Talk or Not Talk — Beast Feeding

Ms McArdle wrote this a few days ago referring to a class she took in which terrorism was mentioned:

He asked us to think about three facets of terrorism: strategy, goals, and tactics.  The tactics here are obvious.  But what are the strategy and the goals?  What did these two brothers want?  And how did they think that bombing the Boston marathon would achieve it?

Here’s the thing, set aside tactics for a moment and consider their goals. We have three types of these people committing acts of terror to consider, random nutcases (Lanza for example), independent and organized terrorists (and by this second category of terrorist I mean those doing acts of terror for non-personal reasons). In many cases a primary goal of the second two types of terrorist is to get his cause on the front burner of national and international discussions. Look at the Boston event. Most American’s probably didn’t even know about the Russian Federation and its “issues” in the Caucasian mountain regions. For the nuts out there “getting famous” and noticed is likely a primary motivator. So we should make an effort to not give them what they want.

So, on Boston, here’s how not to feed the Beast … much if not most of the press coverage of the Caucasus kerfuffle has been slanted with an anti-Russian Federation slant, US sympathies tend toward the little guy after all. Well in light of bombing marathons, the non-little guy point of view just got a boost. If public discussion and public opinion were to clearly shift away from the sympathies that terrorists hold as a regular response then the incentive to violence would go away. However, so far the beast has been feed. If their goal was to be noticed, to be known, and to have their cause considered they’ve achieved their goal and by y’all talking about it in that way, you’re feeding the beast. You will have more and more frequent acts like this … because they work. They achieve the desired goal.

So to put this in context, ever Palestinian bomb should be seen as yet another reason to realize that their cause is less worthy of consideration. By this time, they should be laughing stock in polite conversation. Why they are not remains a mystery.

 

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17 comments

  1. Boonton says:

    In many cases a primary goal of the second two types of terrorist is to get his cause on the front burner of national and international discussions.

    I doubt this is the goal in many cases. Tim McVeigh, for example, didn’t want to get Waco ‘discussed’, he felt he was performing an act of justice. The gov’t had wronged the people at Waco by blowing up their building, hence he would payback the gov’t by blowing up one of its building. I suspect most Islamic terrorists take a like view, that it’s payback for supposed crimes like civilian casualities in Afghanistan or Iraq (which, at least according to one neighbor, is a view the older brother expressed in an animated discussion/fight with his wife before the attacks). I don’t think they would object to ‘more discussion’ of the issue but it’s not really their primary goal.

    I think maybe only the first Palestinian terrorism might have been undertaken with the ‘discussion’ type goal as primary, but that’s over fourty years ago. Even then, it quickly switched to a goal of warfare IMO.

    And warfare IMO is the model to look at here. Specifically Colonel Blotto games. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blotto_games). In Blotto, each side has so many units of soldiers and so many fronts. Each side decides how many soldiers to allocate to each front. A battle wins when one side puts more troops on one front than the other. In cases where both sides are roughly equal, the game develops into a randomness, a bit like ‘rock, paper scissors.

    But what happens when one side has many more troops than the other? Well that side always wins, there’s no strategy that could let the weaker side trump the other…except one: Increase the number of fronts. If one side has a million troops and the other a hundred, with three fronts the bigger side always wins. But suppose the weaker side expands the number of fronts to one hundred thousand? Since the stronger side must divide itself over so many fronts, the weaker side has a shot at attacking a front that is defended by less than a hundred troops and winning.

    IMO terrorism operates by expanding the fronts. But then we still have the question of why these two people decided to throw away their lives on this attack? Here I think you have the problem that most young males have, an attraction to violent action and vastly overestimating their odds of success. I think they were surprised that wearing a hat and sunglasses wasn’t sufficient to keep them from being identified in less than a day or two. I think they thought they would be mor e like the unabomber, able to be on the run for decades before getting caught. David Cullen at Slate.com also has a good take on Columbine. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2013/04/tsarnaevs_and_columbine_were_dzhokhar_and_tamerlan_like_dylan_klebold_and.html That of the ‘dyad’:

    Killer dyads are more consistent. And the popular conception of the dominant, charismatic leader roping a submissive follower into his diabolical scheme—surprisingly, that usually turns out to be true. The leader is commonly a sadistic, dehumanizing psychopath—not always, but far more often than is the case with lone gunmen/bombers, where that personality type is relatively rare. The follower is often depressive, submissive, or otherwise dependent.

    When there is a significant age difference—as with one killer just out of high school—we can’t be certain the older partner plays the lead role, but it usually works that way.

    Dyads usually contain contrasting personalities. A psychopathic killer generally does not link up with another psychopath. Nor do depressives pair up. Thrill-seeking psychopaths have been known to pair up, but most are looking for the qualities they lack.

    Here, Columbine is highly illuminating. It’s a lousy example for understanding most school shootings, because it’s so atypical: It wasn’t even intended primarily as a shooting—the main event was the failed bombs. But Columbine is a perfect illustration of the classic dyad: Eric Harris wanted a minion to march behind him; Dylan Klebold was looking for someone to lead a parade….Psychopaths like Eric Harris crave excitement and have difficulty sustaining it. An ambitious killer may crave a pliable, excitable assistant. He is not in the market for argument, criticism, or someone to share the glory. A No. 1 fan would be super.

