At Praescient, we work collaboratively to solve the Nation’s most pressing problems. To achieve our aim of revolutionizing how people leverage information, we often begin by challenging one another to informal debates. It is fairly easy to begin one, since our office space is entirely an open-floor plan with brain boards (i.e. whiteboards) and “sync” rooms throughout the hallways of innovation.
Recently, a group of colleagues posited the question, “What is the significance of terrorist motivation and organization for intelligence efforts to support counterterrorism strategy, policy, and practice?” Presented here is one analysts compiled thoughts on the matter.
Although no internationally accepted definition of terrorism exists, scholars as well as political and military leaders have attempted to categorize terrorist motivation and activity in order to set necessary parameters to justify, or consequently delegitimize, intervention. In short, the successful employment of strategic and operational intelligence practices, in particular analytic methodologies, hinge on defining correctly the problem. This task informs how we address the problem, either appropriately or unsuccessfully.
Michael German, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent, purports in his 2010 publication, “Thinking Like a Terrorist,” that at the most basic level the Intelligence Community fails to understand the motivations of individual terrorist and terrorist groups. Therefore, German concludes that this supports the development of flawed policy recommendations meant to combat terrorists and organizations. Moreover, Jeffrey Victoroff, author of “The Mind of the Terrorist: A Review and Critique of Psychological Approaches,” dives deeper into this problem, articulating that the Intelligence Community’s current psychosocial data modeling of terrorist profiles and activity is inconsistent, thus inhibiting the ability to accurately and effectively define and capture the motivation of individuals and groups.
The bottom line – there exists no blueprint of a terrorist. What should drive counterterrorism strategy is the perspective that albeit individual motivations are vast and diverse when considered generally, the attributes of these motivations may not be and therefore ought to be a focus of analysis. Regarding counterterrorism policy, the global efforts of the United States “to successfully counter violent extremism [is] only one element of our strategic environment and cannot define America’s engagement with the world.” As terrorism is often linked to unique geospatial and temporal parameters, one must come to terms with the fact that these violent actors are here to stay – and evolve – as the world does.