THE MAGAZINE

Micromanaging Terror

By Laura Spadanuta

These documents can be extremely revealing if law enforcement finds them. For example, a cache of documents from al Qaeda in Iraq listed more than 700 members, says Shapiro. The documentation can provide information on whereabouts or meetings.

Another business issue that terrorist leaders care about is employee loyalty—for terrorist leaders, that translates to wanting recruits who won’t defect. A defection could spell the end of the entire organization. Eli Berman, economics professor at the University of California, San Diego, has spent years researching this topic.

He says it’s difficult to actually measure how many terrorists defect from a group, but he looks at whether a group has the ability to pull off ambitious attacks as one indicator of whether there are low numbers of defectors. Berman theorizes that such missions probably couldn’t be kept secret in organizations without loyalty because anyone who wanted to defect would know that their knowledge of such attacks would be worth a lot of money. But loyal members wouldn’t tell about the attacks for any price.

If the group is a radical religious organization and has successful social service programs that provide real benefits, as is the case with Hamas, Berman says that it is more likely to breed loyalty.

The insularity of such groups furthers the sense of community that is condusive to loyalty. These groups also tend to be removed from the mainstream, and they’ll often have lifestyle rules and social restrictions that isolate adherents. An example from outside of the terrorism world might be the Amish or Orthodox Judaism.

“People who are willing to take on all those restrictions are very community-minded people, and they’re the kind of people you’d want in a mutual-aid organization,” Berman explains.

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