Below is the final installment of a six-part article by John J. Dziak about the Islamic counterintelligence state.
The article is reprinted here with permission of the author. It first appeared in Papers & Studies by the International Assessment and Strategy Center, Washington, D.C., on 6 April 2007. It was later republished in the Summer/Fall 2007 issue of Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies.
Islamism and Stratagem
by John J. Dziak, Ph.D
It has been advanced by serious students of warfare that what Islamists in general and al-Qaeda in particular are pursuing is a new paradigm of war: Fourth Generation Warfare in which nation-states and all the associated conventions of warfare are being eclipsed by non-state players who won’t acknowledge the nation-state’s monopoly over armed force. In such a paradigm decentralization, information warfare, pervasive deception and other time-proven counterintelligence actions, religious-based millenarian ideologies, the use of unconstrained violence recognizing no boundaries between combatants and civilians — all of these and much more characterize this new stage of warfare. This writer takes no issue with such a construct, although it does seem that the non-state dimension is somewhat overdrawn given the behind-the-scenes roles of the Syrian and Iranian intelligence services, the funding and religious play of the Wahhabist Saudi state, or the spoiling role of the Russians especially in view of their relations with Syria, Iran and, by extension, their terrorist client groups.
Rather, what is suggested is that while there very well may be Fourth Generation Warfare underway, it is a reassertion of a far older tradition: the counterintelligence imperative of traditional societies and cultures — this time in the face of a globalization destructive of old certainties. The resurgence of an aggressive Islam following the failures of Arab nationalism cum socialism, Pan-Arabism, and the romance with the Soviet Bloc is part of this reassertion. It looks to an older Islamic patrimony based on the certainties of its theocratic faith and the lost glories of the Caliphate as the redeeming palliative to a rootless modernity. It finds comfort in Islam’s own proven counterintelligence heritage of conspiracy, provocation, and deception crafted in centuries-long wars against both the Infidel and fellow Muslims. Fourteen hundred years of unchanging tradition buttressed by the hard certainties of an unmediated faith issued directly from Allah is a foundation for action, a foundation not readily reformed, modified, or dismissed. Resurgent Islam will naturally use the techniques of asymmetric struggle associated with Fourth Generation Warfare because they are precisely the techniques common to traditional societies in their confrontation with more powerful or technically advanced opponents. Deception especially is a featured tool of such societies because it is cheap, cerebral, ready-to-hand and a weapon of choice for the weaker combatant against the more powerful, but usually smug, opponent.
The residual influence of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia on Islamism may be seen precisely in the assimilated features of the counterintelligence state absorbed by both radical Islamic movements and radical Islamic regimes: the multiplicity and redundancy of intelligence and counterintelligence services with counterintelligence being the preferred tendency; fixation with conspiracies and incessant conspiratorial intrigue; provocation and associated deception; conspiracy-laced propaganda and very sophisticated information warfare campaigns; draconian police state tactics, this time justified by theocratic strictures vice party dogma. In its drive to nuclear power status Iran, especially, has shown adeptness at deception in masking the weapons side of its program, and in information warfare and propaganda with its bombast of military prowess aimed at strong anti-war sentiment in the U.S.
In responding to a resurgent Islamism that is prosecuting a new generation of warfare especially in its deceptive dimensions, U.S. intelligence faces several difficulties, not all of them within its powers to address. With regard to the latter, public opinion, especially in its elite manifestations, is conflicted about linking a major world faith with terrorism and other violence. Coupled with fixations with political correctness and widespread nonjudgmental relativism, strong elements of U.S. opinion seem still to be in a pre-9/11 mindset. There is a palpable reluctance in many quarters to admit that a conflict along civilizational/cultural boundaries is underway. A deep reluctance to acknowledge this is seen in the censored language of public discourse, i.e., the use of generic “terrorism” vice Islamists, radical Islam, etc.
What intelligence can attend to more vigorously and more cerebrally are a recognition of and response to the following:
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- A counterintelligence imperative and mentality suffuses traditional cultures from which resurgent radical Islam emerges.
- Islamism embraces a deeply counterintelligence ethos that manifests stratagem, deception, conspiracy; Islamism is the twenty first century heir to the counterintelligence state traditions of the totalitarian systems of the last century.
- The Islamist threat cannot easily fit the KGB paradigm, the secret police/state security model against which U. S. intelligence and counterintelligence have been defending since World War II. Countering the current threat is not just a matter of frustrating the case officer and his recruit(s).
- There is a lack of a serious and sophisticated counterintelligence tradition in the U.S. that degrades our coming to grips with the subtleties of Fourth Generation Warfare. Counterintelligence, deception, and counterdeception are among the most cerebral elements of the intelligence craft, yet remain the orphans of the trade. Recent official commissions, especially the WMD Commission in its report issued last year, seem to be saying pretty much the same thing.
- Sophisticated counterintelligence is key to both counter deception and counterterrorism. Only then will a revivified U.S. intelligence culture be able to grapple with a religiously rooted war in which deception is organic, even to the enemy’s portrayal of itself. The WMD Commission had it about right.
(c) Copyright 2007, John J. Dziak
John J. Dziak is an adjunct professor at The Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft and national security affairs in Washington, D.C., where he teaches a course on comparative intelligence systems. Dr. Dziak is also Senior Fellow, Counterintelligence and Strategic Technology, at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, and the president of Dziak Group, Inc. He retired from a distinguished career in the U.S. intelligence community in 1996. Dr. Dziak has written extensively on Russian intelligence, and holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University.
|||See, for instance, Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War, NY: Free Press, 1991; and Shultz and Beitler, ibid, pp. 2-3. The Shultz/Beitler study is an excellent analysis of how groups like al-Quaeda have grasped and used deception and other asymmetrical advantages against the superior military and technological capabilities of the US.|
|||See Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1998. When Huntington first proposed in 1992, the notion that the world would divide along civilizational vice ideological boundaries, he was roundly denounced. Since 9/11 the polemics have abated.|