James’s Musings

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Terrorist Synergies: Terrorist Groups Are Joining Forces

by James G. Beldock on June 29, 2010

Greetings from the Aspen Institute Security Forum, the inaugural—and so far excellent—security and coun­ter-ter­ror­ism con­fer­ence at the Aspen Institute, di­rect­ed by my friend and col­league Clark Ervin, the for­mer Inspector General of DHS.

The con­fer­ence is abuzz with the words of Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who spoke yes­ter­day and twice raised the top­ic of ter­ror­ist syn­ergies: the join­ing of forces be­tween pre­vi­ous­ly un­re­lat­ed and even mu­tu­al­ly dis­trust­ing ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions. Having spent the week fight­ing the fire that was Gen McChrystal’s dis­missal and just him­self back from a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, it is clear that Adm. Mullen was a man on a mis­sion to iden­ti­fy and ad­dress this new phe­nom­e­non of ter­ror­ist co­op­er­a­tion.

The term and con­cept are rel­a­tive­ly new: there has pre­vi­ous­ly been talk of crim­i­nal-ter­ror­ist syn­ergies, but in gen­er­al those re­flect­ed lo­cal al­liances made, if not as a mat­ter of ex­pe­di­ence, cer­tain­ly not with a view to­wards a glob­al strat­e­gy. The trend has ex­ist­ed for a while: as the Hon. Fran Townsend (for­mer Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism) point­ed out to­day, the trend be­gan ear­ly in the Bush Administration: Indonesia’s Jamaat Islamia overt­ly sup­port­ing Al Quaeda; Sudan’s GSPC align­ing sim­i­lar­ly, etc. But US of­fi­cials, at least, have tak­en some com­fort in the rifts with­in Islam and the as­sump­tion that, for ex­am­ple, pri­marly Sunni or­ga­ni­za­tions like Al Quaeda would not join forces with Shiite regimes such as Iran.

Take com­fort no longer. There is a pal­pa­ble sense among of­fi­cials here that we are now fight­ing a glob­al­ly de­cen­tral­ized, co­op­er­at­ing ter­ror­ist net­work which is will­ing to fore­go in­ter­nal ide­al­is­tic dis­agree­ments in fa­vor of the ul­ti­mate goal: dam­ag­ing the West and, specif­i­cal­ly, the United States. We have grad­u­at­ed from a mul­ti­tude of fights again­st sep­a­rate en­ti­ties to a uni­fied fight again­st glob­al ter­ror­ism.

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