Tag Archives: terrorism

Should Pakistan be considered a terrorist state?

By Kevin R. Betts

When the U.S. SEAL team raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan earlier this month, they did so without any approval from Pakistani officials. They covertly flew helicopters into the region, raided the compound in a fierce firefight, and killed bin Laden and several others. The secretive nature of this raid follows from years of American distrust toward Pakistan, an ostensible ally in the fight against terrorism. Recent events have merely added fuel to the fire. Given that the U.S. was able to locate bin Laden from thousands of miles away, Americans are now asking why Pakistani military and intelligence agencies couldn’t do the same within their own country. Bin Laden resided in an elaborate compound only 80 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, and just 800 yards from a major military academy. Was Pakistan truly unaware of bin Laden’s whereabouts, or were they complicit in maintaining his cover?

The nature of this question poses an international Prisoner’s Dilemma. Emerging from game theory, the Prisoner’s Dilemma demonstrates why two parties might not cooperate even if it is in both of their best interests to do so. Generally, such situations require that each party choose between cooperating and defecting with the interests of an adversary. In the present scenario, Pakistan can choose to cooperate with the fight against terrorism or not. Salman Rushdie from Newsweek points out that “Pakistan is alarmed by the rising Indian influence in Afghanistan, and fears that an Afghanistan cleansed of the Taliban would be an Indian client state, thus sandwiching Pakistan between two hostile countries.” However, Pakistan also receives billions of military and intelligence boosting dollars from the United States. Thus, it may be in Pakistan’s interests to ignore certain terrorist activities (defect) while simultaneously appearing bound to U.S. interests (cooperate).

Defecting can grant the most valued outcome in a Prisoner’s Dilemma because it does not require compromise with the adversary’s demands, but this outcome is realized only if the other party chooses to cooperate at the same time. For instance, Pakistan could ignore (or support) terrorist activities while still accepting U.S. funds. If both parties choose to defect, the least valued outcome will result. In this scenario, Pakistan loses U.S. funding and the U.S. loses an ally in the fight against terrorism. Mutual cooperation grants each party a moderately valued but mutually beneficial outcome. Given that the United States has cooperated with Pakistan by providing monetary assistance, it is hoped that they will cooperate as well by assisting in the fight against terrorism.

Given this international Prisoner’s Dilemma, the U.S. must now make judgments about whether Pakistan has cooperated or defected. Many have argued that Pakistan has long been defecting, and that their apparent lack of knowledge about Bin Laden’s whereabouts reveals that this defection continues. Others argue that despite select intelligence failures, Pakistan remains an important ally to the U.S. in a region laden by terrorist threats. Whether the U.S. perceives Pakistan as having cooperated or defected will likely influence their decision about whether they should cooperate or defect themselves. What do you think? Should the U.S. continue to consider Pakistan an ally, or do recent events require a change in perspective?

Read more:

Pakistan: A Terrorist State (Newsweek)

Evans, A.M., & Krueger, J.I. (2009). The psychology (and economics) of trust. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 1003-1017.

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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)

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On the effectiveness of intergroup apologies

By Kevin R. Betts

A common theme of my previous posts concerns intergroup conflict and its resolution. Some conflicts I have examined include clashes in Bangkok between anti-government protestors and the Thai government, relations between the LAPD and bicycle commuters, immigrant relations in Arizona, conflict on the Korean peninsula, and reciprocal determinants of terrorist and counterterrorist actions. The nature of these conflicts is complex, and accordingly, the interventions I proposed have sometimes been complex as well. But a recent article by Blatz and Philpot (2010) suggests that some of these conflicts may not require complex solutions. Rather, a simple public apology may sometimes be all that is needed to restore peace.

Blatz and Philpot (2010) suggest that intergroup apologies can improve intergroup attitudes, restore trust, and promote forgiveness. Additionally, they identify nine moderators (intentionality, time since harm, severity, privity, costliness, time since apology, trust, power, and identification) and four mediators (remorse, sincerity, empathy, and assigning responsibility) that influence apology-outcome relationships. Although it is beyond the scope of this brief post to examine all of these factors, one can imagine how each might relate to the conflicts discussed above. Take whether or not the perpetrators intended to harm the victim (intentionality) as an example. This past summer, I wrote about an incident where an LAPD officer was filmed kicking a bicycle commuter during the monthly mass bicycling event Critical Mass. As an organization, the LAPD reacted to this incident by condemning the actions of the officer and expressing their support of lawful bicycle commuting. Framing this incident as unreflective of the LAPD as an organization (unintentional) may have aided their attempt to restore relations with bicycle commuters in the city. In contrast, intergroup apologies should be less effective when transgressions are clearly intentional. For example, the North Korean government openly takes credit for their recent attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. Although an official apology is certainly warranted for this attack, it is unlikely to be effective in achieving the immediate forgiveness of South Koreans.

