Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Easter Stories

What are we to make of the Easter stories? They certainly differ from one another. As David Buttrick notes,
Do we learn anything... from the the resurrection narratives that conclude the Gospels? No, not really. In some of the stories we do not even get an appearance. All we get is a bedsheet angel announcing, "He has risen, he is not here." In other stories we find all sorts of bizarre happenings: risen Christ on a mountain reciting a Trinitarian baptismal formula, or risen Christ delivering a formal sermon in the middle of the Emmaus road or risen Christ suddenly materializing in order to go "whoosh" and breathe the Holy Spirit on disciples (Preaching Jesus Christ, p. 59).
Which is why it's no surprise that most historians and some New Testament scholars express skepticism about their reliability.

That said, scholars probably shouldn't dismiss the Resurrection too quickly. There is some evidence in support of it. For example, it's fairly certain that the early Christians believed something occurred. How do we know? Well, taking a clue from the early twentieth-century sociologist William Thomas, who once observed, "if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences" (by which he meant that if people believe something to be true, they'll act as if it is true), one can argue that the reverse also holds: if people act as if something is true, then they probably believe it to be true. Thus, if the Gospel accounts are even remotely reliable, then because the early Christians behaved as if the Resurrection happened, they probably believed that something happened. Such a conclusion certainly accords with what we find in the New Testament witness. As New Testament scholar Dale Allison puts it:
According to Paul, who knew Peter, a follower of Jesus, and James, his brother (Gal. 1:18-2:14), both sibling and disciple encountered the risen Jesus, who arose "on the third day" (1 Cor. 15:3-7). That settles the issue: some people who knew Jesus personally believed, soon after the crucifixion, likely within a few days, that God had raised him from the dead. To this there is no counter testimony: the Synoptics, John, and Acts concur with Paul on this particular (Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History, p. 55).
Moreover, there is"no feature of the Jesus story that satisfies so many of the criteria of historicity" (Catherine Murphy, "The Historical Jesus for Dummies," p. 240):
  • It's traced to many eyewitnesses. Paul, for example, claims more than 515 eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
  • It's embarrassing (consider the divergent stories and women as witnesses, for example).
  • It's an early tradition on which all the other traditions in the gospels are predicated (no one would have bothered to write gospels if the resurrection hadn't occurred).
  • It's reported in multiple, independent sources (Paul, Mark, John and possibly Q 11:29-30, 32).
  • It's discontinuous with Jewish beliefs about resurrection because, as far as we know, no one had ever claimed that someone had actually risen, that this proved the person's unique status, and that this resurrection had something to offer everyone (namely, that if they believed in it, they too would rise). Early Christians had to pour tremendous energy into understanding it themselves.
  • It's coherent not so much with the historical details of Jesus's life, but with the rise of early Christianity.
That is why numerous mainline scholars have concluded that something must have happened (see e.g., Catherine Murphy, "The Historical Jesus for Dummies," p. 240, James Alison, "Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination," pp. 28-30, and David Buttrick, "Preaching Jesus Christ," pp. 57-58). Of course, believing that something happened follows from their a priori assumptions about the nature of the world (i.e., what can and cannot happen). As the Anglican priest and theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne, who is a member of the Royal Society of London (the oldest and most prestigious scientific society in the world) puts it:
An inquiry into the evidence can carry us only so far. It can demonstrate (as I believe it does) that the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus is not without substantial motivation, so that it is far from being an ungrounded speculation. However, at best such an inquiry can point only to a balance of probability... Ultimately one's attitude to the resurrection will depend on the degree to which it does or does not cohere with one's general understanding of the way the world is. If the Christian understanding is true, that in Jesus the divine and human so mingled that a new regime was present in the world, then the unique occurrence of the resurrection is conceivable... If a humanist understanding is true, that Jesus was a remarkable and inspiring man but no more, then it is to be expected that death had the degree of finality for him that it will have for us" ("The Way the World Is: The Christian Perspective of a Scientist," p. 79).
This is also probably why most Christians, including mainline Protestants, believe in Jesus's bodily resurrection:
  • In the 2008-2009 wave of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, 94 percent of evangelicals, 91 percent of Catholics, and 78 percent of mainline Protestants said Jesus was raised bodily from the dead after his crucifixion.
  • 75% of the more than 25,000 respondents to congregational surveys offered by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research from 2004 to 2010, most of whom were mainline Protestants, said that they believed that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was an actual event.
  • According to the Portraits of American Life study more than 2/3 of Christian respondents, including 84% of black and evangelical respondents and 67% of mainline Protestants and Catholics, strongly agreed with the statement, “Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead” (15.4% of mainline Protestants and 13.4% of Catholics "somewhat" agreed with the statement).
Of course, just because a majority of Christians believe that something is true, doesn't mean that it is. Nevertheless, I daresay that most Christians, including most mainline Protestants, need more to hang their faith on than simply a belief that when the first Christians broke bread together they experienced a strange warming in the hearts.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why Worship?

