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The Terrorist's Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations

Jacob N. Shapiro
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    The Terrorist's Dilemma
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4864-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Psychology, Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    Discussions of terrorism often conjure acts conducted by shadowy, secret organizations employing highly motivated operatives willing to kill, and die, for their cause. The news media generally offer sensational and compelling profiles of individual terrorists, providing details about who they are and speculating as to what motivates them. Stories about terrorist organizations tend to detail angry rhetoric and the tragic consequences of their actions. Scholarly books ponder why terrorists use certain tactics or raise warnings about the threats from new methods of terrorism, such as suicide bombings or so-called lone-wolf attacks. In fact, more than twenty-five books on suicide bombings...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Terrorist’s Dilemma
    (pp. 26-62)

    The terrorist’s dilemma is straightforward and nearly inescapable. To start, political and ideological leaders, or the principals, must delegate certain duties—such as planning attacks, soliciting funds, and recruiting—to agents, the middlemen, or low-level operatives. If all agents are perfectly committed to the cause at hand, agree with leaders on how best to serve the cause, and are privy to the same information as leaders about how different actions will advance the cause, then this delegation poses no problem. Under those conditions, the preferences and beliefs of the principals and their agents will be perfectly aligned, and the agents...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Insider’s View on Terrorist Organizations
    (pp. 63-81)

    So far we have seen many reasons to expect agency problems in terrorist organizations and have discussed a range of individual examples of such problems, how they play out, and how groups strive to manage them. What we lack is sound evidence on how widespread these problems actually are within terrorist groups. Unfortunately, any effort to assess the prevalence of agency problems is hampered by the relative dearth of data on what actually goes on inside these inherently secretive institutions.

    While much has been written on terrorist organizations, little of it provides a solid basis for making claims about the...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Organizing Al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s Operations and Finances
    (pp. 82-100)

    As we saw in the last chapter, agency problems and the resulting dilemmas have been an issue for a broad range of terrorist groups since at least 1878. Additionally, bureaucratic tools have frequently been part of group solutions to their organizational challenges. To deepen our understanding of how these bureaucratic tools are used, this chapter focuses on al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), one of the most prominent terrorist groups of the last twenty years, and uses a host of the group’s internal documents to study its financial and operational management. Because these documents were unavailable when the theory was developed, they...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Tradeoffs
    (pp. 101-130)

    Terrorist organizations cannot at once be reliable, resilient, and secure while also under the perfect control of their leadership.¹ Some groups come close to this organizational ideal, but none fully achieve it and most fall well short. This chapter explains why being simultaneously secure and centrally managed is so difficult. The answer lies in the strategic interaction between terrorist leaders and their operatives.

    As we have seen, those relationships are often fraught with tension and conflict. The terrorist memoirs and internal correspondence show that terrorist organizations suffer from a broad range of agency problems. These problems reduce their effectiveness, shape...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Uncertainty and Control in Russia
    (pp. 131-168)

    Many of the organizational pathologies of terrorism are starkly evident in the history of the earliest modern terrorist groups. Between 1878 and 1909, leftist terrorist groups in Russia struggled to find the right balance between security and control and had constant problems with more militant members defecting to other organizations. Operatives in “combat detachments” often lost sight of their group’s political goals and engaged in ill-directed attacks, which damaged their organizations’ reputations and slowed progress on their political objectives. Embezzlement was endemic among militant organizations, yet émigré leaders were unable to contain the problem because they could not credibly punish...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Discrimination and Control in Ireland
    (pp. 169-204)

    The Northern Ireland conflict provides an excellent place to further examine how terrorist groups are organized. It is almost certainly the best studied terrorist conflict of the twentieth century. Historians started working closely with prominent participants on all sides of the conflict from almost the first day of the Troubles in August 1969 and continue doing so to this day. The conflict has been one of the longest terrorist struggles in recent history. For almost forty years the country was home to a conflict between two camps of terrorist organizations: Republicans (Catholics) who sought union with the Republic of Ireland...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Preference Divergence and Control in Palestine
    (pp. 205-248)

    Since the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine drew unprecedented attention to Palestinian territorial claims by hijacking an El Al flight out of Rome on July 22, 1968, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been defined primarily by Palestinian terrorism and the Israeli response to it. Studying this conflict provides insight into two aspects of terrorism. First, and foremost, the contrast between how Hamas and Fatah addressed their organizational dilemmas gives us strong evidence on the role of preference divergence. Both groups faced the same enemy (Israel), both had military commanders outside the Occupied Territories managing fighters on the inside, and...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Conclusion and Recommendations
    (pp. 249-271)

    Throughout this book we have seen a wide variety of evidence that terrorist groups from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries look strikingly familiar from an organizational perspective, whether they operate in Europe, the Middle East, or elsewhere. Most struggle to manage their people, and many employ the same set of standard managerial tools as any other organization, including expense reports, personnel tracking spreadsheets, and other paperwork that seems quite risky for ostensibly covert groups to hang onto. The very normality of the bureaucratic minutiae terrorists produce taps into a deeper reality: terrorist groups have the same strengths as other...

  13. APPENDIX A Annotated Bibliography of Terrorist Autobiographies
    (pp. 272-302)
  14. APPENDIX B Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 303-306)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 307-322)
  16. Index
    (pp. 323-335)