Islamism and Stratagem

6 April 2007  |  PAPERS & STUDIES
Source : International Assessment and Strategy Center  (Washington, D.C.)

I. Introduction

This essay is intended as a running reflection on the intelligence and counterintelligence problems posed by resurgent, militant Islam, especially in the post-9/11 era. It is not meant to be a comprehensive assessment either of Islam itself or a prescription for the Intelligence Community on how to portray militant Islam as an intelligence issue for policy makers. Rather, it offers observations on these intelligence problems with an effort to identify and make sense of the deceptive dimensions therein. Such dimensions include not only active deception and manipulation activities undertaken by our adversaries, but the proclivities inherent in the doctrinal aspects of militant Islam itself. In that sense Islamic stratagems against the West are both explicit and implied within the theocratic culture of Islam. But they also embrace a tendency among much of the media and within US policy and intelligence to deny that there’s even a problem in the first place.[1] These reflections draw on the author’s experience in intelligence and counterintelligence and graduate school teaching of the same subjects for over four decades. Obviously, the views are those of the author alone and are meant as a stimulant to a discussion of timely and contentious intelligence issues related to hostile deception.

Militant Islam (also frequently identified as Islamism, radical Islam, fundamentalist Islam, Islamo-fascism, etc.) arguably is the pressing U. S. strategic problem of the moment and promises to remain so for an indefinite period.[2] Ever since the 9/11 attacks, however, major elements of the U.S. leadership, policy, media, and academic elites have danced around the issue of clearly identifying or naming the enemy. Agreement on a generally accepted terminology for the present war itself is problematic. By attempting to define down a national security problem so as not to offend the larger faith community of Islam, or implicate it in the spreading terror attacks worldwide, opinion molders tend to seek refuge in highly inaccurate and misleading euphemisms such as the generic "terrorism" or "terrorists". But terrorism is a technique, not an enemy. If, for instance, a similar plague of political correctness were in vogue in World War II, we would have been fighting the "perpetrators of blitzkrieg who needed to be brought to justice" or the "practitioners of surprise attack", rather than the German Nazis or Imperial Japanese militarists.

A number of highly visible bloody actions in 2004 – 2006 in which Islamic driven anti-Western hysteria was even further whipped up, hopefully may have given pause to those exponents of such timorous Western behavior: to wit, the brutal murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the London bombings of summer 2005, the fall 2005 riots in France, the highly organized Danish cartoon frenzy in early 2006, and the case of the Christian convert Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan in March 2006. Equally disturbing to Western sensibilities was the favorable resonance these events generated among large numbers of Muslims throughout the world, especially among the immigrant Muslim populations (significantly, among the second and third generations) in England and elsewhere in Europe. What these events should force us to confront is that Islamic doctrine as found in the holy or revered texts (Koran, Hadith, Sira, etc.) of that faith is at variance with the core tenets of Western civilization and its survival. As aptly put by one observer,

…the Shariah principles in question are shared by all four of the Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi, and Shafi’i), plus the Shia school. There is no "sixth" school that recognizes religious and civic freedom, in any way what these expressions mean in the West.

All five of the actual schools or traditions take a view of idolatry that entirely removes the possibility of freedom of expression in public life. Moreover, all take a view of apostasy that presents a palpable threat to the life and liberty of every non-Muslim, and excommunicated Muslim. And such doctrines as "jihad" (when interpreted as holy war against all infidels), and "razzia" (permission to raid and plunder our infidel communities) are not such as can be assimilated with Western jurisprudence.[3]

That may be one of the many reasons why it is so difficult for so-called Muslim moderates to organize to soften or reform the scriptures of that faith. Aside from theological proscriptions forbidding changes to the unmediated word of Allah as revealed to the Prophet, there is no central institutional authority within Islam to facilitate or foster such changes even if a broad desire were present. It is unfortunate that such candid recognition of Islamic theocratic realities are not part of a broader public and official dialogue in the West in general and in the U.S. in particular, since its absence also affects the ability of the Intelligence Community itself to candidly come to grips with the strategic implications of a resurgent, imperial, and militant Islam.

The inability or refusal of a putative victim to admit that he even is a target of another’s hostile attentions and attendant deception is by no means restricted to Western elites. The arch-deceiver of the Twentieth Century, Joseph Stalin, so valued his non-aggression pact with Hitler that, for all practical purposes, he deceived himself into absorbing Hitler’s design for Moscow’s defeat well before the June 1941 invasion. A recent compelling account of the reasons for the initial success of Operation Barbarossa put it this way:

…it was Stalin’s insistence on accepting German deception as truth, his rejection of valid intelligence from his own services, and his failure to recognize that the warnings from Western powers, themselves threatened by Hitler’s aggressiveness, were both accurate and well intentioned, that led to the debacle of the summer of 1941.[4]

In what may be an apocryphal account Lenin, in the early 1920s, is said to have advised his chief of counterintelligence, Artur Artuzov, to tell the Whites and the West what they wanted to hear when it came to devising the "legend" for the CHEKA’s classic strategic deception operation, the "Trust". Even if the above tale is itself "legend", Stalin should have remembered the actual "Trust" operation, for he too had a major role in its conception and conduct, and would have understood well the credulity of his Western opponents and their susceptibility to being gulled. The Whites and the West self-deceived in their response to Artuzov’s "Trust" deception of the 1920s; Stalin self-deceived before Hitler played him for the fool in 1941. The West’s failure with the "Trust" and Stalin’s failure with Barbarossa are lessons worth revisiting by Western leaders faced with a resurgent Islam – an ideology with almost fourteen hundred years of experience in empire, stratagem, and dissimulation, not unlike the totalitarian "isms" of the Twentieth Century.

