William Tucker joins me again for a high level look at the Paris attacks and the impact that instability, chiefly in Syria, will have on the region. Failing states and the mass migration of refugees will continue to put immense pressure on dozens of governments. There is no framework, or level of response, that will allow intervening parties to resolve this problem anytime soon. So how do we cope with a security challenge that may persist for a decade – or multiple decades? This is the reality that we must face. The conflict in Syria and Iraq is not a crisis that can be “managed.” It is going to demand more of us, and our governments, than we would like. But as the saying goes – the enemy gets a vote.
Again, if you like what you’re hearing on Covert Contact please let me, and others, know. Your reviews and ratings help!
You can follow William J. Tucker on Twitter and read his guest posts on Blogs of War:
Everybody Spies – and for Good Reason
Hawaii a Priority Target for Foreign Espionage
Would the U.S. Really Kill Edward Snowden?
Other Covert Contact Episodes Featuring William:
Episode 20: Government Email Problems, Wikileaks, Russia, Drone Leaks, NASA Security and Other Counterintelligence Nightmares
Episode 15: Hillary Clinton’s Email Server: Dissecting the Risks with William Tucker
Episode 12: Counterintelligence: William J. Tucker Breaks Down the Challenges
Howard Kaplan wrote his debut espionage novel, The Damascus Cover, nearly forty years ago. He joins me to discuss the book, the recently completed the film adaptation staring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Sir John Hurt, his own experience serving as a courier for Israeli intelligence in the Soviet Union (where he was eventually detained for a short time), and the psychology of human intelligence.
Spies make for dramatic characters in books and in film but real intelligence professionals have to pay a price for that drama. It is a life that can take a toll on even the most committed practitioners. Kaplan leverages his limited (but no less dramatic) brush with the profession to explore that tension in his work. We look at these aspects of the business, not only in his own work, but also through examples such as the classic le Carré character Alec Leamus and the life of the Israeli hero Eli Cohen.
You can follow @kaplanhow on Twitter
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ISIS is extremely proud of their latest video but, trust me, it’s a bit of a snorefest. But, it’s also very different. The horrific violence they’re known for is there but only in comparatively small doses. Instead they’ve opted to take a lot of fringe financial theory (the kind you might have heard already if you pay attention to Ron Paul or Glenn Beck ) and wrap it The Mummy Returns production values. Then, just like a college freshmen who has taken one economics class and read a dozen conspiracy theory websites, they drone on and on and on. It’s weird – just not weird enough to be interesting.
Of course, what we really need to know is why they’re going to all of this trouble. I’m still processing this but from their perspective:
- The production values project authority and capability. Their internal and external audiences both need reassurance.
- The pseudo-intellectual financial theory will not impress economists but it will resonate with people who view alternative financial systems as a rejection of current political systems. There are large numbers of people in the Middle East – and the United States who share this view.
- It checks the theology box by claiming to be a model that is more inline with Islamic principals.
- Money is central to statehood so this reinforces that claim.
- At the end of the day the ISIS wants to be seen as a viable alternative to existing powers. Videos like this (and the factors mentioned above) help support that case – at least in the eyes of potential recruits and supporters.
The alignment with the non-Islamic conspiracy thought in the West is the most intriguing aspect of this communication. Is this convergence intentional or is it a coincidence arising out of the fact that these ideas on the financial fringe have been circulating for a long time? I can’t make a call on that at the moment but it is certainly a question worth considering.
I am firmly in the camp which believes that ISIS, now known as the Islamic State, has overplayed its hand. They’re smart, organized, well-led, and now resource rich but they are also betting everything on a strategy that creates more enemies than allies and which will eventually force many divergent world powers to collaboratively focus their military might at deconstructing whatever the Islamic State attempts to stand up.
Any radical jihadist caliphate, or any significant attempt at one, will soon be returned to its failed state roots. Military hardware, command and control facilities, military barracks, forces on the move, and any industrial capabilities are easy targets for first world armies. We still struggle with nation building but we can deconstruct a state with unparalleled efficiency. This leaves us with the assurance that any imperialistic jihadist caliphate will unquestionably be dismantled if not pounded into fine-grained dust. Unfortunately, that only solves a small part of a much larger problem.
The Islamic State will never be much of state in the traditional sense. You certainly won’t see them tearing up the bobsled track in the 2018 Winter Olympics or chairing a UN committee. Survival, not expansion, will become their primary goal soon enough. But the end result of all of this will almost certainly be intractable chaos – not game winning stabilization. And creating chaos plays to their broader movement’s long game. Deconstructing a state, no matter how fragile, is a massive win for the forces seeking to upend the current world order even if they ultimately lose the big gamble.
The unfortunate truth in all of this is that there is a large and diverse set of forces in the world seeking to subvert the current order. Some of them have clearly defined objectives while others do not. Few of them are in agreement but that’s beside the point. All of them, thanks to technological advances, are radically empowered. The problem is that if these forces continue to march forward with the cheap and easy strategy of destabilization while the rest of the world struggles with the massively expensive and frequently unsuccessful strategies of stabilization something will eventually have to give.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State might ultimately be a footnote in history. I certainly don’t think either one of them will live long in the big scheme of things. But that does not mean that they have not been successful. They have claimed territory, if not for their own cause, for the cause of chaos. In the short term we will defeat them but if we do not learn how to fight a thousand year war, and ultimately tame the chaos, it might not matter.