed on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations7,  and in their own words, they claim to be “the heart and soul of the Tamil struggle for self-determination” and “ a political organisation as well as a military power, running a de-facto administration in the majority of areas in north-eastern Sri Lanka”8.  The group was largely responsible for the thirty year long Sri Lankan civil war and the deaths of 64,000 people9. It has been largely inactive since the death of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in May of 2009.  The LTTE is one of the most notorious terrorist groups in modern history, having been one of the first to use the tactic of suicide bombing on a large scale. Their “Black Tiger” division is responsible for the invention of the suicide belt, a device widely used by suicide bombers throughout the world today10. At their peak they had between 7,000 and 15,000 armed combatants, and were responsible for the assassinations of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993, as well as many prominent Sri Lankan politicians, and attacks on various important military and civilian targets including “naval ships, oil tankers, the airport in the country’s capital of Colombo, and Sri Lanka’s most sacred Buddhist relic, the Temple of the Tooth… Colombo’s World Trade Center and Central Bank.”11

The Tamil population, comprising about 66 million individuals in total12, is dwarfed in size when compared to the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims in the world13. However, like al-Qaeda, the potential diasporic population that could become radicalized is large. Most of the world’s Tamil population, approximately 61 million people, lives in India.  However, it is estimated that 150,000 people of Tamil descent live in the UK, of which 67,000 were born in Sri Lanka14. Unlike the Muslim population, there is little evidence of Tamils in Europe or North America becoming radicalized and joining the LTTE as fighters15.  Tamils in Europe, who primarily reside in the United Kingdom, face the same factors that are described as leading to radicalization and joining al-Qaeda. Many are refugees, low-income, living away from their families. The social experiences described by Sageman of Muslims in Europe who became al-Qaeda members, “They became separated from their families, friends, and culture, many started to feel homesick and lonely. They also felt marginalized and excluded from their immediate environment,”are just as applicable to Tamils as they are to Muslims16. This indicates that the simple of idea of radicalization as a product of alienation and socialization in diasporic populations is not broadly applicable, at least without other considerations.

The LTTE differ in many ways from al-Qaeda. One of the most prominent of these differences is a stark contrast in ideology and scope. While the LTTE efforts are focused intensely on Sri Lanka, especially its Northern and Eastern Provinces (what they wish to be the nation of Tamil Eelam), al-Qaeda’s vision is for a global jihad an eventual world-wide caliphate. For al Qaeda, nothing is outside of their mandate, for the LTTE, their focus is targeted and intense. One difference is their ideology; al-Qaeda fights in the name of God and religion, which the LTTE is a secular movement which fighting in the name of ethnic nationalism.  This means that the appeal of their causes are disparate; al Qaeda’s message, despite the fact that it is widely regarded as too extreme even for other extremists, holds across national borders and has a global base. The LTTE was considered not as extreme by Sri Lankans, but is only fueled by Sri Lankan Tamils, which make up 9-18% of the population of Sri Lanka17. This results in recruiting a larger percentage of a smaller population.

This can also be classified as a difference in the scope of the goal promoted by the ideology. Without getting into the substantive details of their respective ideologies, it becomes apparent that al-Qaeda, a group that sees the world as its battlefield and every Muslim as a potential solider, could be considered an attractive group to join by a more diverse group of people than the LTTE, whose sole purpose is the promotion of nationalism in two provinces of one country. It is this wide-reaching vs. singular focus dichotomy that characterizes the scope of the ideology of al-Qaeda and the LTTE. Had the LTTE chosen to promote a goal with a wider reaching goal, they could have had a much larger reach. Secular ethnic nationalism is a limiting ideology.  Wider reaching goals could include an ethnic conflict narrative, as is seen in the Middle East in Kurdish movements in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. By branding the conflict as a struggle for nationhood instead of Tamil rights, the Sri Lankan Tamils excluded possible assistance from the 60 million Tamil people living in India18. Another potential framework for a wider reaching narrative could have been characterizing the conflict as a religious one. It would have been possible for the mainly Hindu Tamils to create an ideology based on religious struggle against the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority. A broader religiously based ideology, like the one built by al-Qaeda, could have drawn in Hindus from India and the Hindu Diaspora in Europe and North America19.

Another aspect of the scope dimension is how ideology is applied to territory. Both sides use similar terminology of to describe their conflict, with al-Qaeda declaring war against the United States in 1996 and arguing for jihad, which can be translated as holy war20. The LTTE youth organizations similarly use the term “punitha youtham, a “[pure] holy war” to describe the conflict in Sri Lanka21. However, despite this similar use of language, the realities of the conflict between al-Qaeda and America and the LTTE and Sri Lanka are very different. Despite being labeled a terrorist organization, the LTTE controlled large amounts of physical territory in Northeast Sri Lanka and had military capabilities, such as naval and air divisions, that were far beyond al-Qaeda’s. The conflict between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government is typically characterized as a civil war, and it has received enough international attention, such as attempts to negotiate ceasefires by India and Norway, to justify calling the conflict a full scale war. Al-Qaeda on the other hand, has never controlled significant amounts of physical territory, instead existing in training camps and hideouts in Afghanistan, cells spread across the world, and ever increasingly on the internet. This lack of physical base made al-Qaeda’s ‘war’ a global one, while the LTTE existed in a specific place in Sri Lanka.