What is the purpose of worship? I think before we can answer that question, we have to answer a much larger one: What is the purpose of church? A perspective that I find appealing is one that's associated with the Amish and Mennonites: namely, that collectively the church is called to be a living witness to God's coming kingdom. In other words, witnessing doesn't involve standing on street corners, handing out "Are you saved, yet?" pamphlets to passersby. It's something that Christians do together, in terms of how they worship, how they live, and in their service to others.

But there has to be more. Prior to collectively witnessing to God's coming kingdom, Christians need to be instructed in the faith, or better, they need to be formed into how to live faithfully. In other words, along with witnessing to God's coming kingdom, one of the church's purposes is Christian formation, and, unsurprisingly, this occurs primarily in worship (although education should play a key role too). As the theologian James K. A. Smith notes, "Liturgies or worship practices are rituals of ultimate concern that are formative of our identity--they both reflect what matters to us and shape what matters to us" (Desiring the Kingdom, p. 93). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, worship must provide an opportunity for individuals to encounter God or the divine. It needs to be a setting in which people feel they can come in contact with the sacred.

If all this is correct, then in addition to encountering the sacred, the purpose for worship is at least three-fold. First, it must seek to evoke a sense of the sacred. It has to differ from a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union or the Family Research Council. It needs to be distinctive. In fact, there is considerable evidence that there is a positive association between distinctive faith communities and the strength of those communities ("Why Strict Churches Are Strong").

Second, it must provide a living witness to God's coming kingdom. When "outsiders" look at those gathered for worship, it should provide them with a "glimpse" of God's kingdom. For instance, reflecting on a recent Christmas Eve service I attended ("The Wideness of God's Kingdom") I couldn't shake the feeling that
everyone was there: old and young, rich and poor, unlettered and cultured, gay and straight, infirm and healthy (there might've even been Dodger and Seahawks fans there). And in the midst of singing classic Christmas hymns, I couldn't help think that I was catching a glimpse of God's Kingdom.
Third, worship must also help people learn what it means to embody the Christian faith. It is here that preaching, music, and the celebration of communion play key roles. Preaching is central because it helps articulate the nature of God's kingdom; it proclaims the risen Christ among us. Communion is central because of its associated images of a open table where all are welcome and no one is turned away ("What Are Christians to Make of Communion?"):
Communion isn't simply a remembrance of the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples, but rather it recalls all of the images associated with an open table, whether they are from ancient Israel, Jesus' table fellowship with his disciples, or the numerous parables he told about God's heavenly banquet.
And then there is the music. I can't remember who said it, but someone once remarked that people "learn" their theology more through the hymns and songs that they sing than the sermons they hear. This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is almost certain that music plays a key role in the formation of one's faith, which is why churches should pay close attention to the theological content of the songs they sing.

Needless to say, well-meaning Christians can disagree as to the nature of God's kingdom (I daresay that some probably find my vision of the kingdom too inclusive, while others find it too eschatological). Thus, how people embody God's kingdom will differ from time-to-time and place-to-place. That, however, is a topic for another day.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Tinker Tailor, Kim Philby, and the Friends We May Not Know

John Le Carre's, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, is considered by many to be one of the greatest espionage novels ever written. It begins with the head of MI6 (British Secret Service) convinced that there is a Soviet mole planted deep (and high) within MI6. This leads him to send one of his agents, Jim Prideaux, to meet a Czechoslovakian defector who reportedly knows the name of the mole. It turns out to be a set-up, though. The Czech is a plant; he isn't a real defector. Prideaux ends up being shot (but not killed), tortured, and interrogated; the head of MI6 is fired and dies shortly thereafter; and the story's ultimate protagonist, George Smiley, is forced into early retirement. The rest (and the bulk) of the story tells how Smiley is brought back in order to uncover the mole's identity. As anyone who has read the novel knows, it is an exceedingly complex tale, which is why (except for those who've read the book) the 2011 film adaptation is almost impossible to follow (the 1979 miniseries staring Alec Guinness is a little easier to follow but only because of its slightly longer length provides much needed detail).

The novel is ultimately a tale about betrayal, not only of one's country, but of one's friends. I turns out that the mole and Prideaux were close friends, possibly even lovers, but when Prideaux was chosen for the mission to Czechoslovakia, the mole did nothing, sending his good friend to a possible death. After Smiley sets a trap and catches the mole, MI6 arranges to send him to the Soviet Union in exchange for several of the agents he had betrayed. Before this happens, however, he is killed, and while the identity of his killer is never revealed, the reader is left with impression that it is Prideaux.