    Here I think the ’cause’ is 2ndary. If they had been born in middle America they might have gravitated to a Tim McVeigh type cause instead of Chechenya. What really causes the chaos is less the cause than the combination. By himself I don’t think the older brother would have went this route. He might have been an asshole, beating his wife or gf or being a jerk but it was the combination of him and his brother that got the ball rolling. The ’cause’ was just something they found easy to grab onto.

  2. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    You need to collect your thoughts a bit. First you cite a goal, basically as revenge in the first paragraph. Now that isn’t a goal. It’s an action intended to convince the other side what they did has costs which perhaps they don’t want to bear. Perhaps that’s what’s going on in Palestine … but again don’t discount (as you do later, but apparently forget feeding-the-beast and rising popularity of Palestine in Europe and the American left … which seems directly related to sympathy for bombers to the outside observer).

    Second you posit (against your first proposal) a warfare model, which works perhaps in Palestine, and … where else? What goal. Increasing fronts is a strategy. Not a goal. What is the goal? If Chechenya is the cause, what is the goal to be satisfied by bombing in Boston … America has very little sway in the Russian Federation … why do you not think raising consciousness of their cause is not a goal for a Chechen terrorist to bomb in Boston? It seems pretty clear that is the only tenable goal for such a thing. Your alternative is that Chechnya is not their goal and they are insane. That is a possibility, in which case they are not “type two” terrorists but just nutjobs … and feeding the beast is exactly the wrong thing in that case. Popularity (or at least infamousness) is going to draw more and more nutcases out. After all, it works.

  3. Boonton says:

    First you cite a goal, basically as revenge in the first paragraph. Now that isn’t a goal. It’s an action intended to convince the other side what they did has costs which perhaps they don’t want to bear.

    No you’re talking about a different type of goal. In terms of game theory, what you’re talking about is punishing dissenters in a multi-turn game. This morning you rat us out to the teacher, we beat you up on the playground. Tomorrow you don’t rat us out again, we don’t beat you up anymore.

    Revenge, though, is an end in itself. Consider Kahn in that great movie Startrek II. He wasn’t concerned that Kirk was going to strand him again on another planet. He wanted revenge for its own sake. I’d say Tim McVeigh felt he was exacting revenge for Waco for its own sake. Not trying to convince the gov’t to ‘not do it again’.

    Not a goal. What is the goal? If Chechenya is the cause, what is the goal to be satisfied by bombing in Boston … America has very little sway in the Russian Federation … why do you not think raising consciousness of their cause is not a goal for a Chechen terrorist to bomb in Boston?

    Possible but I’m skeptical. I’d be very surprised if an actual Chechenyan terrorist group recruited and convinced these two to do it. As you point out what’s the connection and America is the one superpower that’s been skeptical of Russian claims that they are the good guys in Chechenya and the other guys are terrorists.

    Your alternative is that Chechnya is not their goal and they are insane. That is a possibility, in which case they are not “type two” terrorists but just nutjobs

    What evidence is there that it’s really their goal? He was there for 6 months. Did he really love Chechnya so much that he wanted to fight for its freedom? Why? He barely lived there, put down no roots, and built his life in America. Did he even so much as write a blog post about Chechnya being abused by Russia? Perhaps the real goal was simply the adventure of blowing people up and thinking they could get away with it and flirting with radical Chechnyan terrorism was just a means to that goal?

  4. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    You need to put these sentences closer together.

    ” I’d be very surprised if an actual Chechenyan terrorist group recruited and convinced these two to do it. ” and ” He was there for 6 months ” … after which visit Russia warned us of possible terror connections.

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  6. Boonton says:

    He was there for 6 months

    Which I could see him spending time flirting with radical groups, trying to join ‘the cause’ but unwilling to be a foot soldier in a rebellion. Maybe he picked up bomb making ability (or maybe that was his younger brother’s engineering studies). He raised the flags but not enough for Russia to arrest him or the US to deny him entry.

  7. Boonton says:

    I’m thinking more about your theory that the goal was to get us to talk more about the Chechenyan relationship with Russia. How exactly was that supposed to play out as their goal? I don’t think they intended to get caught, I think they vastly underestimated the power of collecting and analyzing thousands of photos and videos to zero in on them and overestimated their ability of hats and sunglasses to keep their identities hidden.

    Let’s just say they didn’t get caught and we were still trying to figure out who did it. How exactly would we know to start talking more about Chechenya? If they weren’t caught I think they would have either went about their business or did more bombings in random spots. Either way nothing would have caused anyone to think about Russia or Chechenya unless they did something like issue anonymous statements to the media. But is there any evidence that they gave any thought to that?

    Ask what do you think they were thinking their end game would be? In that respect I think it was a lot more like Columnbine whose goal simply seemed to be to keep blowing stuff up and shooting people till they couldn’t do it anymore.