One last differing factor between the LTTE and al-Qaeda which may have caused one to have the ability to recruit in Europe but the other to have no support from European populations is the domestic political conditions in their home bases. Despite a decreasing amount of civil rights for the Tamil minority, Sri Lanka was classified as “free” by the organization Freedom House until 1983 (it has been “partly free” since). In comparison, Saudi Arabia has never been classified as “free” or “partly free” since Freedom House began collected data in 1973. Egypt, the most populous Middle Eastern state, has been either “partly free” or “not free”, having been “not free” since 199322. This relative openness may be a pathway for supporters of the LTTE to stay within the country, making support from Europe unnecessary. The authoritarian societies of the Middle East inflict harsh punishments upon those who support terrorist groups, providing incentive for terrorist sympathizers to leave the country and disincentive for those within the country to support terrorism. The freedom of Europe allows al-Qaeda the ability to plan operations under conditions where the government has limits on its ability to imprison and conduct recognizance within its own borders. Additionally there is less potential cost for becoming radicalized in a European country; where there are strict rules on the justice system, than in the Middle East, where habeas corpus doesn’t necessarily exist23.

Overall, the differences between al-Qaeda and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam can be summarized as a difference in the scope of their ideologies. Al-Qaeda’s vague and unrealistic goals have the possibility of appealing to any Muslim in any country, while the LTTE’s specific goals are only likely to appeal to Tamil people in Sri Lanka itself. The idea of socialization being a pathway to radicalization is not necessarily precluded by this conclusion, but it shows that there are many other factors that lead to terrorism, and that it may not be possible to find a simple answer to the question of why people become terrorists. These differences show that ideology does matter in terrorist radicalization, and that the simple answer of alienated people who create social ties may not be so simple. Recognizing such restrictions may have counterterrorism implications, such as determining where to focus counterterrorism efforts. While it may be possible for a group like al-Qaeda to operate anywhere, and thus counterterrorism efforts should be done everywhere, it is unlikely that group like the LTTE that has a specifically focused ideology will have much of a foothold outside of its area of focus, thus making counterterrorism efforts against the LTTE in places like North America or Europe lower priority that efforts in South Asia. Additionally, as history has shown, this may be a reason why al-Qaeda has survived the death of many of its leaders and continues to be a threat after the death of Bin Laden, but why the LTTE has become essentially defeated after the death of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Jessica Ward is a Research Intern at the Conflict Records Research Center, Institute for National Strategic Studies.  Ms.Ward is a senior Political Science major with Interdisciplinary Honors in International Security Studies at Stanford University.


1. Sageman, Marc, Leaderless Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, 70

2.  ibid, 66

3. Abrahms, Max, “What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy”, International Security, Vol. 32, No.2, Spring 2008, 95, 99

4. There are many reasons why European immigrant populations are more prone to radicalization than American ones are. Possible explanations include harsher American visa requirements, and thus the ability to hand pick professionals and intellectuals for immigration and not allow in those who may be vulnerable, the relative weakness (or non-existence) of the American welfare system, which allows unemployed Europeans to spend their time on terrorist activities, but in America, “by the time American young Muslims sympathetic to the jihad get home from work, they are too exhausted to do much,” as well as the American national myth of the “melting pot,” which serves as a mechanism for assimilating immigrants, as opposed to the European national myths of a “national essence” (Sageman 90-102).

5. Hoffman, Bruce, “The Myth of Grassroots Terrorism”, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008

6. Sageman, 65

7. U.S. State Department, “List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” 27 January 2012, , accessed 25 July 2012

8. “About Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,”, accessed 25 July 2012

9. Hussain, Syed Rifat “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE): Failed Quest for a Homeland”, in eds. Mulaj, Kledja, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, Columbia University Press, New York, 2010. 381

10. Bhattacharji, Preeti “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (aka Tamil Tigers) (Sri Lanka, Separatists),” , 20 May 2009, Council on Foreign Relations, accessed 25 July 2012

11. Hussain, 384

12.  Ethnolouge, “Tamil,”; accessed 25 July 2012. This defines a Tamil person as a speaker of the Tamil language. While there can be other definitions, this is the one with the most reliable data.

13. Pew Research Center, “Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population”, 7 October 2009,

14. Dissanayke, Samanthi, “UK Tamils Polarised by Powerful,” British Broadcasting Company, 8 December 2008,, accessed 25 July 2012. The United Kingdom does not keep data and race and ethnicity at the levels of the United States, but it does keep data on the country of birth of its citizens. 150,000 figure and estimate, 67,000 figure from the 2001 census.

15. There is evidence of some financial support from European and North American Tamils. “Members of the Tamil community abroad say the culture of fear that surrounds such tactics is enough to coerce them to fund the LTTE. The U.S. State Department says the LTTE has also used charitable groups, like the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization, as a front for fundraising. These forms of funding have made the LTTE one of the wealthiest militant organizations in the world.” Bajoria, Jayshree, “The Sri Lankan Conflict,” , Council on Foreign Relations, 18 May 2009, accessed 25 July 2012.

