About the speaker
Dr. Christopher C. Harmon is the lead author or editor of four books on terrorism and counterterrorism, including A Citizen’s Guide to Terrorism & Counterterrorism and Toward A Grand Strategy Against Terrorism. His new book, The Terrorist Argument, will be available for purchase and signing.
Harmon is a terrorism specialist and full Professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies. He previously held the Horner Chair at the Marine Corps University Foundation and before that the Kim. T. Adamson Chair of Insurgency & Terrorism at Marine Corps University. He has also taught at the Naval War College.
Dr. Harmon traces how armed groups and terrorists around the globe have honed their messages for maximum impact, both on the communities they hope to persuade to support them and on the official state organs they hope to overthrow. Terrorist groups use a fantastic variety of means to seize attention, explain themselves, and seek recruits and support: song and speech, “guerrilla theater,” leaflets, radio, cable TV, newspapers, print ads, books, videos, web sites, e-zines, and of course social media. Dr. Harmon examines how terrorist groups in recent history have used propaganda, and how they adapted to new communications technologies while retaining useful techniques from the past. Whatever the ideas or methodology, all are intended to use the power of ideas, along with force, to project an image and to communicate – not merely intimidate.
Dr. Harmon earned a Ph.D. in International Relations and Government and an MA in Government from Claremont Graduate School.
For more on terror propaganda and recruitment, see David Des Roches’ Westminster talk, Push and Pull of Religious Extremism: Who Are the Terrorists, How Are they Recruited, What Can We Do.
Robert R. Reilly:
I am very delighted to give a brief introduction of our speaker tonight, Dr. Christopher Harmon, whom I unfortunately have not seen in a number of years because, well, those of us who live in Virginia think it is paradise, at least until last week when it hit eight degrees.
Chris defected and went to Hawaii where he is a full professor. He teaches, he is a specialist on terrorism, full professor at the Daniel K. Inoue Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, but Chris previously held two different chairs at Marine Corps University, and so he taught here at Quantico for quite a number of years. We share an alma mater of the Claremont Graduate University where Chris received his PhD under a quite extraordinary professor, Harold Rood, who educated several generations of strategic thinkers. That has borne fruit in not only Chris’s teaching but his writing.
He is the lead author or editor of four books on terrorism and counterterrorism, including a Citizen’s Guide to Terrorism and Counterterrorism and Toward a Grand Strategy Against Terrorism. Tonight, he is going to be talking about his new book, The Terrorists Argument: Modern Advocacy and Propaganda, and that is available for sale outside, and Chris will be happy to sign them for you after his talk tonight on the subject of “The Terrorists Argument: Modern Advocacy and Propaganda.” Please join me in welcoming Dr. Chris Harmon.
Dr. Christopher C. Harmon:
Thank you everyone for coming out, and I am much, much looking forward to your questions and discussion after this talk. I am here as an independent scholar, and I am here to offer fruits of research conducted at many past periods of my life and then assembled when I held a chair in Quantico from 2010 through ’14.
I had a wonderful co-author on a couple of chapters, so if you do get the book, the one on Al-Manar TV of Hezbollah and the one on ISIS media are by my good friend Randy Bowdish who is a navy captain and a PhD himself. We were honored then when Brookings Institution Press wanted to do the manuscript, and they have done a very nice job with the presentation. I am grateful to them. Let me give you three general conclusions that underscore the book and then I will go through some interesting case studies just as sketches.
First, and important to see because oddly enough, there are theorists who still challenge this, terrorism really is purposeful and calculated as an activity more often than not. It aims at psychological impact, and it uses the power of ideas to project an image and to communicate, so there are both ideas and force. There is intimidation. There is communication. It aims at our bodies, it aims at our brains, and it aims at our nervous systems.
Second, the ideas and the arguments advanced by terror organizations matter a great deal. Ideas may kill. The proponents of these ideas and the authors of militant propaganda tend to see their violent organizations as constructive, not just destructive, and so they attack but they also advocate. And the forceful political character of terror groups compels them to compete in the political arena and to advertise, in effect, their political ideas.
