Paul Shinkman from the U.S. News & World Report wrote an article this week discussing a report published by the Center For Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) and General Michael Hayden, the former Director of the CIA and NSA. This report highlighted Al-Qaeda’s efforts to recruit and attack from within the United States.  During the discussion, General Hayden made some observations about the state of terrorism and how Islamic extremist groups are beginning to reflect the qualities of gangs. While the General noted some of the challenges that our nation’s law enforcement officers will face as they attempt to prevent socially isolated and violent kids from being recruited into terrorist groups, there are also some benefits to terrorism behaving more like the “Bloods and Crip” than the “Koran and Hadith.”

I believe that the fact terrorist organizations are beginning to reflect the qualities of a street gang makes combatting terrorism a more predictable effort. While gang activity can be characterized as violent and criminal; the hierarchy, purpose, and actions of a gang are designed to satisfy two primary goals: to funnel money to the leadership at the top of the group and for the gang to control an ever-expanding portion of the city they are in.  These two goals are not unique to gang life, but can also be used to describe the actions of just about any business around the world.  Companies are continually looking for ways to create a greater amount of wealth for their shareholders and are always looking to outperform their competition in order to own a greater percentage of market-share.  These similarities become a significant benefit to countering terrorist goals and preventing future attacks from occurring.

Getting Beyond The Differences

The truth is, because an overwhelming percentage of our nation’s military and law enforcement officers are not Muslims, we struggle to completely understand the intricacies of their culture.  Even after over a decade of war, we are still immigrants trying to learn about the stories in the Koran and realize how extremists are misinterpreting those lessons.  By looking at terrorism, and even the Afghan insurgency from a “Koran and Hadith” vantage point, we spend a great deal of time noticing differences between our cultures as we search for common ground.  This limits our ability to target our enemy and prevent future attacks from occurring because we have not found the similarities that allow us to identify an insurgent or terrorist as they operate right in front of us.  By looking at terrorism, or the narco-terrorist groups in Southern Helmand who are funding the insurgency, from a business perspective we can become much more capable of finding similarities between our own experiences and the actions that our enemies are taking.

As officers become more capable of finding similarities across situations and cultures, they develop what decision-making expert and researcher Gary Klein refers to as Recognition Primed Decision Making (RPD).  By recognizing patterns of behavior, experienced law enforcement officers can improve their ability to identify terrorists operating on our streets and take action to prevent them from recruiting, attacking and operating here in America.  To develop this intuitive decision making, it requires that officers build up their “database of experiences” in order to recognize when terrorist, gang, or business related activities are occurring.

Learning How To Influence

Developing the ability to recognize gang activity is one of the reasons why I am constantly encouraging professionals throughout the military, police and security industry to start their own website or business.  The experiences gained from going through this process can make our security providers more intelligent, well rounded, and more capable of recognizing the environment where criminals are operating today.

If an officer is dedicated enough to build a website and attract an increasing number of readers to their blog, they are learning what it takes to influence other people.  At its core, gang-recruiting efforts boil down to influence.  The ability of an experienced gang leader to bring people into the organization is a reflection of their ability to communicate and target the personal motivations of their potential recruit.  As I’ve written about before, starting a site won’t be easy at first, but the benefit of doing this will certainly improve an officer’s ability to recognize recruitment when it is happening.

Besides learning how to influence others, building a website will teach an officer more hands-on information about the Internet than any class could offer. It is well documented that extremist groups have turned to the online world to recruit and plan their operations, but with the exception of cyber units, our “guy on the ground” remains fairly uneducated about how this process works, and what indicators online recruitment might leave behind in the physical world.  The knowledge and experience gained from overcoming the challenges inherent with starting a website will improve the officer’s ability to question, collect intelligence and target the groups who are relying on the internet to operate.

The Silver Bullet

Education is the silver bullet to prevent terrorists and gangs from expanding their reach.  While we, as security providers, cannot impact the ability of schools to teach our youth and prevent them from joining a gang, we can certainly focus on our own education and developing our personal capabilities.  I’ve found from starting my own company and talking to others who have done the same (or given excuses why they haven’t) that many of the tasks involved with starting a business take someone out of their comfort zone.  That is part of learning and combatting radicalization requires that the people charged with stopping an attack are smarter than the people conducting the attack.  It only depends on how effective you want to be.

If you are interested in watching the video discussing with General Hayden and Robin Simcox (the reports author), I have embedded it here.  It is definitely worth the time.