  8. Mark says:

    Boonton,

    Which I could see him spending time flirting with radical groups, trying to join ‘the cause’ but unwilling to be a foot soldier in a rebellion

    And what triggered Russian authorities to contact ours w.r.t his visit?

  9. Boonton says:

    So in Spain I asked about traveling around Europe. Guy told me how inside the EU you can go anywhere you want. Russia’s much trickier. You need passports and have to not only get visas but get visas by city. If you arrive in Moscow, you have to leave via Moscow unless you get visas to visit and leave another city…..

    So yes landing in Russia and milling about asking where you can find the Chechyan terrorist cells and freedom fighters is probably a very good way to put yourself on the KGB’s radar screen even if, strictly speaking, you haven’t committed any actual crime. I suspect he ended up not fitting in over there as much as he decided to not fit in here.

    That being said a very good question is where did the bomb making skills come from? Was it training? Was it the younger brother who had some engineering skills? Was it really just YouTube videos maybe combined with practice somewhere where they were able to avoid attracting attention?

  10. Boonton says:

    BTW, news reports today are saying the younger brother is claiming the motivation was the Iraq (over in 2011) and Afghanistan (winding down in 2014) wars. What happened to poor Chechenya? He is also claiming their radicalization involved seeking out online videos and speeches rather than communication with terrorist groups.

  11. Mark says:

    Boonton,

    Russia’s much trickier. You need passports and have to not only get visas but get visas by city. If you arrive in Moscow, you have to leave via Moscow unless you get visas to visit and leave another city…..

    That wasn’t quite the case 3 or 4 years ago when my family went. We flew into Moscow and out of St. Petersburg. We did need a visa as US citizens in part because we require Russians to get a visa coming here (or is we require it because they do … because we do … ). Your hotel had to register you with someone they didn’t tell us what that was about… they needed our Passports for a day at our B&B when we were in St. Petersburg.

  12. Mark says:

    Boonton,

    In that respect I think it was a lot more like Columnbine whose goal simply seemed to be to keep blowing stuff up and shooting people till they couldn’t do it anymore.

    So you’re going for the … insane nutjob angle. You may be right. But … that is all the more reason to get this news story off the headlines. Notoriety is a stronger motive for nuts and fruits than the committed terrorist, for whom fame is less enticing goal (as you noted).

  13. Mark says:

    Boonton
    I might add that our Visa application did include where we were going and where we intended to stay. It wasn’t on the printed visa we took with us to my recollection, but that didn’t there weren’t records elsewhere.

  14. Boonton says:

    Hmmm maybe he was wrong, he didn’t tell me he had actually went to Russia. Then maybe they treat EU citizens differently.

    I was a bit disappointed that the EU only stamps you on the way in and on the way out. Flying into Germany then Spain I was hopping to collect country stamps but instead I just got them from Germany.

    So you’re going for the … insane nutjob angle. You may be right. But … that is all the more reason to get this news story off the headlines.

    Not really possible IMO. But I’m not really sure its a ‘nutjob’ angle, just an embrace of violence for its own sake.

  15. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    If a person in civil society “embraces violence for its own sake” and kills others, I’m not sure how that is different than being crazy/nutty.

  16. Boonton says:

    What’s nutty, the goal or the method? I agree with you loving violence for its own sake is nutty. But if your goal is to cause violence, setting bombs off in crowded areas is a rational way to achieve it. On the flip side getting more people to discuss Russian abuse of Chech’s may be a rational goal but is setting off bombs in a crowded venue with no clear relationship to Russia and no message to the public that this is the purpose of the attack a rational way to achieve the goal? That’s why I ask what would have happened if they weren’t caught? How did they think the public was supposed to ‘know’ that this was a signal to talk about Russia, or Iraq or treatment of Muslims and so on?

    Maybe it’s a quirk of evolution but I think that in general humans are more capable of nutty goals than nutty tactics. If the goal was really to ‘generate discussion’ then the nature of the attack would either be highly symbolic or accompanied by some type of message to let people know that they should start talking about that thing (for example, the unabomber had his manifesto which he demanded newspapers publish, many Islamic suicide bombers make tapes and videos to release to the press after they carry out an attack).

    From what we know so far, does the goal of getting people to talk about Iraq and Afghanistan make sense? Not really unless there was some additional act they had planned we don’t know about yet. Does violence for its own sake make sense? Yes it does. Revenge might also make sense as a possible tactic, but there I’m skeptical since revenge usually does entail some desire to communicate to the victim the cause of the revenge. Remember it was very important to Kahn that Captain Kirk knew it was him who had defeated him! He wanted Kirk to see his face before he finished carrying out his revenge.

  17. Boonton says:

    Speaking of goals, the story is now that the bombers decided, without much planning it seems, to go to NYC and bomb there but didn’t because the car they jacked didn’t have much gas and its owner was able to escape and alert police.

    So again let’s ask what would have happened if they were never caught. It sounds like they would have set off more bombs. If the goal was to get people to talk about Russia, or Iraq or Afghanistan how was that supposed to have happened? On the other hand, if the goal was simply the immature thrill of causing mayhem and blowing stuff up their behavior aligns perfectly with that. Food for thought.