There are plenty of times when we sense from reading something that they are masking some part of their purpose or that they are being mendacious, but they are involved in public explanations about what they do, and I think we need to pay attention to that.
Number three, we have had too little awareness of just how many media they use. There are different modes of communication, and our book, The Terrorist Argument, tries to show how communication studies fuse well with terrorism studies, and especially in managing the diversity of media, which these groups attempt to exploit. The good ones, the successful ones I mean by that, the insurgents, the terror groups that know what they are doing, tend to be multimedia actors. You have all seen those old pictures of the IRA murals, and those are pretty interesting, and those are didactic, and those are important. And modern mural painting has been done by Sendero Luminoso. I have pictures of that in my backup slides, if you like. Books, pamphlets, websites, radio stations, you see it all when you begin exploring the range of terror media.
I want to emphasize how simultaneously they work in these fields, so a couple quick examples: The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka: very adept during their long run, which ended in ’09. When they began building websites, and they were among the first insurgent groups to do that, they did not say, well, this is an update on the radio, so we will quit thinking about radio. They kept their radio going and Tamil Radio was accessible now on the new website, so they simply doubled up. They did not retire the older technology.
Another example, the American white power organization, the National Alliance, used to be based rather close to here in West Virginia. They had such a range. It was an interesting range of propaganda materials. They had white power music they sold. They sold books. The catalogue of their books was really worth studying if you are interested in political violence. They did lots of things, not just The Turner Diaries, which became infamous as a source of terrorism in a number of places – not just Oklahoma City ’95.
New People’s Army in the Philippines, a group that is often dismissed now, I continue to think they are pretty important. They are convinced about Maoist ideology, they always have been, and one of the icons within Maoism is Lenin. We have just had the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution and believe me, NPA published a large, glossy, expensive pamphlet to commemorate the Bolshevik Revolution, its ideology, some of those iconic postures in art. Students of history would recognize a lot of the iconography, if you like, in that propaganda display. Well, NPA has a biweekly newspaper I try to read when I can. They publish on the web, they do a lot of video material, and they have political fronts.
We should notice, after all, the founder of New People’s Army is a professor. Always watch out for those guys. The professor’s students include a certain man named Rodrigo Duterte. I think you have heard of him. He once studied with [Jose Maria] Sison. Okay, that is sort of the intro.
This is where we will start with the chapter from the book on radio. This brilliant and very original man was not an Algerian, but he is famous now as a kind of icon of the Algerian revolution against the French, which succeeded in ’62. His education was formidable. He was a psychiatrist and he devoted part of those talents to justifying violence by the Algerian insurgents, some of which included terrorism.
Now FLN, the National Liberation Front, as many of you would know, was not Salafist. In fact, if you had that kind of inkling, you were either forced to moderate it or you might be shouldered aside by FLN. They were nationalists. They were socialists. They were not like contemporary jihadis.
Well, they published an 8-point program in ’54. They stuck to it and eight years later they had completely defeated France and forced them to withdraw. For their purposes, it was a wildly successful revolution of a nationalist kind, a remarkable thing to study, and there is no end of good books about it.
Their media was internationally minded, and it was diverse, and it was good. They used diplomats and they used foreign friends like Frantz Fanon. They had radio. This fellow did not broadcast for them, but he sometimes wrote for their newspaper and he would write broadcast for the radio, although he did not deliver them. He has done a fine essay, which is really forgotten, and I would like to recover it a bit, and so the chapter goes on. It is an essay on the Voice of Algeria and it is in a book called A Dying Colonialism, published by Frantz Fanon in 1959.
