The Counter Terrorist Magazine - August/September 2010

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Counter The

Official Journal of the Homeland Security Professional AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2010




An SSI Publication ®

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Counter The


Official Journal of the Homeland Security Professional














MS-13 LEADERSHIP: NETWORKS OF INFLUENCE By John P. Sullivan and Samuel Logan




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Cover: GULF OF ADEN (May 26, 2010) Visit, board, search and seizure team members embarked aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG 56), approach a suspected pirated vessel to gain approval for a master’s permission boarding. San Jacinto is part of Combined Task Force 151, a multinational task force established in January 2009 to conduct counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and the east coast of Somalia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ja’lon A. Rhinehart/Released)

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Strawmen and Faux Indignation By Chris Graham


Counter The


Official Journal of the Homeland Security Professional

VOLUME 3 • NUMBER 4 recently caught part of a news bite that depicted an individual discussing voting rights for felons. The topic only caught my attention because of the

emotion displayed by the individual demanding law changes to permit greater numbers of convicted felons to vote. I found this intriguing. I was unaware that there was a popular interest in changing existing laws to grant wider voting privileges to convicted felons in the United States. So I did some reading. It appears that Maine and Vermont allow felons to vote from prison, but all other states make some effort to restrict voting privileges of convicted felons. Having now read many articles making the case for a general restoration of voting rights to convicted felons, I must report that I found the authors’


Editor Chris Graham Director of Operations Sol Bradman Director of Advertizing Carmen Arnaes Director of Production Kelli Richardson Contributing Editors Eeben Barlow Jennifer Hesterman Richard Marquise Steve Young Graphic Design Morrison Creative Company

arguments to be, as you might have guessed, without merit. These arguments

Copy Editor Laura Town

were reminiscent of the incredible assertion that enforcing an existing national

Office Manager Lily Valdes

border is an act of racism. What does the American citizen stand to gain from law changes that provide general voting rights to convicted felons? What does he or she stand to lose?

Publisher: Security Solutions International 13155 SW 134th St. • STE 204 Miami, Florida 33186

Does the U.S. government have a responsibility to protect national borders? With U.S. Border Patrol numbers indicating millions of illegal entries and incursions into the United States, is it unreasonable for individual states to make efforts to protect their citizens’ interests when the federal government’s efforts have proven ineffective? Do other nations simply leave their borders open and permit criminals to enter at will? What does the U.S. Constitution require on these subjects? A friend to whom I am deeply indebted recently said, “In life, there is the definer and the defined”. I believe that one can often learn much by ignoring the words spoken and watching actions.

Semper Fidelis,

Chris Graham Editor of The Counter Terrorist

ISSN 1941-8639 The Counter Terrorist Magazine, The Official Journal of the Homeland Security Professional, is published by Security Solutions International LLC, as a service to the nation’s First Responders and Homeland Security Professionals with the aim of deepening understanding of issues related to Terrorism. No part of the publication can be reproduced without permission from the publisher. The opinions expressed herein are the opinions of the authors represented and not necessarily the opinions of the publisher. Please direct all Editorial correspondence related to the magazine to: Security Solutions International SSI, 13155 SW 134th Street, Suite 204, Miami, Florida. 33186 or The subscription price for 6 issues is $34.99 and the price of the magazine is $5.99. (1-866-573-3999) Fax: 1-786-573-2090. For article reprints, e-prints, posters and plaques please contact: PARS International Corp. Web: Email: Phone: 212-221-9595 • Fax: 212-221-9195 Please visit the magazine web site where you can also contact the editorial staff: © 2010 Security Solutions International

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GRUPO TIGRE Raids Kidnap Ring in Brazil By Kevan Gillies

Crime in Brazil is a unique situation. Major cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Sรฃo Paulo, Recife, and Curitiba (capital of the southern state of Paranรก) are flooded with favelas (shanty towns) where drug lords rule by fear.

Counter The

Grupo TIGRE. All photos courtesy of the author.

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rime in Brazil is dominated by highly structured criminal organizations such as Primeiro Comando do Capital (PCC)—First Command of the Capital. Many of these groups are commanded from the prisons in São Paulo and have “chapters” or “branches” throughout the country. Comando Vermelho (CV)—Red Command originated in Rio de Janeiro and is similarly organized to PCC. The majority of individual criminals are affiliated with and pay dues to one organization or the other. Bank robberies, armored vehicle robberies, kidnappings, and drug dealing are just some of the activities practiced by these criminal organizations. In the northwestern region of Brazil, there have been many incidents where heavily armed gangs take small towns hostage,

neutralizing the small police force and robbing banks, supermarkets, and businesses. These violent and brutal criminal organizations are famous for the execution of rival gang members by beheading and dismemberment.


After an almost six-month investigation, it became clear that a well-organized group of criminals from the infamous PCC had been pulling a scam on agribusinessmen throughout Brazil. The PCC schemers would contact small- and medium-sized agribusinesses, stating that they had legally confiscated goods (from seeds to tractors) for sale at very low rates. The businessmen would then be talked into flying to Curitiba for negotiations. Upon arrival at Curitiba airport, they would be picked up and

One of the besttrained teams in Brazil, in the last 21 years the group has sustained a success rate of 100 percent.

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Grupo TIGRE operators training at TEES Brazil.

With a squeeze, a tap, and nodding of heads, we moved out of our last concealed cover and initiated our final approach.

held hostage for ransom. Because the families knew that the businessmen were involved in some “shady business,” and because they were frightened and under threat, families would pay the ransom to get their loved ones back in one piece. With names, rap sheets, addresses, reports, films, and warrants in hand, Grupo TIGRE (the hostage rescue unit of the Civil Police of the State of Paraná) was ready to take the ring into custody. The plan was to hit seven criminal strongholds and hideouts simultaneously. Support from other local agencies was requested to fulfill all seven warrants. Grupo TIGRE was to attack the leader’s residence because a higher risk of resistance was expected.


