The Terrorist's Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations

The Terrorist's Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations

by Jacob N. Shapiro


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A comprehensive look at how terrorist groups organize themselves

How do terrorist groups control their members? Do the tools groups use to monitor their operatives and enforce discipline create security vulnerabilities that governments can exploit? The Terrorist's Dilemma is the first book to systematically examine the great variation in how terrorist groups are structured. Employing a broad range of agency theory, historical case studies, and terrorists' own internal documents, Jacob Shapiro provocatively discusses the core managerial challenges that terrorists face and illustrates how their political goals interact with the operational environment to push them to organize in particular ways.

Shapiro provides a historically informed explanation for why some groups have little hierarchy, while others resemble miniature firms, complete with line charts and written disciplinary codes. Looking at groups in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America, he highlights how consistent and widespread the terrorist's dilemma--balancing the desire to maintain control with the need for secrecy--has been since the 1880s. Through an analysis of more than a hundred terrorist autobiographies he shows how prevalent bureaucracy has been, and he utilizes a cache of internal documents from al-Qa'ida in Iraq to outline why this deadly group used so much paperwork to handle its people. Tracing the strategic interaction between terrorist leaders and their operatives, Shapiro closes with a series of comparative case studies, indicating that the differences in how groups in the same conflict approach their dilemmas are consistent with an agency theory perspective.

The Terrorist's Dilemma demonstrates the management constraints inherent to terrorist groups and sheds light on specific organizational details that can be exploited to more efficiently combat terrorist activity.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691166308
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/21/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jacob N. Shapiro is associate professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University and codirects the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

1 Introduction 1

1.1 The Challenge of Organizing Terror 3

1.2 The Terrorist's Dilemma 4

1.3 Why Understanding Hierarchy and Control Matters 10

1.4 What About 9/11? 13

1.5 Are Terrorist Organizations Really So Familiar? 15

1.6 Can We Treat Terrorist Organizations as Rational? 18

1.7 Plan of the Book 22

2 The Terrorist's Dilemma 26

2.1 Introduction 26

2.2 Why Preference Divergence? 34

2.3 How Groups Respond to Preference Divergence 49

2.4 The Difficult Challenge of Balancing Security with Efficiency and Control 56

2.5 Conclusion 61

3 The Insider's View on Terrorist Organizations 63

3.1 Organizing Terror 63

3.2 Data 65

3.3 Quantitative Analysis 68

3.4 Content Analysis: Some Good Stories 70

3.5 Conclusion 81

4 Organizing Al-Qa'ida in Iraq's Operations and Finances 82

4.1 Introduction 82

4.2 A Brief History of al-Qa'ida in Iraq 85

4.3 Managing AQI 89

4.4 Conclusion 98

5 The Tradeoffs 101

5.1 Introduction 101

5.2 Managing Terrorist Funds: The Security-Efficiency Tradeoff 103

5.3 Managing Terrorist Violence: The Security-Control Tradeoff 114

5.4 Discussion 127

6 Uncertainty and Control in Russia 131

6.1 Introduction 131

6.2 A Brief History of Pre-Revolutionary RussianTerrorism 132

6.3 A History of Pre-Revolutionary Terrorism 137

6.4 Uncertainty and Patterns of Control 151

6.5 Other Aspects of Russian Terrorism 160

6.6 Conclusion 167

7 Discrimination and Control in Ireland 169

7.1 Introduction 169

7.2 Discrimination and Patterns of Violence 171

7.3 Measuring Control 175

7.4 The Provisional IRA 176

7.5 The Loyalist Paramilitaries 191

7.6 Conclusion 202

8 Preference Divergence and Control in Palestine 205

8.1 Introduction 205

8.2 Fatah: The Challenges of Integration 209

8.3 Hamas 226

8.4 Control in Fatah and Hamas 239

8.5 Conclusion 247

9 Conclusion and Recommendations 249

9.1 Summary of the Argument 249

9.2 Exploiting Organizational Vulnerabilities 254

9.3 Conclusion 270

Appendix A Annotated Bibliography of Terrorist Autobiographies 272

A.1 Introduction 272

A.2 Terrorist Autobiographies 273

Appendix B Methodological Appendix 303

B.1 Case Selection 303

B.2 Sources 305

Bibliography 307

Index 323

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"How do terrorists cash checks, file expenses, or meet payroll, when every document reveals identities and locations? Understanding that the mundane challenges of organizing terrorism reveal vulnerabilities, Shapiro's superbly researched book combines authoritative scholarly analysis with page-turning examples, some drawn from internal documents, others populated with Bolshevik assassins, IRA bombers, and Hamas suicide attackers. I predict a month's quiet while thoughtful terrorists and counterterrorists stay up late absorbing The Terrorist's Dilemma. Compelling, required reading."—Eli Berman, author of Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism

"The Terrorist's Dilemma expertly incorporates organizational perspectives into the study of terrorism, producing a theoretically insightful and empirically rich work that upends many conventional assumptions. Shapiro proves that differences within the chain of command, management weaknesses, and other problems common to organizations of all stripes plague terrorist groups and offer numerous opportunities to fight them better."—Daniel Byman, Georgetown University

"The Terrorist's Dilemma adds an important dimension to the study of terrorism. The book is inventive in its use of organizational theory and sources, and its argument is logically impeccable. It is an astute and useful corrective to the misperceptions of terrorism as utterly unreasoning."—Martha Crenshaw, author of Explaining Terrorism

"The overall topic of this book—the internal dynamics and dilemmas that terrorist groups face in controlling their members—has not been seriously examined, and this book makes important contributions to a timely subject. The empirical studies are well-researched and provide compelling evidence."—Michael Freeman, author of Freedom or Security

"This book offers comprehensive evidence about how the structure of terrorist organizations affects patterns of terrorist violence and how changes to the operational environment feed back into the way terrorists organize themselves. The result is a far richer and more nuanced picture of how terrorism works, and what can be done to prevent it, than that offered by the existing literature."—Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, University of Chicago

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