Saturday, October 11, 2008

Changes in Terrorist Support Structures

Last week read two interesting articles concerning the potential strategic changes in terrorist organizations. The first was an AP article that I found on HSToday.US dealing with potential linkages between the drug trade and jihadist terror organizations. The second was an article on concerning the potential return of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Both articles were speculative, looking at potential future strategic developments. The Jihadist – Drug Trade Alliance The first article, written by Curt Anderson, is a look at the apparently increasing likelihood of an alliance or working relationship between the jihadist terror organizations and the South American drug trade. Based on information provided at a recent conference on the drug trade sponsored in part by the U.S. Southern Command, the article looks at what the jihadists could gain from such a relationship. Since the 9-11 attacks, the government has been working on shutting down the easy ways for terrorists to get personnel and equipment into the United States for a terror attack. While the efficacy of those efforts could be debated, it is clear that a significant future attack will require a more sophisticated smuggling organization than was used to support those earlier attacks. Establishing that organization from scratch will be expensive and time consuming. The South American drug lords already have an extensive and sophisticated smuggling operation in place. They have the equipment, people and connections in-place to smuggle personnel, money and equipment into this country, almost at will. Renting out some of their excess capacity would provide an added income stream. Increasing terror operations in the United States would reduce the government attention on drug smuggling operations. The benefits to both sides seem so obvious that one wonders why, or if, it hasn’t already taken place. The article notes that “(e)xtremist group operatives have already been identified in several Latin American countries”, so this developing alliance may already be more advanced than open source reports acknowledge. Russia as Potential Sponsor of Terror Back in the Cold War days, the Soviet Union was a well known sponsor of a wide variety of Marxist-leaning terror organizations around the world. It was a relatively low-cost adjunct to their on-going conflict with the United States. It provided them with a destabilization tool that was safe and fairly easy to direct, if not control. With the fall of the Soviet Union, most of those organizations withered or died. The article, written by Reva Bhalla, takes a look at how Russia could benefit from the same sort of tactics in the modern ‘New World Order’. The article points out how the US involvement with the war on terror makes it less likely that the US could directly respond to incidents like the recent Russian incursion into Georgia. Contributing to global instability allow the Russian’s a much freer hand at extending their control and influence into the old Soviet sphere. A point that Bhalla missed in the article is the financial incentive that Russia has in instability in some specific areas of the world. Rebel groups that attack oil producing infrastructure in places like Nigeria or Mexico add to the instability in the oil and gas markets. That contributes to inflated prices for two commodities that Russia is selling in the market place. Those energy dollars help to fund Russian government and economy. Client States and Terrorists For a variety of historical and practical reasons, it is unlikely that Russia would be able to control any of the major jihadist terror organizations. Past Soviet operations in Afghanistan and several Soviet Republics and more recent Russian operations in Chechnya contribute to a high degree of mistrust between Russian and jihadist interests. These organizations might take Russian money, but they would be very suspicious of any attempts at control. Both of these articles point out another path for the Russians to use to influence such organizations. In much the same way at the Soviets used East Germany and Hungary to exert control over earlier terror groups, the Russians could use new client states like Venezuela or Bolivia to provide support and direction to terrorist groups acting in the Americas. Not only could these states be used to influence jihadist efforts against the United States, but they could also provide support for separatist and radical groups in Mexico. Again, attacks on Mexican petroleum interests could further destabilize Latin America, but also the oil and gas markets. Both would be beneficial to the Russians.

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