Tinker Tailor is loosely based on the real-life story of Kim Philby, who rose high in the ranks of British Secret Service before being caught in 1963 after 30 years as a Soviet spy. Philby was one of five spies whom the Soviets recruited while they were at Cambridge in the 1930s ("The Cambridge Five"). He was the best of the bunch. He could dissemble with ease. He was smart, funny, and charming, all of which contributed to his success. If he hadn't been caught, he may well have become head of British Secret Service, which would've been his chef d'oeuvre. He was (probably) allowed to escape to Moscow rather than holding an embarrassing trial in the UK (embarrassing for the UK government, that is).

Kilby had numerous friends in MI6, but none was probably closer than Nicholas Elliot, a fine spy in his own right, and the one who eventually confronted and extracted Kilby's confession in 1963. They and their families spent countless hours together, often vacationing with one another, and when Philby first came under suspicion because of his ties to two of the Cambridge Five who defected to Russia in 1951, Elliot was Philby's staunchest defender. Their friendship, however, did not prevent Philby from betraying his good friend's confidences by routinely passing on information to the Soviet Union that Elliot shared with him, information that sometimes led to the death of others.

Philby's story is recounted brilliantly in Ben Macintyre's, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, which interestingly (but perhaps unsurprisingly) includes an afterword by John Le Carre. Both it and Tinker Tailor can make you wonder how well we know our friends. Are they what they seem? Are they who they say they are? And if something unexpected happens to one of them, could it be they held (or hold) secrets that the rest of us only read about in novels? We'll probably never know.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Pablo, You Could've Been One of the Best

A little over a year ago ("Aging Curves and Big Contracts") I questioned the wisdom of the Red Sox offering Pablo Sandoval (and Henley Ramirez) such large contracts. I noted that Hall of Famers tend to peak between the ages of 28-30 and average players between 25-27, which suggested to me that Sandoval, who was 28 at the time, may have already passed his prime. I did concede that because Fenway is a great hitter's park, he might put up better offensive numbers than he did in his last couple of years in San Francisco, but nevertheless his career was on the downward slope.

However, I don't anybody anticipated how fast Pablo would fall. No longer pressured to keep his weight under control, evidently one of the reasons why he left the San Francisco Giants, Pablo's skills suffered to the point that his offensive and defensive WAR (win above replacement) scores were among the worst of starting third basemen in 2015. And on more than one occasion he had to be removed from the lineup after he became light headed because of a "long run" (e.g., first to home). And now there's a possibility that he might be pushed out of the starting lineup by a rookie ("Shaw's hot bat may force Sandoval out of Red Sox lineup").

This is all so sad because Pablo could've been one of the best players of all time. I think it was former San Francisco Giant, Will Clark, who once remarked that most people didn't realize how quick Pablo's bat was (i.e., how quickly he can react to a pitched ball). One only has to watch the home runs he hit off Justin Verlander in the 2012 World Series to see just how true this is (one of them produced a "Wow" from Verlander). And in his last year in San Francisco he demonstrated that he could be among the best defensive third basemen in the league as well ("Pablo Sandoval's defense no longer strikes fear into Giants' pitchers").

Unfortunately, Pablo evidently doesn't think keeping his weight down impacts his play. He may be the only person who believes this (and maybe his brother). Because he has so much raw talent, I wouldn't be surprised if he put up decent numbers this year, but unless he turns things around, I don't think his long term prospects are too good.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Complex Nature of Countering Terrorism: Disruption

This final post with regards to the complexity involved in countering terrorism ("On the Complex Nature of Countering Terrorism") focuses on the disruption of terrorist networks. My colleague Nancy Roberts and I have outlined strategies for disrupting clandestine networks ("Strategies for Combatting Dark Networks" "Monitoring and Disrupting Dark Networks"), and we sorted them into two generic approaches: kinetic and non-kinetic. The former involves aggressive and offensive measures that target terrorists for the purpose of neutralizing, capturing, or eliminating them, while the latter employs restrained, non-coercive means that seek to secure the population’s safety and support and undermine the enemy’s influence and control.

Of the two approaches, the kinetic approach tends to attract headlines and generates popular support. Recall the media attention (and spontaneous celebrations across the U.S.) that the killing of Osama bin Laden engendered. Reactions such as this are largely due to the symbolic value of capturing or eliminating a high-value target. However, the results from kinetic targeting are often mixed. For example, as General Flynn and his coauthors (2010: 8) warned in their much-publicized report, Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan, “lethal targeting alone will not help U.S. and Allied forces win in Afghanistan.” In fact, “merely killing insurgents usually serves to multiply enemies rather than subtract them.” And although Israel’s decapitation policy led to the removal of older Palestinian Liberation Organization leaders, all this accomplished in the long run was the emergence of younger and more radicalized leaders (Gunning 2007). Similarly, while 19th-century Russia’s use of trials and executions successfully eliminated the terrorist group, The Terrorist Section of the People’s Will, the brother of one those executed swore “I will revenge myself on them” (quoted in Cronin 2009:25). A few decades later, he, that is, Vladimir Ilyitch Lenin, did just that.

