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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Combating Open Source Terrorism

Posted by: danish Ahmed 2:00 AM

Serial blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad point to a new pattern of terror attacks that seem to me similar to the Open Source Warfare model that defense analyst John Robb propounds in his blog. Robb says that the Al Qaeda and terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Iraq are adapting to the Open Source Software development model to overcome enemy that they cannot defeat using conventional warfare techniques.

What is Open Source Software model?

The best place to look for definition of Open Source model is Eric Stallman's, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar." In the essay, Stallman compares the conventional software methodology as a centralized approach in which software are built “like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation...."

In contrast, development of Linux in "a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches..." reveals that in a lot of situations the latter model was more productive. The strength of the Bazaar model can be enumerated as self-motivation, collaborative development, information sharing, innovation and frequency of releases. All most all of these are concepts that can be adapted in circumstances unrelated to software development and according to Robb the bazaar dynamics are being adapted by terrorist groups like Al Qaeda involved in the Fourth Generation Warfare. These groups can be described as a global but decentralized network of highly motivated individuals subscribing to a violent ideology and carrying out attacks on a global scale.


Coming back to the topic,
India is not exactly a stranger to terror attacks. For decades now India has been facing terrorist attacks but they had always been part of the proxy wars that hostile neighbors were waging on it with the help of secessionists/insurgents. Despite all claims and allegations there is little evidence to suggest that the recent attacks are linked to global terrorism. A scarier but more realistic assumption indicates that the bazaar dynamics of the Open Source model of groups like Al Qaida may have been picked up by disgruntled elements in the local population. Last few attacks have certain elements which not only discern it from other attacks but also link it to Fourth Generation Warfare and the open source model

‘Fourth Generation Warfare’ is a concept defined in 1989 by a group of American analysts including William S. Lind and John Boyd, to describe warfare’s return to decentralized form or to a form where one of the forces in the conflict is a not a nation-state but a rather violent ideological network. The 1989 paper by Lind and team can be viewed here .[ 4GW definition in Wikipedia ]

It is quite likely that as opposed to the past the recent attacks have all been carried out by locals without active help of external agencies. While radical Islamic ideology such as the one propagated by the Al Qaida may have a role, the perpetrators of these crimes are most likely to be anarchists out to destabilize the society they don't agree with.
John Robb identifies the following characteristics of the "bazaar of violence"

  • Leveraged attacks - Attacks that have huge impact in contrast to the scale of the operation.
  • Swarms vs single group activity- Many small attacks that in aggregate have an impact equal to several large attacks.
  • Rapid innovation- Adapt quickly to any situation and use existing tools and resources for maximum gain.

Every one of these "bazaar dynamics" can be found in the latest terror attacks in India. Post-9/11 it has been found that terrorist groups are reorganizing themselves into optimally sized, compact and decentralized networks, there is no visible connection between these modules. The only link that these modules have with other terror modules is that of sharing the same ideology. In all recent attacks in India the investigating agencies have been quick to point finger at SIMI and HUJI but as of yet they have not been able to bring the guilty to book or produce any substantial evidence. This failure of the police can be explained more effectively by analyzing the "bazaar dynamics" and the concept of 4GW. In all recent attacks the materials used in the operation are all readily available and can be procured from local markets and without even drawing undue attention. If a terror module intends to use high power explosives like RDX, it would require logistic support from across the border and in doing so it might leave a trail behind that the investigating agencies can pick up and track down the individuals and organization responsible for the attack.

But bicycles, gelatin sticks, clocks, sulphur and ammonium nitrate are all materials that are easily available and with a little innovation can be transformed into deadly tools of destruction if the wielder is determined to. In fact the destructive power of such weapons increases manifold when used in collaboration with other bazaar dynamics. Numerous small attacks in rapid succession can have a greater impact than a single but more large attack. And the most dangerous aspect of this is that it can be carried out by a decentralized module with a very few but dedicated members. This way information is compartmentalized and no visible trails are left behind for the investigating agencies to follow up.

Recent attacks also suggest the motive of the perpetrators is not to cause death and destruction as much as it is to create panic and destabilize the system. True enough, after the Bangalore blasts Sensex dropped by more than 500 points and security alerts have been raised in all major cities, the total expense that the state would have to bear might well be thousands times (or millions ?) the expense that would have gone in to carry out the attacks. These financial losses may be significant but the primary objective was to create panic and a sense of distrust in the citizenry towards the state and the terrorists may not have failed completely in achieving it. A typical characteristic of a 4GW maneuver is the use of the strength of the society against itself. Technological development, especially development in the field of communication technology has helped terror networks coordinate and execute operations more efficiently. Propaganda has been an integral part of all forms of warfare including terrorism, the current reach of media into the living room of masses has made it an effective tool of 4GW forces.

