Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Article on Terrorist Record Keeping

Jacob N. Shapiro and David A. Siegel have an interesting piece that will soon appear in World Politics called "Moral Hazard, Discipline, and the Management of Terrorist Organizations" (pre-publication drafts are available here and here - and "technical appendix" here).

The article explores why "covert" groups, including terrorist organizations, create and maintain so many records, which in many respects constitute a danger to their survival when those records are later captured. They state:
groups as diverse as the Polish Underground in Warsaw, Red Brigades, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), Aum Shinrikyo, Fatah, al-Qaida, and al-Qa'ida in Iraq generated paperwork that, were it not for their violent subject matter, could have come from any traditional organization.
They write that this "is all a bit puzzling in that covert organizations are commonly thought to screen their operatives very carefully and pay a particularly heavy price for such record keeping."  Their "core argument is that in small, heterogeneous organizations, longer institutional memory can enhance organizational efficiency" which helps provide
an explanation for the seemingly odd facts that terrorist groups repeatedly include operatives of varying commitment and often rely on a common set of security-reducing bureaucratic tools to manage these individuals.
The authors rely in part on captured documents available through West Point's Combatting Terrorism Center's Harmony Program and they reference the Conflict Records Research Center's "Al-Qaeda and Associated Movements (AQAM) Collection".