More of a concern is that the use of kinetic measures runs the risk of harming innocent bystanders. While in a war zone some may be considered this permissible, when it comes to combatting domestic terrorism, it suggests that targeting decisions be made with care and probably limited to raids that seek only to arrest group members. Of course, raids can devolve into shootouts. Thus, we need to “adopt standards that are closer to Philadelphia than Afghanistan. In a war zone, collateral damage cannot be avoided; it can only be minimized. The hard question in war is what degree of risk we are willing to accept for our own soldiers in order to reduce the risks we impose on enemy civilians. But when the police are chasing criminals in a zone of peace, we rightly give them no latitude for collateral damage” (Walzer 2009:276).

Non-kinetic approaches are more likely to avoid the loss of innocent life, but they are often less attractive because they tend to attract far less attention, partially because of their lack of newsworthiness, and partially because they often require subterfuge that would be compromised through media attention. Still, in the fight against domestic terrorism they may offer the best long-term approach and should be seriously considered. At least five broad strategies are associated with the non-kinetic approach: tracking and monitoring, institution building, psychological operations (PsyOp), information operations (IO), and rehabilitation and reintegration.
  1. The tracking and monitoring strategy builds on John Arquilla’s (2009) insight that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. However, sometimes our information on a clandestine network is incomplete, so rather than taking immediate action, it is better to track and monitor the network with the hope of improving what we know, which should improve the selection of strategies adopted later.
  2. In war zones institution-building involves the construction of healthy host-government institutions involving governance, rule of law, and economic development (Fridovich and Krawchuck 2007; Kilcullen 2009). Domestically, it might involve the construction or rehabilitation of institutions that address, either directly or indirectly, the (legitimate) grievances of the community or communities out of which a particular terrorist group emerged. For example, discriminatory practices with regards to housing and lending or perhaps the quality of schools may need to be attended to.
  3. Psychological operations (PsyOps) involve the dissemination of (mis)information for the purpose of influencing the emotions, perceptions, attitudes, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of clandestine groups. They can also be used to counter terrorist propaganda or sow mistrust among group members so that they direct their violence at one another rather than outside targets. Indeed, this latter approach was used successfully in Iraq in order to disrupt an insurgent network (Anonymous 2009). However, while sowing mistrust within a terrorist network may be appropriate in a war zone, it may not be in a domestic setting. The last thing we need is for members of a terrorist group or perhaps members of rival terrorist groups to open fire on one another in a crowded street, restaurant, or bar in a major metropolitan area. That would almost certainly lead to the loss of innocent life similar to what occurred when rival mafia gangs were at war with one another.
  4. Information operations (IO) are used to attack, deceive, degrade, and disrupt information operations capabilities and to deny, exploit, and defend electronic information and infrastructure. Examples include the disruption of fund transfers, the monitoring of charitable donations, the detection of money laundering, black market activity and the drug trade. Activities also include interventions to compromise terrorists’ cell phone and online connections and the use of these platforms to locate jihadist leaders and their followers.
  5. Finally, rehabilitation efforts seek to reintegrate radicalized individuals back into civil society. Singapore’s counter-ideological program, founded by Muslim scholars who seek to “correct” the thinking of its detainees, is one such example (Ramakrishna 2005, 2009, 2012). Established in 2003, it involves unpaid, all volunteer group of Islamic scholars who supplement their formal religious training with a yearlong course in counseling. It also extends its influence into the wider Muslim community by giving talks, disseminating publications, and hosting a website. Similar rehabilitation programs have also been introduced in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
In short, there are two general approaches to countering terrorist networks: kinetic and non-kinetic. The former pursues aggressive measures designed to eliminate or capture network members and their supporters, while the latter employs neither bombs nor bullets but instead uses non-coercive means to counter networks and impair a combatant’s will to fight. It includes activities such as the rehabilitation and reintegration of clandestine network members back into civil society, misinformation campaigns designed to disrupt clandestine networks from within, the construction or rehabilitation of institutions within certain communities, and efforts at and the tracking certain members in order to improve our knowledge and understanding of the network.

All of these strategies must be implemented with an eye to keeping the wider community safe, not only from future attacks but also from any collateral damage. Put differently, the strategies we adopt to disrupt terrorist networks should be guided by a moral framework that seeks to create and sustain societies in which all individuals are free to flourish.


