Tag Archives: al-Qaeda

Inspire magazine: Senseless extremist propaganda or effective recruitment tool?

Inspire Magazine, Spring Edition

By Kevin R. Betts

As millions of Americans tune in to news coverage about the death of Osama Bin Laden this week, a much smaller but equally ambitious group of Westerners are carefully reading and perhaps adopting the views put forth by contributors to the Spring issue of Inspire magazine. Contributors to this controversial and provocative English online magazine hope to inspire Western youth to take violent action against fellow Westerners in defense of Islam. In the most recent issue, contributors celebrate killings of Western service men and women, provide guidance on how to operate a Kalashnikov rifle, and discuss how current protests in the Middle East may be beneficial for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. Before we write this magazine off as senseless extremist propaganda, let’s take a moment to seriously consider whether Inspire might actually be effective in at least partially meeting its intended goals.

Like other magazines, Inspire exerts both informational and normative influence over its readers. The information the magazine provides is of considerable value to its readers because it is unique and difficult to find through other means. Without explicit training, most Westerners wouldn’t know how to operate a Kalashnikov rifle. Likewise, few if any Western news contributors express the view that current protests in the Middle East may be beneficial to groups such as al Qaeda. Inspire provides English speaking readers with unique and valuable information that is not available to them through traditional venues. The normative influence that Inspire exerts over its readers is more subtle. The prevailing view among Westerners seems to be that violence enacted in defense of Islam is deplorable. Inspire suggests that this violence is not only legitimate, but desirable. Knowing that they have the support of others, readers that accept this divergent perspective may begin to engage in new behaviors that are consistent with it. These behaviors may range from mere support for extremist goals endorsed by the magazine to actual violence against Westerners. Inspire seems to effectively provide information that interested readers consider valuable, and presents this information in a light that makes it appear normative.

So Inspire may be at least partially effective in meeting its goals. English speaking Westerners—perhaps even some of your friends and neighbors—will read this magazine and make judgments about it. Some of these judgments will be in favor of the views expressed by contributors to the magazine. What do you think? Will Inspire inspire many Westerners to support and/or engage in violent defense of Islam? Or will its message fall on deaf ears along with other senseless extremist propaganda?

Read more:

Bin Laden is dead, Obama says (New York Times)

Chilling tips in al-qaeda magazine (Al Jazeera)

Smith, J.R., & Louis, W.R. (2009). Group norms and the attitude-behavior relationship. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 19-35.

View more posts by Kevin R. Betts

Cyber attacks: A unique threat to national security

By Kevin R. Betts

Political discussions about national security most commonly focus on threats of violence, such as those posed by nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, or suicide attacks initiated by terrorist organizations abroad. But not all threats to national security are violent. Michael Chertoff, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, recently addressed the cybersecurity challenge faced by modern counterterrorism organizations. In contrast to traditional violent attacks, cyber attacks may be capable of affecting a wider region by shutting down essential government services, stopping business operations, jeapordizing the security of financial institutions, and disrupting electronic communications (Chertoff, 2008). Cyber attacks are unique in that they threaten the social infrastructure of target regions.

Although major cyber attacks are uncommon today, they are increasing in frequency, sophistication, and scope. For example, Russia launched a denial of service attack against Georgia in early 2008 that restricted the access of many Georgians to information about what was occurring in their country. Additionally, websites associated with the Georgian government were defaced and government services were curtailed. Russia is not the only country capable of such attacks; the U.S. intelligence community contends that multiple nations currently possess the technical capability to target and disrupt the social infrastructure of Western nations. Nor is Russia the only nation willing to launch a cyber attack against an enemy; terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah have all expressed desire to initiate these types of attacks against Western nations. Although we can only speculate about the future, these types of attacks will likely continue to increase.

What can be done to protect against this unique threat to our social infrastructure? Chertoff (2008) identifies several actions that are currently being taken by the U.S. government, as well as actions that citizens can take to protect themselves. According to Chertoff, the responsibility of the government in preventing cyber attacks is to assess vulnerabilities in the government’s civilian domains, reduce points of access to the Internet that allow for inappropriate intrusion, employ tools that reduce the possibility of an attack, and consistently monitor potential threats. For citizens, Chertoff recommends activating antivirus software on personal computers, changing passwords frequently, and avoiding suspicious emails and websites. Fulfilling these government and citizen responsibilities should reduce unnecessary vulnerabilities.

