Or, Professionals Are Predictable, But The World Is Full Of Amateurs
Any reader of this publication is almost certainly familiar with any number of terrorist and/or guerilla groups. Indeed, we see their depredations on an almost daily basis -- depending on where the reader lives in the world, terror group news may be the only news available.
But, from a purely psychological point, knowledge of the various terror groups around the world is comforting: with relative ease, the inquisitive person can find out the basics on virtually any group with perhaps an hour or two of research online. "Google Fu" is a working verb, now. In that sense, groups like ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and any other "dead-enders" around the world are not that scary - when you learn about your enemy, you steal some of their power, and make them that much less, in your mind.
But what about the group you've never heard of?
What I mean, here, is that unknown group -- the group on no one's radar. The group that sits quietly, like a spider at the center of its web, waiting for a hapless fly to get stuck. The group that explodes (sometimes, literally) onto the world scene: who are these people? What do they want? How many of them are there? And so on...
The cold facts of life are that, for all the uncountable billions of dollars spent on the kaleidoscope of intelligence disciplines by various countries, there are well in excess of seven billion people in the world, currently. No matter how much intelligence agencies may desire it to be otherwise, there is simply no way to monitor every individual in a meaningful, timely manner.
Case in point - David Coleman Headley.
Headley - a committed member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group - was that group's principle reconnaissance operative that they used to scout the city of Mumbai, prior to the group's bloody attack on the city in 2008. Headley might have been many things...James Bond, he was not. He made mistake after mistake, "bush-league" errors in tradecraft that no operator with the slightest pretense to competence would have made.
And he still got away with it.
Although he did not actually take part in the attacks in India, Headley continued his career as the "perfect" terror scout - as a consequence of his United States citizenship, and his West European features - inherited from his American mother, a daughter of Philadelphia high society - Headley was able to move freely around the world, scouting multiple potential attack locations, it was not until he turned up on the United States' Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) radar when he attempted to scout out an attack location in Denmark. When DHS agents intercepted him in Chicago, Illinois in 2009, Headley, assuming that DHS knew about his Mumbai scouting work as well, confessed without prompting.
Intelligence agencies throughout the West had no inkling of the scale of Headley's connection with terror groups prior to his contacts with Al Qaeda.
But Headley was ultimately working for well-known terrorist groups, who were under some level of surveillance. Headly was not an "independent operator". The same rules applying to Headley, applied equally to the Central Intelligence Agency, Britain's MI6 and the Soviet Union's KGB.
What follows is a cautionary tale, one that explains why eternal vigilance at the individual level is the price we all pay for the benefits of globalization and a much smaller world than existed a hundred years ago.
When examining the structure of any group, whatever its aim, the following five archetypal people must exist to make the organization work:
1. The People Person. This is the person who recruits people to whatever the group's stated cause is. How public that statement of purpose is, directly affects how quickly a group can expand its numbers with "spear carriers".
2. The Banker. This is the fund-raiser, the person who obtains money for the Cause, whatever that is. The Banker is the person who finds the money necessary to make the group function externally -- it's one thing to gripe in private. To act outside the status of a discussion group, money - a lot of money - is required.
3. The Support Person. This is the person who makes the drudgery work: they take the money provided by the Banker, and use it to purchase all the "stuff" that the Cause needs, whether that is buildings, office supplies, air time, food, medical supplies, etc. They might use the people recruited by the People Person, but this is not strictly necessary.
4. The Idea Person. This is the person who can form and articulate the Big Idea, both to the core group and the recruits, but also to the outside world. This person is sometimes the Leader, but not always.
5. The Leader. The Leader is the "front man". They may also be the Idea Person, but not always. This is the person who can be held up as the prime example of the goals of the organization; this can, obviously assume messianic proportions.
Aside from the possible overlap between the Idea Person and the Leader, these people are mutually exclusive of each other -- it is virtually impossible for a single person to perform two of these functions, far less, all five. This is a very good thing, as it becomes increasingly more difficult to assemble more or less complete strangers into a functioning group.
However, if three of these archetypal people do assemble, with some form of malicious intent, the potential level of destruction becomes terrifying. Below we'll look at a "near-miss" -- a near miss incidentally, that led - in a peripheral way - to the creation of this magazine.
(NB: This specific incident ultimately led to the author's joining MilitaryGazette, because while I had joked for years that I could equip an army out of an Army-Navy store, I had never actually tried to price it out...but that's another story, entirely.)
In the days before MilitaryGazette really got underway, this author was contacted by a friend on Facebook, who sent a link via private message to a story at Cracked! magazine. The story was exactly the kind of thing I love to read. But it was just one entry in an article full of similar entries. So, I read on. That led me to the first part of this cautionary tale: the story of David Deng.
