2005 January 18 Tuesday
CIA Sees Iraq Conflict As Training Ground For Terrorists

A new CIA report Mapping The Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project not surprisingly contains a section about terrorism. Also not surprisingly the CIA sees the conflict in Iraq as a training ground and recruitment lure for terrorists.

A Dispersed Set of Actors. Pressure from the global counterterrorism effort, together with the impact of advances in information technology, will cause the terrorist threat to become increasingly decentralized, evolving into an eclectic array of groups, cells, and individuals. While taking advantage of sanctuaries around the world to train, terrorists will not need a stationary headquarters to plan and carry out operations. Training materials, targeting guidance, weapons know-how, and fund-raising will increasingly become virtual (i.e., online).

The core al-Qa’ida membership probably will continue to dwindle, but other groups inspired by al-Qa’ida, regionally based groups, and individuals labeled simply as jihadists—united by a common hatred of moderate regimes and the West—are likely to conduct terrorist attacks. The al-Qa’ida membership that was distinguished by having trained in Afghanistan will gradually dissipate, to be replaced in part by the dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq. We expect that by 2020 al-Qa’ida will have been superceded by similarly inspired but more diffuse Islamic extremist groups, all of which will oppose the spread of many aspects of globalization into traditional Islamic societies.

  • Iraq and other possible conflicts in the future could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are “professionalized” and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself.
  • Foreign jihadists—individuals ready to fight anywhere they believe Muslim lands are under attack by what they see as “infidel invaders”—enjoy a growing sense of support from Muslims who are not necessarily supporters of terrorism.

Even if the number of extremists dwindles, however, the terrorist threat is likely to remain. Through the Internet and other wireless communications technologies, individuals with ill intent will be able to rally adherents quickly on a broader, even global, scale and do so obscurely. The rapid dispersion of bio- and other lethal forms of technology increases the potential for an individual not affiliated with any terrorist group to be able to inflict widespread loss of life.

By overthrowing the Taliban the US knocked out a recruitment and training area. At that point the US was ahead. But the Bush Administration reversed at least some of those gains with its Iraq misadventure. We would benefit if terrorists made some huge miscalculations and mistakes in order to cancel out our biggest mistakes. What would be the biggest mistake that the global jihad terrorists could make? (and I use the term "global jihad terrorists" to distinguish them from, say, terrorists in Sri Lanka or in the West Bank who are pursuing rather local goals)

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 January 18 11:58 AM  Terrorists Activities

Justin Shriver said at January 18, 2005 1:18 PM:

Another very compelling argument is the circles of support argument. It was advanced by Richard Clarke. The analogy is as follows. If you went to a football game and asked a teen to stop smoking people might agree, if you asked them to stop drinking you would probably be on your own. Its really a matter "poor" behaviour society accepts. Likewise, terrorism does not exist in a vacuum. For every actual actor there is a large support network required (hundreds of people). If killing US citizens is deemed to be bad that network dries up, deemed to be good and it springs to life. This is why the hearts and minds is so important. Bush predicted that the hearts and minds of the Iraq's would be quickly won, this has not happened. Thus, he continues to fight the wrong war for the wrong purposes.

PS I got your info from Conrad (CC).

Friendlyfire said at January 18, 2005 2:59 PM:

Most people who support the president tend to dismiss such findings. It'll be another four years of the same attritional war in Iraq before the Public cannot simiply ignore the cost in lives and the reality of the situation in Iraq. As one person pointed out here Its not that the casualties are high its that the the sacrifices arent moving us forward

Stephen said at January 18, 2005 6:08 PM:

Randall, its certainly desperate times when we need to fantasise about the otherside making mistakes as fundamental as we have.

That said, and to answer your question, the biggest mistake the terrorists could make is to win. Then they would have to transform from a disparate group of outward looking extremists into an homogeneous group of inward looking bureaucrats trying to administer a territory. For instance, if they had stayed in control of Afgahnistan then more and more of their resources would have been committed to running the country - supporting the Taliban, fighting local warlords, blowing up antiquities, mass production of burkas etc. At the same time the rest of the Muslem world would have seen what awaits them should religious fundamentalism take hold at home.

Patrick said at January 22, 2005 6:26 PM:


The worst mistake the terrorists could do is to pull off another 911 against some major power than the USA.

If an airliner is highjacked and takes out a major skyscraper in Shanghai, if a dirty bomb goes off in Kobe, if a dam is demolished upstream of a city in India...or Brazil, or Russia,

All these countries (with the exception of Brazil as far as I know) have already been attacked, but they have all been small enough attacks to sweep under the carpet as "local, police matters, internal, not part of the global struggle". A major huge event (there must be some line between the russian school massacre and 911) will make any response other than attack look like fatal weakness that the population wouldn't stand for.

All of a sudden the USA would have another 500 000 troops to reinforce their own army. All of a sudden all the "white christian crusade against the brown muslim" rhetoric is nullified. It really would be another Pearl Harbour, from the point of view of the Imperial Japanese

And yes, it would be dreaming to rely on they making such a mistake. Not impossible though.

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