In view of the above experiences it is useful to reflect that an intimate connection between counterintelligence and deception has always existed, especially in non-Western systems. Whether in traditional Islamic societies, autocratic or totalitarian ones like Tsarist and Soviet Russia, or despotic systems like the ancient hydraulic societies of China or the contemporary People’s Republic of China, a counterintelligence system was the intelligence service of choice.[5] Counterintelligence was and is essential to the maintenance of autocratic, totalitarian and despotic elites whose singular claims to monopoly rule could be upheld only through secret police-type operations – hence "the counterintelligence state" in which a fixation with enemies and threats to the power of these elites was the reigning ethos. Penetration, provocation, deception and other active measures characterized the operational tradition of the "counterintelligence state". This tradition carried over to methods of warfare as epitomized, for instance, by the Mongol conquests of Eurasia in which enemy attention was masterfully deflected by ruse, false threats, and myriad stratagems resulting in stunning victories, frequently against superior forces. In such traditions deception is not merely a military plan annex, dusted off for a particular military campaign, but rather is organic to the whole culture of a counterintelligence focused system. It is part of the DNA of traditional societies and cultures, including Islamic ones. Whether one looks at the religious police of Saudi Arabia, the secret police services of Syria or Iran, or the operations of Al Qaeda one sees the hallmarks of a counterintelligence system, not just Western style intelligence services.

II. The Setting

There are numerous facets of Islam’s almost fourteen centuries of imperial experience that could be linked to its practices of stratagem and the West’s response thereto. Two of these are highlighted as of special relevance to this subject: Jihad and Dhimmitude. The universal goal of Islam as handed down by Allah’s prophet Muhammad, was a global order in which all men recognized the rule of Allah as exemplified in Muslim rule, either as believers or as inferior subjects, i.e., Dhimmis. This was to be accomplished through "struggle [or striving] in the way of Allah", later to become known as Jihad. Ibn Khaldun, the noted 14th-century Islamic jurist and historian put it thus:

In the Muslim community, the holy war [jihad] is a religious duty because of the universalism of the [Islamic] mission and the obligation [to convert] everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force….Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.[6]

When attempting to mask the war context of "struggle in the way of Allah", apologists for Islamic militancy insist that a personal interior struggle for goodness and self-improvement is what is meant. Islamist advocates use the same line on western audiences but clearly mean holy war when referring to Jihad to their Arabic listeners. And this tactic seems to be the most common deceptive technique in the public and diplomatic realm. But both the history of Islam and the justifications of the Koran and the Hadith leave no doubt that the doctrine of Jihad means that the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims are defined by war between two irreconcilables, the dar al-Islam (the land of Islam) and the dar al-harb (the land of war), or the non-Muslims. Jihad constitutes the Islamic ideology of peace and war. Universal peace in an absolute sense as viewed in the West is a non sequitur; only submission to Islamic domination produces a true stable peace. Peace, as viewed from London, Washington, or Berlin falls for Islam into the realm of passing and temporary truces, invariably encrusted in stratagem and dissimulation.[7] While Western commentators fixate on "peace", Islam requires submission (which is what it means) – to Allah and, hence, to his earthly viceroys.

Dhimmitude, or the Islamic system of governing unconverted non-Muslim populations conquered by Jihad wars, entailed existence in a clearly subservient social status and political disenfranchisement including slavery, under predatory and humiliating taxes (e.g., jizya) and other forms of overt discrimination against so-called infidels. Over the centuries the severity of the system ranged between fairly benign patronizing, to the kidnapping of children and genocidal pogroms, and its net effect was to foster a Muslim arrogance to its non-Muslim minorities, which carries over to relations with non-Muslim nations. On the receiving side of Dhimmitude, an unease and defensiveness seemed to characterize Christian, Jewish and other minorities forced to live a tenuous existence if they elected not to convert to Islam. Dhimmi behavior ranged from, among others, servile submission, to elaborate deceptive practices to survive, to defensive emigration as in the cases of the Jewish Diasporas after the various Arab-Israeli Wars or as in the case of Christian emigration from the Palestinian areas and Lebanon – and now Iraq. It also has been noted by the principal scholar of Dhimmitude, Bat Ye’or, that a servile, fearful, and self-deceiving Dhimmi mindset seems to have been absorbed by some Western political and social elites in their dealings with contemporary Islamic minorities, groups, and nations in response to assertive and threatening Islamic behavior, whether domestic or international. The craven and hypocritical response to the Danish cartoon controversy by large segments of the media and academia as well as Western governments -- the putative guardians of free speech -- is a troubling indicator of just how far the servile psychology of Dhimmitude has advanced in the non-Muslim world. This has not gone unnoted by Islamic militants as witnessed by the adroit way they used the Madrid bombings to help bring down the Spanish government. Jihad and Dhimmitude are forged together in history.[8]

III. Sources of Contemporary Islamism -- Internal

The sources of contemporary Islamism are worth a brief examination before viewing the practice of stratagem in the Islamic tradition. What should come as no surprise is that militant Islam, or fundamentalism (itself a Western projection from its own religious experience), is not a recent product ushered in by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists, or the Wahhabists of the Arabian Peninsula and al Qaeda. As already seen with regard to Jihad, Islamist militancy is inherent to Islam itself throughout its almost fourteen hundred year history. What the above movements, and states like Shiite Iran, are now advocating, is a return to the purity of the earliest periods of Islamic history to include Muhammad’s time, and other "good" eras such as the much touted Islamic golden age of the Middle Ages. Bursts of Islamic "puritanism" occurred throughout history including the long eras of its imperial success – as well as in its period of decline as exemplified by the later years of the Ottoman Empire. This may not be welcome news to Western secular elites whose universal frame of reference is Enlightenment rationalism. But it certainly should be part of the intellectual kit bag of intelligence and counterintelligence professionals.