Read more:

Chertoff, M. (2008). The cybersecurity challenge. Regulation and Governance, 2, 480-484.

Estonia, Google Help “Cyberlocked” Georgia (Wired)

Talks on Iran’s Nuclear Program Produce…More Talks (TIME)

North Korea’s Nuclear Program (New York Times)

Life among U.S. enemies: Embedded with the Taliban (CNN)

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Targeting terrorist capability versus intent

By Kevin R. Betts

Late last week, two Chicago-addressed packages containing hidden bombs were shipped out of Yemen by an unknown source. The packages successfully progressed through multiple countries and aircraft before a tip from the Saudi Arabian intelligence service led officials in Britain and Dubai to seize the packages. Although ultimately unsuccessful, this attempted attack lends credibility to the capability and intent of terrorist outfits who threaten acts of violence.

Much has been done to reduce the capabilities of terrorists seeking to engage in acts of violence. Impressive new technologies and training programs designed for this purpose emerge on a regular basis. However, the effectiveness of these measures is limited by the ability of terrorist outfits to adapt to and overcome them. The successful progression of the abovementioned bombs through multiple countries and aircraft indicate continued capability among terrorist organizations despite  advances in security. From this perspective, intent becomes very important because whether or not terrorist outfits are capable of following through with threats of violence becomes irrelevant once intent to engage in such acts is eliminated. In other words, influencing the intentions of terrorists may have more long-term effects.

How can we convince terrorist outfits to cease their violent attacks? Kruglanski and Fishman (2009) identify numerous strategies that target intent, many of which have already been implemented in deradicalization programs around the world. For example, activists in Yemen have established the Committee for Dialogue, whereby Muslim scholars and suspected members of al-Qaeda engage in religious dialogue designed to address detainees’ apparent misinterpretations of the Q’uran. Although the recipients of these programs remain capable of initiating acts of violence, many of them cease these acts as their intention dissolves. Research in the behavioral sciences provides a multitude of potential techniques for influencing such intentions.

Ultimately, both capability and intent must be targeted as they dually contribute to terrorist threat. Once threats have materialized, security measures that prevent their realization are imperative. Yet, to prevent terrorist attacks in a long-term sense, a focus on intent is essential.

Read more:

Bomb plot shows key role played by intelligence (NYTimes)

Kruglanski, A.W., & Fishman, S. (2009). Psychological factors in terrorism and countereterrorism: Individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis. Social Issues and Policy Review, 3, 1-44.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Al-Qaeda, the United States and institutionalized aggression

Osama bin Laden released a new audio recording on Al Jazeera (25 March 2010) threatening to kill any Americans that al-Qaeda takes prisoner if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is executed and if Washington continues its support of Israel’s continuous occupation of Palestine.

This tells us something about the role of social norms and values, and the rules and regulations that are involved in maintaining social order (Bull, 2002) and how these can be deployed for institutionalized aggression. That is, why people as a group or society may support the use of aggression, yet have distain for similar acts by individuals (e.g. the killer of Banaz Mahmod) (Gautier, 2010). All societies across the globe depend some form of social order for stability in providing much needed resources and a sense of community. These shared social values (e.g. the right to safety, life etc) and norms often include the legitimate use of aggression and violence as a legal (and illegal) means of challenging those that are deemed as a threat to that existing order.

Terrorism (or freedom fighters) along with State and State sponsored violence constitute some examples of the use of the legitimized use of ‘institutionalized aggression’ in order to retain or resist power and control (Chomsky, 2008). Of course, the extent and use of such mechanisms of aggression will, depend on each particular society’s history(ies) and present circumstances. However, whatever the form ‘institutionalized aggression’ takes it tends to be met with something similar.

Al Jazeera – Bin Laden threatens Americans

Man accused of Banaz Mahmod ‘honour’ murder

The Blackwell Reader in Social Psychology