Counterterrorism Strategy

The Terrorist Training Manual used by al-Qaeda not only gives its members tactical instructions but also demonstrates its members’ high level of commitment. Its implications include, first of all, the fact that al-Qaeda is an intricately organized, well-funded, and well-trained group well aware that they are under surveillance and know how to maintain a low profile and evade observers. The manual’s introduction displays the organization’s high level of commitment and utter lack of trust in Western governments. Its admonitions turn the tables on the West, claiming that “the apostate regimes .

. . [know] the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination . . . and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine-gun” (UK/BM-3). The fact that it demonizes the West shows how they believe they are right and justified and this lethal seriousness cannot be humored or easily ignored. “Islam is not just performing rituals but a complete system: Religion and government, worship and Jihad, ethics and dealing with people, and the Koran and sword” (UK/BM-8). It defines its mission in almost holistic terms, without cynicism or differentiation between the political and spiritual.

It clearly spells out the military organization’s primary missions, which include gathering information on targeted people and installations, kidnapping and/or killing “enemies,” launching campaigns to sway public opinion against Western governments, “destroying the places of amusement, immorality, and sin” (UK/BM-12), and generally creating instability. Subsequently, it also offers detailed instructions for forging documents, handling finances, setting up urban and rural bases, avoiding detection, and upsetting targeted nations’ sense of security.

In light of the manual’s contents, authorities need to create a strategy mindful of their sophistication, financial resources, and awareness of how Western law enforcement functions. It should focus on detection and surveillance, starting with more efficient methods of identifying false passports and other documents al-Qaeda members use for international travel. Al-Qaeda members are also trained in how to respond to immigration agents’ questions, which follow a set form; varying this form in order to detect inconsistencies and make suspects contradict or reveal themselves would likely help.

However, these measures would likely require significant training of personnel responsible for identifying false falsified papers and might necessitate changes to passports themselves. In addition, the strategy must call for improved surveillance and tracking of members’ movements and expenses. Al-Qaeda members use telephones sparingly, seldom meet in large numbers, and avoid attracting law enforcement’s suspicions, so understanding their methods and using improved ways of keeping track of them is vital. It has to entail something more sophisticated and covert than phone taps or bugging devices (which members are trained to recognize).

Watching their finances is important, particularly movements of large sums of money, cash transactions, and wire transfers from nations known to have an al-Qaeda presence. The fact that they study public targets means that law enforcement agencies need to be aware of anyone paying a suspicious level of attention to public facilities by making repeated visits without apparent purpose. Al-Qaeda members frequently study targets to determine their level of security and vulnerability, so security and law enforcement need to be aware of anyone appearing to linger in a public space while also seeming to study the place itself.

Al-Qaeda cells depend on maintaining secrecy and avoiding law enforcement agencies’ attention, so a logical counterterrorist strategy would be mindful of their methods and meet them on their own terms. They rely on knowledge of authorities’ routines, so varying these routines and disrupting their usual practices is essential to detection and deterrence. REFERENCES Counterintelligence Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2001). Terrorist Training Manual. Washington DC: Department of Justice.

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