Radio at the time was the brand-new thing, the brand-new thing. Radio in Algeria was dominated completely by France and it was seen as a tool of colonial power by the French, and certainly by guys like Fanon or the FLN. Fascinatingly, transistor radio moves into that part of the world right about the time of this rebellion, ’54, ’55, ’56. It is simultaneous. It became possible within the FLN if they want this kind of technology, to be able to communicate with their cadre in the cities and more importantly, in the countryside, and with people who might be illiterate in the countryside, so they published El Mujahid, for which he wrote a great deal, but they also went over the airwaves, which allowed them to reach people who maybe couldn’t read or didn’t read very well.
Fanon becomes extremely influential. His argument is that colonialism by definition is a matter of force and subjugation, that it dehumanizes, that it represses, that it makes full freedom and human development impossible, that it must be resisted, and why not in a post-World War II era of self-determination? And so for him, violence and radio were thought of in similar ways. They both would be used to instruct and to intimidate. The Wretched of the Earth is his famous book but as I say, the other essay is more interesting to me as to radio.
Now, alternatives are always present in terrorism. It is a choice. It is a strategic choice. And here is a man who did not make that choice. He was part of the rebellion. He was a full-fledged nationalist. He became head of the provisional government, but he was used by the movement as a kind of window dressing, so far as I can tell, and it is because he was not an extremist. He was a militant nationalist, but not the type to go to plastique bombs in Algiers cafes, and so Ferhat Abbas, who also did his own kind of broadcasting, was an example of the kind of choice this movement made.
It was a choice that we can pin down as being made right about ’55, ’56 in part in the Soummam Conference in a valley in Algeria where the guerrilla chiefs gathered. They made the cold calculation that they were not doing so well hitting French soldiers and that it was time to choose a different category of victims. There was a commander who said that one corpse in a dinner jacket is worth more than twenty in uniform, and that kind of thinking in more subtle and educated ways came through with people like Fanon and writing that they did. Targeting changed in ’56 thereafter.
And the effects are visible too. You know the movie The Battle of Algiers. Everyone has seen this good tutorial on how some of this work and thinking went on. Now, others have had their own radio stations, so ISIS has this one, or did, and you notice multiple languages and all. It is actually very common, once you start thinking about it, to find the names and a little detail sometimes about guerrilla radio, about the sub-state actors’ adoption of this kind of technology.
Well, the next one is also old-school, maybe more old school, newspaper. The Irish Republican Army’s roots go back. You can say it is about a hundred years, or you can say it is far more, but people became famous, Éamon De Valera and James Connolly and folks like that, for favoring Irish freedom and unification of the island vis-à-vis British interests.
The IRA strategies have varied over time. They have always had a strong propaganda arm. They have, of course, done guerrilla warfare. By that I mean against martial targets (not the same thing as terrorism), and they have had a good strategy of working with friends, as in our country, very successfully. The policy has always been pretty consistent, and that was for a unified Ireland, and then their strategies were varied in the ways that I have mentioned.
Well, one of them was a kind of propaganda effort. This is an example of a very good newspaper, which I took for 10 years and found that I learned a great deal from studying. They had a number of papers and as an expression of both IRA and Sinn Fein. The Irish People was very valuable.
This is just one format. The same paper changed a bit over time, so there is a later header, and they are boasting in this one of an ambush. This is from the ’90s. And then further examples of parts of the paper – here is a 1992 issue section called “War News,” [which] was common. They were clever. They did a spread of things. They did propaganda based on culture, history, current news, some easy topics like the imperialism of the British, which all their readers would enjoy.
But they also overtly covered their own violent attacks and, for example, boasted about the economic damage of their attacks. They would tell you how many millions of pounds they think they just cost with the bomb in Manchester, the bomb in London, whatever it was.
Here is another page, one of those murals. And you see by ’94 they began to start thinking about what all these peace talks mean, and the paper shows a kind of ambivalence. They have got a foot in each camp as to whether talks will lead anywhere and whether, in fact, we should be settling our affairs by talks.
