Two of the best disruptive strategists in the modern era, TE Lawrence and COL. John Boyd, understood that a state of mind could defeat the mind of state, unless that state was prepared to adapt in unconventional ways and means. GEN Allenby got it, and let Lawrence create his own insurgency that became like an unpredictable human sandstorm in the desert.
While our government leaders tell us they are innovative and forward looking, the very nature of Government is to be stable, administrative, predictable, highly risk adverse and reactive. This is incongruent to an adversary with a state of mind that is unconventional, dynamic and free from bureaucracy. As COL Boyd argues in Patterns of Conflict, defeating our enemies requires creating fear, anxiety, and alienation in order to generate many non – cooperative centres of gravity as well as subverting those that adversary depends upon thereby magnifying internal friction. It is this state of mind that will defeat our enemies but cannot be massed produced through rigid templates.
Winston Churchill said, “The wars of peoples will be more terrible than the wars of kings.” Could he foresee not only the kind of wars we have had to fight manipulated by a state of mind with no geographical boundary?
The recruitment, planning and act of terrorism are ultimately human events, and transcend through individuals or groups with a particular mindset. Without this, the consumers of salafi-jihad would not become producers. Defeating this state of mind requires an asymmetric mindset to exploit weaknesses in the terrorist’s moral, social, cultural, economic, religious and psychological drivers – we must destroy their fantasy. COL. Boyd’s OODA Loop provides a framework to help us degrade and destroy terrorists and this can become an even more powerful tool through good-old down and dirty human intelligence.
Governments should increase investment in new approaches to HUMINT as a frontline asset against terrorism. Recently, I spoke at a security conference on small unit operators who are capable of evolving ahead of the terrorists combined with deeper human intelligence adaptabilities. A key message was that it is not about how much money is spent, or convincing ourselves that even more complex activity is a measure of effectiveness. It was the only topic to discuss defeating the terrorist’s state of mind through SOF and human intelligence operations to destroy the terrorist’s cultural, moral and social fantasy. Every other speaker was focused on the most expensive technology. I felt like a led pencil salesman at an X-Box 360 show.
Governments are too quick to reject less complex ways of war, and believe simple solutions are stupid. For example, meetings with the Taliban were tests of emotional intelligence, kind of like that irritating program Lie to Me. Every expression, gesture and turn of phrase was calculated and carefully watched for signs of weakness. You had to unravel their twisted logic and the longer the meetings went, in the back of your mind was the nagging sensation that the route home could be eventful; even when the opening line during one encounter in Ghazni began with, “You can trust me. I’m not going to kill you.”
When it comes to the state of mind of the salafi-jihadists, there is an interesting analogy here between how TE Lawrence viewed using the openness of the desert, where it was impossible for the Turkish to protect every asset, and how the salafi-jihadist movement view the world as its battlefield. TE Lawrence determined that Arabs would be an idea, an influence, a thing intangible, invulnerable, without front or back, drifting about like a gas vapour. The conventional mind of the state cannot adequately deal with this state of mind, and may explain why we remain baffled when we hear of residents from Minnesota, Canada, the UK and Australia joining salafi-jihadist organisations like al Shahaab. This is more powerful than being caught up in a life of crime or going to join Hells Angels. Understanding this state of mind and defeating it requires a constant and cyclical need for exploration, discovery, innovation, thinking, doing, achieving, learning and unlearning, relearning, comprehending, shaping, adapting. Hence a conceptual spiral for generating insight, imagination and initiative.
One of the most insightful and eclectic discourses by Boyd was put forward in his, “The Strategic Game of? and?” where, in his presentations, he would ask the audience to consider what is strategy. Fortunately, this discussion has been put together in a presentation by Chet Richards (2006) who worked with COL. Boyd on his first paper, Destruction and Creation, and on Patterns of Conflict. Richards (2006) compiled a presentation from Boyd’s 1987 original hand-written notes, setting out the Boyd snowmobile metaphor.
Boyd would get his audience to imagine they were on a ski slope and fix that image in their mind. He then says to imagine they are at a sunny beach resort on motorboat. Now he gets them to think of other ways of moving around, such as on a bicycle. Boyd then tells them to imagine they are a parent at a department store and where their child notices toy tractors with rubber caterpillar wheels. Taking all those retained images at once, what could they create? Boyd’s punch line began, if you took the skis, the motor from the boat, the handlebars from the bicycle and the rubber from the toy tractor and throw away the rest, you would have designed a snowmobile. Boyd stated in his work, “a winner is someone (individual or group) who can build snowmobiles, and employ them in the appropriate fashion, when facing uncertainty and unpredictable change.”
This destructive state of mind combined with human intelligence gathering is a powerful weapon, but not one that is easily embraced by the conventional mind of the state. Governments must allow their armed forces and intelligence entities to develop disruptive, creative and asymmetrically minded operators.
Yet they must resist being seduced by the success of the current generation of SOFs who, over the last decade, have carried an enormous physical and mental burden. Mass-producing innovation destroys the very thing that gives us the winning edge over our adversaries.
This is critical, because many non-state terrorist organisations have had more direct combat and operational experience than many Western armed forces. Whether directly against US-NATO allies or during Middle East and Northern African instability, such as Syria, their operational tempo has allowed them to constantly orientate their tactical approach through the lens of a jihad fantasy that one could predict will constantly come back around to be applied against our own foreign and domestic interests.