16. Sageman 68

17. 8.5% by ethnicity, 18% by language. CIA World Factbook, “Sri Lanka,”,  Central Intelligence Agency, 13 July 2012, accessed 25 July 2012.

18. India did support the LTTE early on in the conflict, with LTTE members being armed and trained by the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in the early 1970s. There were also alliances between the LTTE and secessionist groups in Tamil Nadu. Both of these withdrew support from the LTTE in the early 1980s. Bajoria

19. Despite Hinduism’s reputation in the West as being non-violent, there is substantial evidence of violence associated with Hinduism in modern India, including the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, the 2002 Gujarat riots, and growing anti-Christian and right wing Hindu extremist violence.

20. Bin Laden, Osama, “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,”, PBS Newshour, August 1996, accessed 26 July 2012. A more literal translation of jihad is struggle, thus its use in Islamic religious rhetoric which argues for the promotion of “the greater jihad,” an internal struggle.

21. Wilson, A. Jegaratham, Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its Origins and Development in the 19th and 20th Centuries, 2000, London, C. Hurst Co.

22. Freedom House, “Freedom in the World, 1973-2012,”, accessed 25 July 2012. India and Western Europe are considered “free” for most years in this period.

23. This argument can be found in Huckabey, Jessica M. and Mark E. Stout, “Al Qaida’s Views of Authoritarian Intelligence Services in the Middle East,” Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 25, No. 3, 327–349, June 2010

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Incentivizing Responsible Cybersecurity in the Private Sector

Computer code on black background

By Joshua McGee, Center for Technology and National Security Policy

“Businesses care more about protecting their public image during an intrusive cyber incident than avoiding the loss of the intellectual property itself.”  This was the comment by a panelist at a July 18th Bipartisan Policy Center event.  His experiences with companies in Silicon Valley was that they seemed more concerned with headline-grabbing cyber incidents by hacktivists than with the discreet loss of intellectual property[1] that is said to cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars every year.[2]

Why might a private company have these priorities?  One would imagine that the loss of intellectual property is something that a company would take seriously, just as seriously as protecting their public image.  Recent publicized cyber intrusions show that many companies have lax security protecting vital intellectual property and consumer data.[3]  It seems as if current free market forces are not directing companies to implement up-to-date cybersecurity strategies.  Instead, these forces may be simply directing companies to create public relations contingency plans to reassure the public and shareholders after-the-fact?  Ultimately, intellectual property is important to national security, and the resiliency of the United State’s high-tech, information and services-based economy.  The following is a thought experiment in order to discuss and explore a few of the conundrums and issues that surround the loss of intellectual property in the private sector via cyber intrusions, the incentives for companies to prevent and react to these cyber intrusions, and how the government may play a role in preventing the loss of vital intellectual information held by the private sector.

For the most part, detected private sector[4] cyber intrusions can be placed in two categories:  cyber intrusions that are publicly known, and those that are not. [5]  In each of these situations, there are different company assets at stake:

  • Publicly Known Breach – Loss of intellectual property (content) and bad PR (thus tarnishing the corporate brand and consumer confidence).
  • Undisclosed Breach – Loss of intellectual property (content)

In both situations, content is being stolen, but the difference is that the corporate brand of the company is severely jeopardized with a “headline-grabbing event.”  Recent studies show that corporate executives are extremely protective of their corporate brands, and that many times, a corporate brand may be more important than the intellectual property that they produce. [6]  For this reason, there is a lot at stake when a company is a victim of a cyber intrusion conducted by groups like Anonymous or LulzSec, who purposely publicize such intrusions.[7]  This fear of a tarnished brand thus could lead companies to prioritize public relations campaigns and not necessarily focus on the cause of these intrusions (both public and undisclosed):  poor security.  It is also difficult for companies to quantify losses associated with the disclosure of intellectual property and consumer data.  This further complicates a company’s cost benefit analysis on whether it should invest in increased security or public damage control.

While a tarnished brand could greatly affect the company’s profits, the stealing of intellectual property and consumer data is not only a concern for the company, but also for national security, particularly when it involves government contractors.  Such loss of intellectual property also affects the overall resiliency of the U.S. economy (which is  largely based on innovation in high-technology, information and services).  As discussed above, it seems as if companies may not be properly incentivized to protect themselves from cyber intrusions, but are more prone to address the public relations fallout that arise from a small number of intrusions that become publically known.

Should the government create the incentives for companies to make it their first priority to secure networks rather than engage in public relations campaigns?  There is much at stake for the (security and economic) well-being of the U.S.  Such legislation may include cybersecurity requirements for industries critical to national security or create a safe space for the private sector and government to collaborate on information sharing and best practices for cybersecurity.  Many companies are also hesitant to fully disclose their cybersecurity intrusions because they are unsure whether or not they will be held legally and financially liable for lost information.  Regardless, it is important to understand this problem as an issue of incentives that current government legislation and the free market provide to private companies.  Through such a lens, stakeholders can better discuss the issues at hand.