Tático Integrado de Grupos de Repressão Especial (TIGRE, the Integrated Tactical Groups of Special Suppression) was created in 1989 and

handles an average of seven hostage/ kidnappings per year in the state of Paraná. The group includes 26 operators and two delegados (commanding officers). One of the best-trained teams in Brazil, in the last 21 years the group has sustained a success rate of 100 percent. Along with hostage rescue responsibilities, Grupo TIGRE is also responsible for high-risk warrant service.


Even after almost six months of investigation, I had received copies of digital photos of the gate and surrounding wall of our target house only the day before the operation. The images were flat and offered little perspective or depth, meaning I would be basing my calculations for breaching charges primarily on my database of previous charges.

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During the mission briefing, I briefed the team on all the breaching charges we would be using and pointed out that due to the last-minute images supplied, I could not guarantee with 100 percent certainty that the main charge would get us through the gates. We would have to be ready for an alternate method of entry with the ram, and if things came to the worst, an alternate point of entry by blowing the alarm system wires with a mat charge and scaling the walls. Rules of engagement were clarified and after some hasty rehearsals, at 05:15 hours we piled into our SUVs and rolled in disciplined fashion in the direction of the other side of town to the target. In spite of the intense cold in the open carriage, everyone was focused on what they would have to do at the target.



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We halted on the corner of the block, debussed silently, trying to avoid slamming doors and awakening all the dogs in the neighborhood, and got into our stacks. With a squeeze, a tap, and nodding of heads, we moved out of our 970-731-7070 last concealed cover and initiated our Circle 42 on Reader Service Card final approach. As soon as we turned the corner, the target was in sight about 100 meters down the road on the right. In all missions, there are Twilight Zone I�������� ��� P��������� S��������� moments, and this was one of them. at The Center for Rural Development From the neighboring house to the target, a small side door opened and out stepped I�������� ��� P��������� S��������� a teenager with his skateboard and his at The Center for Rural Development school backpack. I can only imagine what went through is mind when he looked up the road to see 18 heavily armed men in green moving toward him through the morning mist. He nervously turned Courses for Public Safety Practitioners his back to us and made a hasty getaway, Courses include: skating off down the road.

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I was the third man in the stack, charge in hand and firing device in the pouch on my vest. The point man was positioned at the gate and the second man flooded the sensors of the security camera with 225 lumens of white light. Due to the August Mission: August 21-29, 2009 corrugated metal, which was not visible November Mission: November 6-14, 2009 on the drab photos I was given, I knew as soon as I placed the charge over the locking system that the energy of the high explosives would dissipate and might not give us instant access to the target. Back in the stack, I checked that

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everyone was under cover and I fired the charge. At approximately 06:00 hours a 10-gram det cord strip charge made one hell of a bang. I immediately started reeling in the shock tube so it wouldn’t tangle on the team’s legs. “Breacher up, breacher up” was the call given from the point man, meaning we had failed to breach and the battering ram was required. While the mechanical breacher started to ram the gate, I instantly started accessing the mat charge for the electrified fence, while ladders, shooters, and flash bang grenade (FBG) elements prepped for an assault over the walls. At the exact moment we were ready to throw the mat over the wires, the breacher on his sixth attempt managed to open the gates (by now all the dogs were awake and howling). I hastily dropped the mat charge, leaving the perimeter elements to care for it, and followed the team into the stronghold while retrieving the folding linear charge for the external wooden door from a pouch on the back of my vest. As I arrived at the front of the stronghold, I found the team positioned

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covering the windows and front door. The point man had crossed the door and was hollering “golf, golf.” He was answered by the third man “golf on me, golf on me,” letting his M4 hang and accessing an FBG from his vest. Under cover of the second man, the banger stepped and pulled the pin on the FBG before the door was opened. When the door swung wide the banger saw a pajama-clad, chubby, balding, middle-aged man standing in the middle of the room in a pool of his own urine. I had dropped the folding linear charge and with my weapon in Position SUL (oriented to the ground), I slipped back to fourth man in the stack. From my position, I could see the confused gestures of the banger. The room he was planning on banging was cramped, measuring about 12 x 10 feet maximum. In the center of the room, there was a glass-top dining table and a crystal cabinet. The surrounding walls were all “half-walls” with the upper part in glass to allow more light into the room. There was glass everywhere, certainly no place for an FB. With the pin already withdrawn, the banger had no alternative other than to holler “negative golf, negative golf,” and to step back out of the stack. The first two men flowed through the main door controlling the suspect and sounding off “15 clear, 18 clear, GO!” which was the cue for the rest of the team to continue its assault and clearing the remaining rooms of the stronghold. On the command of “dominate,” the scene was secured and locked down. A detailed search of the stronghold yielded further incriminating evidence, including stolen documents, several victims’ checkbooks, and two 9-mm Glocks with 30-round magazines, that had been smuggled across the border from Paraguay. The other six raids were also successfully carried out with multiple arrests made. The two final kidnappers targeted in this operation were apprehended a week later in Santa Catarina.

key lessons we noted from this operation are the following: quality intelligence is of the utmost importance to the breacher; always have alternate points of entrance planned; rehearse, rehearse, rehearse; follow standard operating procedures, e.g., for flash bangs: step, look, pull, throw; and train for the worst-case scenarios.