Anonymous. 2009. "Deception 2.0: Deceiving in the Netwar Age." Unpublished Paper. Task Force Iron, Iraq.

Arquilla, John. 2009. Aspects of Netwar & the Conflict with al Qaeda. Monterey, CA: Information Operations Center, Naval Postgraduate School.

Cronin, Audrey Kurth. 2009. How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Flynn, Michael T., Matt Pottinger, and Paul D. Batchelor. 2010. "Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan." Center for a New American Security, Washington DC.

Fridovich, David P. and Fred T. Krawchuck. 2007. "Special Operations Forces: Indirect Approach." Joint Forces Quarterly 44:24-27.

Gunning, Jeroen. 2007. Hamas in Politics: Democracy, Religion, Violence. London: Hurst.

Kilcullen, David. 2009. The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Ramakrishna, Kumar. 2005. "Delegitimizing Global Jihadi Ideology in Southeast Asia." Contemporary Southeast Asia 27:343-369.

________. 2009. "Governmental Responses to Extremism in Southeast Asia: 'Hard' versus 'Soft' approaches." Pp. 31-36 in Conflict, Community, and Criminality in Southeast Asia and Australia: Assessments from the Field, edited by A. de Borchgrave, T. Sanderson, and D. Gordon. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies.

________. 2012. "Engaging Former JI Detainees in Countering Extremism: Can it Work?". RSIS Commentaries, 003/2012.

Walzer, Michael. 2009. Thinking Politically: Essays in Political Theory (selected and edited by David Miller). New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Complex Nature of Countering Terrorism: Detection

In recent posts ("On the Complex Nature of Countering Terrorism" "The Complex Nature of Countering Terrorism: Prevention") I've argued that counter terrorism is a complex task that requires  a multipronged approach, one that involves adopting (1) measures that lower the probability that groups will radicalize, (2) methods that help detect those that have already radicalized, and (3) strategies that can disrupt groups that have already carried out attacks or are planning to.

In this post I take up the second item, namely, the problem of detection. Detecting clandestine groups can prove elusive. If they wish to remain undetected, for the most part, they can. One reason is because, like most social groups, they tend to recruit through preexisting friendship and kinship ties. For instance, Marc Sageman (2004), in his study of terrorist groups, found that 83 percent of those who joined had to tie to either a relative or friend in the group. Similarly, a recent study of 474 foreign fighters from 25 Western countries found “over a third… have a familial connection to jihad, whether through relatives currently fighting in Syria or Iraq, marriage, or some other link to jihadists from prior conflicts or terrorist attacks” (Bergen, Schuster, and Sterman 2015:8). As Mohammed Hafez (2016:13) notes,
Recruitment [is] localized and highly personal tasks involving interpersonal ties, bonds of solidarity, and trust. This is especially the case in Western societies (and strong states in general) where vigilant security services are on the lookout for overt political and religious networks seeking to radicalize and recruit others for violent ends. In a highly constricted security environment, radicals must look for recruits within preexisting networks such as educational and faith-based institutions, community centers, bookstores, religious study groups, sports teams, workplaces, professional associations, social movement organizations, local charities, and prisons. As these spaces come under the watchful eyes of the authorities, radicalizers turn to an even more secure source of recruits—the family.
Because potential threats can be difficult to detect, it could be “useful to use an approach that provides alternative images” of potential attackers; this would provide an “analytic framework” that allow us to “construct and assess well-hedged defensive strategies, even when uncertainty about the attacker’s identity persists” (Arquilla and Ronfeldt 1996:96).

Nevertheless, it is likely that once terrorist groups begin to mobilize for attacks, they will leave traces of their activities. The key, of course, is to employ methods that will detect them. Thankfully, there is some progress in this area. For example, recently developed “geographical profiling” software can help identify which areas should be searched or put under surveillance (The Economist 2016). Analysts feed the software with information about leafleting, graffiti, muggings and bombings (since terrorists often finance their cause from the proceeds of such crime), and even income distribution (because the poorer an area, the more likely there is an apartment in which people paid to store weapons).

Such an approach is akin to how the Allies used a Bayesian approach, a statistical method that begins with a priori assumptions that are repeatedly updated with new information, to locate German U-boats during World War II. The Allies had built several high-frequency direction-finding stations along the perimeter of the Atlantic. If six or seven of them intercepted the same message from a particular U-boat, they could locate the boat within a circle 236 miles across. As such, analysts initially assigned 50% probability that a U-boat was inside the 236-mile circle and then would update this probability as new data (e.g., additional intercepted messages) came to light, systematically narrowing down likely U-boat locations (McGrayne 2011:80).

