Treating Islamic Violent Extremism as a Pandemic Super-infection
The United States and its allies have been fighting a protracted war against a Global Jihadi Movement that draws it inspiration from Islam and wishes to enforce its view of Islam upon the world. In this process strategy, tactics, techniques, and procedures have evolved. Muslim extremist organizations have evolved to survive by becoming more and more resistant to elimination by the United States and its allies. Effectively speaking, Islamic extremist ideology has become a pandemic super-infection resistant to current counter-ideological methodologies. Therefore, we should treat Islamic extremist ideology as the equivalent of an ideological MRSA pandemic.
A key step in the planning process is defining the problem by developing a problem statement. A proposed problem statement is: The governments of the world lack the ability to stop and or reverse the growth of the Global Jihadi Movement (GJM). Current methodologies force a rapid evolution in the capabilities of Muslim extremist organizations (MEO) within the GJM and aid/force the spread of extremist diaspora across the globe. A proposed solution is to treat Islamic extremist ideology the same way we would treat a global pandemic of MRSA.
Over the last few decades, Islamic extremist ideology has metastasized and grown to be more capable of damaging the host country it infects. In the process of fighting the pandemic, we have repeatedly made the mistake doctors warn us about when they tell you to take every single antibiotic pill, and you do not finish the entire prescription. Even with this warning, when the symptoms have receded sufficiently people stop treatment before the medicine is finished. As a result, the infection - in this case a violent ideology - evolves after losing its weakest members. The members that survive develop immunity to the treatment. Now the infection, which is in a latent incipient phase, is able to reorganize, consolidate, and grow stronger. The most recent example of this phenomenon recently is the rise of ISIS, which came back so strongly that it jumped rapidly into the war-of-movement phase.
If we look at Islamic extremist ideology as if it was a super-infection, we see the MEOs are never fully destroyed. We only “disrupt” the infection. We have become so fond of the tactical task disrupt that no commander dares to say destroy, defeat, or neutralize. By constantly disrupting and hitting every target as soon as we can, we aid in the rapid evolution of a MEO’s capabilities and increase its ability to recover. A side effect of all these disruption operations with not destruction of the cotangent is the spread of Islamic extremist ideology. The contaminated diaspora metastasize into previously unaffected areas as refugees and internally displaced people. In other words, we cause the threat to spread.
Treating violence as a disease process is not a new idea. Dr. Slutkin, founder of Cure Violence, has applied a similar idea to street crime in multiple cities across the United States and has started to spread the concept globally. This may actual help a military version by sensitizing allied governments to a similar concept. So far, Dr. Slutkin’s process has shown to reduce violent street crime. In Puerto Rico, this practice has reduced the incidents of violent crime by 55 percent in the first treated neighborhood.[i] However, as a domestic policing strategy for a policing problem it is not as simple as copy pasting this program onto global Jihad. It does however provide a starting point and the first three lines of effort for a strategy. According to Dr. Slutkin the three steps he applies are interrupt transmission, prevent further spread, group immunity. These LOEs and subordinate efforts would look like this.
1. Interrupt transmission: Stopping known MEOs and individuals etc., from 'infecting others'
- ‘Street Cred’ reduction/ character assassination
- Intercepting transmission messaging material
- Reducing subject’s access to none ‘infected’ people
- Travel VISA denial, no fly lists, etc.
- Finance interception
2. Prevent further spread: Stopping first and second degrees of separation connections, etc., from becoming further infected
- Counter messaging
- Restricting access to known jihad groups/ individuals
- Connecting followers of jihad groups/ individuals to apostate status
3. Group immunity: Pre-treating population groups and third or higher degrees of separation connections to MEOs and infected individuals from buying into Jihadi messaging by convincing them that the hardened groups are anti-Islamic or by secularizing them.
- Counter messaging
- Restricting access to known MEOs and infected individuals
- Connecting followers of MEOs and infected individuals to apostate status
LOE 3 will be hard to achieve and require mapping of association matrixes. In an epidemic doctors need to achieve a 96% effectiveness on the immunization front.[ii] This number is misleading and does not actually mean you have go to the person and physically inoculate 96% of all people. Medical research in the spread of epidemics has shown that this can be accomplished by inoculating approximately 30% of the people.[iii] To do this, three rings of containment will be established with LOE 1 forming the Alpha ring, LOE 2 forming a Bravo ring, and LOE 3 being the Charlie ring.
By vaccinating at high degree nodes on the association matrix, you have effectively inoculated everyone on the other side of the node. Admittedly, the 30% statistic is for a standard disease process not for a contagion spread by the internet. At the same time, it also means inoculation does not have to be performed physically either, the inoculation can use the same medium that the contingent uses. Although the actual percentage of people is most likely higher than 30, it will still be lower than 96% based on the lack of word of mouth spread and reduced groupthink of the contagion within social nodes.