About the Author

Mr. Gillies is a British expatriate resident of Brazil. He cofounded the Tactical Explosive Entry School Brazil ( with Alan Brosnan in 1997. The author also serves as an adjunct instructor in the United States for Tactical Energetic Entry Systems ( and Tactical Firearms Training Team (

Lessons Learned

Like all competent tactical teams, Grupo TIGRE reviews actions after operations to assess what should be sustained and what should be changed for greater future effectiveness. Some of the

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Case Study:


Counter The

A dark street in Bologna, Italy.Wikimedia Commons/Photo: Godslave Red Brigade logo image: Wikimedia Commons/Neal

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Tuesday, March 19, 2002, was a relatively dark night in Bologna, Italy. The new moon was only five days past. As was his routine, Senor Marco Biagi (a senior government aide) had taken the train from his office in Rome to Bologna. Upon his arrival at the train station, he disembarked and got onto his bicycle to begin the final leg of his journey home. Unbeknownst to him, two people were positioned nearby, watching and waiting for his arrival.


s Biagi neared to within a few meters of his house, a Vespa (a vehicle that is quite maneuverable, can easily reach speeds in excess of 60 mph, and is very common in Italy) rapidly closed the distance, and one of the riders opened fire with at least four rounds from a suppressed pistol. Two of the rounds struck Biagi, once in the neck and the other in the chest. Biagi died en route to the hospital.1 During the initial investigation of the crime scene, police discovered a fivepointed red star close to the ambush site. It had been scratched into one of the exterior walls of Biagi’s home. A fivepointed red star was the calling card for the Red Brigades (a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group). Shortly afterward, a web posting reportedly by the Red Brigades claimed responsibility for the murder of Biagi. This was later followed by an anonymous call to a local newspaper in Bologna claiming the attack on behalf of the same organization that also claimed responsibility for the murder of Massimo D’Antona, an advisor to the cabinet of Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, three

A Vespa Scooter similar to the one used by the assassins. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Yrithinnd years earlier—the New Red Brigades for the Construction of the Combative Communist Party.2 The subsequent investigation into the killing confirmed that the same weapon used in the D’Antona killing was used to kill Biagi, seemingly confirming the claims. It was also learned that prior to the attack, Biagi’s protective detail had been pulled to allow officers to work counter-terrorism assignments following the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York.3 Following that, Biagi had made numerous requests to have protection reinstated. Ultimately, he received only an escort of an unknown

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Train station in Italy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Valentino1

number and only while he was at his office in Rome. Leading up to the attack, Biagi had reportedly been working on a controversial February 2000 Milan employment pact. This had led to threats on his life. This fact had been noted in a report to the government by the Italian secret service regarding possible terrorist attacks staged against political and business targets, and trade unions involved in economic reforms. Ironically, this report came out just one week before the killing of Biagi. Additionally, prior to the attack, Biagi had received a threatening phone call wherein the caller stated, “Now you’re left without your angels.” This resulted in his taking the unusual step of providing his lawyers with transcripts of the threatening phone calls along with his efforts to obtain a protective detail. At some point after the attack, one of

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the five individuals identified as being involved in the ambush was discovered traveling on a train in the company of another wanted Red Brigade member. This suspect, Nadia Desdemona Lioce, was traveling between Rome and Florence with Mario Galesi. They were approached by police on a ruse of a document check before being swarmed. In the struggle, Galesi shot and killed Officer Emanuele Petri and wounded a second officer prior to his being shot and killed by police. On June 1, 2005, Nadia Desdemona Lioce, Roberto Morandi, Marco Mezzasalma, Diana Blefari Melazzi, and Simone Boccoccini were sentenced to life in prison for their involvement in the killing of Biagi.4 Police later revealed that Lioce and Galesi had in their possession at the time of their take down the weapon, a small video camera concealed inside a cigarette pack, a palmtop computer, and lists of names and addresses (it is unclear, but it is believed these were potential future targets).

ANALYSIS This attack demonstrates some of the difficulties in determining the threat represented by hostile organizations and how to determine the correct level of protection to be provided. Further, this killing revealed several areas/opportunities that were either missed or ignored by the victim and authorities. As in any organized targeted attack, one of the great difficulties is determining if a threat truly exists and if so, if and when an attack may be forthcoming. This is only compounded when the adversary is operationally competent, unknown, and patient. Here, however, the fact that Biagi received a telephoned threat wherein the caller stated he knew that Biagi was without protection was clearly a major red flag that apparently was not addressed, at least to the degree it should have been.

If nothing else, it offers a level of proof that Biagi was at the time or had been the subject of recent hostile surveillance. For some reason, likely because of manpower limitations, the decision was made to provide physical protection for Biagi only while in Rome. Providing Biagi with a protective detail only while he was traveling in and around

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his office in Rome served only to deny the adversary some potential ambush sites. This decision ignored history not just in Italy but also around the world as to the most common sites of targeted violence. In Italy in the last 58 years, a target’s residence appears to be the second-most frequent location for an ambush behind attacks on targets while

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Riding his bicycle, Biagi had no protection or means of quick evasion. It served to make him an easy victim.

in transit.5 If the need for some level of physical protection is determined to be required, then it should encompass the entire duration that the potential target is exposed. Unfortunately, this is often not reality and similar outcomes probably will be seen again. At the same time, Biagi did not help his situation by taking public transportation between his home and office. As has been seen in other attacks, public transport assists any would-be attacker with two of the most important elements of any ambush: the exact location and the time the victim will be there within about five minutes, plus or minus. Additionally, large crowds of people that are generally present at public transportation stops make it very difficult to identify hostile surveillance, even for someone who is alert and trained, and provide a malefactor with easy cover for action. Ironically, despite receiving threats

and going so far as to document them, Biagi further exasperated his situation by then traveling by bicycle from the train station to his residence. This increased his vulnerability and seems to demonstrate a lack of understanding of personal security responsibility. Ultimately, five people were arrested and convicted of the killing, three of whom were female. This has been a method of operation of the Brigades in previous attacks. While the exact roles the five played in the attack have not been clearly reported, or even if all five were present at the time it went down, it would not be surprising if all were in the immediate area. In fact, it makes tactical sense (and fits in with their known method of operation) that at least one of the suspects had been onboard the train from Rome to Bologna seated near Biagi. This would have allowed for the most up-to-date information on the