Further, Islam, as a self-identified theocratic system, may be regarded as a political ideology rather than simply another confession common to the west in which separation of church and state is part of the creedal faith. It is an established system for the integrated governance and faith observance of all peoples according to the Koran. Ideally, the Koran must be learned by heart (which many believers do even if they cannot read or comprehend Arabic, the preferred tongue for doing so) and applied in a literal way. This is because according to Islam the Koran, directly revealed by Allah through the archangel Gabriel, contains all that is needed for this life, and therefore no interpretation a la Biblical exegesis is allowed or tolerated. If Islamic liberalizers or moderates are too vocal in an effort to "reform", or "update", or find a better application of Islam to the contemporary world they run very serious risks of being labeled apostates, thereby risking death. Moderates are doubly conflicted here: tinkering with the holy text is tantamount to questioning Allah’s given word thus risking charges of apostasy; to be an apostate invites retribution. Moderates throughout the Muslim world face not only the retributions of Islamists but from their governments as well. The majority of Muslims live in countries ruled by very oppressive regimes; even relatively moderate countries offer little protection from rigorous enforcement of Islamic law. Jordan, for instance, jailed editors for daring to reprint the Danish cartoons. Violence, therefore, is not only politically permissible but divinely decreed per the holy texts. A straightforward reading of the Koran and the Hadith (the traditions and sayings of the prophet) reveals that violence is condoned and advocated, and has been acted upon throughout Islam’s almost fourteen centuries of history. Today’s Jihadists certainly are no aberration from that tradition.

Additionally, Islam, like traditional Judaism, is an "orthoprax" (correct practice) faith placing "fundamental emphasis on law and regulation of community life." Scholars in general view Christianity as an "orthodox" (correct opinion) faith wherein "greater emphasis on belief and its intellectual structuring of creeds, catechisms, and theologies", is placed.[9] This is not an insignificant difference. In Islam religious debate tends to center on consistency of practice with fixed law, resulting in concentrated focus on Islamic law, Sharia. Legal interpretations are based on precedent that looks to the past and does not presume to probe the nature of Allah or his designs. Among Christians debate tends to focus on doctrine, hence the existence of clergy, hierarchies, and theologians to explore, discover, develop, debate, and explicate doctrine and liturgy – all in a presumptive urge to better grasp the nature of God through the operation of reason.[10] In Islam, the divine transmission of the religious text directly to God’s final prophet, Mohammed, fosters literalism, "the Scripture whereof there is no doubt."[11] The Koran is the unmediated word of Allah; the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are "inspired" texts, mediated through human agency and subject to interpretative discovery. When Jihadists invoke the sacred texts to justify violence either against fellow Muslims or the infidel, they can claim to be in a legally superior position to a moderate Muslim who must strain to adduce a countervailing argument based on the same texts. The latter is at a clear disadvantage.

IV. Sources of Contemporary Islamism -- External

Looking outside Islam for other sources of influence we must examine the attraction for Islamists of the premier totalitarian movements of the twentieth century, namely Nazism and Soviet Communism. To begin with the former, Islamism has been characterized as fascism with an Islamic face. Islamism and Nazism/fascism have collaborative roots going back to the early twentieth century in mutually perceived and shared practices, grievances, common enemies, and formative catastrophic experiences.[12] Both shared a deep hatred of Christianity, Western culture, capitalism, liberalism, and Jews and America in particular. Although militant Islam long predates Nazi Germany, its twentieth century resurgence paralleled the rise of Nazism in mutually perceived catastrophes. These were the collapse of the Ottoman Empire – the last Caliphate – and the defeat of Germany in World War I followed by the Versailles Treaty.[13] The contemporary variant of Islamism was annealed in the Muslim Brotherhood (Al Ikhwan Al Muslimun) that emerged in 1928 as a direct reaction to the elimination of the Caliphate by the secularist Young Turk reformer, Kemal Ataturk. Founded by Hassan al-Banna and several followers to focus at first on Muslim spiritual reform, the Brotherhood blossomed in the 1930s and 1940s after pursuing far more active political goals and imitating organizational models from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. By the end of World War II the Brotherhood had a half million members just in Egypt, not counting the rest of the Middle East. It had modeled itself on Mussolini’s Blackshirts with all the paramilitary forces, intelligence elements, and secret apparatus common to both Germany and Italy of that era. And in the struggle for political power it fostered terrorism and political assassinations to the point that the Egyptian government had al-Banna himself assassinated in 1949.

The Brotherhood collaborated with the Germans before and after World II and with another group of Nazi-fascist imitators, the "Young Egypt" (Misr al-Fatah) movement, two of whose notables, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar El-Sadat, became Presidents of Egypt. Like their Brotherhood friends, Nasser and Sadat’s "Free Officers" were in contact with German military intelligence before and during World War II, resulting in Sadat’s arrest by the British in 1942. An equally important Muslim Brotherhood figure was Sayyid Qutb, frequently billed as the father of contemporary Islamism who helped inspire the likes of Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri is viewed as Qutb’s intellectual heir. Qutb wrote numerous radical tracts that became almost canonical readings for Islamists down to the present, including a thirty-volume commentary on the Koran, and the revered Islamist masterpiece "Milestones" in which he propounded an Islamist seizure of the state by an elite vanguard that would then impose Islam from above. Qutb’s Bolshevik-Nazi style apparently was radically honed during several years (1948-1951) of graduate study in America whose decadence and female liberties disgusted his Islamist sensibilities. Following release after years in Nasser’s prisons, another Brotherhood assassination attempt on the Egyptian leader in the spirit of Qutb’s top-down revolutionary recipe, Qutb was rearrested and executed in 1966. Belated revenge, of sorts, came with the 1981 assassination of President Sadat by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Together, al-Banna and Qutb, both heavily influenced by the Nazi-fascist model, put their own unique militant stamp on contemporary radical Islam. For years Islamist dissemblers have tried to hide or play down that troublesome pedigree for obvious reasons.[14]