Figure 1: LOE Containment Rings and Inoculation Points
In addition to the three LOEs there are two Lines of Operation (LOO) that are in effect the anti-viral part of the treatment process. Day-to-day medicine and domestic policing policy cannot apply to these LOOs for two reasons. First unlike a doctor fighting MRSA, it is possible to reverse the learned resistance that decades of Counterinsurgency (COIN) ‘disrupting operations’ have developed in MEOs. This is possible for two reasons, one humans do not pass on learned immunity processes genetically and secondly we can induce an inverse Darwinist effect were the less virulent extremists survive while the more virulent extremist dies. We would do this by assessing the capabilities of individuals and then chose the least competent individuals for survival. We would then eliminate the more competent leaders assisting the less competent in moving up the chain of command. Over time, the less competent and the preferably less OPSEC savvy individuals would compromise MEOs and illuminate their networks. Second is Cyber operations to infiltrate networks to gain intelligence support the other LOE/Os. In this LOO, cyber operations and related intelligence disciplines would set the conditions by mapping high degree communications nodes and setting the conditions for defeating MOEs and their messaging capabilities.
1. Inverse Darwinist lethal operations: De-evolving resistance to COIN operations by conducting kinetic strikes and MILDEC in a manner that promotes less competent leadership especially less OPSEC savvy individuals and messaging groups.
- Leadership capabilities assessment
- Chosen leader promotion via MILDEC and kinetic strikes
- Lethal strike synchronization
2. Cyber operations: Use Internet and other cyber operations to gain intelligence and support the first three LOEs. Establish the ability to create a Jihadi black out post long-term infiltration of Jihadi technological systems:
- Web crawling to predict breakout zones for MEOs
- Infiltrate cyber infrastructure of MEO’s over extended period to gain ability to stop all messaging for a period of time
- Gain intel to support other LOE’s
The decisive point for destroying an MEO is identifiable when we achieve four conditions. First, the LOEs have achieved containment of an MEO reducing its ability to draw strength from the surrounding population. Second, we have adversely affected the MEO chain of command ability to handle adverse conditions by inverse Darwinism. Third, the cyber infrastructure of the MEO is mapped and penetrated. Finally, subordinate units receive an Operations Order to execute this portion of the mission. This last step is extremely important because the rapid changes in situation will not allow for the current sluggish highly centralized command procedures used by the military. The operational commander will have to follow the principles of mission command; mission approval authorities delegated to the lowest ranking commander in an Areas of Operation, lethal strike authority limited to no higher than battalion command, release authority during troops in contact situations delegated to the ground force commander.
At this, the decisive point, the operational commander will mass effects in a rapid, systematic, and sequenced series of strikes conducted across both cyber and physical domains causing a collapse of the targeted MEO. These strikes would prioritize the high value target list (HVTL) followed by high payoff target list (HPTL). Where discrepancies exist between the two lists, the HVTL target will take priority. Lethal strikes would prioritize leadership targets based on a leader's capabilities and capacity not by a leaders rank or position on a wire diagram. It would be theoretically possible to place the leader of an MEO on the bottom of the priority list. The desired effect is to cause irreversible shock across all of the War Fighting Functions of the targeted MEO in short order. The already weakened MEO would then fracture and become ineffective.
The political will to win is a concern, as are the methodologies within more constrained territories such as with a developed country. The LOE are rather liberal in their leanings and are executable without violence. Several governments including the United States are already using a form of the LOEs within their cities. However, the focus of these LOEs within these countries is on street crime not Islamic extremist ideology. The two LOOs however, pose an issue within developed countries and long-term incarceration will be the tool to remove targets from the battlefield. In war zones like Afghanistan, and Syria the problem inverts. With such a high percentage of the population accepting Islamic extremist ideology, containment will be the difficult part.
By treating Islamic extremist ideology as a disease process, we can limit its spread of Islamic extremist ideology then begin to reduce the number of people contaminated. While doing this the LOOs of inverse Darwinist kinetic operations and cyber operations will set the condition for destruction of an MEO’s infrastructure and chain of command in one rapid series of strikes. After which the LOEs will continue to treat the target populace until Islamic extremist ideology is no longer accepted. We can eradicate the pandemic of Islamic extremist ideology just like Small Pox.
[i] Gary Slutkin, "Gary Slutkin: Let's Treat Violence Like a Contagious Disease", Video file, 14:08. TED.Com. Posted by TEDMED, April 2013, Accessed August 29, 2016, http://www.ted.com/talks/gary_slutkin_let_s_treat_violence_like_a_contagious_disease?language=en.
[ii] Nicholas Christakis, "Nicholas Christakis: How social networks predict epidemics", Video file, 17:54, TED.com. Posted by TED@cannes, June 2010, Accessed August 29, 2016, http://www.ted.com/talks/nicholas_christakis_how_social_networks_predict_epidemics.
[iii] Slutkin, “Violence”