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target to be provided to the hit team, such as confirmation of Biagi’s presence, his clothing description, if the train was on time, even the bike and direction of travel. The use of female operatives by the Red Brigades and other terrorist groups remains a very effective tool. Whether in supporting roles as intelligence collectors, as lookouts, or involved in direct action, there is a natural tendency for adult males (especially in the more maledominated societies and/or professions) to be less suspicious or wary of the presence of danger when packaged in the female form. This tendency may even be enhanced if the female is petite and attractive. Finally, in this attack the Brigades made the most of their selected ambush site. The narrow streets surrounding Biagi’s residence with apartment blocks rising up on both sides served to constrict and funnel him into the kill zone. Two shooters on a Vespa served to provide the assassins a certain degree of cover for action as well as enhanced capability for entry and exit to the ambush point. Riding his bicycle, Biagi had no protection or means of quick evasion. It served to make him an easy victim. In conclusion, threat assessments and

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the decision as to whether or not to provide physical protection of a person who may be targeted by an organization can often be very difficult to make. Lacking solid sources of information, making the decision can be more of an art than science, especially in those instances where there are no direct threats. If a threat is determined to exist to the point that some level of physical protection is required, then it cannot be performed in a perfunctory manner. However, as is often the case, it can be a combination of the employing organization as well as the targeted subject, which results in this part-time protection (a common occurrence). In those cases where only a limited amount of protection is to be provided, it is critical that the potential targets be provided with the information training and tools to protect themselves.

About the Author Mr. McGovern has served as a deputy sheriff, patrol officer, and detective, and is currently a district attorney investigator. He has held positions on a SWAT team and on a JTTF. Mr. McGovern is the author of: Targeted Violence: A Statistical and Tactical Analysis of Assassinations, Contract Killings and Kidnappings (CRC Press, 2010).

endnotes “Red Brigades admit killing” BBC News, Thursday, March 21, 2002, http:// stm , accessed March 21, 2002. 2 “Italy fears the revival of Red Brigades after government aide is shot dead” by Frances Kennedy, Thursday, March 21, 2002, news/world/europe/italy-fears-revival-ofred-brigades-after-government-aide-isshot-dead-654853.html , accessed March 21, 2002. 3 Israely, Rome “The Red Brigades Return”, Monday, March 25, 2002, article/0,9171,219989,00.html accessed Tuesday, March 25, 2002. 4 “Red Brigade killers given life” BBC News, Wednesday, June 1, 2005, http:// stm ,accessed June 1, 2005. 5 McGovern, Glenn Targeted Violence: A Statistical and Tactical Analysis of Assassinations, Contract Killings and Kidnappings, CRC Press, April 2010. 1

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The Other Muslims: Moderate and Secular Edited by: Zeyno Baran


t is not possible to be a serious student of modern terrorism without also being a student of modern Islam. Many of the world’s most active terrorist groups claim adherence to Islam. Ignorance of the religion and the power struggles within it create critical blind spots. The Other Muslims: Moderate and Secular (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) is a collection of 10 essays written by Muslims and edited by Zeyno Baran. This book provides an insider’s view of the ongoing effort to seize and hold ideological dominance within the religion of Islam. The writers warn of a committed effort to kill, to coerce and to buy control within the religion, and to mislead outsiders about the nature of this campaign. Baran states, “The most important ideological struggle in the world today is within Islam. Moderate and secular Muslims, who embrace the compatibility of Islam and democracy and the individual freedoms we all cherish in the West, are being confronted by Islamists, who are extremist activists that hijack Islam and seek to gain political power and reshape societies.” The editor also writes, “By tolerating intolerance, many in the West make it harder for moderate and reformist Muslims to succeed.” She adds, “Unfortunately, many in the West deem non-violent Islamists ‘moderate,’ and seek to partner with them against violent Islamists, believing that only Islamists can stop other Islamists from using violence. They fail to recognize Islamism as the ideology that generates the pool of alienated and extremist individuals from which eventual terrorists emerge.” Baran identifies some Islamist tactics. For example, she writes, “HT [Hizb ut-Tahrir] condones terrorism as a

Reviewed by: Chris Graham

legitimate tool in reestablishing the caliphate, but wins Western supporters through deceptive claims that it does not itself conduct terrorism. Though outlawed in Germany, HT remains a legal organization in the rest of Europe and the United States and is headquartered in the UK.” Attorney Hedieh Mirahmadi wrote the essay, “Navigating Islam in America.” She observes,“ . . . from the late 1970s through the 1990s, Islamism as a political

movement began to supplant the failed Marxist liberation movements and Arab nationalism. In some countries, left-wing leaders reinvented themselves as Islamist revolutionaries after calls for popular revolt went unheeded by the masses.” Mirahmadi describes the leverage derived from petro-dollars. “. . . the Saudi regime developed the ideological infrastructure that—together with considerable sums of money from oil sales—enabled Wahhabism to establish itself in the mainstream across the Muslim world.” She adds, “Wahhabi Saudis have built and financed more than 1,500 mosques, 200 colleges, and nearly 2,000 religious schools, most of which are in Europe and North America.” Speaking of the Islamist movement, Mirahmadi writes, “. . . the strategy is similar to that used by the communists to organize dissent and control sociopolitical movements, with the targets

instead being mosques, religious schools, and Islamic centers.” Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, wrote the final essay, “Americanism versus Islamism.” He asserts, “Islamists vary from those who want to bring about that change by military force, like the Taliban, to those, like the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), who envision even a generational change of ‘Islamization’ in free Western lands where Muslims are a minority. This global incremental change begins with Islamist plans for Islamization state by state throughout the region where Muslims are a majority, and then follows with their plans in the West. This was confirmed in the Holy Land Foundation trial . . . ”. Dr. Jasser also states, “For Islamistinspired militants, terrorism is only a tactic. They are not simply criminal or psychotic; they are led by ideologues whose vision for the Muslim world and, in fact, the entire planet, is diametrically opposed to the type of society embodied by the free nations of the West.” Finally, Dr. Jasser warns, “If our government officials cannot even employ the terms ‘Islamism’ or ‘Salafism’ in their discourse, it remains entirely unclear how they will be able to facilitate this contest of ideas.” Whether due to ignorance or apathy, Western governments and their agencies routinely embrace Islamists. The information contained in Baran’s The Other Muslims can help you and your agency avoid making the same errors. As Ms. Mirahmadi said, “We must do considerable due diligence and examine the writings of scholars and clerics before supporting them. We must read what they write and what they present to their own communities, not just what they present to a Western audience.”