A complicating factor is separating the wheat from the chaff, that is, distinguishing genuine threats from spurious ones. For instance, German authorities began tracking members of 9/11 Hamburg cell as early as 1998 and, in fact, had inserted a microphone in the apartment and occasionally monitored their conversations (Sageman 2004). That is how we know that their discussions “became increasingly virulent” and talk about defeating “world-Jewry” and the United States “through jihad… became more prominent over time” (Sageman 2004:106). However, they did not believe there was enough evidence warranting intervention (Butler 2003). This side of 9/11 it is easy to criticize them for missing evidence that could have prevented the attacks, but what it probably points to is how difficult it is to separate good intelligence from bad.

Of course, regardless of the methods employed, some groups will slip under the radar, and we will only become aware of them after an attack occurs. Thus, we must take steps to protect ourselves from future attacks:
Practically, however, absent outstanding intelligence about enemy intentions, detection will more likely occur only after an attack has begun. With this in mind, protection will become a key operational task… Damage limitation will be a primary goal and may be pursued through efforts at preclusive security (Arquilla and Ronfeldt 1996:).
To summarize, then, the detection clandestine groups is difficult. If groups wish to remain undetected, they can, at least for the most part. However, once they begin to mobilize for attacks, it is likely that the will leave traces of their activities. Thus, it is incumbent on authorities to employ methods that will detect them. Progress is being made in this area, but there remains the difficulty of distinguishing traces worth following from ones worth abandoning. Because it is impossible to detect all clandestine groups before they attack, we must take steps to protect ourselves. Regardless of how terrorist groups come to our attention, we must take steps to disrupt them. It is to that topic that we now turn.


Arquilla, John, and David Ronfeldt. 1996. The Advent of Netwar. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Bergen, Peter, Courtney Schuster, and David Sterman. 2015. "ISIS in the West: The New Faces of Extremism." New America (November):1-29.

Butler, Desmond. 2003. "Germans Were Tracking Sept. 11 Conspirators as Early as 1998, Documents Disclose." New York Times, (January 18). Accessed at:

Hafez, Mohammed M. 2016. "The Ties that Bind: How Terrorists Exploit Family Bonds." CTC Sentinel, February:12-14.

McGrayne, Sharon B. 2011. The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Sageman, Marc. 2004. Understanding Terror Networks. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Complex Nature of Countering Terrorism: Prevention

In my previous post ("On the Complex Nature of Countering Terrorism"), I argued that unlike the simplistic solutions being offered by current presidential candidates (e.g., banning all Muslims from entering the United States), we need to recognize that counter terrorism is a complex problem requiring a multipronged approach. In particular, I argued that we need to adopt (1) measures that lower the probability that groups will radicalize, (2) methods that help detect those that have already radicalized, and (3) strategies that can disrupt groups that have already carried out attacks or are planning to.

In this follow-up post, the first of three, I take up the first item, that is, adopting measures that lower the probability that groups will radicalize. As I have argued elsewhere ("Social Networks and Religious Violence") internally dense religious groups that maintain few ties to the wider society are more likely to embrace extreme views and engage in violent behavior than are those that are not. Thus, we need to adopt policies the keep groups from withdrawing from the wider society.

Perhaps, the most important thing is to maintain ties with groups that are in danger of radicalizing. Such an approach was taken by the State of Oregon in its dealings with the Rajneeshpuram, an intentional community that settled in central Oregon in the 1980s. Although the community possessed a large cache of semi-automatic and biological weapons, it never acted on its potential for large-scale violence largely because the State continued to maintain ties with the group (Marian Goldman 2011). A similar approach was adopted with Chen Tao, a Taiwanese group that settled near Dallas in the Summer of 1997 in anticipation of God’s arrival the following March. “Police and popular media in Garland, Texas, developed ongoing dialogue with Chen Tao representatives that facilitated the group’s calm departure after their prophecy failed. Members of these groups… avoided violence because they cultivated external social networks and diminished their social isolation” (Goldman 2011: 313).

Of course, sometimes groups have already withdrawn from the wider society. In such situations authorities need to take steps to reintegrate them. Access to the political system may be the most effective because it encourages them to “become more like political parties and interest groups, and less like social protest movements or revolutionary groups” (Hafez 2003: 208). This “may explain why communist and green parties in Western Europe were willing to make ‘historical compromises’ and abandoned revolutionary strategies, even if some of them did not completely abandon revolutionary rhetoric” (Hafez 2003: 209). It may also explain why the 1922 founding of the Irish Free State marked the beginning of the end of the Southern wing of the Irish Republican Party (IRA). Although the Irish Free State did not grant Ireland complete sovereignty, it provided political access to those who had previously fought for Ireland’s independence, and membership in the IRA fell dramatically (English 2004: 46).

