View Full Version : Fighting Back the Book

Bill Moore
12-30-2013, 02:32 AM
I was given a copy of this book after recently giving a presentation focused on capacity building as it related to counterterrorism. I only wish I knew of it sooner, I gladly would have purchased the paperback version. To avoid duplication, I just cut and pasted my review of the book in Amazon. I will add here that this book is relevant to the ongoing challenges in Mexico, and a host of other security issues that is not directly related to terrorism. The lessons/discussions on risk assessments, building effective institutions, interagency decision making, and consequence management have wide application.

Fighting Back: What Governments Can Do About Terrorism Paperback
by Paul Shemella (Editor)


My review:

This book is actually a compilation of white papers and articles on what governments can do to more effectively counter the persistent threat of terrorism. It is divided into three parts, the first part being "The Complex Problem of Terrorism," followed by the second part, "Comprehensive Government Responses." If I was rating the book strictly on the first two sections I would have gave it five stars without hesitation; however, the third section titled "Selected Case Studies" though well written and insightful included case studies that were not clearly tied back to the lessons identified in the second part of the book. The case study on Somalia stands out as example. On the other hand, the case study on Tokyo Subway Attack was superb. If it was possible I would rated the book 4.5 stars.

Who should read this? Anyone in government, the UN, NGOs, military, law enforcement, education, etc. that is directly or indirectly responsible for preventing and responding to terrorism. It is especially valuable for counterterrorism advisors who mentor their own or foreign governments on how to improve their capacity to prevent and respond to terrorism. I only wish I was made aware of this book sooner.

Red Rat
12-30-2013, 09:45 AM
Good enough for me, the book is currently downloading on to my Kindle. With a move to Internal Security mentoring possible in the near future this is a timely addition.

Bob's World
12-30-2013, 02:42 PM
I know Paul fairly well, and he gave me a copy of this book last year. I have to confess, I am less enthusiastic than Bill is.

My take was that the tone was too much "state as victim" and lacked a balanced addressing of the causal role governance and government often have to the conditions from which organizations who employ illegal violence and terrorism for political purpose tend to emerge.

The reality is that many types of organizations employ terrorist tactics. Heck, our drone campaign is the FATA of Pakistan is terrorism in the eyes of those who live there and also with much of the global "jury"of people and governments everywhere who judge our actions. So "terrorism" or "terrorist" is a clumsy category at best. Most often it is a category that leads to il-defined strategies and the application of TTPs wholly unsuited for the purposes one hopes to achieve.

I personally think we get to much more effective categories when we bundle organizations by a combination of their primary purpose for action and their relationship to the population they operate among. Once this foundation is established one knows if they are dealing with a nationalist insurgent or a foreign fighter or a UW operative or a for-profit criminal, etc. Only then, upon this foundation should one further sort out and refine their understanding of the threat by tactical criteria, such as the tactics they employ, who they associate with or accept help from, or what ideology they employ. IMO, we jump straight to tactical factors, and end up applying solutions that really don't fit the problem. And when a solution does not fit a problem, it tends to make the problem worse.

It's been several months since I last looked at it, but I tabbed some examples in my copy that I will track down this week. Much good in the book, but again, I felt it lacked balance and served to reinforce some of our least productive behavior in dealing with terrorist organizations.

Bill Moore
12-30-2013, 10:52 PM

I recommend you review the book again, you will be hard pressed to find a chapter that doesn't address underlying issues, and the criticality of the government not further inflamming those issues by inappropriately or over reacting. It points out that sometimes the underlying issues are legitimate and other times they're not (Aum Shinryko for example, or pushing for Sharia law in a country for the majority of people don't desire it).

You seem to view the world through your theory of governance, and you tend to default too quickly at times to assuming every terrorist has a legitimate cause based on an underlying issue the government has failed to address. In fact, this probably addresses a minority of terrorist cases. In many cases there is no reason for the government to address terrorist demands/underlying issues, in fact if they did so they would no longer be legitimate. Every situation must be evaluated on its own facts, and not every case will conform to one theory.

For a government to maintain legitimacy, it must effectively address terrorist threats to themselves and their citizens. What constitutes effective will vary on the situation. What I like it about it is it not prescriptive, but rather serves as a thinking man's guide.

This book does a good job of exploring how a government should fight back, and lessons learnt from various case studies.

Bob's World
12-31-2013, 02:49 PM

I definitely agree that there are, and will always be, a few evil nut jobs out there who do evil for evil's sake, or who have formed a completely irrational view of government and build organizations around that shared irrational view to wage terror to advance that agenda. That goes to my point of starting with understanding the primary purpose for action and relationship to the population the group operates among. Pure CT tactics work very well against such groups/individuals - but in a law enforcement context, not a military warfare context.

I harp on the causal role of governance, not because I think that is the source of all terrorism, but rather because it is the aspect of dealing with terrorism that governments screw up the most. Also because it is, IMO, the crux of the nearly complete failure at the strategic level of our past 12 years of chasing ideologies and "bad guys."

Break - Just found and reviewed my tabbed copy. I have to concede, most of the tabs were positive, and that while I had a few concerns, that the overall message is one that I can endorse.