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The Cou

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By Eeben Barlow

The emergence of pirates off the east coast of Africa is a direct consequence of the brutal Somali Civil War in the early 1990s and the collapse of a government.

Counter The

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric L. Beauregard/Released

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t was this fierce civil war that led to the toppling of Somalia’s president, Major General Mohammed Siad Barre, in 1991. As the commander of the Somali armed forces, Barre had seized power in 1969 and ruled the country as a dictator for more than 20 years. Somalia soon gained a reputation for its brutal crackdowns and human rights abuses. During this period, Barre courted the Soviet Union and the United States, and both countries provided him with aid and assistance.1 His ousting left Somalia without a central government and created a power vacuum that warlords were quick to exploit. In the process, they destroyed the already crippled infrastructure and reduced a large percentage of the population to starvation. With the roads dominated by warring clans and their militias, and a large portion of the population facing hunger and death, the United Nations (UN) began with maritime food aid. Currently, 90 percent of Somalia’s food aid is delivered by sea, an 800-km, twoday journey that begins in Mombasa, Kenya, and ends in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. According to the UN, 12,000 tons of food are given to Somalia each month. But, the combination of a failed state, lawlessness, interclan warfare, a breakdown of the once-vibrant Somali fishing industry, poverty, with an

apathetic international attitude, and an increase in shipping around East Africa, has created a foundation for seaborne crime—piracy. Despite all intelligence pointing to the possible emergence of such groups, this appears to have taken the international shipping companies by surprise. The first Somali pirates may actually have gained some international sympathy. Their livelihood—the sea and its fish—had been violated by foreign governments with the illegal dumping of huge quantities of toxic waste.2 Illegal fishing in the Somali territorial waters had further depleted fishing stocks and thus affected their livelihood. The failed government in that country added to the misery of daily life. So these hard done-by fishermen, it is argued, simply went hunting for bigger catches to supplement their lack of income and initially claimed that the ransom fees would go toward cleaning up the waste. The ransom demand is a means of “reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years,” Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirates, based in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, said. “The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas.”3 These perceived “noble intentions”

Since 2005 piracy has increased in intensity and numerous ships, along with their crews, have been seized.

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (Nov. 7, 2009) Capt. Richard Phillips, former Captain of the container ship MV Maersk Alabama, delivers remarks and thanks members of the UDTSEAL community for rescuing him from Somali pirates. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Clark.

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The massive multinational naval task force off the east coast of Africa, Task Force 151*, may present a threatening presence but it is not deterring the pirates.

quickly gave way to greed and an increase in maritime crime. Since 2005 piracy has increased in intensity and numerous ships, along with their crews, have been seized. The International Maritime Organization and the World Food Programme, among others, have expressed great concern about the rise in piracy.4 Furthermore, these criminal acts have led to an increase in shipping costs, insurance premiums, and risk, and have severely disrupted food aid shipments. The international response to countering this growing maritime threat has been ineffective. It appears that many are keen to provide reasons why the pirates are operating, from the failed-state theory to great poverty. That is, in a sense, much like condoning a bank robber and then making excuses for his criminal behavior, as long as no one gets seriously

hurt. The massive multinational naval task force off the east coast of Africa, Task Force 151*, may present a threatening presence but it is not deterring the pirates. Indeed, the Task Force has witnessed pirate actions taking place without responding and there are those that argue that since its arrival, piracy has escalated.5 A recent interview with one pirate illustrates their motivations: “I was born in Eyl town and I used to be a fisherman. I was forced to hijack foreign ships after the government collapsed. No one was monitoring the sea, and we couldn’t fish properly, because the ships which trawl the Somali coasts illegally would destroy our small boats and equipment. That is what forced us to become pirates.

Crew members from the Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship, MV Polaris, climb aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG-72) to identify suspected pirates apprehended by the Vella Gulf visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team. Photo: Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky, USN *Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) has had responsibility since 2002 for counter-terrorism operations off the Horn of Africa. To free up CTF-150 for counter-terrorism responsibilities, the Combined Naval Forces established Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) in January 2009 specifically for counter-piracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Red Sea. 30 The Counter Terrorist ~ August/September 2010

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U.S. soldier assists the crewmembers of MV Faina carry food and supplies. Somali pirates released Faina Feb. 5, after holding the ship hostage for more than four months at an anchorage off the Somali coast. Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael R. McCormick. The first time I was involved in hijacking a ship was 2003. It must have been Arabian, there were 18 Yemeni crew. It was a big fishing ship that destroyed our boats several times. We held it for two weeks, then some Somali and Arab mediators stepped in to negotiate. We were convinced to take $50,000 as compensation. In fact, my life has changed dramatically because I’ve received more money than I ever thought I would see.


SER . M -U







In one incident I got $250,000, so my life has changed completely. It is incalculable how much money I have made. I mean, I won’t tell you how much. I buy cars, weapons and boats. I have employees doing the business for me now. I am a financier. I get my money and I don’t have to leave Eyl. I have not gone to sea to hijack in recent months. My group goes to sea and I manage their finances. I buy speedboats and weapons, whatever they need.

