Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The state of al Qaeda

Is al Qaeda about to go extinct?

The problem to answering this is multi-fold, in that we don't have enough real information about al Qaeda to make that pronouncement.  Until recently, that is.

In yet another piece of commentary at Hot Air that I recycle into a post, I'll use this morning's bit to give an outlay to the problems that al Qaeda is having.  I've talked about this before elsewhere, but here it starts to show up from the OBL raid.  As always with such commentary, it is posted 'as-is' with all spelling, grammatical and other errors for the amusement of any reader:

The general feel-good program that Discovery Channel had about the captured material on the OBL raid was saying something other than what it wanted to say. The key graph they showed was how much OBL’s records show the pay breakout within the organization. Something a bit over 60% is dedicated to… payroll.

Yup, paying the people running al Qaeda.

A mere 10% is spent on terror operations, which includes supplies, travel, and doing such lovely things as accounting for car repairs of operatives. And the car repairs are done by make of vehicle, as well.

Now I do have some problems with releasing just how much data and how much detail it has as a National Security problem. With that said the outside analyst can see exactly why al Qaeda is failing.

aQ needs grand terror missions to do better recruitment. Apparently the stuff the West does that ‘infuriates’ the ‘Arab Street’ is more PR than actual recruitment material. OBL understood that getting a good PR battle was important, but sees declining recruiting numbers after aQ can’t pull off a spectacular raid.

So with money being eaten up by personnel, the overhead of the cell system plus the non-operational cells (those made to do INTEL, surveillance and clean-up post mission) what does aQ do to try and get better operational capability? Nothing. Stay the course and add more overhead to the organization while seeing personnel costs skyrocket and the major recruitment tool of terrorism decline.

Here is where a Western education in actual economics would have provided the answer on changing that around inside aQ. It is a very simple one for an all volunteer organization that is accumulating excess staff while putting its main mission into jeopardy: enforce a pay cut and cut staff.

Now cutting staff will have to be permanent, as in fatal, since you don’t want INTEL walking out the door, so it isn’t really an option.

After that, is a pay cut really so hard to do in a terrorist organization? And since you are getting so much free media from the West, why are you trying to put more into that? All the talk and lack of action at a large scale is showing you up to not just be liars but incompetent liars, at that. Very bad for PR to boast of what you will do and then be unable to do it. Might need some staff cutting there, you know?

Basically by getting in Marxist trained help from Leftist organizations, aQ is no longer the nimble, tactical heavy with grand strategic goal organization it started out to be. It is now a hide-bound, bureaucratic organization, wanting to track every expenditure (no matter how small) with high overhead and that eats up budget for terror ops… and some of that moves into medical expenses which, yes, aQ also pays for.

Yes it is a vicious terror organization, but it is a very organized organization to such a degree that it is losing its goal to become so well organized. It worked better as a loose, cross-supporting terror organization than a centralized, top-down organization. Basically it is mimicking its enemy, operationally, and finding that Western leftist economics and organizational systems are top heavy, overly bureaucratic, inefficient, put a great gloss on a decaying message, and otherwise trade sit-down PR for stand up operations.

If aQ doesn’t watch out it will factionate and that will spread into the rest of the radicalized Arab world and that will be the cause of a major internal conflict unlike any other we have seen because they are vying for the same population. And as OBL said, the people will know the difference between a strong horse and a weak horse…

Getting rid of such an overly organized organization is a very hard thing to do. Luckily, it starts to implode along the way and all that is required to eliminate it is continued pressure. The belief that organization is all that you need is a fatal flaw for aQ. And for OWS as well. And the Left as a whole. The more you attempt to organize, to control via power, the less and less capable you become until your system cracks apart. When power to control is the only ends, then the problems start to show up with those wanting to control as they ask for ever more, and can provide less and less in that doing.

ajacksonian on May 2, 2012 at 7:06 AM

Basically to get a jihadi of any sort to do a mission you have to: recruit them, train them, familiarize them with their operation, feed them or hand them a stipend, check up on them, and on and on and on.

When you have a small, compact and highly committed organization, this is easy to do.  Once you get past a thousand or so individuals on a global scale, you need infrastructure.  Utilizing sharia based economics and concepts, adulterated by their Western Marxist allies, al Qaeda may have some great technical expertise in bomb making, INTEL, etc. but their whole basis for economics is backwards.