Fighting and defeating an enemy that thrives by subverting our very own ideals and principles might not be such an easy task without requiring sacrifice of those very principles but then again sacrificing our cherished ideals would be nothing short of a defeat. Battle in a 4GW conflict is fought on a tactical level and won in the moral sphere. To engage 4GW terrorist networks and eliminate them without allowing them to damage the social fabric it would be necessary to understand their strategies and use their tactics against them. By tactics I do not mean the violence but the objectives that they want to achieve by using violence.
John Boyd, an important member of the American analyst group which formulated the concept of 4GW, suggests the following actions to counter terrorist network.

  • Undermine guerrilla causes and destroy their cohesion by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and serve needs of people – rather than exploit and impoverish them for the benefit of a greedy elite.
  • Take political initiative to root out and visibly punish corruption and eliminate grievances at the grass roots.
  • Infiltrate guerrilla movements and employ the population for intelligence on the guerrillas
  • Deploy administrative talent, police, and roving counter-guerrilla teams into affected regions.
  • Take and keep the initiative by relentless pursuit. Employ the guerrilla’s own tactics of reconnaissance, infiltration, and surprise hit-and-run and sudden ambush to keep roving bands off-balance and to make base areas untenable.
  • Emphasize capture and conversion to government cause -- instead of harsh anti-population reprisal measures and “body count” – as a basis to undermine guerrilla influence.
  • Visibly identify central government with local political/economic/social reform in order to connect government with hopes and needs of people, thereby gain their support and confirm government legitimacy.
  • Destroy guerrilla cohesion and break their hold upon the population via political initiative that demonstrates moral legitimacy and vitality of government and by relentless military operations that emphasize stealth/fast tempo/fluidity-of-action and cohesion of overall effort. [Source]

Interestingly, some of the actions that Boyd proposes have already been implemented in India during earlier insurgencies and scope exists for implementation of the rest of them. However, the current mood in India is one of rage and vengeance for the dastardly acts carried out against the nation. A section of the citizenry and political parties are demanding stringent anti-terror laws even if it requires us to surrender some of our rights and freedom. The above analysis reveals that given the nature of this conflict brute force would not only prove highly ineffective but may also take the fight against us. As has been seen before, the actual perpetrators of terror attacks either die during the operation or just vanish into the thin air, it is the innocent people especially those in wrong place at the wrong time or disagreeing with the ruling party's ideology who find themselves at the receiving end of the draconian laws. If the objectives of these attacks are to undermine cohesion and moral bonding in the society the only way to defeat them would be a greater show of unity and solidarity. This would not only counter the attacks but would also help weaken the organizational base of most of these terrorist networks. The first step forward would be affirmative political initiative that connects the government to the people and evolves national identity. If all sections of society are adequately involved in political processes, anti-national elements are likely to lose any base they might have built.

Some proactive and stern measures would also have to be taken but in a more pragmatic manner. All law enforcement agencies including intelligence services should be reformed and revamped. A message needs to be sent out to the authorities that these agencies exist for the security of the nation and not for running on personal errands of VVIPs or for stalking opposition leaders. A central agency may be created to monitor, infiltrate terrorist networks and prevent attacks from being carried out. It is quite possible that not all members of every terrorist group have the same level of conviction in the "cause" especially a "cause" that requires destruction of life and property. Ideological mentors and leaders play a major role in not only radicalizing and converting disenchantment towards the state into violent hatred but also in keeping the hatred alive. In such circumstances the catalyzing agents and indoctrinators should be eliminated and the rest should be converted to the government cause. If at all conversions take place the media should be used optimally to publicize and lure other disenchanted elements back into the mainstream.

As far as monitoring, infiltration and elimination is concerned, these tactics should not be novel for Indian law enforcement agencies. In a number of states the local police have used them to counter organized crime, in fact, the Mumbai police was exceptionally successful in eliminating or at least keeping at bay the threat of the underworld by adopting this strategy. Rehabilitation programs for history sheeters have also been implemented in many different parts of the country. There is no reason why this set of strategies cannot be used in fighting terrorism once there is sufficient political will.

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