The issues continued to arrive at my house. They sold things: you could buy videos about what they were doing in the field or various other historical aspects of things. They had a library, which sold books and were in effect an important and influential paper published in New York City, and reaching out to the diaspora people who were Irish, people who were interested in Irish affairs.
They were intending to create – and I believe they seem to have – they were intending to create that sense of community that a newspaper will create. When Alexis de Tocqueville was here, he noticed these Americans just have thousands of these things, often centered around a community, and they have the effect of building community. And terror groups or guerrilla groups can approach things the same way that an independent newspaper might in a community, touching on diverse themes.
There are plenty before and plenty of papers after The Irish People. It is defunct now. It quit somewhere after 9/11. In older days in our country there were, for example, scores, literally scores, of anarchist newspapers in the 1890s-1900 period, some founded by émigrés, some founded by guys who lived here for years, expressing the anarchist ideology and approach to government. And there were others, of course, similar publications in newsprint form, so the Weathermen had these. Lots of guerrilla groups have had these. They are always looking for grabbing your attention. They are looking for communicating. They are looking for continuing the ideological approach.
Lenin had a paper. He called it Spark. Decades later, you can look at Mao Ze Dong and remember his phrase about a ‘spark starting a prairie fire’. The Weathermen in the United States then have a publication in ’74 called Prairie Fire. And there is a kind of continuity of views on the value of a newspaper, and as Lenin said, it is not just what is on the page or just what you see, there is also something about that community of writers, editors, and circulators who create a paper and make it effective, that builds a kind of little Bolshevik cell all of its own. And so, there are results in reading something like this but also in producing it.
On to the next medium. The one I chose for this chapter is a little unexpected maybe. It is simply the human voice. We tend to forget sometimes the strength of oration. Although we all know orators that we like, we forget how important sometimes sub-state actors-orators are. This gentleman was the one who used to be a professor of English in the Philippines, and he is part of the challenge that agrarian communism has made to democracy in the Philippines.
You probably have Filipino politicians and historical figures you admire. Mine include Ramon Magsaysay, who beat an earlier attempt at Maoist communism in the Philippines, and Cory Aquino, who I got to see in our congressional gallery in 1986. Absolutely spellbinding to see her triumphal election that year in the country and her speech to the joint session. But there are challengers to that vision of the democratic Philippines, and this is one of them.
He is an ideologue, he is adept, he is smart, and he has been in the business of leading this party and its army for 50 years. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the founding of the NPA Army. That army used to be big. It is not anymore. They are down to maybe three to four thousand people. The Hukbalahap Rebellion occurred up here and was most important there, but you see [the] NPA presence is surprisingly national, which is important for a communist organization. It should be both national and international. They are not in Luzon only. They are spread through some of the other islands. See them here in the south, which we often expect to be a Muslim rebellion, and there is some there, NPA is strong there, too, so you have democracy, you have Islamism in modern forms, you have New People’s Army Maoism all fighting in that southern part of the Philippines for authority.[This is] Sison, who I showed you is a man of many talents. He is a pretty good speaker and a very busy writer. He still turns out books almost every year. He gives interviews. He creates music albums. Some of the other communists of older times in the Philippines also were musicians. He is. He works from Utrecht where he frequently lectures and he has been, in fact, a vocal and important proponent of Maoism all these years. He travels some, where he can. He makes satellite broadcasts. He has just started a new political front.
But in his tradition, I think the most interesting thing about the way they proceed is not all that media stuff, but it is the good old-fashioned human voice. And I brought along a testament from one of their agitators who does sort of quiet, guerrilla work in the outback.
There is a description – this goes back a few years – from a historian named Gregg Jones. He met someone named Tibbs, and this woman is an agitator for New People’s Army. And Jones, a journalist and writer, was so impressed and these are his words after her years in the countryside as an NPA guerrilla,
“Tibbs bore the signs of great physical hardship. A scar on her neck was the remainder of a goiter operation, the legacy of years of poor nutrition. Emaciated, she weighed barely 100 pounds. Ulcers prevented her from drinking coffee and tea and restricted her diet. Her arms were scratched and scarred from long hikes through the Philippines’ jungles. Her hands callous, skin leathery.
