While Stratfor generally views things through the lens of strategy, where geopolitics and historical forces shape trends, in this article Scott Stewart narrows his focus to the tactical realm, where exceptional individuals have a greater apparent impact on events.
He reviews the history of Islamic terrorism and discusses individuals who had a great impact on its development, and then goes on to discuss current terrorists who are very influential.
Naturally, killing or capturing these 'exceptional' individuals can degrade terrorist organizations. The beginning of the article is excerpted below, with a link to the entire article at the end of the excerpt.
For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I searched for an exceptional actress among such luminaries as Megan Fox, Lindsey Lohan and Madonna. Naturally, those immense talents were hard to reject, but in the end I selected Mary Pickford for the honor over them all.
Mary Pickford, although her characters have aged badly, truly was an exceptional actress. She was Hollywood's first leading lady and, because of her popularity, was instrumental in driving the price of an actor's contract up. She also produced films and was one of the actors who gathered to form United Artists.
Sadly for her the Talkies were not kind to her. she was turning 30 at the time and, regardless of her age, her silent characters didn't fit the new style of elegant female leads. After retiring from acting she sunk into seclusion and alcoholism, dying in 1979.
Terrorism and the Exceptional Individual
By Scott Stewart, May 17, 2012
There has been a lot of chatter in intelligence and academic circles about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri and his value to AQAP. The disclosure last week of a thwarted AQAP plot to attack U.S. airliners using an improved version of an "underwear bomb" used in the December 2009 attempted attack aboard a commercial airplane and the disclosure of the U.S. government's easing of the rules of engagement for unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in Yemen played into these discussions. People are debating how al-Asiri's death would affect the organization. A similar debate undoubtedly will erupt if AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi is captured or killed.
AQAP has claimed that al-Asiri trained others in bombmaking, and the claim makes sense. Furthermore, other AQAP members have received training in constructing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) while training and fighting in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. This means that al-Asiri is not the only person within the group who can construct an IED. However, he has demonstrated creativity and imagination. His devices consistently have been able to circumvent existing security measures, even if they have not always functioned as intended. We believe this ingenuity and imagination make al-Asiri not merely a bombmaker, but an exceptional bombmaker.
Likewise, al-Wahayshi is one of hundreds -- if not thousands -- of men currently associated with AQAP. He has several deputies and numerous tactical field commanders in various parts of Yemen. Jihadists have had a presence in Yemen for decades, and after the collapse of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, numerous Saudi migrants fleeing the Saudi government augmented this presence. However, al-Wahayshi played a singular role in pulling these disparate jihadist elements together to form a unified and cohesive militant organization that has been involved not only in several transnational terrorist attacks but also in fighting an insurgency that has succeeded in capturing and controlling large areas of territory. He is an exceptional leader.
Individuals like al-Asiri and al-Wahayshi play critical roles in militant groups. History has shown that the loss of exceptional individuals such as these makes a big difference in efforts to defeat such organizations.
One of Stratfor's core geopolitical tenets is that at the strategic level, geography is critical to shaping the limits of what is possible -- and impossible -- for states and nations to achieve in the long run. Quite simply, historically, the strategic political and economic dynamics created by geography are far more significant than the individual leader or personality, no matter how brilliant. For example, in the U.S. Civil War, Robert E. Lee was a shrewd general with a staff of exceptional military officers. However, geographic and economic reality meant that the North was bound to win the civil war despite the astuteness and abilities of Lee and his staff.
But as the size of an organization and the period of time under consideration shrink, geopolitics is little more than a rough guide. At the tactical level, intelligence takes over from geopolitics, and individuals' abilities become far more important in influencing smaller events and trends within the greater geopolitical flow. This is the level where exceptional military commanders can win battles through courage and brilliance, where exceptional businessmen can revolutionize the way business is done through innovative new products or ways of selling those products and where the exceptional individuals can execute terrorist tradecraft in a way that allows them to kill scores or even hundreds of victims.
Leadership is important in any type of organization, but it is especially important in entrepreneurial organizations, which are fraught with risk and require unique vision, innovation and initiative. For example, hundreds of men founded automobile companies in the early 1900s, but Henry Ford was an exceptional individual because of his vision to make automobiles a widely available mass-produced commodity rather than just a toy for the rich. In computer technology, Steve Jobs was exceptional for his ability to design devices with an aesthetic form that appealed to consumers, and Michael Dell was exceptional for his vision of bypassing traditional sales channels and selling computers directly to customers.
These same leadership characteristics of vision, daring, innovation and initiative are evident in the exceptional individuals who have excelled in the development and application of terrorist tradecraft. Some examples of exceptional individuals in the terrorism realm are Ali Hassan Salameh, the operations chief of Black September, who not only revolutionized the form that terrorist organizations take by instituting the use of independent, clandestine cells, but also was a visionary in designing theatrical attacks intended for international media consumption. Some have called Palestinian militant leader Abu Ibrahim the "grandfather of all bombmakers" for his innovative IED designs during his time with Black September, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and his own group, the 15 May Organization. Ibrahim was known for creating sophisticated devices that used plastic explosives and a type of electronic timer called an "e-cell" that could be set for an extended delay. Another terrorism innovator was Hezbollah's Imad Mughniyeh, who helped pioneer the use of large suicide truck bombs to attack hardened targets, such as military barracks and embassies.
In the jihadist realm, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is being tried by a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was such an individual. Not only did Mohammed mastermind the 9/11 attacks for al Qaeda in which large hijacked aircraft were transformed into guided missiles, but he also was the operational planner behind the coordinated attacks against two U.S. embassies in August 1998 and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Mohammed's other innovations included the idea to use modular IEDs concealed in baby dolls to attack 10 aircraft in a coordinated attack (Operation Bojinka) and the shoe bomb plot. Mohammed's video beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl in February 2002 started a grisly trend that was followed not only by jihadists in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia but also by combatants in Mexico's drug war.
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