The Hidden Side of the Alleged Capitol Hill Suicide Bomber

Glittarazzi, a blog side that I do not normally frequent (just want to be clear about that), has done an interesting bit of investigative reporting about Amine el-Khalifi who was arrested the other day allegedly on his way to suicide bomb the U.S. Capitol.

Glittarazzi has found that El-Khalifi was a regular in the DC club scene between 2004 and 2008.  Glittarazzi found his former associates and girlfriends and got the goods on him.  His street name was “Mino” and he dumped a lot of money on liposuction.  He dealt drugs and was a “‘label whore’ with a closet full of Dolce and Gabbana.”  He also liked to have sex in the clubs and beyond that had unspecified unusual sexual habits.  There’s more, but that gives the gist of it.

Apparently all this came to an end in 2008 when he started dating a Bulgarian woman (I might imagine that she was Turkish-Bulgarian) and became devoutly religious.

This sounds like a person who was adrift taking solace in hedonism but looking for something to latch onto in life.  Unfortunately, he found the wrong anchor.  Then the zeal of the convert took over perhaps compounded by a bit of self-loathing.  I’m sort of reminded of Adam Gadahn.  Obviously, Gadahn was not a scenester in this way, but he also wandered through life never quite connecting with anything and you know what happened to him.

Published in: on February 25, 2012 at 4:07 AM  Leave a Comment  

The Uproar over PERF: Occupy Controlling the Information Environment

Perception is reality.

All sorts of media outlets are going into a low hover today over PERF, the Police Executive Research Forum, a think-tank that serves police chiefs of major cities in the US and apparently Canada.  (See here, here, and here for examples.)  It seems that PERF has, gasp, been in conference calls with police chiefs over how to handle the Occupy protests.  In the media, this has turned into PERF “coordinating” crackdowns across the country.

This meme that PERF is coordinating violent crackdowns is a big win in the information sphere for Occupy.  However, it seems to be only tenuously related to the truth.

The Occupy meme has it, of course, that the advice PERF is giving to police departments around the country is to be more violent and more aggressive.  After all, many senior leaders of PERF were police chiefs in cities where mass arrests took place during various demonstrations.  And there seems to be documentary evidence, too, right out of PERF’s own writings.  One Occupy website reported that a PERF document “encourages the use of undercover officers and snatch squads to ‘grab the bad guys and remove them from the crowd.'”  [That hyperlink may not work for a while.  Anonymous has taken down the PERF website.]

This is mendacious, at best.  The broader context has the Seattle Police Chief talking about how his department has learned from its screwups during the Battle of Seattle in 1999.  Note especially how he ends his remarks:

One more thing we can utilize is a program called “Anti-Violence Teams.” This is a two-part option. We can assign plainclothes officers into the crowd to follow troublemakers. These plainclothes officers are supported by the uniformed personnel assigned to the event. Plainclothes people identify the people engaged in illegal activity or displaying a weapon, and the commander can deploy their uniformed personnel to go in and grab the bad guys and remove them from the crowd. It’s a targeted approach to address those who are violating the law or endangering the public, protesters or police. While not always used, this option provides another tool to on-site commanders to address troublemakers without trying to stop a peaceful protest or demonstration.

In fact, the PERF report in question is suffused with an ethos that would probably make law-and-order types from the chattering classes think the police had succumbed to political correctness.  Much of what PERF does a military analyst would recognize  as “adaptation,” the process of figuring out  new solutions after something goes wrong in a conflict.  Herewith some excerpts that give a better sense of the document:

  • We started developing what we call our “meet and greet” strategy. Instead of using riot officers in Darth Vader outfits, we aim to be totally engaged with the crowd. We were out there high-fiving, shaking hands, asking people how they’re doing, and telling the crowd that “We are here to keep you safe.” We have found that this creates a psychological bonding with the crowd that pays real dividends.
  • It’s worth remembering that most protesters are peaceful; only a very small number are criminals and  agitators who smash windows, vandalize the corporate buildings, and so on. Our goal was to communicate this message to the bulk of the protesters:  “We’re your friends. We are here to protect your right to protest. We will stand in harm’s way to protect your right to protest.”
  • If someone is not infringing on the good times of  another person, then we don’t take the heavyhanded approach and enforce minor infractions. If people get into a scuffle, we try to break it up and separate them. During Mardi Gras, arrests are a last resort for us.
  • One problem in dealing with black bloc protesters is that they infiltrate the crowd in street clothing, get to the center of the larger crowd, and then put on black clothing and masks. You’ve got a large group that’s going down the street and a smaller group dressed in black within that larger group. You know what they are going to try to do at some point; they haven’t done it yet but they are going to do it. How do you go into that crowd now and extract that group preventatively without agitating the rest of the crowd and provoking a larger fight? You can’t forget about the other people who are there. There are tens of thousands of people coming just to protest and march legitimately, and you have to look after their rights.
  • When dealing with law-breaking protesters, don’t forget that thousands of nonviolent protesters are merely exercising their First Amendment rights. So the police must differentiate the lawbreaking protesters from those who are peaceful.
  • We’ve got to get over this fear of videotaping our own people.
  • This protest group sat down in the middle of the intersection at 23rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and the motormen were all ready to jump up and start arresting them.  But instead, we just pulled away and diverted traffic around them. After a while, the group got tired and left. It wasn’t a big deal. So if you don’t have to arrest, don’t do it. It will save you a lot of problems. We don’t need to go after every single person who acts aggressively towards a police officer unless there’s a danger of an officer getting hurt.
  • Admit your mistakes openly.
  • Make sure you have competent leaders in the field to prevent officers from overreacting.
  • Think carefully before you make arrests. Arrests can take valuable resources away from the event and later can result in years of litigation.

Another PERF document on handling mass demonstrations includes such thuggish passages in its section on the use of force as:

  • The police should seek to facilitate any lawful and legitimate aims of groups who are present—especially when conflict breaks out. The aim should be to permit the pursuit of lawful actions while dealing with groups acting illegally.
  • Officers must be mindful that a crowd can consist of a variety of persons, present for a range of reasons. When violence starts, there is the risk of dealing with all those present as if they are hostile protestors.  However, especially in such situations, it is crucial to treat people with respect and win them to law enforcement’s side, not the side of those already promoting conflict. It may be necessary to facilitate the desires of the many, such as the wish to peacefully protest, so that the demonstrators may assist the police with their overall intention, which is to prevent disorder.
  • We have seen from police after-action reports and third-party reviews of police practices that the mass detention of protestors not actively engaged in violence can create significant problems for law enforcement agencies (New York Civil Liberties Union 2004).  Mass arrests during demonstrations in Washington, D.C., New York City and other major locales have been criticized. In some cases, the protest activity, while unlawful, was not necessarily violent. Complaints included that law-abiding protestors and passersby were rounded up and detained along with violators in overly broad sweeps. The negative impact of these media images damages the public perception of the police operation, as it draws into question the reasonableness and proportionality of the police response. Subsequent litigation has proven to be particularly costly. In most instances only a tiny number of those arrested actually appear in court and most of those are charged with offenses that would not normally attract an arrest or detention.
  • The Boston Police Department conducted a critical review of its training and use of less-lethal weapons after police fired a plastic, pepper-spray filled projectile that killed a young woman in 2005. The FN303 firing device is often used because it was designed to avoid causing bodily injury.  However, instructions indicate that it should not be aimed above the waist. The young woman who was killed was unintentionally struck in the eye. Police professionals should not necessarily abandon the use of this type of device, but should be aware of incidents such as this and provide proper training in order to avoid similar tragedies.

As one reads these documents, it’s interesting to note how often the problems and screwups in the past that PERF seeks to correct stem from the application of force (too much force, or force applied too broadly, or force poorly applied by ill-trained officers).

Based on all this, my guess would be–and it’s just a guess because I have no more direct data than do the reporters and Occupy publicists who are pushing this story– that what PERF is telling police chiefs is “you are screwing up.”  Pepper-spraying kids who are sitting on the ground may serve the police department’s short term interest, but won’t serve it well over any longer time frame.

PERF is in a position much like that of the COIN advocates in the US military.  They are saying that the police need to win hearts and minds, they need to have good contacts in the community, they should show restraint even in the face of provocation, they should target the use of their full power as precisely as possible, etc.

Ironically, by delegitimizing PERF and perhaps by chilling police chiefs from talking with it, the Occupy folks may well be setting the stage for more police violence and overreactions.  Of course, this would serve Occupy well.  A good round of police atrocities could be what really kicks their movement into overdrive.

