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Book Review

Terrorist Recognition Handbook, Second Edition


fter returning from my third tour of duty in Iraq, I generally avoided books on the ongoing war in that country. I was extremely unimpressed with the accuracy and perspective of the accounts that were provided by major news outlets and many publishers. It often seemed to me that the U.S. Central Command issued orders based on this flawed reporting. The only thing I was certain of was that little of the “conventional wisdom” seemed consistent with what I observed on the ground in Iraq, living with Iraqis, conducting operations, and patrolling. This changed when I encountered Malcolm Nance’s book The Terrorists of Iraq. To my surprise, this volume accurately captured my perspective on encounters with members of various terror groups in Iraq and provided additional information I was unaware of. Nance’s book reflected lessons learned by “grunts” in the field, even if this knowledge hadn’t always filtered uphill. Furthermore, Nance went into significant detail, offering little that I could dispute. Thus, when I learned that the second edition of Nance’s Terrorist Recognition Handbook: A Practitioner’s Manual for Predicting and Identifying Terrorist Activities (CRC Press/ Taylor and Francis Group, 2008) had been released, I immediately requested a copy. Nance did not gain his insight by earning a PhD and watching CNN;

by Malcolm Nance rather, he is a 20-year veteran of intelligence operations in the Balkans, the Middle East (including Iraq and Afghanistan), and Africa. As a result, the Terrorist Recognition Handbook is truly a “practitioner’s manual,” as its subtitle indicates. Broken into six sections, this

volume offers a wealth of information for any security, law enforcement, military, or intelligence personnel involved in counter-terrorism and anti-terrorism operations. In section one of the Terrorist Recognition Handbook, entitled “Know the Terrorist,” Nance begins with

42 The Counter Terrorist ~ September/October 2008

Reviewed by: Chris Graham a discussion of critical awareness, including how to identify operatives, profile suspects, and understand terrorist training, motivation, and beliefs. This section is essential in that it demystifies the terrorist from a phantom-like enigma while simultaneously discouraging the equally detrimental belief that terrorists are incompetent human caricatures. Later portions of the text expand on many of the topics introduced in section one. For example, section two, “Identifying the Terrorist Group and Its Cells,” explores how these groups organize themselves, while section three, “Detection of Key Terrorist Activities,” examines the typical signatures of terrorist actions. Discussion of the processes by which terrorists acquire safe houses, money, and transportation reveals the level of coordination necessary to support their efforts. Also of particular note is Chapter 12, which discusses equipment and other indicators that may reveal a group’s intended use of nuclear, biological, or chemical materials. In section four, “Predicting an Attack,” the activities of our opponents are further revealed. After noting that attacks are preceded by surveillance, Nance discusses the elements of surveillance in depth. Infiltration techniques, as well as the decision-making processes used by terrorist groups, are analyzed. Perhaps the most useful portion

of this section—indeed, of the book as a whole—is Chapter 17, “Point of Danger: Law Enforcement Traffic Stops and Encountering Terrorists.” Because the patrol officer is far more likely to encounter militant activity than other specialized personnel, this chapter provides a number of detection ideas that can be implemented in the field. Finally, this section concludes with Chapter 18, “Point of Failure: Terrorist Operations and Tactics.” This chapter discusses the types of terrorist action that may unfold if not detected and interdicted in earlier stages. In doing so, this piece familiarizes the reader with a wide range of attack methods previously employed and likely to be implemented in the future. Nance closes out the textual portion of his book with section five, “The New Field of Terror,” which explores several key developments in modern terrorism. Individual chapters are devoted to the examination of al-Qaeda and related worldwide movements, to suicide terror and its implementation, and to major developments in the Iraq War between 2003 and 2008. Finally, in section six, Nance provides a number of supplemental resources, including a bibliography, a list of known global terror groups, and checklists for explosive materials. Malcolm Nance has acquired a level of understanding that surpasses that of many senior government officials with regard to the topics of terrorism, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and he shares his vast knowledge with us in the second edition of the Terrorist Recognition Handbook. Though Nance withholds some technological details for security purposes, this book is an excellent introduction to terrorist methodologies for both vigilant first responders and personnel who are preparing for deployment.

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Book_Review-Malcolm Nance's Terrorist Recognition Handbook