Monday, June 14, 2010

Maybe Some Dumb Ones Are Left

I have been pondering for several years whether the counter-terrorism has been counter-productive because we kill or arrest the dumb ones, so that the ones left behind get smarter and smarter.  Two political scientists I know disagree.  Dan Byman and Christine Fair have nice piece in the Atlantic, revealing that Afghan suicide bombers are pretty lousy at their job, for instance. 
And this success rate hasn’t improved at all in the five years they’ve been using suicide bombers, despite the experience of hundreds of attacks—or attempted attacks. In Afghanistan, as in many cultures, a manly embrace is a time-honored tradition for warriors before they go off to face death. Thus, many suicide bombers never even make it out of their training camp or safe house, as the pressure from these group hugs triggers the explosives in suicide vests. According to several sources at the United Nations, as many as six would-be suicide bombers died last July after one such embrace in Paktika.
Not only are some of our adversaries not too bright, but more than a few are hardly devout.  Byman and Fair provide examples of something I had heard about before--predator porn. 
But intelligence picked up by Predator drones and other battlefield cameras challenges that idea—sometimes rather graphically. One video, captured recently by the thermal-imagery technology housed in a sniper rifle, shows two Talibs in southern Afghanistan engaged in intimate relations with a donkey. Similar videos abound, including ground-surveillance footage that records a Talib fighter gratifying himself with a cow.
And they call us decadent.
Many laptops seized from the Taliban and al-Qaeda are loaded with smut. U.S. intelligence analysts have devoted considerable time to poring over the terrorists’ favored Web sites, searching for hidden militant messages. “We have terabytes of this stuff,” said one Department of Defense al-Qaeda analyst, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It isn’t possible that they are encrypting messages in all of this stuff. Some of these guys are just perverts.”
This pieced has real policy implications:
In contrast, even small investments in training for police and airport-security personnel can make a big difference, as these are the people most likely to encounter—and have a chance to disrupt—an unskilled attacker.

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