Another key Islamic figure in the Nazi-Brotherhood connection was the go-between for al-Banna and the Nazis: Haj Amin al-Husseini, one-time Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and regarded by many in the Arab world as the founding father of the Palestinian movement and inspiration for the Arab League.[15] Al-Husseini was instigating pogroms against the Jews in Palestine as early as the 1920s, was put on the Nazi payroll in 1936 following a meeting with Adolf Eichmann and, using Nazi supplied funds and weapons, helped initiate the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine against the Jews and the British authorities – as well as moderate Arabs and Husseini’s Arab opponents . In 1941 al-Husseini had a major role in the failed pro-Nazi coup in Iraq, followed by a murder campaign against Iraqi Jews. Escaping Iraq al-Husseini fled to Germany where he spent the war years hosted by Hitler and treated as a head of state. During his sojourn in Germany al-Husseini campaigned against the exchange of European Jews for German POW’s and helped in the recruitment and training of Yugoslav and other Muslims for German sponsored and led military units, including those of the SS. According to recent research into German wartime records the Germans had stood up a mobile SS unit ("Einsatzgruppe Egypt") in Greece for deployment to Palestine to eliminate the 500,000 mostly European refugee Jews there. Al-Husseini and his Arab supporters were to have an important role in this operation that would have been modeled on the Einsatzgruppe units on the Eastern Front.[16] Montgomery’s victory over Rommel in 1942 prevented this from happening. Al-Husseini was heavily involved in atrocities against Jews, Serbs and Gypsies during the war and he was actively sought by Yugoslavia and Britain as a war criminal. After the war the French held him in custody but refused to extradite him. Al-Husseini "escaped" to Egypt with the assistance of the Muslim Brotherhood and spent the rest of his life working against Israel and the West (he died in Beirut in 1974).[17] During that time he and the Muslim Brotherhood worked with German ex-military and security personnel brought in as advisors by King Farouk – to the latter’s regret. The Germans conspired with the Brotherhood, Nasser, and his Free Officers to overthrow the King in a well-executed coup, eventually bringing Nasser to power.

One last note on Nazi influence on contemporary Middle East and Islamist developments: the Ba’athist movements in both Syria and Iraq owe a great deal to the Nazi influences vectored into the region by al-Husseini and the Brotherhood. Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Assad family in Syria were the beneficiaries of that influence, a legacy that both Ba’athists and Islamists would rather be forgotten using the time honored and religiously sanctioned techniques of "taqiyya" (dissimulation or deception) and "kitman" (akin to mental reservation) -- more on this to follow. However, Yasser Arafat in a fit of candor a couple of years before his death haughtily dispensed with "taqiyya" when he paid worshipful tribute to al-Husseini as "…our hero…and I was one of his troops [in the 1948 war]."[18] Arafat’s mother was a cousin of al-Husseini and Arafat supposedly spent four years as a youngster with the Mufti after his mother died. Arafat later became active in the Muslim Brotherhood and the Mufti’s own group as well and is rumored to have been involved in running Nazi-supplied arms into Gaza. Arafat’s pedigree suggests that it would be wise for western observers not to make too much of a distinction between an Arab nationalism of an earlier generation and a resurgent Islamism of more recent vintage.

When overt Nazi-fascist influence in the Islamist world ebbed after Germany’s defeat, Soviet and Warsaw Pact penetration and presence rushed in. Moscow, in a volte-face, switched its support from the Israeli state to the Arabs, reinforcing Nasser’s pan-Arab and nationalist schemes (Stalin had, at first, backed the creation of the Israeli state and provided arms). We cannot detail the specifics of Soviet military and political support which lasted through the collapse of Communism; but we will briefly explore the influence of Soviet/Warsaw Pact intelligence services and their contributions to an already established deception style inherent in Islamist traditions as exemplified by "taqiyya" and "kitman."[19]

The Soviet intelligence and security services were always at the leading edge of any Soviet penetration or aid effort in the Third World, an operational style which simply replicated the way Moscow injected its presence and interests into Eastern Europe at the end of World War II or, indeed, the way it carried out clandestine efforts to spread its revolutionary influence around the world following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The "Organs", as they were known in Soviet parlance, were the Party’s instrument of choice in the advancement of Soviet objectives. This continued to the last days of the USSR's existence and carried over into the practices of the current Russian Federation under Putin, the KGB and GRU being followed by the FSB/SVR – and the unchanged GRU.

Wherever the "Organs" went they exported an operational tradition that was based on the nature of Soviet intelligence. The Soviet Union was a "counterintelligence state", that is, an enterprise in which the premier function of the "organs’ was to preserve the exclusive claims to power of the Communist Party and its ruling cadres. This "counterintelligence state" fixated on enemies, real and imagined, domestic and foreign. From the very first days of the USSR the intelligence services, as they were mistakenly labeled in the west, were imbued with a counterintelligence character, as was the whole of state and society. Soviet foreign intelligence had the demeanor and feel of external counterintelligence, a characteristic inherited in part from its Okhrana predecessor of Tsarist days.[20]

The Bolshevik regime was a conspiracy come to power. The Soviet Union in practice was a seventy-one year old counterintelligence operation raised to the level of a state system. The Party and the secret police operated in a conspiratorial amalgam perpetually focused on "enemies." When this system projected itself, either invasively or through assistance to clients, the same structure, habits, and mentality were imposed or emulated on the receiving end.

