Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Attacking The Terrorist Mind

The January 10, 2010 NY Times features an article entitled: “The Terrorist Mind: An Update” (see

The author analyzes works by a number of academicians who have studied the terrorist mind. According to the article, Dr. John Horgan of International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Penn State is credited with leading “much of the research into what is known as disengagement – a terrorist’s departure from the organization”. Dr. Horgan claims that there are a couple of key reasons why terrorists leave the movement. This is not to say they abandon their radical views, but rather they have left the group and renounced violence.

Leading reasons include: the small groups they are in “are rife with jealousies and personal competition; life is boring; pressure of maintaining a double life is too exhausting. Others include “aging out” where the member has grown to the point of wanting more stability and perhaps starting a family. Some may sense that the group’s goals are unattainable and/or they have reached their moral limit. Others are dismayed to find elderly and children engaged in battles.

From a PSYOP perspective we want to stimulate and reinforce these views. The Internet is likely the ideal medium to transmit dramatizations and perhaps ‘testimonials’ form former terrorists (to include Taliban) that underscore the feelings noted above.

The Internet has been cited as a key medium for recruitment for Al Qadea and Others (see NY Times, December 31, 2009, “Focus on Internet Imams As Recruiters for Al Qaeda” ( Consequently it is logical to assume that the same medium would be the way to reach the terrorist member and transmit messages reinforcing the desire to leave the movement.

Chatrooms and other virtual meeting places need to be designed that can attract terrorist recruits and members and that offer messages stimulating disengagement. In my view it makes sense to post messages from various sources on websites known to espouse terrorism. I am a believer of using the Internet like the ocean. Taking down offending websites is like playing Whack A Mole because new ones will pop as quickly as others are taken down.

It seems to me that these kinds of operations need to be joint (more than one service) and ideally combined (more than 1 nation). Furthermore the best work product is likely to come from a combination of military, diplomatic and civilian minds – groups designed to think like the customer with the native linguistic ability to carry the creativity and disengagement messages forward in multiple directions on the Internet and elsewhere.

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