“I first met her late one evening in June 1987, reading and writing by a dim light, a homemade lamp in a peasant’s house. We met several times in the next year, sometimes in remote guerrilla camps and villages, sometimes in Manila.
“The intensity, energy, and sheer exuberance she radiated, whether huddled around the campfire with comrades or leading a ‘revolutionary sing-along’ in a trendy Manila café, they always amaze me. Despite her frailty, Tibbs could walk for hours over rugged trails as nimbly as the peasants whose life she had embraced. She was more at home delivering a lecture on the inevitability of a communist victory in the Philippines, and she was as fiery speaker as any rebel I ever encountered.”
Compelling testimony. When we see the videos and the songs that are done on multimedia by Communist Party of the Philippines today, I often think of her as one of those archetypes of a peasant rebellion, which has been such a feature of the Philippines. There are some of them in training, and there’s one of their song sessions. The videos are full of this kind of work. You can find these on the web at things like YouTube and www.Philippine Revolution.info.
Next group and next media: television. We have Hezbollah, which is formidable in many ways. It is interesting to consider how now they are three and a half decades old. The so-called Party of God is known for taking hostages from places like Germany and America, but also for social work, for all kinds of media, for terrorism in contemporary times in places like Burgos, Bulgaria. It’s an organization that is important for lots of reasons including remarkable political strength within Lebanon. In fact, I would suggest that Lebanese sovereignty is completely compromised by the existence and power of Hezbollah.
They have a TV station called The Beacon and they’ve been busy for many years. Here’s a series of frame shots from their TV. It’s quite remarkable, some of the artistry and colors and all that they show. We have this kind of screen, the lovely frame with single horse at the bottom which is also a favorite of Al-Qaeda propagandists. They do this kind of work on television all the time and some of it’s pretty good.
This is a screen series of [a] little girl. I don’t know how old… seven, nine. She’s telling us in a screed that she didn’t write but she sure does deliver in an animated way. You can see it on YouTube: “Jerusalem is captive. Oh, Muslims, Palestine is calling you. Jerusalem is calling you. Beat the drums of jihad. The slumber has lasted too long.” It says down there on [the] lower left one of the classic arguments in terrorist propaganda that the so-called good people, the so-called moderates, are merely slumbering, they’re somnolent, they’re missing history. It’s time to awaken. It’s time to get going. It’s time to do the work of the God in this case and Al Manar as The Beacon tries to to keep that spirit going.
They have lots of other kinds of propaganda. The British press once covered a remarkable theme park built for children which is probably very effective given what young boys like to go see. For example, by way of military equipment – and nobody mocks Hezbollah’s performance in the field because they’re extraordinarily good – so the television is important and lots of groups do it and, of course, most of them don’t have Iranian sponsors or the moneybags to do it themselves, right, but they still can be adept at getting interviews on television or they’ll do videos, which are accepted by a mainstream TV and that lends credibility. Sometimes they have done short bits of 10 minutes, 20 minutes, a half-hour, and they’ll sell it commercially, place it on a cable network, for example. So they’ve taken lots of approaches.
And you can’t ever forget simply the good old interview. There’s a great book of memoirs by Ingo Hasselbeck, a neo-Nazi who explains that the the media are always such suckers for a Nazi uniform and a good march and a couple of gestures and all that. If you just marshal up a couple of your friends and get them in uniform and get down to some appointed place, you can be guaranteed coverage for your organization and if you’re lucky and you’re smart, you can maybe get paid for that interview too. So there are ways to approach TV where you don’t have the budget that Hezbollah has.