Organic to such a counterintelligence system is the widespread practice of provocations, diversion, deception, disinformation, "maskirovka" (military focused deception), penetration, and other active measures of a highly aggressive nature (hereafter collectively referred to as deception or active measures). From the first days of the Bolshevik regime these aggressive operations were conducted on a truly strategic scale, targeting Moscow’s domestic and foreign enemies, the celebrated Trust (or Trest) legend being just the more visible of numerous similar major actions.[21]

An institutional mechanism, called the Disinformation Bureau, for coordinating and orchestrating active measures was established in the GPU (state security) in 1923 by a Politburo decision[22]; its successors exist to this day in several intelligence organs, the military, and other Russian state entities, albeit with various name changes. By the end of the Cold War the Party, the secret police and the military had in place a highly structured and centrally coordinating mechanism for all aspects of active measures and "maskirovka" (military deception), to include a wide range of defensive and offensive activities. This structure and associated operations carried over intact to the successor Russian Federation.

When the Soviets mounted their thrust into the Third world in the 1950s, the security organs were dominant with the KGB in the lead. The GRU took point for the Soviet military. In the Middle East the KGB and GRU worked with their intelligence and security counterparts in Egypt (they were later thrown out by Sadat), Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Algeria, and others. The "others" included various terrorist groups throughout, but not limited to, that region (e.g., the PLO, PLFP, ETA in Spain, etc.). Moscow supplemented its presence in the Middle East and elsewhere with cadres from the East European (especially East German) intelligence services, and Cuba. Some of the Russian intelligence relationships continued after the collapse of the USSR, especially the ones with Syria and Iraq. The connections with Iraq were obvious in the events leading up to Desert Storm in 1991 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Russian Federation still maintains the same close intelligence links with the Syrian Ba’athist Regime of Bashar Assad that its Soviet predecessor had with his father, Hafez al-Assad.[23] Next to Iran, Damascus and its intelligence arms probably have more intimate links to Islamic terrorists, including the Iranians, than any other Muslim state. Indeed, one of the most persistent deceptions has been the carefully fostered myth that most Islamic terrorist groups are transnational, with no direct state support. Syrian links to Jihadists in Iraq as well its decades-long provision of safe haven to numerous secular and Islamist groups (including Iraqi Ba’athists today), reflects the pattern from the Soviet era when Moscow and its surrogates both perpetuated the legend of non-connectivity to their terrorist clients. The reported January 2006 visit of Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Damascus where he met with Bashar Assad and with one of the worlds most notorious and wanted Islamic terror chiefs, Imad Mugniyeh, would fit with long Syrian practice.[24]

The old Soviet intelligence connections entailed far more than mere liaison for information sharing. Training for insurgency, terrorist, and military operations occurred both in the Middle East and back in the Soviet Union and East Europe.[25] Huge quantities of weaponry and other military equipment had flooded the region over several decades. It is no accident that the signature weapon of Islamist terrorist groups today is the AK-47 assault rifle. This intelligence and military collaboration also included the whole panoply of techniques in deception, disinformation, maskirovka, etc., at which the Soviet and, later, Russian intelligence services excelled. The Iraqis demonstrated their adeptness at these lessons before and during Desert Storm (witness their success in evading US/Allied searches for their elusive mobile SCUD missiles) and in the interwar period in their cat and mouse games with UN inspectors and US intelligence searches for their elusive weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). It must be remarked, too, that the long years of the anti-Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan provided hands-on training in which thousands of mujahideen from around the Muslim world absorbed Soviet battlefield intelligence, counterintelligence, and associated deception experience -- and how to counter it. In sum, decades of Soviet intelligence warfare, technology, influence, tutelage, and presence were added to existing Islamic Jihadist traditions in the world of deception and counter deception.

As Arab nationalist and pan-Arabic dreams died in the repeated failures in the multiple Arab-Israeli wars and the collapse of their main patron -- the USSR -- Islamists picked up the march. The discredited secular radical movements were either overtaken by, or morphed into, the existing Muslim Brotherhood and its spin-offs. Salafists, Al-Qaeda, other Wahhabist or Sunni radical elements, and Shia radical groups rounded out the trend. While pan-Arabic dreams may have evaporated in disillusion, Moscow’s intelligence legacy has left its mark, being absorbed in today’s Jihadism in ways probably unforeseen by its original Soviet craftsmen.

Resurgent, radical Islam’s encounter with the twentieth century’s two violent totalitarian ideologies produced a troubling legacy and residue. Whereas the victorious Allies dug Nazism out root and branch in conquered Germany through a determined program of de-Nazification, core elements of Nazi ideology nevertheless have prospered in radical (and not so radical) Islamic thinking especially in its noxious anti-Semitism. Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s ugly rants about Israel and the holocaust are representative of this phenomenon. The longer-lived infatuation with Soviet Communism, especially in its conspiratorial, Bolshevik elitist and active measures dimensions, added still more layers of totalitarian style to a militant theocratic mindset inclined to millenarian thinking to begin with. The fact that a process of de-Communization never materialized to exorcize seventy-one years of Soviet mass murder and other criminality[26], seems to have had the effect of sanctioning the totalitarian legacy gifted by Moscow’s long association with radical Middle Eastern states and movements. The thuggery of the Iraqi and Syrian Ba’athists, Libya’s Qaddafi, the Iranian Mullahs, and the various Islamist terrorist groups is but one example of the bitter fruit of that long romance.