[1] Bipartisan Policy Center, “Improving Cybersecurity Information Sharing,” Washington DC, July 18, 2012.

[4] For the purposes of this article, “private sector” excludes owners of critical infrastructure, whose situation is unique compared to other businesses.

[5] Private disclosure to the government is another possibility, but the legal ramifications of a private company admitting to a security breach are unclear, and there are currently no known legal benefits for private companies to voluntarily disclose such information to the government.

[6] – “The Coca-Cola Brand is far more valuable than the ingredients that go into a can of Coca-Cola” (p. 47)

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Why Counter-Insurgency is Far from Over

Logo for CTSS

By Marie-Theres Beumler, Center for Transatlantic Security Studies

The notion that counter-insurgency (COIN) operations are no longer seen as the future of kinetic operations has recently been emphasized at numerous high level events in Washington, DC. This, however, might prove to be a hasty notion, and here is why:

There is no doubt that potential near-term events unfolding in Afghanistan have every possibility of further destabilizing neighbor countries or the entire region. Whilst this perspective is solely focused on Central Asia, it is widely acknowledged that Syria could play a similar role in the Middle East, and so could a conflict in the Caucasus (Russia just reinforced its 58th army), and manifold threat potentials emanating from countries in Africa and the Persian Gulf (Al-Qaeda affiliates being only one example).

Unfortunately, while the global economic situation remains unstable, the potential for conflict emanating from the globally disenfranchised increases, and structural State weakness increases as well. The international community will be confronted with a slowly, but consistently growing number of weak and failing States in the future. Examples could be the recently turmoiled situation in the Maghreb as well as numerous central African States affected by the presence of terrorist or insurgent groups – most notably along the corridor from the Niger delta to Egypt.[1] These States harbor relative deprivation and perceived grievances while leaving significant segments of the population with little to nothing to lose – the droves of young male pirates emanating from Somalia is a case in point. This is in part due to the global expansion of criminal (trade) networks, increasing activity on the part of spoilers who exploit safe havens, and the spillover effects from conflicted neighbor countries (bad neighborhoods). The rise in severity and occurrence of State weakness will be accompanied by a disproportionate rise in the occurrence of insurgent groups and insurgencies.[2] Insurgent groups profit from all the most prominent features of weak and failed states: low enforcement capacity, ungoverned / ungovernable territories, and the lack of political representation and social security provision.[3] If grievance and opportunity[4] develop in certain segments of the population, so will insurgent groups, thereby benefiting from the weakness of the host State.

If not an insurgency per se, the nature of many future conflicts will be asymmetric and hence of insurgent quality.  Asymmetry will grow – between segments of the population, warring fractions, and opposing political and military sides. Knowledge on improvised means of warfare, guerilla tactics, and strategy spreads steadily and terrorists and insurgents both are connected globally to profit from each other’s “lessons learned”. Conflicts will not only be fought with increasingly well-connected and prepared opponents, but the opponent might soon learn that it is in their best interest to keep the conflict asymmetric and to profit from this imbalance. After all, this is exactly what the Taliban in Afghanistan have been doing over the last years;[5] other prominent examples include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)[6] and the Hezbollah in the Lebanon[7].

The only way to counter these developments apart from early monitoring (sadly, reaction continuously seems to be preferred to prevention) will ultimately be counterinsurgency. Not the COIN of today maybe, but a more comprehensive and more integrated approach between military, civilian and political efforts. But it will still be counter-insurgency.

The United States and its allies might be able to pick their battles to a certain extent, but they are unable to influence the nature of these battles. As more states suffer from increasing structural weaknesses, insurgencies will be on the rise. We might not want to engage in COIN, but it might well turn out inevitable in some cases.

After all, COIN might be the warfare of the future, not the past. Now is the time to benefit from our collective lessons learned and improve it, not to abandon it.

Marie Therese Beumler is a research intern with the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies.  The views expressed are her own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

[1] Foreign Policy: The Failed States Index 2011

[2] Beumler, Marie-Theres: Exploring the Cause and Effect Relationship between State Weakness and Insurgencies: Investigating the causal Relationship using the Case Study of the Taliban Movements, EPU 2012

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lu, Lingy and Cameron, Thies: Economic Grievance and the Severity of Civil War, Civil Wars, 2011

[5] Gutierrez Sanin, Francisco and Giustozzi, Antonio: Networks and Armies: Structuring Rebellion in Colombia and Afghanistan, in: Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 2010; Stenersen, Anne: The Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan – Organization, Leadership and Worldview, Norwegian Defense Research  Establishment, Norway 2010

[6] Brittain, James J.: Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia: The Origin and Direction of the FARC-EP, Pluto Press, USA 2010; Leech, Garry: The FARC: The Longest Insurgency, Zed Books, London and NY 2011

[7] Azani, Eitan: The Story of the Party of God: From Revolution to Institutionalization, Palgrave Macmillan, USA 2009; Palmer Harik, Judith: Hezbollah: The changing Face of Terrorism, I.B. Tauris, London and NY 2007