Next, this is about a book because we don’t tend to think of terrorists writing books but a lot have. I think that this must be one of the most important books in the early 21st century, The Call to Global Islamic Resistance. Now, many of you who know more about Islamic resistance than I. You may have a different opinion but I think this man al Suri is really important. He’s a paradox. I can’t tell you I know he’s alive – he may not be – but he’s been active in the field for decades and he showed that range we’ve identified of media. This man has done classroom lectures. He has sat in a house around a little fire with a few people, teaching. He’s been in big lecture halls. He has done videos. He has done libraries of videos to cover long parts of a training regimen, he has been working overseas in places like Spain. He’s helped run a newspaper. He publishes himself, so when he did this book, which is 1600 pages, it’s an ultimate work by a man who’s been very, very busy all of his life. I think that the chance to see him now and then as some photographers have is kind of special. Peter Bergen recently published that picture from Tora Bora for example.
Now, the reason he’s important more than just interesting is that al Suri has done a book on Syria, one on Afghanistan, and The Call to Global Islamic Resistance, which lays out a kind of grand theory and an approach to thinking about resistance worldwide. He’s extremely well informed and he spent a lot of time working on all this and he sees a kind of strategic front, which includes things like open warfare, the war of open fronts, perpetual guerrilla warfare, and what he calls “individual terrorist jihad.”
I belabor that phrase because how many times have you been in a classroom or reading a book and been told by some social scientists that the term “terrorism” is such a value-laden word that, you know, we shouldn’t use it at all because nobody can define it. It’s just a pejorative. That’s always been false and there are writings by people like Carlos Marighella who are very proud of the terrorism they’ve done, and this is the kind of man who will tell you right up front that he does terrorism and like bin Laden would say there’s good terrorism and bad terrorism and you know which part he does, and that there’s nothing wrong with it and it should be deployed, and it ought to be a regular feature of the contest between civilizations in effect.
So Al Suri has many invitations to terrorism and many of them were picked up by that al Qaeda magazine Inspire. Nobody in Inspire was reprinted as much as this guy sitting on the right. Even Bin Laden didn’t get as much airtime in that Al Qaeda magazine, I would venture, as these reprints by Abu Musab al-Suri. He’s very important for being a strategic kind of thinker and he’s important for openly discussing the need for terrorism, not just attacks on martial targets and such.
Now, I said that lots of folks write. Let’s totally change ideologies here. Here’s an example of classic nationalism. We mentioned the Tamil Tigers, a long, long war through the late ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, really a remarkable war. It did end in ’09, but it’s a lot of people that never thought it would. Adele Ann Balasingham gets her last name from her husband. He’s the primary diplomat – or was – for the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Her contribution – a typical sort of monograph that terrorists will produce – was exactly to show the role of women in the rebellion, how they should think about nationalist ideas, what their roles were within the political and military forces of the Sri Lankan Tigers, and what you could contribute as a girl, as a woman in the fighting field. And this is one of the pictures from the booklet she did; they’ve captured an armored vehicle there in Sri Lanka.
It’s extremely important to know that people like this are involved, so a lot of people might study or write books about Prabakharan, the commander of all this, but there was a diplomatic side by Balasingham, and there was the side that enhanced the roles of females in the rebellion. I understand that Miss Adèle in is not only still alive, but she’s doing quite well. Most of the others who were militants in the movement haven’t fared them quite so well.
Now, on the theme sort of publications, here’s one from ISIS. And similarly, it gives you the cultural, political, and martial lay down for what the woman ought to be offering. Now they, unlike Adele Anne, don’t exhort women openly to compete in the field against men with arms, but like Adele, they push the notion of cultural contributions that the woman should make to the family, so they’re raising a young would-be jihadi, they’re taking care of their husband, they’re managing home economics and social affairs, and they might be working at the local medical clinic. This kind of a monograph was designed by ISIS to show you what the roles of women ought to be, and you can read this, by the way, in translation on this website of the Quilliam Foundation if you like. There are plenty of things, memoirs, monographs, and everything in between that terrorists actually published.