It’s difficult to stay being a pirate but we have changed our previous strategies. We have transformed our operations in the Indian Ocean with new types of attacks, using modern equipment, including GPS, to show where warships are. At the moment we have a new, active young generation who want to take part in piracy. They mostly like money. If the UN gives approval to fight pirates on land, that will lead to the death of innocent Somalis because they cannot differentiate us from ordinary Somalis, as we dress alike. Piracy will not stop unless we get a government.”6 The East African Seafarers’ Association (EASA) has stated that the majority of pirates are between the ages of 20and 35-years–old, and come from the Puntland region of northeastern Somalia. EASA furthermore estimates that there are several pirate groups operating in the area with a total of 1,000 armed men.7 The British Broadcasting Corporation categorized these gang members as8 • local Somali fishermen, considered the brains of the pirates’ operations due to their skill and knowledge of the sea. Most believe

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that foreign boats have no rights to cruise next to the shore and destroy their boat. • ex-militiamen who used to fight for the local clan warlords, used as the muscle; and • technical experts who operate equipment such as GPS devices. Currently, there are four major groups active in the region9 • The National Volunteer Coast Guard. This group specializes in intercepting small boats and fishing vessels around Kismayo on the southern coast. • The Marka Group. This group comprises several scattered and lessorganized groups operating around the town of Marka. • The Puntland Group. This group operates out of the area surrounding Eyl and is composed of traditional Somali fishermen. • The Somali Marines, reputed to be the most powerful and sophisticated of the pirate groups with a military structure, a fleet admiral, an admiral, a vice-admiral, and a head of financial operations. Smaller pirate groups operate from the Somali ports of Bosaso, Qandala,

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Caluula, Bargaal, Hobyo, Mogadishu, and Garad. These groups have been allowed to evolve virtually unhindered. Warnings have been sounded that they now rival established Somali authorities in terms of their military capabilities and resource bases.10 From these bases, the pirates are able to dominate—and even intimidate—shippers and navies alike in the Gulf of Aden and the West Indian

are comprised mainly of AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, pistols, and hand grenades. The ransom money has injected foreign (unplanned-for investment) into Somalia—in cash. Cash is also injected via investors who buy and sell shares related to planned attacks on a structure akin to a stock exchange located in Harardhere. This cash is used to purchase weapons, currency-counting machines,

Confiscated pirate weapons. Photo: US Navy Ocean. A significant amount of the weaponry used by the pirates was left over after the civil war, but they also get weapons from Yemen. Weapons dealers in the capital receive a deposit from a hawala dealer on behalf of the pirates and the weapons are then driven to Puntland, where the pirates pay the balance. 11 These arsenals

powerful outboard motors for their skiffs, and other essential equipment. The financial investment in Eyl shows that modern-day piracy pays, and pays well. Eyl has seen a growth in restaurants, hotels, villas, and expensive cars. In 2008 the pirates netted in excess of U.S. $128 million.12 Cash, equipment and information are also reputedly

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obtained from Somali expatriates, including from among the 200,000 Somalis living in Canada.13 Using fishing skiffs powered by large outboard motors and armed with AK-47s and RPGs, the pirates are able to give chase to the large, cumbersome, and slow cargo vessels, tankers, yachts, and so forth. Within the Gulf of Aden choke point, they have a lucrative concentration of merchant and commercial vessels to target— approximately 20,000 per year. Additionally, more than 30 percent of the world’s oil passes through the narrow Gulf of Aden off Somalia. If ships chose to follow the longer, safer passage, it is estimated it would require an additional 20 days of sailing time at an additional cost of U.S. $1 million in fuel.14 Commandeered or loaned larger fishing vessels known as “mother ships” allow the pirates to operate, support, and sustain their actions hundreds of

nautical miles off the Somali coastline. These “mother ships” operate mainly out of the Somali ports of Bosaso and Mogadishu, and the Yemeni ports of Al Mukalla and Ash Shihr. Intelligence as well as financial and logistical support are provided by Somali local businessmen and international criminal networks operating out of the Middle East and Europe. According to the blog of Admiral David Shinn, Jane’s Defence has identified a close link between the pirates and the extremist al-Shabab group, which says it has links to al-Qaeda. The pirates in Kismayu coordinate with the al-Shabab militia in the area, although al-Shabab apparently does not play an active role in the pirate attacks. Al-Shabab requires some pirates to pay a protection fee of 5 to 10 percent of the ransom money. If al-Shabab helps to train the pirates, it might receive 20 percent and up to 50 percent if it finances the piracy long as insurance premiums remain cheap, the shipping companies would rather pay the ransoms. operation. There is increasing evidence that the pirates are assisting al-Shabab with arms smuggling from Yemen and two central Asian countries. They are also reportedly helping al-Shabab develop an independent maritime force so that it can smuggle foreign jihadist fighters and “special weapons” into Somalia. A link with terrorism is worrisome, but the alliance between the pirates and alShabab may be fragile.15 This fragility was exposed recently when the hard-line

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Supertankser MV Sirius Star. Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 2nd Class William S. Stevens Islamist group Hezb al-Islam captured Harardhere north of Somalia and pledged to impose Islamic sharia law and end piracy in that region.16 Not only do the Somali pirates hijack the ships, they kidnap the crews and hold them for ransom. Reports indicate that after initial sighting of the pirates, a ship has about 25 minutes to take evasive action and outrun the pirates or face being a victim. Once captured, the crews are kept imprisoned in safe havens from where ransom negotiations can take place. These negotiations involve third parties in Somalia and abroad, use of satellite phones, and a public relations effort to influence the interaction with ship owners and the media. In certain instances, kidnapped crew members are allowed to phone home to emphasize that they are being well treated but that they may be

killed if the ransoms are not paid. Ransom deliveries are made by helicopters or simply loaded onto the skiffs in waterproof cases. Ransom money has also been delivered to pirates via parachute. For example, in January 2009 an orange container with $3 million cash was dropped onto the deck of the supertanker MV Sirius Star to secure the release of ship and crew.17 Merchant shippers are not the only ones at risk. The recent taking of Paul and Rachael Chandler, and their yacht Lynn Rival, under the full view of the Royal Navy on October 23, 2009, is a point in case. When rival pirate groups clash with one another to lay their hands on ransom money, they call on the European Union (EU) antipiracy naval force for assistance. As The Star eloquently commented: “But who would want to protect

pirates to ensure that they get their hands on the ransom? Apparently, the EU anti-piracy force would, and did so superbly.�18 This does beg the question: how can a failed state and criminal warlords intimidate the international community and shipping companies with such spectacular success? Countering piracy and eradicating

...$3 million cash was dropped onto the deck of the supertanker MV Sirius Star to secure the release of ship and crew.