Beyond that, and it is a multi-faceted affair, coming from a background of having grown up in a socialist leaning household, studying socialism and its various attempts at power, actually bothering to study warfare from our deep history all the way through the present (meaning I go beyond just the 20th or even mid-19th century forms of it), and then doing a review of what terrorism is and what sort of war it inculcates, I can look at this phenomena in a number of ways.  One of the defining characteristics of this small group to power organizations is that at some point they will face a factionation event.  Mostly this is over ideology, although in places like the USSR and China it was (and is in many ways) about pure power.  Having started out with a franchise style system, al Qaeda sought to centralize it and bring it under control.  That meant that INTEL could be easily gathered on aQ from a few key points instead of trying to do that at the franchise level.  For more control and power over this network, however, came centralized overhead and bureaucracy.

It may seem strange to talk about bureaucracy in a terror organization, but without it the organization can deviate from its original ideology and become just another criminal organization.  FARC, as an example, started out as a Marxist/Communist terror group in Colombia and is one of the oldest terror organizations around.  In the 1980's it started picking up the Enforcer role for some of the drug cartels to ensure supply via terrorism applied to local communities, and when the cartels started to crumble FARC picked up on narco-terrorism as its main methodology.  Unfortunately that is no longer even close to being in the Marxist/Communist realm and FARC graduated from ideologically based terrorism to become a narco-terrorist organization which was also capitalist in its means.  FARC stopped being about anything, save for money and power.  The secretive Shining Path, on the other hand, continues its smoldering and pretty useless terror campaign by remaining ideologically pure.  The various Red organizations of the 1970's that dabbled in terror started out from a few, central terror organizations, but then had internal ideological disputes so that Red factions and Red groups and militant interior designers all started to show up on the terror landscape.  Hezbollah remains largely an arm of the Iranian regime, but now has large external support bases so that it can work in ways that can often be at cross-purposes to Iran.  The PLO factionated when it sought to become semi-legitimate and some of its virulent off-shoots went out on their own and some allied with HAMAS, the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The Muslim Brotherhood solves this, to a degree, by spinning off new terror organization (Tunisia, Algeria, HAMAS, al Qaeda) but finds that some of these don't really work to the overall benefit of the MB.  They give up control and get negative feedback.

To stem this bureaucracy is essential in that it tries to establish a system of accountability within an organization.  Yet that organization has overhead that is non-productive and only serves to keep actors inside the organization from being counter-productive.  This is the problem with any centralized system because it removes responsibility from lower levels and concentrates it distantly in a larger mechanism which isn't all too efficient.  For examples of that just look at any program that has 'socialized' as part of its nomenclature and you will see a top-heavy bureaucracy unable to be flexible and only having a few negative things it can do to keep the worst stuff down. 

As I went over in looking at Creating an Army, al Qaeda has a problem in that it operates as it trains when not in combat.  Although having a number of low-level operational capabilities that are on-going, al Qaeda can't really expect to see much of a return on suicide bombers: you can't get a veteran corps of suicide bombers to make them more effective.  Because it now practices a high form of bureaucracy much of the time, its terror functions must reflect this as is seen in the minutia that is tracked at the highest levels.  If this is how you recruit, train, and then put operatives into place for long term missions, you have the problem of those operatives knowing no other way of doing things.  Getting skilled field operatives is essential and al Qaeda started out with a small cadre of that which is now down to Zawahiri, the Egyptian Doctor.  It must be noted that Zawahiri does not have skills in economics, he never was much of a 'boots on the ground' terrorist and is more a spiritual head than administrative head of aQ.  At this point the winning times in Afghanistan that he was not a part of are only a distant memory for the organization as the rest of the original cadre have been killed out.  There is no historical memory of those good times left in al Qaeda.

Functionally al Qaeda draws most of its operatives from the Arab world (although it has connections to many organizations globally) which means that the bulk of the sociology within al Qaeda is Arab.  In the Arabic world the top-down mentality has been present from its inception in the ancient hydraulic empires which inculcates a 'yes-man' mentality and one that seeks to shift blame from oneself to others.  As described in the program on the Discovery Channel, OBL demanded the absolute truth from his operatives because he wanted a clear idea of just what was going on out there.  That went against the grain of Arab culture and you do have to wonder just how much self-censorship and blame shifting was going on to distort OBL's views of his own organization.  The US military relies more on its Non-Commissioned Officers to keep things running than its generals, as it is a distributed responsibility system that puts lower level responsibility at the lower levels.  al Qaeda did and continues to do just the opposite.