V. Stratagem in the Islamic Tradition

From its earliest history Islam has practiced what westerners label stratagem, deception, dissimulation, concealment, etc., in its dealings with not only the Infidel but with other Muslims as well.[27] Islamic scripture itself could be referenced for an early example of this with apologists’ oft quoted Koranic verse, "There is no compulsion in religion" (Koran, Surah II: 256),[28] as an example of alleged Islamic tolerance for other faiths. What is not admitted or mentioned is the doctrine of abrogation in which, for all practical purposes, that particular Surah is cancelled out by harsher, more intolerant, and more violent verses coming from chronologically later revelations. Other similar examples in the deceptive use of the Koran and Hadith abound.

"Taqiyya" and "kitman" are the relevant and operative Islamic terms covering such practices and have been used for centuries; they acquired renewed purchase with the ascendancy of Islamist terrorism in recent decades. Taqiyya -- deliberate dissimulation or deception -- was originally developed in Shia Islam as a defensive mechanism against Sunnis, but has since come to be accepted practice by both branches of Islam; it initially entailed masking one’s true religious beliefs, especially in the face of danger by those hostile to such beliefs.[29] Closely related but lower on the ladder of deception is kitman, akin to mental reservation or, as one wag put it, holy hypocrisy. Still another and related technique in this genre and heavily used by Islamist apologists (even Bin Laden himself) is "tu quoque", a Latin phrase for a common fallacy in argument and debate wherein a defense against a charge is made by turning the charge or critique back against the accuser in a manner that is irrelevant to the truth of the original charge. It is the standard "red herring" of politics and yellow journalism but is a good diversionary tactic as well as a broader strategy since the accuser quickly becomes the accused. It works especially well against contemporary western societies subject to fads of guilt-ridden political correctness. Islamists and their apologists use it quite effectively in the media during debates or especially in sound bite interviews, press releases, and international discourse. The more audacious the taqiyya, kitman, or tu quoque item, the more likely it will be successful. For instance when an Islamist apologist insists that Jihad is merely a spiritual striving rather than Jihad of the sword, and hides the fact that the former definition is a relatively recent one in Islam (a little over a century), he is practicing kitman.[30]

It is not only in the higher political and public realms that these Islamic practices have practical utility and psychological impact. In the operational realms of terrorism and counterterrorism Islamists have grasped their applicability:

Al-Qaeda training manuals…carry detailed instructions on the use of deception by terrorists in Western target countries…. The study of taqiyya and kitman is crucial to an understanding of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism ranging from the issuing of false terrorist threats, operational and strategic disinformation issued by al-Qaeda in the form of "intelligence chatter," to the use of taqiyya and kitman by terrorists during interrogation and the use of systematically misleading expressions concerning Islam and terrorism by Muslim spokesmen.[31]

Western interrogators of captured Islamists are at a distinct disadvantage if they have neither the language nor a foundation in Islamic history and culture to enable them to grasp the subtleties of when any of these deceptive techniques are being worked against them. For instance, it is especially dangerous to rely exclusively on indigenous translators as funnels or screeners for intelligence from such sources. Indeed, this vulnerability extends well beyond the unprepared intelligence interrogator to the higher reaches of the intelligence, counterintelligence, and policy communities where a struggle is still underway to determine who the enemy actually is, so intimidated are we about naming him. In the face of such cognitive dissonance, Islamists need not fear that we’ll soon catch on to the subtleties of taqiyya, kitman, or tu quoque. It is not that Islamists are so deviously adept at their brand of strategic and tactical deception. We may be exhibiting some of the same symptoms that Stalin portrayed in his refusal to recognize what was facing him across his western frontiers. German deception operations against him before June 1941 were not so sophisticated that Soviet intelligence couldn’t detect them. Many capable NKVD and GRU officers did precisely that – but Stalin didn’t like what they had to say because of his paranoia against his own subordinates, his deep preconceptions, his ignorance of the "other", his denial of the obvious, and his willful self-deception. Likewise, Islamic ambitions and associated stratagems have been part of the world’s story for almost fourteen hundred years and have been rubbing up against the frontiers of western civilization for most of that time. Now due to heavy Islamic immigration and declining western demographics militant Islam is a significant presence within those frontiers -- yet we still can’t fathom it.

VI. Conclusions

It has been advanced by serious students of warfare that what Islamists in general and al-Qaeda in particular are pursuing is a new paradigm of war: Fourth Generation Warfare in which nation-states and all the associated conventions of warfare are being eclipsed by non-state players who won’t acknowledge the nation-state’s monopoly over armed force.[32] In such a paradigm decentralization, information warfare, pervasive deception and other time-proven counterintelligence actions, religious-based millenarian ideologies, the use of unconstrained violence recognizing no boundaries between combatants and civilians – all of these and much more characterize this new stage of warfare. This writer takes no issue with such a construct, although it does seem that the non-state dimension is somewhat overdrawn given the behind-the-scenes roles of the Syrian and Iranian intelligence services, the funding and religious play of the Wahhabist Saudi state, or the spoiling role of the Russians especially in view of their relations with Syria, Iran and, by extension, their terrorist client groups.

Rather, what is suggested is that while there very well may be Fourth Generation Warfare underway, it is a reassertion of a far older tradition: the counterintelligence imperative of traditional societies and cultures – this time in the face of a globalization destructive of old certainties. The resurgence of an aggressive Islam following the failures of Arab nationalism cum socialism, Pan-Arabism, and the romance with the Soviet Bloc is part of this reassertion. It looks to an older Islamic patrimony based on the certainties of its theocratic faith and the lost glories of the Caliphate as the redeeming palliative to a rootless modernity. It finds comfort in Islam’s own proven counterintelligence heritage of conspiracy, provocation, and deception crafted in centuries-long wars against both the Infidel and fellow Muslims. Fourteen hundred years of unchanging tradition buttressed by the hard certainties of an unmediated faith issued directly from Allah is a foundation for action, a foundation not readily reformed, modified, or dismissed. Resurgent Islam will naturally use the techniques of asymmetric struggle associated with Fourth Generation Warfare because they are precisely the techniques common to traditional societies in their confrontation with more powerful or technically advanced opponents. Deception especially is a featured tool of such societies because it is cheap, cerebral, ready-to-hand and a weapon of choice for the weaker combatant against the more powerful, but usually smug, opponent.