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky

Somali men are now seeing piracy as a method of getting rich quickly and not as something that can be negotiated away.

the problem has also caused some controversy. There are those who believe that small, fast boats with a handful of armed mariners are an “emerging way to handle the [piracy] problem in a safe way,” said Jim Jorrie, chief executive officer of Espada Logistics and Security-MENA, a San Antonio-based company offering such services.19 But some shipping industry experts frown on the practice. “It slightly smacks of vigilantism to me,” said Tony Mason, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping and International Shipping Federation.20

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Pirates are criminals—there is no nicer or softer or even politically correct manner to describe them and what they do. In short, they transgress international maritime law. They hijack ships and hold the crews hostage. They demand—and get—massive ransom payments.21 It is obvious that the naval task force is unable to patrol such a vast area and prevent piracy. Its rules of engagement appear to be ineffective (against the pirates) and some of its actions have directly and indirectly aided the pirates. In early 2008 a direct line of communication was established with a senior pirate commander in the Puntland area. He expressed their willingness to meet with the author and others on neutral ground with the aim of negotiating an end to the piracy. No shipping company that was approached was willing to make such a meeting.22 Subsequently, time has passed and young Somali men are now seeing piracy as a method of getting rich quickly and not as

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something that can be negotiated away. After all, it has been proven that crime does pay—and it pays well. If no one is willing to meet the pirates and attempt to negotiate some form of agreement, there remain only four viable options open to shipping companies and the international community: Option 1: This option calls for placing armed guards on vessels moving through the pirate-controlled waters. These guards should have appropriate weapons such as 20-mm personal assault weapons, 20-mm sniper rifles, and 40mm grenade launchers. Water cannons and sirens have not deterred the pirates. However, international maritime law poses its own limitations on armed guards. Additionally, as long as insurance premiums remain cheap, the shipping companies would rather pay the ransoms. But, the more ransoms that get paid, the

more piracy will flourish.23 This option can break this vicious cycle. Option 2: Aggressive, decisive and immediate action should be carried out against the pirates by inarea naval forces when a hijack has been launched or attempted. This was recently demonstrated by Russian special operations forces when they stormed the Liberian-flagged “Moscow University” carrying 86 000 tonnes of crude oil valued at nearly $48 million. The quickacting crew disabled the ship’s engine and locked themselves in a safe room, giving the troops freedom of action on board the ship. A pirate was killed in the ensuing battle and several taken prisoner. This type of action, if consistently applied (and prisoners handled effectively), may discourage pirate activity. 24 Option 3: Combined air and ground assaults on the safe havens the pirates

operate from with the aim of destroying their capabilities and their skiffs. These types of operations are relatively easy to accomplish and will not require large assault forces. A prerequisite for such operations is sound targeting intelligence. Surprise and speed of execution will be critical to success. This option can show pirates that their criminal actions will not be tolerated and that the international community has the will to act decisively against them. Option 4: A combination approach using options 1 and 2. However, as long as a spokesman from the International Chamber of Shipping and International Shipping Federation proclaims that armed protection of vessels is “vigilantism” and shipping companies continue to pay the ransoms, piracy will flourish off the East Africa coastline.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mr. Barlow is a former special operations officer and intelligence officer of the South African Defence Force. The author was also the founder of the private military company, Executive Outcomes and author of the book “Executive Outcomes” (Galago Publishing, 2007).

ENDNOTES The New York Times, January 3, 1995, Tuesday, George James 2 Al Jazeera, October 11, 2008, Saturday, Najad Abdullahi 3 Ibid. 4 International Maritime Organisation, “Piracy in waters off the coast of Somalia”. mainframe.asp?topic_id=1178 5 Daily Mail, 31 January 2010 6 index.html of 28 Jan 2010 1 =vn20090120063419175C654477&s et_id=1&click_id=68&sf= 8 world/2008/nov/18/somalia-oil 9 africa/7650415.stm 10 11 africa/7650415.stm 12 Congressional Research Service: Piracy off the Horn of Africa, April 21, 2009 13 national/2009/04/10/2009-04-10_piracy_ boon_to_somalia_economy.html 14 Somali pirates get help from expats in Canada,, December 11, 2008 15 Dr Sarah Percy Student news and reviews at Oxford University content/9250

http://www.eastafricaforum. net/2009/04/11/rise-of-piracy-and-othermaritime-insecurity-in-somalia/ 17 Somali pirates get help from expats in Canada,, December 11, 2008 18, (15 Feb 2010) 19 Dr Sarah Percy Student news and reviews at Oxford University content/9250 20 Ibid. 21 http://www.eastafricaforum. net/2009/04/11/rise-of-piracy-and-othermaritime-insecurity-in-somalia/ 22 Somali pirates get help from expats in Canada,, December 11, 2008 23, (15 Feb 2010) 24 news/worldnews/article-1110585/ Pictured-The-moment-3million-ransomparachuted-Somali-pirates.html


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MS-13 LEADERSHIP: Networks of Influence

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By John P. Sullivan and Samuel Logan Mara Salvatrucha-13 (MS-13) has morphed into a complex, transnational network. Formed on the streets of Los Angeles’ Rampart and Pico-Union barrios in the 1980s by immigrants fleeing civil war in El Salvador, MS-13 originally called itself the “Mara Salvatrucha Stoners.” It emphasized friendship and partying, and the members protected one another from the other Hispanic gangs that bullied them (Logan, 2009). From its foundation as a turf-oriented street gang, it has morphed into a potent, brutal, transnational criminal organization.