David Deng (real name: Yupeng Deng - 玉峰邓), a Chinese national, walked into an Army-Navy surplus store in Southern California in 2008, bought a used uniform, and put together enough patches to look believable (to those with no experience to speak of) as a Colonel in the US Army Special Forces, styling himself as something that translates into English as the "Supreme Commander, U.S. Army/Military Special Forces Reserve".
He then opened what he termed an "Army recruiting office" in Temple City...but he only recruited people just arriving in the United States from the People's Republic of China (PRC), people who did not speak very good English, and had very little real knowledge of the United States, or of its military. Deng presented the US Army as if it were a 'tong', in which a person had to pay a fee to join, along with yearly dues, and would have their citizenship "fast-tracked". Additionally, they would receive uniforms and military identification cards that would give them some level of immunity for minor offenses, like traffic tickets. Of course, the uniforms came from Army-Navy surplus stores, and the identification cards came off of Deng's printer...but his "recruits" didn't know that.
Deng managed to get his private "army" into various parades and celebrations in Los Angeles County's Chinese community, including photo-ops with local political figures. Although people thought this "unit" to be rather strange, and somewhat sloppy (Deng, not being military himself, had no real idea of what to teach his "troops"), no serious questions were raised...
It was not until 2011 that Deng's scam was blown, when some of his recruits tried to pay their monthly dues at real Army recruiting offices, that David Deng's army appeared on the radar of the real US Army, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI then swiftly moved in, and rounded up Deng and his hapless recruits. The FBI quickly determined that his recruits actually thought that they really were in the US Army, that they really had enlisted to serve the United States, and earn their citizenship. US courts declined to prosecute Deng's recruits, as a result.
What was shocking, however, were the numbers involved.
The FBI knows for certain that Deng had recruited one-hundred and fifty people...but they believe the actual numbers could be far higher -- on the order of eight hundred individuals. For anyone who knows anything about armies, that's enough people for anything from an infantry company (the number the FBI knows about for certain), up to a battalion (for the larger number).
It is a good thing that Deng never had weapons to hand out to his army, along with training and lethal intent for them...
Which brings us to our next person: Jeffery Alan Lash.
Pacific Palisades is a quiet, upscale suburb of Los Angeles, California. one sunny day, someone walking along the street became curious about a SUV that had been parked on the street for almost two weeks. Peering in, they saw a figure that appeared to be dead, and immediately called police.
When the police arrived, they knew they had an unusual scene: the vehicle and the identification on the remains identified a local man, who lived just a few doors down the street. When they received no answer to a knock at the door, the police obtained a warrant to enter...and quickly called in the police department's EOD team.
It took hours to empty the residence. Within, police found over 1,200 firearms of various types, piles of miscellaneous gear and equipment..and so much ammunition that they stopped counting it early on, and simply weighed it for the evidence locker -- ultimately, between five and six tons of ammunition, in various calibers, were recovered.
While the specific details of the story - strange as they are - make for an interesting read, the takeaway for this article is that this one man had managed to somehow put the money together to assemble a large enough quantity of small arms to outfit a battalion-worth of people: eight hundred to a thousand troops...and did it without appearing on anyone's radar, until he apparently died of natural causes.
Now, I want to be clear, here: there is absolutely no evidence that has come to light, that indicates that David Deng and Jeffery Alan Lash ever knew each other, or were in any way inspired by one or the other. However, in these two stories, we have to of the five archetypes: the People Person (Deng) and the Banker (Lash) who tried to be the Support Person.
Lash's arms buying - whatever he was buying weapons for - could have equipped some kind of military force. Not very well, but those hypothetical troops would have been armed with real weapons, with real ammunition, and would have been capable of executing some level of military mission...not very well, but far better than most guerilla armies are capable of doing, especially when they start out.
Likewise, Deng's recruits were never given any kind of real training that would have allowed them to carry out any kind of realistic mission...but they could have been given that training.
Aside from them not knowing each other, what Deng and Lash lacked was an Idea Person and a Leader. In effect, the two were, hypothetically speaking, just two steps away from creating a real, functional military unit: they needed to have known each other, and needed someone to give them direction on what to do. Speaking as someone who has managed battalion-scale Issue Points and Warehousing operations in a military context, the author is left somewhat breathless at the potential these two men represent -- although the days of Bannerman's are long gone, these men - primarily Lash, in this instance - didn't assemble the kind of gear or carry out the training for the recruits that I would have, they did far better than they had any right to.
At the end of the day, though, what does the foregoing actually mean?
In a word, globalization and mass production - whatever their very real benefits might be - have also brought into sharp focus the fact it is relatively easy to assemble a force that can function as a military unit, in a relatively short period of time...given more money, it is equally possible to assemble and train that force to some level of competence above that of a street gang.
You, the reader, need to remain vigilant - there are plenty of David Deng's and Jeffery Alan Lash's out there in the world. Don't assume that because it looks complicated, it can't be done.
Find a way to get inside the enemy's OODA Loop.
Forewarned, is forearmed.
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