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Aptitude for Destruction: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups

Aptitude for Destruction: Organizational Learning in Terrorist Groups and Its Implications for Combating Terrorism.

 By Brian A. Jackson, John C. Baker, Peter Chalk, R. Kim Cragin, John V. Parachini, and Horacio R. Trujillo; published by the RAND Corporation, (Web); 104 pages; $20.

 Jemaah Islamiyah, Aum Shinrikyo, Hizballah, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and the radical environmentalist movement are singled out for case studies in volume two of this RAND examination of how terrorists learn. Readers come to understand the backgrounds, operations and tactics, training methods, logistics, and intelligence operations of these groups. With these highlighted biographies, readers can easily see how the prosperity or demise of these groups is commensurate with their ability to learn and adapt.

Studying these groups is certainly helpful, but the authors don’t pretend that understanding their learning process will make the intelligence officer’s job of tracking terrorists an easy task. However, insight into their thinking and learning processes is a critical first step.

Though not covered in this volume, it’s interesting to note the “Darwinian” evolution of insurgents in Iraq. Insurgents there are becoming ever more effective with their roadside bombings and other attacks because they have learned during the U.S. occupation which tactics work and which don’t.

How many other terrorist groups are taking our measure, learning about us? New York City recently warned about threats to its subway system. When an attack failed to materialize, critics blamed faulty intelligence. But could the threats have been an orchestrated attempt by a terrorist group to learn what New York’s reaction and response would be—the better to plan for a future event? That chilling prospect is a key lesson from this volume and from the set as a whole.

Reviewer: Terry L. Wettig is a senior security analyst with the Homeland Security Support Division of SAIC, based in McLean Virginia. He is currently working with the Unit 4 School District of Champaign, Illinois, to develop a comprehensive crisis management and emergency response plan for Champaign’s public and private schools.