A third course of action is to minimize media scrutiny and public ridicule. To be sure, this can be difficult to do but nevertheless it is worth the effort. For instance, Oregon’s attorney general’s adopted a strategy that limited the interference, harassment, and ridicule of the Rajneeshpuram community. “Throughout [the group’s] sojourn in Oregon, the attorney general’s representatives carefully monitored activities as Rajneeshpuram and at the same time tried to calm insurgent local opponents” (Goldman 2011: 318, 319). This is not to suggest that individuals and groups should not be prosecuted for criminal behavior that injure others, but that can be done while still respecting religious freedoms. For example, after five members of the Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway, the Japanese government pursued those who were guilty of the crimes, but it did not outlaw the group. “This action defused the violent side of the religion without further radicalizing the group" (Grim and Finke 2010: 213).

This leads to a fourth course of action: authorities should avoid repressive and discriminatory policies that cause groups (and communities) to withdraw and become increasingly isolated. As Donnatella della Porta (2013) documents, repressive policing in Italy and Germany during the 1970s and 80s led to ever escalating violence between authorities and left wing and right wing underground groups. Similarly, Mohammed Hafez (2003) argues that government repression has resulted in higher rates of violence in Algeria, Egypt, Kashmir, the Southern Philippines, and Chechnya. And Brian Grim and Roger Finke (2010) have demonstrated that net of other factors, government restrictions on religious freedom are positively associated with religious persecution and violence ("Religious Freedom and Religious Violence").

In short, then, because groups that maintain few ties to the wider society are more likely to embrace extreme views and possibly commit acts of violence, we should look to adopt policies and practices that will prevent communities and groups from withdrawing and cutting ties with the wider society. Although it is impossible to prevent the withdrawal and isolation of all groups, the fewer that do, the better.


della Porta, Donatella. 2013. Clandestine Political Violence. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge Univesity Press.

English, Richard. 2004. Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA. London, UK: Pan Books.

Goldman, Marion S. 2011. "Cultural Capital, Social Networks, and Collective Violence." Pp. 307-323 in Violence and New Religious Movements, edited by J. R. Lewis. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Grim, Brian J. and Roger Finke. 2010. The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hafez, Mohammed M. 2003. Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

On the Complex Nature of Countering Terrorism

The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity
- Jacob Burkhardt

Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino in late 2015, the prevention of future attacks has increasingly been on the minds of many Americans. According to a December Pew Research Center survey, 29 percent of Americans cite terrorism, national security, or ISIS as the most important problem facing the country today, up from 4 percent a year ago. This is especially true of Republicans, of whom 41 percent cite one of these three problems as the most important problem facing the country today. Moreover, 71 percent of Republicans, as compared to 54 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Independents, stated that their greatest concern is that anti-terrorism policies do not go far enough in protecting the country, up from from 57 percent in January and 38 percent in July 2013. Thus, it’s no wonder that a large swath of the the American public responded favorably to Donald Trump’s call to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

However, as the Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer points out (“Why Take the Trump Stunt Seriously”), Trump’s proposal is absurd. Islamic terrorists are not stupid. The average Islamic terrorist tends to be well educated, to have come from a middle class background, and to have attended a secular, rather than a religious, school as a child (“The Root Causes of Terrorism”). Thus, it strains credulity to assume they would openly admit to customs officials that they were Muslim. As Krauthammer puts it:
So how exactly does this work, Donald Trump’s plan to keep America safe from Islamic terrorism by barring entry to all Muslims? He explained it... on TV. The immigration official will ask the foreigner if he’s a Muslim. 
“And if they said, ‘yes,’ they would not be allowed in the country?”
Trump: “That’s correct.” 
Brilliant. And very economical. That is, if you think that bloodthirsty terrorists — “people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” as Trump describes them — will feel honor-bound to tell the truth to an infidel customs officer. They kill wantonly but, like George Washington, cannot tell a lie. On this logic hinges the great Maginot Line with which Trump will protect America from jihad. I decline to join the chorus denouncing the Trump proposal as offensive and un-American. That’s too obvious. What I can’t get over is its sheer absurdity.
If we truly want to prevent future terrorist attacks, we need to recognize that it’s a complex problem requiring a multipronged approach. I believe we need to adopt (1) measures that lower the probability that groups (Islamic or otherwise) will radicalize, (2) methods that help detect those that have already radicalized, and (3) strategies that can disrupt groups that have already carried out attacks or are planning to. In order to keep this post relatively short, I will discuss these three aspects of counter terrorism in separate posts. Briefly, however, this is what they will cover (Note: links to the posts are now included):
  1. Prevention: Internally dense religious groups that maintain few ties to the wider society are more likely to embrace extreme views and behavior than are those that are not as dense and/or remain tied to the wider society. Thus, we should adopt policies and practices that will not cause communities and groups to withdraw from and cut ties with the wider society. In the present context, this means that anti-Muslim rhetoric is almost certainly unhelpful in the fight against terrorism and, in fact, may help promote to it. Indeed, apparently some Islamist groups are already using clips of Donald Trump in their recruitment videos ("Al-Qaeda Group Uses Donald Trump in Recruitment Video").
  2. Detection: Detecting radicalized groups can prove elusive. If groups wish to remain undetected, for the most part, they can do so. However, if they actively begin to plan for attacks, it’s likely that their activities are detectable. For example, recently developed “geographical profiling” software can help identify which areas should be searched or be put under surveillance. Such an approach is somewhat analogous to Bayesian statistics, an approach that begins with a priori assumptions about what is true, which are then repeatedly updated as new information becomes available.
  3. Disruption: Finally, there are two general approaches to disrupting terrorist networks: kinetic and non-kinetic. Kinetic approaches pursue aggressive measures that seek to eliminate or capture network members and their supporters, while non-kinetic approaches use non-coercive means to impair the ability of terrorists to operate. The former is limited by moral concerns, such as the need not to place innocent life at risk. The latter is not and includes activities such as the (1) tracking of certain members in order to improve our knowledge and understanding of the network, (2) building institutions that offer alternatives to terrorist institutions, (3) misinformation that seek to promote mistrust among network members, (4) campaigns that attack, deceive, degrade, and disrupt information operations capabilities, and (5) efforts at the rehabilitation and reintegration of network members back into civil society.
In a nutshell, countering terrorism is far more complex than many of the current candidates for President let on (or realize). Hopefully, their rhetoric reflects political maneuvering and not what they truly believe. I confess, however, that I have little hope that this is in fact true. One can only pray that I am wrong.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Republican Party Only Has Itself to Blame