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Strategic Operational Planning and Congressional Oversight of Intelligence

By Sally Scudder, Center for Strategic Research

US Capitol

When President Bush signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), he called it “the most dramatic reform of our nation’s intelligence capabilities since President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947.   Under this law, our vast intelligence enterprise will be more unified, coordinated, and effective.”[i]  To this specific end, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) officially took over as the nation’s lead in the counterterrorism effort.  Yet IRTPA’s passage didn’t mean the national security structure in Washington was going to change instantaneously and NCTC would be given complete charge of interagency counterterrorism efforts.   While blame of ineffectualness could be laid on interagency turf battles, perhaps the most responsible party is Congress and, as the 9/11 Commission calls it, their “dysfunctional”[ii] oversight of intelligence, which is “always dependent on newspaper headlines.”[iii]

The release of the 9/11 Commission Report demanded action, and with the 2004 elections looming, congressional members across the aisle were quick to endorse it, including presidential candidate John Kerry, forcing President Bush to follow suit. [iv]  Though it had also publicly endorsed the Commission, the Bush Administration had been loath to call it into existence, citing “sensitive information” as a reason to withhold hearings from the public eye.[v]   After the Report was published and public pressure started to build, Bush attempted to go around the recommendations while showing his commitment to reforming the national security structure by issuing a multiple executive orders and memos on the subject.  In reality, many of his orders “did little more that reaffirm the system as it existed” or simply pandered to “established bureaucratic interests.”[vi]  Among the executive orders issued was EO 13354, which created the National Counterterrorism Center as an update of the Threat Integration and Intelligence Center.  Bush outlined the NCTC’s functions as a center for the analysis and integration of intelligence; coordination of strategic operational planning; assigning operational responsibilities to agencies; serving as a shared knowledge bank; and ensuring agencies have appropriate access to intelligence.

Congress was also mindful of public perception.  Shortly thereafter, they introduced and passed IRTPA in less than ninety days, an exceedingly rare occurrence for the notoriously slow-moving bill passage process.  For such a sweeping and purportedly “revolutionary”[vii]  new organization, Congress didn’t add, subtract, or clarify NCTC’s functions, keeping the language identical to EO 13354.[viii]  Specifically, Congress didn’t challenge or define the vague and contrary concept of “strategic operational planning,” which was the mandate of the newly created Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning (DSOP) within the NCTC, leaving it open to interagency interpretation and contention.  Reportedly, members “didn’t know [what strategic operational planning was], just wanted enough words for [someone else] to figure it out.”[ix]  Though the rhetoric surrounding NCTC’s creation promised a “unified, coordinated and effective” streamlining of stovepiped efforts, Congress did not consolidate a single intelligence agency; they simply added to the already intricate intelligence community’s roles and reporting structure.[x]  If Congress did not fully flesh out and institute intelligence reform when public demand was at its peak and funding for intelligence programs had exponentially increased, what would drive them to keep an eye on NCTC’s efforts now, especially the “less than glamorous”[xi] planning side?

The Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning is supposed to be the mechanism for government-wide strategic operational planning and is half of NCTC’s mission, yet oversight is negligible.  The seeming importance of DSOP has been highlighted in testimony by NCTC leadership, yet relatively unchallenged by Congress in hearings.  In his statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as nominee for the Director of the NCTC, Adm. John Scott Redd called strategic operational planning “substantial, daunting and, I believe, very necessary.”[xii]  Through the years, SOP has been called “truly revolutionary”[xiii] as the government has “come together in ways…never seen during…decades of government service.”[xiv]  Despite caveats of strategic operational planning as “new to the US government,” [xv]SOP was called “foundational”[xvi] to counterterrorism efforts.  Succeeding NCTC Director Michael Leiter said he was “more convinced than ever that success against terrorism will only come through such coordinated and synchronized efforts—to include the full weight of our diplomatic, financial, military, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement activities.” [xvii]  For such weighty importance, however, Congress hardly paid attention to DSOP.  The most questioning DSOP received was after the publication of the National Implementation Plan, which was supposed to discreetly task the interagency on counterterrorism efforts.  There were eight questions regarding NIP and all came from Representative Sanchez, who was frustrated at Congress’s lack of access to the document. [xviii]

It wasn’t until the attempted bombing of Flight 253 and the Fort Hood shootings in late 2009 that NCTC was put under Congress’s microscope as echoes of a ‘failure to connect the dots’ reverberated back into the public rhetoric. Though the sharpest scrutiny was directed at the intelligence side of NCTC, there were questions on DSOP’s roles and responsibilities, to which the answer seemed to be “I do not think the legislation gave clear authority— in fact, it did not give us clear authority to direct action, so we have become a negotiator and mediator of sorts rather than director of action.”[xix]  Suddenly the attitude was seemingly back to “we’re building the airplane at NCTC even as we are being asked to fly it.”[xx]  Though there were questions surrounding strategic operational planning and testimony from outside experts blasting DSOP’s failings,[xxi] there have still been no bills proposed or executive orders given to clarify DSOP’s operation.