This sort of mentality and outlook has visible effects in how things work when such a terror organization hits a rough opponent.  There are tell-tale signs of an inefficient organization that is sacrificing boots on the ground for overhead.  I will return to my first internal link and pull this out from my 2006 article:

4) The entire insurgency is turning into a high-cost, low personnel affair. When you have lots of extra weapons, often 2:1 or 3:1 per individuals captured, and so much damn ammo, what you are seeing is pre-preparation in *hopes* of doing something to get lots more recruits. If any of these groups could get a major foothold in Iraq to do *that* the Nation *would* descend into chaos. And this is at a time when the new Iraqi Army has *proven* itself capable of independent operations and is capable of handling tricky situations on their own. That said that is only their battle-tested groups. Green troops probably are getting rotated through Baghdad and a couple of other hot spots and then rotated *out* to the provinces they control for more normal patrol duties. But with their skill, they are now catching the individuals that are acting like insurgents. After first-hand experience they are seeing things that untrained troops would overlook.

What do you spend your money on when personnel are expensive for operations?  Equipment.

What happens when you don't have enough experienced personnel to watch over the equipment?  It is found.

Why does this happen?  People are the most expensive part of any organization, right up until you get to a nuclear aircraft carrier with all of its aircraft and equipment, and even then the long life utilization of such a vessel means that at some point the people that have been through it will represent a larger capital investment than the vessel itself.

If you are a terror organization having problems recruiting and training personnel and yet still have a budget line for terror expenditures, what do you buy?  Equipment.

To track all that equipment what do you need?  Bureaucrats.

Sociologically this then has a power described in Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

Do note that this is for any organization of any sort that has a bureaucracy.  When your organization has no set org chart or it is set just as boxes and not as absolute numbers of personnel, the bureaucracy will expand.  An unbounded bureaucracy is the kiss of death to any organization as it will lose the goal of that organization and soon be run for the bureaucrats, alone.

The state of al Qaeda is that of a loosely run terror organization that tried to pull in and centralize its operations for some efficiencies but was unable to bounds on that overhead.  It isn't that it will become a nice, bureaucratic organization: it won't.  It is on the path towards increasing ineffectiveness, however, because of its bureaucracy.  The twin sociologies involved or Arabic culture and the culture of bureaucracy has been the downfall of every large scale organization in the Middle East.  That is because of the way that Arabs view their own people, their own culture and the requirement to keep both under control from any organization that starts up, large or small.

The final part of this is from the revolutionary side of things and is the axiom of such conflicts and their outcomes:

As they come to power, so shall they rule.

That one was much discussed in classes on socialist organizations, and it is also true for other conflicts from civil wars to revolutionary overthrows to such things as simple elections.  There is a deep and virulent strain of Islam that has never been tempered by a conflict that has so sickened its participants that they swear away from marrying the Mosque and State together.  That has helped such organizations to at least retain some cohesive internal system, but that system cannot address the myriads of bureaucrats necessary to run it.  If al Qaeda has had the bureaucratic disease spread to them, then they had to have it from somewhere else.  Many of the examples of Western Communist terror organizations points to a good set of roots in that culture.  Another set is put in place by the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliation with the NSDAP of Germany in the 1930's which brought its own brand of efficient bureaucracy with it to emulate.  That system can be one of heartless and inhuman efficiency, to say the least.  And when the bureaucracy begins to re-order an organization to fit its desires and it is heartless, then the original causes the organization held begin to wane as the bureaucracy takes over to its own ends.  For now those ends still include the terrorist vision of OBL and the other founders of the organization, but at some point the last link to that past will be lost in the form of Zawahiri, and then the organization will be run by its bureaucrats.  So long as external operational pressure is kept up, al Qaeda is in a death spiral of bureaucracy: we won't destroy it, as such, so much as it will run out of funds to keep the bureaucrats paid.

Only then will there be no al Qaeda.

You can't kill them all out, but you can make them run out of funds because they spend them on the wrong objective.