Do I really think that Occupy is purposely trying to sideline sideline the moderates among those who oppose them so as to get more police violence?  (This is an old strategy of insurgents: hollow out the middle thereby making your opponents look more and more extreme.  It can be very effective.)  No, not in this case, at least.  However, Occupy has positioned itself nicely in the information sphere such that anything the police do short of roll over and play dead, serves Occupy’s interest.  That’s a great position for them to be in.

Al Qaeda and Its Apathetic Public

My friend Ryan Evans’ excellent review of Fawaz Gerges’ new book, The Rise and Fall of Al Qaeda got me thinking about conspiracy theorism and its relationship to Al Qaeda’s fortunes.

Ryan takes issue with Gerges’ contention that Al Qaeda never really had a “viable social constituency.” I am most decidedly with Ryan on this one, but I disagree with one of the points he made in arguing his case. Ryan argues that the fact that a majority in the Muslim world do not believe that Arabs conducted the 9/11 attacks suggests the existence of a constituency that Al Qaeda could appeal to.

I think that this conspiracy theorism proves just the opposite. Rather, I think it shows the existence of an enormous pool of apathy in the Arab world. Consider this. Al Qaeda intended 9/11 to be, among other things an inspiring event that would make Muslims around the world believe that they could strike a blow against the United States. How likely is a Muslim to be inspired to act by an event that he thinks was orchestrated by the Mossad or the CIA or George W. Bush? Instead, I think that the 75% of Egyptians, the 57% of Pakistanis, etc., who believe such conspiracy theories are lost to Al Qaeda. They are the equivalent of the Americans who sit on their couches and shout at the television but never both to vote. They may hold strong views, but they are politically irrelevant and they are never going to kill anybody.

I think Al Qaeda knows this. AQAP’s Inspire magazine recently complained about such conspiracy theories and, if memory serves, Bin Laden and Zawahiri have both gone on record to similar effect, as well.

This connects, I believe, with the burning question of the application of deterrence theory to religiously-inspired terrorists. Traditional deterrence as people like yours truly came to know and love it during the Cold War was “deterrence by punishment.” This involved threatening to kick the bejeezus out of anybody who screwed with us. Deterrence by punishment doesn’t work so well with an enemy like Al Qaeda which wants the United States to respond militarily and the members of which want nothing more than martyrdom. This has led to discussions of “deterrence by denial.” The idea here is that one might be able to deter undesirable actions if one can deny the benefits of those actions to the actor. Typically this leads to recommendations for increased counterterrorism efforts and increased resilience against terrorist attacks. However, it may be that the Muslim population is a strong deterrent by denial to Al Qaeda, as well. If the population can’t be inspired by violence, what’s the point in trying?

Published in: on November 21, 2011 at 2:04 AM  Comments (1)  
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Anonymous vs. the Muslim Brotherhood?

Apparently Anonymous has decided to take on the Ikhwan day after tomorrow.  I’m curious what if anything will come of this.  Probably nothing, but I’m prepared to be wrong.  (I sort of hope I’m wrong, actually, as I’m not an enormous fan of the the Muslim Brotherhood.)

One thing about this announcement of impending cyber hostilities got me thinking: the Anonymous complaint that the Brotherhood seeks “to destroy the sovereignty of the people of Egypt as well as other nations including the United States.”  I wasn’t previously aware that Anonymous cared much about sovereignty.  Whether or not my suspicions about the provenance of this video are correct, the strangeness of this target has me thinking about how easy it is to hijack a leaderless movement.  Since the concept of membership is effectively meaningless in a leaderless movement such as Anonymous purports to be, there is literally nothing to stop it from being turned by its enemies into self-destructive actions.  For instance, one could image turning Anonymous against OWS or just putting out a flood of Anonymous calls to action against an enormous variety of targets.  The “real” threats would be lost in the noise and thereby neutralized.

Published in: on November 9, 2011 at 9:44 PM  Comments (1)  

Al Qaida and Its Media Shortcomings: A Possible Improvement Coming

Last night I guest lectured in Stephen Tankel’s class on Al Qaida and information operations.  We were discussing AQ’s lack of television stations and one student noted that the convergence between television and the Internet will probably solve that problem for Al Qaida (or its successors) in the medium term.  After all Al Qaida has a robust presence on the Internet.  I thought that was a very interesting point.  Straight to the head of the class!

Published in: on October 12, 2011 at 11:01 PM  Leave a Comment