NCTC is supposed to be the all-government approach to counterterrorism with the Directorate of Intelligence ‘connecting all of the intelligence dots’ and DSOP serving as the ‘connective tissue’ for the US government’s counterterrorism plans.  Unfortunately, without proper congressional oversight and a clear definition of strategic operational planning, DSOP’s mandate is difficult to enforce across the competing interagency.  Ordinarily, intelligence reform is characterized as moving an “aircraft carrier down a creek,” [xxii] and DSOP as a “less than glamorous”[xxiii] organization does not hold the attention of its overseers enough to ensure accountability or create a comprehensive government counterterrorism plan.

Sally Scudder is a research assistant with the Center for Strategic Research.  The views expressed are her own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government. 

[i] George W. Bush, “President Signs Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act,” Washington, D.C., December 17, 2004, available at <;.

[ii] The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York: Norton, 2004). 420.

[iii] Cynthia M. Nolan, “More Perfect Oversight: Intelligence Oversight and Reform.” Strategic Intelligence: Intelligence and Accountability: Safeguards Against the Abuse of Secret Power 5 (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007), 115-140. 129.

[iv] Glenn Hastedt, “Washington Politics, Intelligence, and the Struggle Against Global Terrorism,” Strategic Intelligence: Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism: Defending the Nation Against Hostile Forces 4 (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007). 100-25. 103.

[v] Pete Brush, “Bush Opposes 9/11 Query Panel,” CBS News, 11 February, 2009, available at <;.

[vi] Glenn Hastedt, “Washington Politics, Intelligence, and the Struggle Against Global Terrorism,” Strategic Intelligence: Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism: Defending the Nation Against Hostile Forces 4 (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007), 100-25. 108.

[vii] Hearing Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Counterterrorism: The Changing Face of Terror, June 13, 2006.

[viii]Todd Masse, “The National Counterterrorism Center: Implementation Challenges and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, (2005).

[ix] Interview, 26 April 12.

[x] Glenn Hastedt, “Washington Politics, Intelligence, and the Struggle Against Global Terrorism,” Strategic Intelligence: Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism: Defending the Nation Against Hostile Forces 4 (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007), 100-125. 106.

[xi]Hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland: Six Years After 9/11, September 10, 2007.

[xii] Hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate: Nomination of Vice Admiral John Scott Redd to Be Director, National Counterterrorism Center, July 21, 2005.

[xiii] Hearing Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Counterterrorism: The Changing Face of Terror, June 13, 2006.

[xiv] Hearing Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Counterterrorism: The Changing Face of Terror, June 13, 2006.

[xv] Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Nine Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland, September 10, 2007.

[xvi] Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Nine Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland, September 10, 2007.

[xvii] Hearing Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate: Nomination of Michael Leiter to Be Director, National Counterterrorism Center, May 6, 2008.

[xviii] Hearing of the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism of the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives: Homeland Security Beyond Our Borders: Examining the Status of Counterterrorism Coordination Overseas, October 4, 2007.

[xix] Hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Intelligence Reform—2010, January, 2010.

[xx] Hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Counterterrorism: The Changing Face of Terror, June 13, 2006.

[xxi]Hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Intelligence Reform—2010: The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack: Intelligence Reform and Interagency Integration, March 17, 2010.

[xxii] Cynthia M. Nolan, “More Perfect Oversight: Intelligence Oversight and Reform.” Strategic Intelligence: Intelligence and Accountability: Safeguards Against the Abuse of Secret Power 5 (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007), 115-40. 131.

[xxiii]Hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland: Six Years After 9/11, September 10, 2007.

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Is NATO being taken seriously in Europe?

By Marie-Theres Beumler

Is NATO being taken seriously in Europe? This is certainly a relevant question; but the analysis of European perceptions of NATO must go much deeper. Essentially, the question is not about whether NATO is being taken seriously, but whether it is being accepted. Indeed, many European allies find themselves in a situation where military and defense efforts of any sort receive very low acceptance among the population. The mindset of considerable segments of society in these countries is pacifist — and the causes thereof are manifold and require the analysis of history and society. Therefore, before debating Europeans’ perspective on NATO, it is necessary to take a look at what causes this perspective.

This year marks an important milestone for the US, as it will have been 200 years since the last major war with a foreign power on US territory started in 1812. Except for the tragic events in Pearl Harbor and 9/11, the US has not experienced major hostilities on its soil since its Civil War, let alone from an external actor. This is one of the main differences between the Americans and the Europeans. The latter remember very well the consequences of invasion, war, and dictatorship on their continent, their countries and their own homes and families. These experiences certainly help to explain the pacifist spirit we are now witnessing in large parts of Europe, and they do represent a challenge to NATO and European military engagement. While the generations who witnessed the Cold War in the main still see NATO as a defender of democracy and freedom, younger generations miss this historic link. Hence, large segments of European youth oppose military efforts of all natures, and this reflects upon NATO.

