In his last Security Weekly column Scott Stewart talked about, from the perspective of terrorist groups, the influence that exceptional individuals have on a tactical level planning and execution.
However, as in any organization, terror groups have far more average individuals the exceptional leaders, as well as outright bunglers. In this Stratfor article Stewart recounts some of larger mistakes made by the recent crop of terrorists.
However, he does remind us that even an incompetent individual, if led by a much more talented person, can still be extremely dangerous. The beginning of the Strafor article is excerpted below, with a link to the entire article at the end of the excerpt.
Last week, when exceptional individuals was Stewart's topic, I picked Mary Pickford for the honor because she was the first female movie star. This week, considering the topic, I decided I needed to look to bad actresses. Talk about an embarrassment of riches. Naturally, Demi Moore, Bo Derek and Madonna all put up valiant fights in the Worst Actress category, but in the end Pia Zadora edged them all out for the honor of being the article's Hot Stratfor Babe.
Do I really need to explain why? From Ms Zadora's first film, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians to whatever her latest film is, her career has been pretty much a slew of crappy movies she struggled mightily, but failed at, acting in.
One bit of irony -- Pia lived for a long time in Pickfair, which was the estate of Mary Pickford. Ah, the mysterious chains that bind Hot Stratfor Babes together.
Terrorism and the Not-So-Exceptional Individual
By Scott Stewart, May 24, 2012
In last week's Security Weekly, we used a thwarted underwear bomb plot, as well as the U.S. government's easing the rules of engagement for unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in Yemen, as an opportunity to examine the role of exceptional individuals in militant groups that conduct terrorist attacks. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP's) innovative bombmaker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, is one such individual.
Reported by AP on May 7, the news of the thwarted underwear plot overshadowed another event in Yemen that occurred May 6: a U.S. airstrike in Shabwa province that killed Fahd al-Quso, a Yemeni militant wanted for his involvement in the attack against the USS Cole in October 2000. Al-Quso appeared in a video released by AQAP's al-Malahim Media in May 2010, during which he threatened attacks against the continental United States, its embassy in Yemen and warships in the waters surrounding Yemen.
The media and the U.S. government frequently mention al-Quso's involvement in the USS Cole bombing, but they rarely discuss his precise duty the day of the attack. Al-Quso had been tasked to record the attack from ashore so that the video could be used later in al Qaeda propaganda. Unfortunately for the group, al-Quso was derelict in his duty; he slept through his alarm, and the attack went unrecorded.
Oversleeping a terrorist attack was not al-Quso's only operational gaffe. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, al-Quso had been dispatched in January 2001 to transport money to al Qaeda facilitator Walid bin Attash in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The money reportedly funded the travel and initial living expenses of 9/11 operatives Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khaled al-Midhar. However, al-Quso failed to get a Malaysian visa. He was stuck in Bangkok, and bin Attash, al-Hazmi and al-Midhar had to meet him in Bangkok to retrieve the funds.
If al-Asiri gives cause to discuss the role of the exceptional individual in terrorism operations, al-Quso provides us the opportunity to discuss the not-so exceptional individual -- and how these maladroit actors nonetheless pose a threat.
The history of al Qaeda's war against the United States is replete with examples of jihadist operations that were foiled due to tradecraft failures. In September 1992, Ahmed Ajaj attempted to enter the United States with a poorly altered Swedish passport while carrying a suitcase full of bombmaking instructions and other training manuals and videos. Both lapses in judgment are characteristic of a novice. An alert customs inspector stopped Ajaj, who later was detained and charged with passport fraud.
Ajaj was traveling from Osama bin Laden's Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan with Abdel Basit, also known as Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack. An immigration inspector likewise stopped Basit, but he requested political asylum. Because he was not carrying a suitcase full of bombmaking manuals or using an altered passport, Basit later was released pending a hearing on his asylum claim. (Had he remained in custody, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing would not have been conducted.)
In another instance of tradecraft error, the would-be millennium bomber, Ahmed Ressam, fell victim to "burn syndrome" while attempting to enter the United States from Canada in December 1999. Ressam panicked when approached by a U.S. customs inspector, who was performing a routine check of the ferry on which he was traveling. The inspector was unaware that Ressam was an Islamist militant or that he was in operational mode. In fact, when Ressam lost his composure, she assumed he was smuggling drugs rather than explosives.
The 9/11 Commission Report also detailed a number of errors committed by the supposed al Qaeda elite prior to hijacking the four aircraft on 9/11. Mohammed Atta was cited for driving with an invalid license and failed to appear at the subsequent court hearing, causing a bench warrant to be issued for his arrest. Moreover, known al Qaeda associates al-Hamzi and al-Midhar entered the United States under their own names. (A flight instructor even characterized al-Hamzi and al-Midhar as "Dumb and Dumber," saying they were "clueless" as would-be pilots.) Any of these errors could have brought down the entire 9/11 operation.
More recently, we have seen cases where individuals such as Faisal Shahzad and Najibullah Zazi have shown the intent, but not the ability, to conduct attacks. While Shahzad was able to assemble a large vehicle-borne improvised explosive device without detection, the design of the device's firing chain was seriously flawed -- clearly the work of a novice. U.S. government surveillance of Zazi's activities determined that he was an inexperienced bombmaker and that he could not create the proper chemical mixture to manufacture effective triacetone triperoxide (TATP). This is common problem for novice bombmakers. We have seen several planned attacks, such as the London bomb attempt on July 21, 2005, fizzle out due to bad batches of TATP.
In another example, U.S. Army Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo was arrested and charged with planning an attack on Ft. Hood in July 2011. Abdo was brought to the attention of the authorities after purchasing smokeless powder to be used in an improvised explosive device. His furtive demeanor caused a store clerk to report him to the police.
Read more: Terrorism and the Not-So-Exceptional Individual | Stratfor