Friday, November 13, 2015

ISIL, Internet Start-Up in the Levant

(Note: This analyst speaks some Arabic and prefers the term “Daesh” for referring to the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Other outlets use ISIL or ISIS or even the term “caliphate.”)

 It is well past the time that world leaders wake up to the global threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It almost seems like most major leaders are so focused on what to call this group (Daesh or ISIS or ISIL) that they have neglected to properly weigh the threat it poses. Certainly some leaders were so incensed with this terror group’s daring dash across Syria and Iraq that they did not have time to come up with a coordinated response. The time to stop this juggernaut is now and time may even be running out.

Reliance on Kurdish Peshmerga forces, fairly uncoordinated air sorties by multiple nations and the Iraqi army is not enough. The generals and military analysts may think the current strategy will work given time but Daesh works fast and smart. It probably already has a monopoly on terror and no regulatory agency applies here, except the military.

Nearly every leader of the largest nations seems to be more so concerned with a fear of putting “boots on the ground” that they are missing the bigger point. This criminal gang is rapidly spreading terror well beyond Iraq and Syria. Daesh is succeeding at recruiting, training and expanding forces further into the Middle East, Africa and Asia. This criminal gang is actually more like a well-staffed Internet start-up, with more ideas about how to spread an ideology than Facebook or Craigslist.

Individuals are calling the shots within the Daesh organizational structure. These individuals need to be openly identified and bounties placed on their heads. They may not have degrees from Stanford, in fact they could be college dropouts like Gates, Jobs, Brin and Zuckerberg. Nevertheless, the leaders of ISIL have proven adept at recruiting skilled labor just as well as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook.

Humvee Parked on the Mall 20026

Yesterday’s bombings in Beirut, the downing of Metrojet Flight 9268 and the near genocide of the Yazidi people are the most vivid, recent  examples of how big a threat ISIL has become.

Daesh initially succeeded because two nations did not plan on any small force growing so big so fast it could rob all the major banks in several large cities. Despite the lack of solid intelligence about Daesh, even a fool can see it is not being run by fools. They quickly overran military bases full of the best arms. They sell crude oil on the black market. Just like a start-up, Daesh has a detailed plan for future growth, they are acting on that plan, and they will only continue to spread terror to more regions of the world until they are completely eradicated.

It is time we begin thinking of ISIL in the same terms as a very successful Internet start-up company. That is exactly what they are. They exploit social media, blogs, videos and other slick marketing techniques to every advantage. They have fully-functional recruiting networks in the Middle East, Africa, the EU, the U.S. and likely elsewhere. This is definitely not old Ayman al-Zawahiri hiding out in a hut somewhere in Waziristan. This is more like Twitter except equipped with 50-caliber bullets, in addition to tempting tweets meant for susceptible young adults.

This essay is not a call for a “global war on terror.” I’m not trying to sound like George W. Bush here but the evidence for the size and scope of this threat is all too clear. This is a call for a real war, a conventional war, on a defined enemy, based, right now, in a clearly defined region. Rapid reaction forces are maintained by every major nation. If Daesh does not yet present a large enough threat to call-up these forces I am at loss to imagine what ever would.

The armed effort must be coordinated and planned but it cannot wait six months or a year to begin. By that time this Internet start-up will have grown to half the size of Apple Inc. and any smart investor knows that firm is a sure bet to sell more iPhones and other gadgets next year. What Daesh is selling instead is murder, rape, car bombs, aircraft bombings and quite possibly global mayhem or worse. World leaders ignored al Qaida until it was able to stage an attack large enough to send the global economy into recession. Is that what everyone is waiting for this time?

Intelligence agencies in the U.S. and abroad already spend billions every year gathering information to identify potential terrorists. These billions are clearly not stemming the meteoric growth of ISIL. New ways of locating the people using social media sites and smartphones to grow ISIL must be developed quickly. New ways of countering ISIL’s attraction to young people are needed now!

The flow of ammunition, food, fertilizer and other supplies into the regions controlled by ISIL must be stopped. Kurdish leaders cannot be left to bicker for months about who gets control of the tiny parts of Daesh territory they might take back control of. They did give us a real clue when they declared Daesh forces are far better equipped and coordinated than they are.

The world’s weapons manufacturers and arms dealers clearly don’t care who is ultimately buying their wares. It is time somebody else does care. If the Turkish government thinks they will avoid retaliation by staying relatively out of the fray, they are seriously mistaken. ISIL can launch suicide bombings in Istanbul just as easily as they did in Lebanon, and you can be sure they will.

Just like successful tech firms, Daesh appears to be excellent at growth through mergers and acquisitions. They may have already co-opted Tunisian terror groups, Libyan factions, Sinai militants, al Shabab, Filipino radicals and even the remnants of Boko Haram. Do we sit on our hands in fear like taxi drivers the world over hoping Uber fades away?

No, we do not. We cannot afford to wait.

We need to study Daesh as closely as venture capitalists study every Unicorn firm that suddenly becomes worth a billion dollars overnight. As a world community we need to do this research now, and not simply leave a few analysts sitting in CIA headquarters (or an unemployed technical writer) to ponder such a grave and expanding threat.

I am not trying to sound alarmist. The rapid expansion of Daesh outside of Syria clearly demonstrates their strategy of exploiting the Internet is working. The inability of the Peshmerga, Iraqi, Syrian and insurgent forces to contain Daesh is very apparent. The distraction of fighting in Yemen or Afghanistan or North Africa may not be a distraction at all. The mass flow of refugees into the EU might not be entirely just a side-effect of unrest in Syria. It may be part of a very well-coordinated plan by some rather evil entrepreneurs bent on bringing hell to a neighborhood near you.

I leave you with a true story that happened to me and a dear friend just two weeks ago. My friend had received radiation treatment for thyroid cancer about a month ago. We drove together to Canada for a relaxing weekend in a spa at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. We drove through the Canadian border with no issues raised. Upon return to the U.S. border station in New York, our big car was surrounded by heavily-armed men. We were briefly questioned, and then guided, at a distance, to a holding area where it was determined, using a geiger counter, that my friend’s thyroid still contained some radioactive iodide element from the cancer treatment. We were promptly released. Canada is apparently unprepared to detect radioactivity or the U.S. is over-prepared. We felt slightly better about our nation’s level of preparedness. Are other nations prepared to respond effectively when Daesh recruits two elderly people to drive a giant car bomb into one of their major cities?

Is the world prepared to respond to an apparent explosion in the size of the Daesh?  I fear not. This is one Internet Start-Up we must all work together quickly to assure it fails.

#war on isis #isil #syria #terror #metrojet #war #internet start-up #venture capital

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