The attitude and perception of young Europeans towards NATO is one of the most important determinants of NATO’s future. In Germany, maybe the most important example, military-related efforts gain very low acceptance and virtually no approval among broad segments of society[1], maybe most notably among youth. The German contribution to the ISAF-mission in Afghanistan is as unpopular as was last year’s Operation Unified Protector in Libya[2]. Nor is this a recent development. Moreover, Germans do not only oppose deployment itself or military action in the name of NATO. Considerable segments of the German populace simply do not see much need for defense or even a military. This is due to numerous factors, all of which need to be addressed if change is desired.

For over almost seventy years now, Germany has prospered in stability, an exceptionally peaceful and comfortable period. Younger generations did not experience the Cold War, much less World War II, and the only threat they might be able to identify is a vague notion of “global terror.” This attitude goes hand-in-hand with a lack of information and engagement. In contrast to the Cold War period, security studies are today practically non-existent in Germany, and debates about matters of international security concentrate on topics outside the EU, such as the Palestinian-Israeli struggle, or on issues not immediately related to military engagement, such as cyber security.

At the same time, the very notion of “terrorism” bears a different connotation for most Europeans than it does in America, one that is closer to separatist movements of political struggles. It is hard to find a newspaper doing the simple math of when Iranian missiles might in the future be able to reach Munich or Rome, following a time when they could reach Tel-Aviv. With this being a striking scenario, the so-called “Arab Spring” and particularly the consequent questioning of seemingly settled notions of “stability” should have rung some bells. As Europe is ill- prepared to deal with the penetration of its borders, there is no telling how the member states might react to more serious threats to security if the occasion arises, perhaps of a nature not currently envisioned. Individual member states might have to step up their defense efforts in the long run, and this will only be possible if the mindset of the population supports this.

In the mind of Germans, asymmetric warfare is a theoretical concept that most people, even in the media and academia, rarely seem to bother investigating. Equally, when proposals are made for a unified European Defense Force, reactions vary between disbelief and lack of interest. The notion that “democracy is being defended at the Hindu Kush” is immensely unpopular; and media coverage which focuses on occasional failures of individual NATO soldiers in Afghanistan instead of on the slow but constant progress there adds to this phenomenon.

As public opinion often boils down to political opportunism, the population’s perception and understanding of the military and defense influences the defense policies of many European countries. As mentioned before, historical awareness goes deep and adds to the lack of military commitment. While NATO is subject neither to widespread public discussion nor widespread interest, German concerns go deeper. A wish for security and protection certainly exists. But there is little awareness of potential externally based threats and certainly no willingness to compromise on democratic ideals in return for unspecified security guarantees. And unwillingness to compromise democratic values is, that needs to be said, a good thing.

If NATO wants to win over the people’s “hearts and minds” in Germany and in Europe more generally, it needs to reform its structure and goals to bring them more into accord with today’s security environment. Awareness and outreach are an essential part of this effort, but they are not enough. The European people require well-argued and plausible answers before supporting military efforts. It is NATO’s task to deliver on the latter, and this requires building all members’ awareness of the evolving strategic environment as well as of the alliance’s future perspectives. And while security challenges are constantly evolving and changing, NATO should consider greater adaptation to these developments.

With its new Strategic Concept, NATO has already accelerated a “functional” evolution that is moving the Alliance from focusing on traditional and military-centric threats to addressing emerging and asymmetrical challenges. Geographically, as Operation Unified Protector has shown, the time has come for NATO to pay greater attention to the Middle East and North Africa, in an attempt to monitor and assist political developments there and to monitor possible sources of instability in the future. Further, deeper cooperation with Russia based on mutual understanding would certainly be a valuable goal for NATO, especially with regards to European energy security.

NATO has certainly proved to be of immense value in the past, and it can continue to do so in the future. The question now is whether NATO will be ready to deal with future threats and whether it will, together with the leaders of the member states, act to build the populace’s support that will be critical when the time comes.

Marie-Theres Beumler  is a research intern at the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies (CTSS). 

[1] www. Faz. de, Allensbach-Umfrage, 26.05.2010

[2], 5.10.2011; 26.05.2010

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Phoenix: High Value Target Teams in Historical Perspective

By Fletcher Schoen, Research Associate, Center for Strategic Research


High value target teams, special operations, AfghanistanMost people know the United States uses special operations forces or other government agencies to target terrorists and insurgent leaders, but they may not know how hard this is to do right. While researching the Phoenix program from the Vietnam War, I could not help but compare it to the high value target teams that helped turn around the war in Iraq.

A new study from the Institute for National Strategic Studies at National Defense University (“Secret Weapon: High-value Target Teams as an Organizational Innovation,”) explains how interagency high value target teams decimated enemy leadership by fully integrating all-source intelligence collection with swift operations, and then integrated those operations with the broader counterinsurgency effort. This success was not easily achieved, however. It required much trial and error by innovative leaders over a period of years. Their accomplishment seems all the more remarkable when compared to the Phoenix Program used in Vietnam. The fight against the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI) was conducted under the most unified civil-military command structure ever devised by the U.S. government. Even so, the anti-VCI effort did not achieve the seamless and effective operations and strategic impact of the high value target teams in Iraq.