The residual influence of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia on Islamism may be seen precisely in the assimilated features of the counterintelligence state absorbed by both radical Islamic movements and radical Islamic regimes: the multiplicity and redundancy of intelligence and counterintelligence services with counterintelligence being the preferred tendency; fixation with conspiracies and incessant conspiratorial intrigue; provocation and associated deception; conspiracy-laced propaganda and very sophisticated information warfare campaigns; draconian police state tactics, this time justified by theocratic strictures vice party dogma. In its drive to nuclear power status Iran, especially, has shown adeptness at deception in masking the weapons side of its program, and in information warfare and propaganda with its bombast of military prowess aimed at strong anti-war sentiment in the U.S.

In responding to a resurgent Islamism that is prosecuting a new generation of warfare especially in its deceptive dimensions, U.S. intelligence faces several difficulties, not all of them within its powers to address. With regard to the latter, public opinion, especially in its elite manifestations, is conflicted about linking a major world faith with terrorism and other violence. Coupled with fixations with political correctness and widespread nonjudgmental relativism, strong elements of U.S. opinion seem still to be in a pre-9/11 mindset. There is a palpable reluctance in many quarters to admit that a conflict along civilizational/cultural boundaries is underway.[33] A deep reluctance to acknowledge this is seen in the censored language of public discourse, i.e., the use of generic "terrorism" vice Islamists, radical Islam, etc.

What intelligence can attend to more vigorously and more cerebrally are a recognition of and response to the following:

§A counterintelligence imperative and mentality suffuses traditional cultures from which resurgent radical Islam emerges. §Islamism embraces a deeply counterintelligence ethos that manifests stratagem, deception, conspiracy; Islamism is the twenty first century heir to the counterintelligence state traditions of the totalitarian systems of the last century. §The Islamist threat cannot easily fit the KGB paradigm, the secret police/state security model against which U.S. intelligence and counterintelligence have been defending since World War II. Countering the current threat is not just a matter of frustrating the case officer and his recruit(s). §There is a lack of a serious and sophisticated counterintelligence tradition in the U.S. that degrades our coming to grips with the subtleties of Fourth Generation Warfare. Counterintelligence, deception, and counterdeception are among the most cerebral elements of the intelligence craft, yet remain the orphans of the trade. Recent official commissions, especially the WMD Commission in its report issued last year, seem to be saying pretty much the same thing. §Sophisticated counterintelligence is key to both counter deception and counterterrorism. Only then will a revivified U.S. intelligence culture be able to grapple with a religiously rooted war in which deception is organic, even to the enemy’s portrayal of itself. The WMD Commission had it about right.


[1] Much of the mainstream media tend to refrain from any Islamic adjectival association with terrorism, in some cases even eschewing the use of the term "terrorist" in favor of the more benign "insurgent". Pronouncements from the White House likewise, for several years after 9/11, decoupled "Islamic" from "terrorism" in discussions of the war we are in. This desire not to explicitly name culprits and thereby not offend even extends to non-Muslim actors. For example, the recent (March 2006) mild reaction of the U.S. government to the released Iraqi intelligence reports of alleged Russian penetration of CENTCOM and the passing of U.S. warplans to Saddam Hussein is suggestive of such an attitude. The object here apparently was not to antagonize President Putin and his government.

[2] This is not to diminish other pressing strategic problems such as an increasingly assertive and militarily powerful Peoples’ Republic of China. But the PRC is not the culprit in 9/11 and its aftermath.

[3] David Warren, "Staring Down Shariah", Real Clear Politics, March 30, 2006, http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2006-03/staring_down_shariah.html.

[4] David E. Murphy, What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005, p. 249.

[5] For an in-depth treatment of traditional, despotic systems see Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957. For the linkage between these systems and more recent examples of the "counterintelligence state" see John J. Dziak, Chekisty: A History of the KGB, Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1988.

[6] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqudimmah: An Introduction to History, trans. by Franz Rosenthal, Vol. 1, NY: Pantheon, 1958, p. 473.

[7] For deeper treatment of Jihad in history, see: Andrew Bostom (ed.), Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy war and the Fate of Non-Muslims, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, p.28; and Efraim Karsh, "Islam’s Imperial Dreams", Commentary, April 2006, pp. 37-41.

[8] See for instance: Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 2002; and Bat Ye’or, Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis, Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 2005.

[9] Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. NY: Random House, 2005, p. 8. Although it isn’t intended as such, Stark’s work is an excellent starting point for contrasting the bases of Islam and Christianity.

[10] Ibid., p. 9.

[11] Ibid., quoting Pickthall’s translation of the Koran.

[12] This section draws on the following series by Marc Erikson: "Islam, Fascism and Terrorism", Asia Times, Parts 1 – 4, 5 & 8 November 2002, 4 & 5 December 2005, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/printN.html.

[13] Obviously the roots of Nazism and fascism long predate Germany’s World War I defeat. Likewise, the notion of a revived pan-Islamic movement began in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But Germany’s and Islam’s mutually perceived losses in the wake of the war were the proximate events which precipitated Nazi and Islamist stirrings and helped to foster a shared identity politics of grievances between them.

[14] For a detailed examination of the Egyptian roots of contemporary Islamism and the roles of al-Banna and Qutb, see: J. Bowyer Bell, Murders on the Nile: the World Trade Center and Global Terror, San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002.

