On War #240
November 13, 2007

Cops Who Think

William S. Lind

[The views expressed in this article are those of Mr. Lind, writing in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the opinions or policy positions of the Free Congress Foundation, its officers, board or employees, or those of Kettle Creek Corporation.]

Like most militaries, most police departments are not famous for their intellectual attainments. Doughnuts, it seems, are not brain food. Fortunately, that is beginning to change. Police are starting to understand that they, not the military, are on the front line of Fourth Generation war, and they need to think about what that means for them.

Up until now, the leading police agency in thinking about 4GW has been the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department. That is not surprising; cops in L.A. face 4GW on the streets all the time, in the form of war between ethnically-defined gangs.

But the east coast is waking up. The New York City Police Department has just put out an interesting study of the most dangerous variety of 4GW, the local kind. Titled Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat and written by two NYPD Senior Intelligence Analysts, Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt, this monograph is an important contribution to the slowly-growing corpus of 4GW literature.

The title is slightly and unintentionally misleading. The study reflects just one kind of homegrown 4GW threat, the Islamic variety. I'm sure the NYPD recognizes that there are many other domestic sources of 4GW beyond Islam, but it might want to clarify that point in a future edition.

Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat [2.1 MB PDF] proceeds from one unstated but critically important assumption: if police are acting as "first responders," after an incident has occurred, they have failed. Success in defending civil society requires not first response but prevention.

Prevention can only be done by police, because only police, not the military, are sufficiently integrated with society to get the "tips" prevention usually requires. The need for such integration in turn explains why police should never allow themselves to be militarized, despite most cops' enthusiasm for military gear. Militarization automatically separates police from civil society, which leaves them blind and deaf.

The study begins with an observation by NYC Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly:

While the threat from overseas remains, many of the terrorist attacks or thwarted plots against cities in Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States have been conceptualized and planned by local residents/citizens who sought to attack their country of residence.

The bulk of the study seeks to identify a pattern these homegrown 4GW fighters follow in their self-development.

Where once we would have defined the initial indicator of the threat at the point where a terrorist or group of terrorists would actually plan an attack, we have now shifted our focus to a much earlier pointa point where we believe the potential terrorist or group of terrorists begin and progress through a process of radicalization. The culmination of this process is a terrorist attack…

An assessment of the various reported models of radicalization leads to the conclusion that the radicalization process is composed of four distinct phases:

  • Stage 1 : Pre-radicalization

  • Stage 2 : Self-radicalization

  • Stage 3 : Indoctrination

  • Stage 4 : Jihadization

Each of these phases is unique and has specific signatures…

The NYPD shows its grasp of the realities of 4GW by not seeing the enemy as a structure or organization:

Al-Qaeda has provided the inspiration for homegrown radicalization and terrorism; direct command and control by al-Qaeda has been the exception rather than the rule among the case studies reviewed in this study…

Rather, it (radicalization) is a phenomenon that occurs because the individual is looking for an identity and a cause…

  • Salafist Islam provides the identity and cause these young men are seeking -- and as a number of the case studies show, it has an appeal beyond ethnic boundaries. The NYPD study correctly notes that:

  • This (Salafist) ideology is proliferating in Western democracies at a logarithmic rate…

  • The Internet is a driver and enabler for the process of radicalization…

  • Prior to 9/11, the entire radicalization process moved at a much slower rate…

  • The radicalization process is accelerating in terms of how long it takes and the individuals are continuing to get younger.

For those who believe the "terrorist" threat is waning, Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat should provide a needed wake-up call. Al-Qaeda may today be less able to carry off 9/11 style operations than it was when it had its Afghan sanctuaries, but it has replaced that operational model with a model based on "leaderless resistance." The "leaderless resistance" model is less vulnerable to counter-attack by state armed forces and may, over time, also be more deadly.

The good news here is that unlike the military, the cops get it. Perhaps that should not surprise us. Several years ago, I gave my "Four Generations of Modern War" talk to a police conference. I did not modify the talk for a police audience; I told them I did not know enough about policing to be able to do that. They had to translate it from military to police terms themselves.

While perhaps 10% of the average military audience gets what I am saying, 90% of the cops got it. For cops, the real world is the street, not the internal world of promotion and budget politics that absorbs most American military officers. Outward focus, it seems, makes a difference.

Note: There will be no “On War” column Thanksgiving week.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact:

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
717 Second St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002

Direct line: 202-543-8796

The Free Congress Foundation is a 28-year-old Washington, DC-based conservative educational foundation (think tank) that teaches people how to be effective in the political process, advocates judicial reform, promotes cultural conservatism, and works against the government encroachment of individual liberties.

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