Clearly, not all intergroup conflicts can be resolved with an apology. What should be taken from this research is that when certain conditions are met, the power of a simple public apology for improving intergroup attitudes, restoring trust, and promoting forgiveness should not be underestimated.

Read more

Blatz, C.W., & Philpot, C. (2010). On the outcomes of intergroup apologies. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 995-1007.

Destruction on island at center of Korean barrage (CNN)

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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.

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Terrorism as collective communication

By Kevin R. Betts

Recently, intelligence surfaced about several dozen Muslim militants with European citizenship training for attacks that may involve European capitals. These reports are especially worrisome because unlike previous threats, this most recent one involves individuals with unrestricted access between training grounds in Pakistan and various European countries. Western officials are currently advising vigilance among those living and traveling in Europe as attempts are made to dismantle the threat.

Research on terrorist threats like the one captured above have surged following the shocking attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Is it possible to make sense of these threats using this research and improve counterterrorism efforts? Recent work by Fischer, Fischer, Weisweiler, and Frey (2010) suggests that we can. They presented a collective communication model of terrorism (CCMT), which “proposes that terrorism is a complex process of collective dialogue between terrorists and potential victims about political/societal issues and aims…” Their model is an extension of the classic communication model, which comprises a sender, a message, and a receiver. In the CCMT, the terrorist as sender possesses attributes that influence the nature of interactions with the receiver. These attributes may regard cultural origin and motive for the attack, among others. The victim of terrorist threats is the receiver in this model, and also possesses various attributes that influence the nature of interactions. The message in this model may concern political or social issues, and is communicated through a threat or attack committed by the terrorist on to the victim. Fischer et al. (2010) extend this basic model further by considering ways in which the receiver interprets and responds to the message. For instance, victims may respond in ways that are conflict-escalating or deescalating, either of which communicates a new message to the terrorist. This often results in a cyclical process whereby the sender and receiver continuously switch roles sending opposing messages.

What is the implication of this research for counterterrorism efforts? If terrorists and victims simply take turns communicating opposing messages, then no solution can be reached. For counterterrorism measures to be effective, genuine understanding of the motives behind terrorist threats is necessary. Why do today’s terrorists feel hatred toward their victims? Why do they see violence as an acceptable medium of communication? By answering these questions, we may be able reduce the number of future threats, and respond more appropriately to those that still emerge.

Read more:

Dozens of Europeans in terror training (MSNBC)

Fischer, P., Fischer, J.K, Weisweiler, S., & Frey, D. (2010). Terrorism as collective communication: The collective communication model of terrorism (CCMT). Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4/9, 692-703.

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NYC development may help reduce post 9/11 discrimination

By Erica Zaiser

After 9/11, many people had a hard time separating the extremest actions of terrorists and Islam in their minds. Many worried that innocent Muslims in western countries would become targets of discrimination. In a study looking at religious and ethnic discrimination in the UK for seven ethnic groups, the two ethnic groups surveyed that are primarily Muslim (Pakistanis and Bangladeshis) reported the greatest increase in discrimination after the 9/11 attacks. The researchers argue that major world events like 9/11 can increase discrimination not just in the country in which they occur but also in other countries. Another study revisited Milgram’s famous lost-letter experiments in order to look at prejudice behaviour against Muslims. Their study, conducted in Sweden, found that when people found a lost, unsent letter addressed to a “Muslim sounding” name they were less likely to post the letter than if the name was Swedish sounding. However, they say that this was only the case when the letter contained money (so when the finder would benefit by not passing the letter on). The authors argue that this could provide evidence of discrmination against Muslims, although it also could simply be a confirmation of previous research showing that people are prejudiced against foreign sounding names in general.

Recent news that ground zero in New York City is the future site of a community center intending to include a mosque has become somewhat controversial. Some herald the decision as a step towards developing closer ties with the Muslim community, while others say that they feel a mosque would act as a reminder of the extremist views behind the 9/11 attacks. Much research in social psychology has shown that intergroup contact can reduce prejudice. According to a meta-analysis of contact research, this is because contact can increase knowledge about the outgroup, reduce anxiety about contact, and increase empathy and perspective taking towards the outgroup. So, the project could help to increase contact between Muslims and non-Muslims and hopefully lead to a decrease negative stereotypes and attitudes towards Muslims.

Read More:

Muslim Discrimination: Evidence from two lost letter experiments

Major World Events and Discrimination

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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