The Chinese leader and father of the Chinese Revolution, Mao ZeDong, when speaking on irregular warfare said, “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.” Recent events in France have come to reinforce that such an attack can come at any time, and that the attackers can and will use the safe haven of their cultural community.

Brothers Cherif and Said Kaouchi, who attacked the Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and Amedy Coulibaly, a gunman at a Paris market, were all killed in separate standoffs, but had they been able to blend back into their environments, the nightmare of a manhunt could have resulted—one with the potential to last for years and be very bloody. The possibility of a criminal safe haven provided by a community, especially a culturally connected one, is one that must be taken into heavy account by intelligence, law enforcement, and military commanders.

At the beginning of the Second World War, German, Italian and Japanese citizens in the United States faced prejudice, isolation, and in the case of the Japanese, internment as a result of the war waged in Europe and Asia. While this treatment of the majority was reprehensible, pro-fascist sympathizers, spies, and saboteurs were discovered, usually through the hard work of the FBI.

But penetrating the often closed-off and suspicious communities was not an easy task. Outsiders were easily spotted and ostracized. Nazi Germany, on the other hand, had intelligence officers under various covers (official and non-official) who would recruit from the close-knit communities in the United States, Europe, and around the world, while the Japanese opted to conduct its intelligence operations at higher levels (against War Department and other government agencies) prior to and just after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Since its inception, the state of Israel has relied on and vowed to protect its diaspora, or those scattered in different countries as a result of war, famine, or by other means. The Israelis would traditionally set up “defense forces” in foreign communities where Jews were in peril, such as Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and in some South American cities. Young Israelis would be brought to Israel, given training by the military and the intelligence service, then sent back to their communities (along with weapons smuggled into the county) to train and raise the defense force. If an operation was being run and it was feasible, an ex-pat contact would meet with and support the operative however possible.

In order to deny the use of, or at least make it easier to conduct a capture/kill operation in the “oasis” (as diasporas have often been called), commanders must recognize both the opportunities and the obstacles to the end goal. For instance, here in the United States, the Minneapolis, Minnesota area is home to a very large Somali population. Given the present situation in east Africa, this group could prove to be a valuable source of intelligence.

There are likely individuals or groups within the diaspora who are angry, disenfranchised, or just looking for opportunity. Community leadership, if it is deemed appropriate and in keeping with the mission end state (capture/kill, intelligence source), may be approached to provide information, or even to help facilitate the target’s surrender. These are just some of the resources.

In addition to language and cultural barriers, there are other variables that must be taken into consideration when interacting with communities. The pace of technology, while most certainly an asset, is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Google Maps can aid an intelligence officer in “casing” a community for an op/case, while on the other, social networks like Facebook and Twitter can be used to spread the word about military or law enforcement in the area, giving the target a chance to slip away. (Anyone remember Sohaib Athar, the Pakistani computer programmer who sent the Tweet, “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1 a.m. (is a rare event)” during the Neptune Spear op?)

Cell phones make getting the word out as simple as a phone call or text, and there is no shortage of pro-extremist propaganda that could keep an intelligence officer and even the local police from setting foot in the community, or worse, ever coming out. Given al-Qaeda’s and ISIS’ ability to wage a pretty effective recruitment campaign via the Internet and social media, getting to know the target and his/her potential safe haven is a must.

Given the current global situation, it has become even more important that intelligence, military, and law enforcement work to cultivate contacts and assets within the diasporas and culturally linked communities in their areas of responsibility. At the very least, commanders should establish and reinforce a basic understanding of known, suspected, or possible community safe havens for criminals or terrorists when conducting operations.

A failure to do so will not only deprive them of valuable intelligence and area influence, but could provide the bad guy with an almost impenetrable fortress of not necessarily like-minded, but at the very least culturally similar, people, who may even take up arms in their defense. One only has to recall the Battle of Mogadishu in October 1993 to agree that finding the fish among the fishes can quickly turn into a nightmare.

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