Magazine article USA TODAY

Listening in on Terrorist Plans

Magazine article USA TODAY

Listening in on Terrorist Plans

Article excerpt

Without any formal direct contact with terrorist organizations, it is difficult for Western nations to answer two fundamental, but important, questions: what do terrorists want, and how do they plan to achieve it? Research examining communications among Al Qaeda members provides some insights into the core values and beliefs of the world's most dangerous terrorist organization, and could help in designing strategies and policies aimed at preventing future terror attacks.

Detlof von Winterfeldt, former director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and George Keeney, a specialist in management studies, analyzed the writings and verbal statements of Al Qaeda's members and spiritual leaders, primarily from 1998-2008. Their findings were published in the journal Risk Analysis, where the pair distinguish among different types of objectives: means (guiding short-term, day-to-day actions); fundamental (guiding medium- to long-term actions); and strategic (guiding all decisions leading to end goals).

"We found only a few strategic objectives," Keeney explains. "For example, one of Al Qaeda's strategic objectives is to inspire and incite Muslims to attack the enemies of Islam, but this likely won't be achieved without first maintaining support from the Muslim masses. …

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