The Republican Party only has itself to blame for the rise of Donald Trump. Like the rest of us, they underestimated his popularity, but more importantly they failed to coalesce around a single "non-Trump" candidate, leading the anti-Trump vote was distributed across numerous candidates.

Results of recent polling suggest that if Cruz, Kasich, and Carson would have dropped out after the South Carolina primary, approximately 2/3 of their followers would support Rubio, while 1/3 would support Trump. That probably would have been enough for Rubio to win a few states, but (more importantly) prevent Trump from getting enough delegates to win by the convention. It's still possible for Rubio to pull something like this off. As Nate Cohn points out ("How Marco Rubio Could Lose Every State on Super Tuesday and Still Win"), Rubio can lose all 12 of the Super Tuesday contests and still amass enough delegates to keep Trump from getting too far ahead, as long as he attracts at least 20% of the vote in most of the states in play today. Since delegates are only committed to their state's winners on the first ballot, it would is possible (but highly unlikely) that a contested (i.e., brokered) convention would result. However, if Rubio can't start winning by March 15th, then his path to victory (or a contested convention) will probably dry up.

A similar scenario could probably play out if Cruz remained in the race while Kasich and Carson dropped out. Trump would end up with the most delegates, but Rubio and Cruz could win enough delegates to prevent him from securing the nomination before the convention. However, Kasich and Carson seem determined to stay in the race, which will pretty much hand the nomination to Trump. Democrats should hope that Rubio and Cruz stay in long enough, so that they can continue to attack him and along the way find the "Kryptonite" Hillary will need to prevent him from wining the general election.

Will Kap Stay in San Francisco?

Will Colin Kaepernick stay in San Francisco? Why would he want to? As Tim Kawakami wrote a few days ago ("The Colin Kaepernick trade request: How did the 49ers not see this coming? Or did they just lie the whole time? Or both?"):
You had to know that Kaepernick logically felt betrayed by all the petty leaks from 49ers management last season and understandably had decided never to adjust his contract for the 49ers, after he gave up large bonus money so that the 49ers (he thought) could spend it to re-sign it on some of his teammates. The 49ers never actually spent that money; they kept it, fired Jim Harbaugh, Kaepernick’s biggest fan, and then spent much of the 2015 season blaming their downfall on their QB. So the off-season is here and now Kaepernick reportedly wants out. This does not seem illogical, unless you’re Jed York or Trent Baalke, I guess.
To be sure, the Niners hired Chip Kelly, whose offensive schemes seem to be made to order for Kap. But then again, they also seem to be made to order for the quarterback who took over for Kap mid-season last year -- Blaine Gabbert -- who ran a Kelly-style offense at Missouri. And Gabbert played pretty well last year, so it isn't automatic that Kelly would pencil Kap in as the Niner's starter. Moreover, sometimes athletes just a need a fresh start with a new team and some new fans. So, for Kap's sake, I hope that he finds a new team where he can thrive and have a long career.