Three major problems marred the effort:

1) The Intelligence Agencies did not Work Together.

After February 1967, intelligence coordination functions took place under the auspices of the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support command (CORDS). CORDS and the CIA funded and staffed the Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation (ICEX) program, which was renamed Phoenix in 1968. Phoenix and its Vietnamese counterpart program, “Phun Hoang,” drew on existing intelligence assets to staff centers at the province and district levels that were supposed to unify collection, exploitation, and operations. However the CIA lacked sufficient staff to place advisors at the district level. It fell upon CORDS to staff the district Phoenix centers with over 700 advisors, mostly military intelligence lieutenants. The lack of CIA expertise meant that these advisors had their hands full learning how to run intelligence operations. What really handicapped these new centers, however, was the unwillingness of intelligence agencies, especially South Vietnamese intelligence agencies, to share information.

2) Intelligence and Operations Were Separate.

The Phoenix program was further handicapped by its lack of operational capability. ICEX/Phoenix centers were supposed to generate intelligence for direct action assets but had no authority over those assets. For instance, the CIA retained control of their anti-VCI forces (PRUs: Provincial Reconnaissance Units), which collected their own intelligence and moved to kill or capture the targeted Viet Cong. Although PRUs were limited by their small number, which never surpassed 5,000 men countrywide, they were considered one of the most effective of the anti-VCI elements. Other units like the National Police Special Units, American special operations forces, conventional forces, and the regional militias were also part of the anti-VCI campaign. But these elements had different priorities and differing levels of buy-in to the Phoenix program and therefore were not always available or willing to give priority to anti-VCI operations.

3) Phoenix and PRUs were not used strategically.

The greatest failing of the anti-VCI programs was that they were not coordinated into a coherent strategy. Simply killing or capturing Viet Cong cadres would not produce strategic benefits unless such operations were coordinated with other military, political and informational initiatives. Because of the way Phoenix was conceived and organized, most operations were conducted without the reinforcing effects of other CORDS programs or conventional action. In fact, PRU activities often went on without the knowledge of the district CORDS/Phoenix advisors who were the ones supposed to be coordinating the anti-VCI efforts in the area. The impact of VCI neutralizations was bound to be local and temporary—even harmful to the other pacification objectives within district or province—unless it was coordinated within a larger strategy.

The HVTs in Iraq faced the same organizational obstacles to success, but overcame them. HVT’s bridged the operations and coordination gap that had existed between the Phoenix program and the direct action forces in Vietnam. Their leaders blended the operational and intelligence capabilities of many agencies and units together for a holistic multi-organizational approach that was able to effectively “find-fix-finish-exploit and analyze” enemy leadership networks. Then, and again, after much experimentation, the HVTs began coordinating their local efforts with the resident conventional force commanders who were working with other U.S. and local government agencies to pacify the population. Even more importantly, and unlike the PRU’s of Vietnam, the new leadership team of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus recognized that HVTs operations could be a powerful strategic tool if they were tightly controlled and integrated into the larger counterinsurgency effort. When this happened, HVTs became a strategic asset rather than just a highly effective tactical tool.

If this subject interests you, I highly commend the new NDU study to your attention, as well as a good RAND study: “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency.”

Vietnam and Iraq were vastly different conflicts but the lessons learned from comparing efforts in the two wars to target enemy leadership networks are instructive. The HVT experience in Iraq should be established as a best practice in counterinsurgency and juxtaposed with the Vietnam experience to illustrate why best practices matter. I can only hope that somewhere in the upper echelons of the U.S. government senior leaders are paying close attention to this “lesson observed” so that it actually becomes a “lesson learned.”

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The Illegal Immigration Conundrum

By Suleika Zepeda, Research Intern, Center for Strategic Research


The Obama administration recently canceled the “virtual fence” along the US-Mexico border, a key component of the U.S. Secure Border Initiative.  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the virtual fence (also known as SBI-Net) “does not meet current standards for viability and cost effectiveness.”  SBI-Net’s pilot program in Arizona used sophisticated technology and improved infrastructure to guard against illegal immigration and cross-border smuggling.  The SBI-Net envisioned a complex system of sensors, radars, and cameras mounted on towers in an effort to gain better surveillance of the 2,000 mile border.  The replacement system relies on less expensive, readily available technology already being used by the Border Patrol and other DHS agencies. SBI-Net funding actually was halted in March 2010, but government officials made slow progress in canceling the project because of the administration’s controversial debate with Congress on border security.  Republican lawmakers say they will not support immigration reform until border security is improved, but there is not a clear understanding of what improvement looks like.

Canceling the SBI-Net presents the United States with an illegal immigration conundrum.  The pilot “virtual fence” and its successor when finished are designed to deter/stop entry into the United States from Mexico in the future.  The U.S. immigration debate concerns more than 11 million undocumented immigrants that are already here.  Their status and living conditions are important human rights issues.  Undocumented immigrants should not be left in limbo while ill-defined border security is moved center stage.  In reality, the US government needs to increase border security as well as address immigration reform.  One is not a function of the other.  These two topics of national security interest should be addressed in tandem.

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