Terrorists are not just mentioned in books. They actually write them. One analyst claims to have found over 100 books, in fact, written by direct participants in terrorism and I expect that may be true. A word about that magazine al Qaeda, now-defunct. They had 16 issues of Inspire. The first one became famous, “How to Make a Bomb In the Kitchen of Your Mom,” among the other headlines. Here’s a byline by this article. The author’s name is ‘Terrorist,’ so it underscores my point about their utter shamelessness indicating the kind of targeting they’re willing to do.
For their own reasons, they think that they’re a standard bearer for the revolution of a kind they want. Their approach to politics was important. It was discernibly different from that taken by ISIS. The magazine is really intriguing and I’m sure some of you have seen an issue, which is good because the issues disappeared. You see here ISIS friends. I said Al Qaeda ran 16 issues of their magazine and it was destroyed in some of those airstrikes and we don’t know if it’ll ever be revived. Maybe it will and maybe not. It was a remarkable tool of propaganda, though I give them immense credit. It was witty, it was intelligent. Even though it was in English, it was usually flawless English, and often American English pitched to readers like us or a guy in a cafe in Germany or Spain, approaches to the young or a common man.
They were interactive. See, with that newspaper I subscribe to for ten years, I could write a letter to the editor and that may be the end of it. Interactivity was one of the great points of emphasis of Inspire magazine, so they had elaborate code in the back to show you how you could communicate directly with them and not get caught by the FBI or authorities at whatever country. They had a kind of jihad-feedback sort of thing. They had letters to the editor. They encouraged you to get involved deeply in affairs, not simply to read passively. In some later issues, they were exhorting readers to send in proposed articles. It was a remarkable magazine. The color and artwork are in some cases, really, really good.
Now, ISIS basically just stole the idea. They know there’s nothing creative about Dabiq magazine or its successor Rumiyah. They took the idea of an electronic magazine, which could be sent to you or me for free, which is a great thing about an e-zine, right? And it can be done in glorious color but you don’t have to pay for that expensive paper that you needed if you’re at Life magazine or Fields and Stream or something, and so Dabiq is a direct successor to Inspire.
Their ideological line is harder, they have no sense of humor at all, and they’re willing to publish the most flagrant things almost as if to antagonize. They want to intimidate and communicate. Well, their magazines are kind of like those videos you didn’t want to watch on TV. They do more intimidation than they do communication, and I think that, especially now, that they’ve suffered sentence many reverses. The kind of common refrain we’ll all hear is that they were foolish because they overdid the violence and they could not win support politically and maybe that’s true, but I want us all to think about it because I would argue that something like Inspire, which was a “more moderate” version of an e-magazine, was very compelling and very effective propaganda, and they always threatened violence. But they didn’t have to deliver right there on the screen, so there’s another reason why the slave markets run by ISIS are allegedly wonderful things approved by their religion – a little quotation here. When you think that you have no more stomach for this sort of stuff ISIS runs, here’s a suggestion about how much Michelle Obama might have been worth in a slave market that they would run, so there’s no bottom to these guys.
Now, one thing that mentors like Harold W. Rood taught Bob Reilly and I was to look at primary sources. Yes, Joe DeSutter, another student of Harold Rood. We’ve got to look at the primary sources and here’s a case where we didn’t. This man led the massacre in November 2015 in Paris. This man is shown here nine months before he was in northern Europe. Abdelhamid Abaaoud went to Syria for training or contact with ISIS or whatever and he gave these interviews, a couple of pictures, and then he went back and did just what he said: “God chose me to terrorize the Crusaders” and that’s what we’re going to do. Belgium’s in the coalition, so it’s a remarkable case of where European police and intelligence figures and maybe all the rest of us kind of failed to take advantage of an open source publication.
ISIS was risking all by publishing this kind of information and then sending him out on an operation wouldn’t you say? So I’m sitting in Honolulu with my Star Advertiser and they run a piece of this picture and I’ve seen this guy before because it was right after the massacre. I just pulled down the copies of Dabiq off my shelf and found this article of so many months earlier. They published the interview well before his mission, and for all the things that an open publication does, that’s one of them. It gives intelligence officers a chance to do something if they want to pay attention.
