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ICG Risk Blog - [ Globally dispersed, indigenously sited communities of terrorists upgrading to locally produced chembio agents ]

Globally dispersed, indigenously sited communities of terrorists upgrading to locally produced chembio agents


The marriage of John Robb's GLOBAL GUERRILLAS IN THE UK with my Designer bioagents: Why a potential Iranian, or existing Pakistani or DPRK, nuclear weapon does not overly excite me creates the terrorist chembio agent landscape that the UK's head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, has elected to describe in a rare public address.

Manningham-Buller uncloaked to "set out my views on the realities of the terrorist threat facing the UK in 2006; what motivates those who pose that threat; and what my Service is doing, with others, to counter it":
[My] officers and the police are working to contend with some 200 groupings or networks, totalling over 1600 identified individuals (and there will be many we don't know) who are actively engaged in plotting, or facilitating, terrorist acts here and overseas. The extremists are motivated by a sense of grievance and injustice driven by their interpretation of the history between the West and the Muslim world. This view is shared, in some degree, by a far wider constituency. If the opinion polls conducted in the UK since July 2005 are only broadly accurate, over 100,000 of our citizens consider that the July 2005 attacks in London were justified.

What we see at the extreme end of the spectrum are resilient networks, some directed from Al-Qaida in Pakistan, some more loosely inspired by it, planning attacks including mass casualty suicide attacks in the UK. Today we see the use of home-made improvised explosive devices; tomorrow's threat may include the use of chemicals, bacteriological agents, radioactive materials and even nuclear technology. More and more people are moving from passive sympathy towards active terrorism through being radicalised or indoctrinated by friends, families, in organised training events here and overseas, by images on television, through chat rooms and websites on the Internet...

We are aware of numerous plots to kill people and to damage our economy. What do I mean by numerous? Five? Ten? No, nearer thirty - that we know of. These plots often have links back to Al-Qaida in Pakistan and through those links Al-Qaida gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale. And it is not just the UK of course. Other countries also face a new terrorist threat: from Spain to France to Canada and Germany.

I think Robb appropriate in his observation that:

Dame Eliza's MI5 has identified are clearly the tip the of the iceberg. The dynamics of this model of warfare dictate that for every group identified... there are dozens more in formation or fully functional without direct connections to known sources of danger (without a direct connection to a known terrorist group or individual, it is nearly impossible to differentiate dangerous networks from benign ones). [Furthermore] these groups will:

  • Continue to form under their own steam [more on that below]
  • Increasingly move towards economic and social systems disruption
  • [Increase] Connection to transnational crime
Robb reminds us of earlier English support to anti-Turk Arabs in which the English aided rather than overwhelmed a fluid community that "formed in response to a central premise: to expel the turks from Arabia," exhibited "little formal structure (a nest of relationships)" in which " participants flowed in and out based on their fill of loot, honor, religious fervor, and revenge (benefits of membership..)."

Read the short
A Brief Introduction, Social Network Analysis, then Krebs' Organizational Network Mapping and Uncloaking Terrorist Networks, and if you're still reading along, Ronfeldt and Arquilla's, Networks, Netwars, and the Fight for the Future. In 1996, Krebs noted, "The mantra "It's the connections, stupid!" may be a key in functioning effectively in the new economy." His comments to the Learning Org list often spoke to how incipient leaders emerge and lead, how knowledge and training is disseminated. Even his comments on learning had much to do with social networks as opposed to top down rigid hierarchies:
You learn by becoming a member of the community -- learning is a social activity -- collaborative problem solving[we each bring part of the expertise needed] and apprenticeship. If you destroy the community, you destroy the ability to pass the learning on. Listed below are some of the principles of learning from the Institute for Research on Learning [IRL]:
* Learning is fundamentally social
* Knowledge is integrated in the life of communities
* Learning is an act of membership
* Knowing depends on engagement in practice
* Engagement is inseparable from empowerment
* "Failure" to learn is the result of exclusion from participation

Look at Krebs' community links image of dense connections of "the core leadership of the organization" (yellow), the "active members... tightly connected to the leadership nodes (red), those not "formally connected to the core group [but] actively working on ways [to] connect to the "group"" (blue), and "lurkers and potential members [that] may or may not undertake actions that are in line with group goals" (green).

Predation by the US and Israel on yellow and highly connected red ranks have made large operations more difficult by decentralizing the network. Unfortunately, the opportunity for smaller operations is growing as are the number of potential actors; Deep yellow actors have minimized their signature, acting through human and web proxies, while blue and green actors continue to form autonomous groups capable of independent operations. (Robb feels that the London 7/7 bombers were blue nodes.)

Intersect this informally linked, blue/green learning community, leaping over amateurish efforts to extract Ricin, to produce nerve gas via microfactories or designer biological agents via simple gene splicing:

The countdown to "highly dispersed, easily achieved asymmetrical use of designed bioagents, even "de novo" or newly created biological agents, by multiple actors working independently or in concert tempers" has commenced... The threat of designer bioagents exceeds that of organophosphate (nerve agent) production via miniaturized microfactories, but I expect to see the chemical attacks first as components are already commercially available...

The impact of designer bioagents is so great that it satisfies the superempowerment characteristic of emerging Fifth Generation War:

The range of effect for each individual soldier ( or terrorist) will be vastly increased even as the economic costs are driven down by market forces and proliferation of dual-use technology to the civilian consumer.
It is not infeasible to envision high value metropolitan areas bearing the brunt of multiple agent attacks by unrelated protagonists. We are on the cusp, arguably within the decade, of a diversified 'beneath the radar' capacity to cheaply produce designer bioagents for which the defense community has acknowledged that there is no current workable defense, no means of designing and distributing an appropriate vaccine. (Forget stockpiling as a designer agent may well demand a designed vaccine.) Worse, our labyrinthine bureaucracies will most likely hobble us in attempting to interdict these many agile actors driven by a widening range of grievances.

The difficulty of the US position will increasingly become a global risk:

Within the current [US administration], the largely implicit but powerfully entrenched assumptions are that the danger derives mainly from hostile foreign sources and that it can be managed primarily by controlling access to dangerous pathogens themselves. Understandable and perhaps inevitable as that reaction may be in political and emotional terms, it is highly dysfunctional in terms of scientific reality and will almost certainly intensify the underlying peril...

It is all to easy to agree with Manningham-Buller's assessment:

That threat is serious, is growing and will, I believe, be with us for a generation. It is a sustained campaign, not a series of isolated incidents. It aims to wear down our will to resist.

Part 2, Indications and Warning (I&W)

John Robb
Global Guerrillas
Friday, November 10, 2006

MI5 tracking '30 UK terror plots'
BBC News
Last Updated: Friday, 10 November 2006, 10:46 GMT

Eliza Manningham-Buller profile
BBC News
Last Updated: Friday, 10 November 2006, 10:30 GMT



John Robb
Global Guerrillas
Thursday, July 21, 2005

Uncloaking Terrorist Networks
By Valdis Krebs
First Monday, volume 7, number 4 (April 2002),

Networks, Netwars, and the Fight for the Future
by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla
First Monday, volume 6, number 10 (October 2001),

Organizational Network Mapping
Tactic #17, Chapter 4
Managing Core Competencies of the Organization
The Advisory Board, 1996

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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