Al-Qaeda as a Venture Capital Firm

by Cameron Schaefer on March 25, 2010

Al-Qaeda makes more sense when viewed as a venture capital firm specializing in the business of terror.  By no means am I the first person to draw this analogy, but considering this article in the L.A. Times, the parallel seems increasingly fitting.  Greg Miller writes,

Al Qaeda and its affiliates have adapted their tactics to emphasize speed and probability of success over spectacle, U.S. intelligence officials believe, a shift in strategy that poses problems for spy agencies that were reorganized in recent years to stop large-scale attacks like those of Sept. 11, 2001.

The new emphasis is seen as a significant departure for a terrorist network that had focused on sophisticated plots involving synchronized strikes on multiple targets, and teams of operatives coordinating across international borders.

An examination of recent plots, including the bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, has convinced U.S. counter-terrorism analysts that Al Qaeda is becoming more opportunistic, using fewer operatives and dramatically shrinking the amount of planning and preparation that goes into an attack.

It’s likely that this change in tactics has been born out of of necessity as the group has found it increasingly difficult to coordinate massive, orchestrated strikes in the post-9/11 era.  However, by shifting to a faster, less-coordinated (decentralized) approach Al-Qaeda makes it harder for authorities to discover and prevent attacks.

It’s test fast, fail fast.

Less coordination means fewer connections to Al-Qaeda core, less financial costs, less time and a higher degree of uncertainty and chaos (throwing smoke and fog in our OODA loop).  These are characteristics more akin to open-source warfare as laid out by by John Robb in “Brave New War.”

Of course the downside for Al-Qaeda is they end up with half-trained clowns like the Christmas Day bomber who don’t always carry out their attacks successfully.

But here’s the kicker…success or failure may no longer depend on whether or not the bomb goes off. Miller explains,

But if Al Qaeda had misgivings about downscaled ambitions, U.S. officials said, it probably was emboldened by the reaction in the United States to the Christmas Day plot, even though it failed.

The lesson Al Qaeda probably took was that, ” ‘Jeez, the damn bomb didn’t go off and the Americans are still going out of their minds,’ ” a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said, describing the political fallout for President Obama, as well as finger-pointing among U.S. intelligence agencies.

It’s too early to say definitively if Al-Qaeda is truly shifting the way it does business, but the more we learn about homegrown terrorists hoping to get their “projects” funded by or at least connected in some way to Al-Qaeda VC the more it opens the door for lots of smaller attacks or swarming rather than one big one.  John Robb may be onto something.

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