[15] For a fuller discussion of the Nazi connection to Islamism, see Matthias Kuntzel, "Islamic Antisemitism and its Nazi Roots", April 2003 (presented at a conference on "Genocide and Terrorism – Probing the Mind of the Perpetrator", Yale University, 11 April 2003.

[16] See Washington Times, 13 April 2006; Boston Globe, 7 April 2006. The research is found in a new work, published in Germany, titled: Germans, Jews, Genocide – The Holocaust as History and Present by Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cueppers.

[17] A penetrating and concise evaluation of al-Husseini’s virulent anti-Semitism and Nazi involvement may be found in David G. Dalin, "Hitler’s Mufti," First Things, August/September, 2005, pp. 14 – 16.

[18] Al Quds, 2 August 2002.

[19] For details on Soviet/Russian intelligence and the role of deception, see: John J. Dziak, "Soviet Deception: The Organizational and Operational Tradition", in Brian D. Dailey and Patrick J. Parker (eds.), Soviet Strategic Deception, Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1987, pp. 3-20; and John J. Dziak, Chekisty: A History of the KGB, Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1988.

[20] It is no accident that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) dates itself to 1920, when the Foreign Department of the CHEKA was established. The KGB (State Security), now known as the FSB, celebrates 1917 as its birth year, that is, when the CHEKA was established. The CHEKA, KGB, and FSB fundamentally were/are counterintelligence services. When Lenin and Dzerzhinsky decided in 1920 to create a Foreign Department of the CHEKA, the Civil War was virtually over, the CHEKA having played a key role in the Bolshevik victory.

[21] The Trust (Trest) was a combined provocation and active measure (kombinatsiya in Russian) -- a classic strategic counterintelligence operation simultaneously targeted against domestic and foreign intelligence enemies. The operational "style" of the Trust characterized the intelligence lessons the KGB and GRU imparted to their clients and surrogates since 1917.

[22] V. A. Kirpinchenko (ed.), Ocherki Istorii Rossiyskoy Vneshney Razvedki, Tom2, 1917 - 1933 (Sketches form the History of Russian Foreign Intelligence, Vol. 2, 1917 - 1933, Moscow: International Relations, 1996, p. 13.

[23] From 9 March 2005 testimony of Dr. Walid Phares before Helsinki Subcommittee of U.S. CSCE, reprinted in: Dr. Walid Phares, "The Russian Syria Connection", Front Page Magazine, 18 March 2005, http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=17389; and Ariel Cohen, "Russian Spying for Saddam Demands a Careful U.S. Response", Heritage Foundation , Webmemo # 1023, 31 March 2006 http://www.heritage.org/Research/RussiaandEurasia/wm1023.cfm.

[24] The Sunday Times, 23 April 2006, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-524-2147683-524,00.html. Janes’s Intelligence Review is cited along with former and current US officials that a terrorist intelligence summit occurred in Syria at this time in which Mugniyeh and the Iranian President participated. Mugniyeh, who is linked to the bombing of the US Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the torture and execution of the CIA Beirut Station Chief William Buckley in 1984, and the 1985 highjacking of a TWA jet and murder of a US Navy diver passenger in 1985. He is considered one of the most dangerous and capable Islamic terrorist operatives ever and has been intimately linked with Iran and Hezbollah. The same sources concluded that Mugniyeh is charged with overseeing Iran’s retaliation against the West should the US attack Iran’s nuclear weapons’ facilities.

[25] Among the premier KGB/GRU sites in the USSR for such training were Balashika in European Russia and Simferopol in the Crimea.

[26] This statement applies to the former Soviet Union. Selected former Communist East European states– Poland, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, and Hungary in particular -- have enacted limited measures to cleanse their political systems of the Communist legacy. None of these actions, however, equaled the scope and intensity of the de-Nazification measures of an earlier era. Still, they far exceeded anything the Russians timorously undertook.

[27] This part of the discussion draws from several articles from the daily offerings of Jihad Watch, and DhimmiWatch, http://www.jihadwatch.org/dhimmiwatch/; and "Taqiyya and Kitman: The Role of Deception in Islamic Terrorism," http://www.ci-ce-ct.com.main.asp.

[28] Marmaduke Pickthall (commentator/translator), The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, NY: Alfred A. Knopf/Everyman’s Library, 1930/1992, p.59.

[29] Alalmah Tabatabai, Shiite Islam, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1975, p. 223.

[30] Jihad Watch, 13 January 2005.

[31] As quoted in: Richard H. Shultz, Jr. and Ruth Margolies Beitler, "Tactical Deception and Strategic Surprise in Al-Qai’da’s Operations," MERIA Journal, Vol.8, No.2, June 2004, p. 4. http://www.meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2004/issue2/jv8n2a6.html.

[32] See, for instance, Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War, NY: Free Press, 1991; and Shultz and Beitler, ibid, pp. 2-3. The Shultz/Beitler study is an excellent analysis of how groups like al-Quaeda have grasped and used deception and other asymmetrical advantages against the superior military and technological capabilities of the US.

[33] See Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1998. When Huntington first proposed in 1992, the notion that the world would divide along civilizational vice ideological boundaries, he was roundly denounced. Since 9/11 the polemics have abated.

John J. Dziak is an adjunct professor at The Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of national security and international affairs in Washington, D.C., where he teaches a course on comparative intelligence systems.  Dr. Dziak is also Senior Fellow, Counterintelligence and Strategic Technology, at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, and the president of Dziak Group, Inc.  He retired from a distinguished career in the U.S. intelligence community in 1996.  Dr. Dziak has written extensively on Russian intelligence, and holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University.

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