The last one is something totally different and you can’t go more low-tech than this. I mean Gutenberg would have appreciated the chapter we have here. The print advertisement on cheap news paper, block coverage, no fancy artwork, black and white. Sometimes the advertisements by MEK were like this with a strong human appeal, little girl, writing directly to Secretary State Clinton. Other times they jam in text to where you say almost nobody but Chris Harmon will read this advertisement. They ran this ad campaign for years.
The People’s Mujahideen e-Khalq is a fascinating group, which is difficult to describe ideologically. The State Department in their reports used to note Iranian secular views, some trace of Sunni faith, feminism, on and on. It’s a very mysterious organization and some dismiss it as a cult. There’s a reason they were on the department’s list for terror groups, and they were on there for many years, and it’s because they killed people like American military advisers. They killed a lot of Iranians. They eventually had a serious, semi-conventional army, which Saddam supplied for them, and they had all kinds of people well-trained for those weapons. A lot of them were women, by the way, and today, the organization is run by a woman.
Well, especially between ’05 and onward, they ran an ad campaign, which had this kind of feature, and it was an attempt to reach Western speakers. They had all sorts of advertisements, which showed massive rallies, or changes of opinion among large groups of parliamentarians in Europe or other ways in which they could say you Americans need to delist MEK, we’re just Iranian dissidents, we hate the mullahs just like you in Washington do.
Part of the campaign was very clever. They approached very serious Americans, often ones known explicitly for counterterrorism or military roles. They invited them to conferences. I’m sure this is all pretty open and they let them speak and then they used their names, and so we have a remarkable range of people who signed this kind of advertisement, and by the way. MEK people were similarly working the halls of Congress.
Now, when I was there as a staffer, I don’t remember getting lobbied by MEK, but I may have. Many staffers were and a lot of congressmen were, and there’s quite a history of MEK of sponsored letters that start, “Dear Colleague, from the Congressman in Maine or California, and they were basically saying delist PM.” When you have this kind of horsepower or artillery behind that kind of request, eventually you may well succeed. I was struck when in September 2012, they got just what they wanted. They were delisted.
I want to emphasize this isn’t all whitewash or influence operations. They did all that and they did satellite TV, and I own Maryam Rajavi books and all the rest. They had a multimedia effort. They also changed behavior. They quit murdering civilians in large numbers, they quit sending mortar shells into Iranian border towns, and they changed their behavior and went political. I spoke here long ago on how terrorist groups end, and one of the ways they end is is they make that political transition. Not many, but some, often enough to keep a kind of pattern going.
MEK/PMOI’s newspaper ads are remarkable. I have a whole folder of them. They were in things like The New York Times, The Washington Post. Can you imagine what a half-page ad costs in The Washington Post or The New York Times? They have a lot of money. French authorities told me they’re plenty worried about how much money they have. They care because they have a big compound in the Seine Valley even today, but they’re off the list in Europe, they’re off the list in the United States, and they’re operating now as a delisted former terrorist organization.
I’m going to turn the time over to you and see what discussion items you have. I close with one thought, which is that my book is really about violent extremism, but a lot of the time in this town we’re thinking about countering violent extremism CVE, and I guess the way I’d like to put it is doing that well would depend upon many things and above all understanding the violent extremists. We have to understand the enemy. We have to understand the terror groups that are doing the propaganda well before we can start figuring out how to shape messages that go against them. We have to pay attention to what they write and what they say and what they publish; sometimes we just pay attention to what they do. But actually, their ideas matter a great deal. And we talk a lot in town about a war of ideas and a contest of ideas. You might have varied views on how well we do with that, but we have to understand their ideas before we can begin to shape a good response to their ideas. And with that, Robert I’ll stop.