Defense in depth for the underground
As a terrorist organization ISIS has a number of interesting attributes which make it distinct from other covert groups. One major issue is their open door policy, accepting pretty much everyone that asks to join. This includes an extremely high number of people with mental illnesses (20%, according to EU reports). Possibly the only group more eager to recruit unstable troubled people for terrorism is the FBI.
ISIS has been aggressive in recruiting youths, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds or with petty criminal records. As assets these recruits are zealous, have some experience with clandestine security, have existing financial sources, and access to logistics networks. What they lack are broad robust local support networks and transnational support infrastructure.
European ISIS jihadis might have ready access to a number of friend’s “safe houses,” but they don’t have access to every single house in the area. This is unlike the solidarity of Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast, where it was traditional for people to leave their doors unlocked for fleeing “lads” to make a quick getaway from the British. European jihadis lack such broad popular support.
If there is real risk involved, as in political or criminal undergrounds, people build links in the secret society through stronger ties. One result is that secret societies rarely have the lovely cell structure that people think is best for overall organizational secrecy and survival. Most underground networks just grow along the messy lines of pre-existing strong ties, unless some people have enough resources to control this growth and force it into a more hierarchical outcome. — Erickson
Islamic terrorism is relatively new in Europe, and lacks the deep generational support of, for example, Irish republicanism. This results in ISIS support networks being limited to actual members (predominantly young men), and a small easily identifiable network of their strong social ties. With very few exceptions, there simply aren’t deep pools of strong popular support they can draw on.
The lack of broad popular support manifests itself in a number of inherent vulnerabilities within the European ISIS organization.
- The support networks are inherently limited in scope and can be managed and traced with existing software solutions.
- Young people are less cautious about electronics and the Internet, they also share more than the older generation. Covert operatives and their overt support networks are thus more exposed to surveillance than ever before.
- Without a broad community of support to provide intelligence collection, early warning systems, and obstruction, ISIS operatives are more exposed.
- Their limited resources mean they either lack the capability (eg surveillance detection) or they must rely on a small cadre of easily identifiable agents.
Networks have inherent problems that can make them less capable of learning from experience, primarily due to the difficulties and costs of sharing information. Networks such as the ISIS jihadi networks within Europe will have ongoing problems stemming from vulnerabilities arising from their shallow roots. They have small identifiable support networks, poor quality recruits, limited organizational knowledge, and operational security deb