S-13 had its beginnings in the barrios of 1980s’ Los Angeles (LA). Like many other LA gangs, it emerged to give its members a way to negotiate economic hardship, social isolation, and victimization by other gangs. In doing so, gangs foster an alternative, yet strong identity for individual members and often offer a gateway into broader criminal activities. Loosely translated as “street-smart Salvadoran group,” MS-13 emerged as a way for Salvadoran immigrants to band together against exploitation by the thendominant 18th Street gang. The Mara Salvatrucha Stoners transformed into Mara Salvatrucha 13

Gang grafitti, Los Angeles river, USA. Photo:

when it became part of the constellation of Sureños (or gangs owing fealty to the Mexican mafia prison gang known as La Eme). The 13 refers to the letter “M” (eme) the 13th letter of the alphabet, not 13th street as is often mistakenly stated. Since its origin, MS-13 has evolved from a single turf gang into a networked organization comprised of individual “cliques” that interact on the basis of social networks, influence, and opportunity. These cliques allocate influence on the basis of a “hierarchy of respect” reinforced by social ties and bonds, and enforced through violence. In this informal hierarchy, cliques in Los Angeles and San Salvador occupy primary

South Central Los Angeles. Photo: http://

MS-13 had its beginnings in the barrios of 1980s’ Los Angeles.

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Venezuela solidarity rally in San Salvador, El Salvador, ahead of 2004 referendum in Venezuela. Photo: Soman

...the apparent absence of a clear hierarchy or structure, is often interpreted as a lack of sophistication, or a lack of capacity. That is not the case.

positions of respect and influence. MS-13 is currently active in at least 42 states and the District of Columbia, as well as Central America. This geographic distribution contributes to the gang’s reach and influences its evolution. MS-13 is no longer a single ethnicity street gang with a turf bias; it now accepts members from a range of ethnicities, and while individual cliques run the gamut in terms of sophistication, on average it operates with a high degree of sophistication.

Maras Morphing: Transnational Evolution Transnational gangs operating throughout the Americas are widely known as maras. Mara gangs, including MS-13 and its archrival 18th Street and their derivatives, are a significant security and stability concern throughout the Western Hemisphere. Collectively, their members are known as mareros. They have supplanted local gangs (known as pandillas) and have an evolving criminal

presence in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Mexico, and have made inroads in Canada and Europe (Nagle, 2008). Mareros were transplanted to Central America (Wolf, 2010) as the result of informal connections (familial, neighborhood, and village) and as the unintended consequence of the deportation of criminal aliens. Because many mareros in the United States were not citizens, they were deported after serving their sentences for violent crimes. They went home, in many cases to a home they never had. They may not have spoken the language, had no legitimate connections, and re-created the only lifestyle they knew—that of LA gangs. The result is a networked criminal diaspora. Local gangs in Central America were overrun by the new maras and the transnational circuits of violence took root. Essentially, LA gang violence, nurtured in the aftermath of the Salvadoran civil war, was transplanted back to Central America, and then retransmitted throughout the hemisphere. During this transformation, MS-13 evolved from a local street gang focused on turf, to a criminal gang seeking profit, into a networked constellation of transnational cliques that challenge the state in parts of Central America. In other words, it gained in sophistication, internationalization, and politicization through three gang generations, to become a transnational, third-generation gang (Sullivan, 2006, 2008).

Networked Leadership: Mata, Controla, Viola MS-13’s network configuration frustrates many law enforcement officers looking for a hierarchical organization that they can penetrate. The lack of an overt, formalized hierarchy, manifested

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through decentralization and the apparent absence of a clear hierarchy or structure, is often interpreted as a lack of sophistication, or a lack of capacity. That is not the case. There is indeed a hierarchy, but it is a “hierarchy of influence” where “respect” and loyalties are expressed through a networked structure. In operational terms, the “hierarchy

of respect” is expressed through a web of social relationships within individual cliques and social/business relationships between cliques. At the clique level, leadership is distributed. There are two primary leaders, the “first word” (primera palabra) and the “second word” (segunda palabra) who operate something like a commander and an executive officer in

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military settings. The segunda palabra from large, powerful cliques often exerts influence over smaller or subordinate cliques. In many facets, this leadership is neo-feudal, where leadership is determined by fealty to a leader who collects taxes and the support of warriors and in turn offers protection. Order and control are exercised through a variety of communications (including meetings and the targeted use of violence as an enforcement measure). Meetings include clique meetings, known as misas, and generales (or inter-clique coordination meetings). In addition to the two leaders, other key members include a treasurer, who collects the taxes (the gang’s cut of a range of criminal enterprises and activities), and a single, powerful LA MS-13 leader, who serves as a liaison to the Mexican Mafia (Eme). The Eme representative is a vassal or an Eme “soldier” who ensures MS-13 pays its taxes to Eme, disciplines MS-13 members and associates, organizes and conducts meetings (generales) among MS-13 cliques and shot callers, resolves disputes, and coordinates relations throughout the distributed network, including brokering business transactions and ensuring “respect” is paid to nodes in LA and El Salvador. Within its own sphere of influence and area of operations, each clique is free to innovate and run local operations (as long as “respect” is given and taxes paid). Enforcement is often brutal, and is simply expressed in the gang’s informal motto, “Mata, Controla, Viola”—kill, control, and rape. The operational tool is the “green light” or “luz verde”: the authorization to kill those who do not comply. MS-13 gained enhanced sophistication by giving its allegiance in Southern California (Sur) to the Mexican Mafia. La Eme in turn collects a tax and provides protection to E-mail: 50 The Counter Terrorist ~ August/September 2010

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THE BLOODY TRIANGLE MS-13’s network is a classic example of gang expansion fueled by migration. The informal network of influence that results among networked diasporas is exemplified by MS-13’s “Bloody Triangle,” or the criminal circuit that flows between nodes in LA, Northern Virginia (NoVA), and El Salvador. Both LA and NoVA have large Salvadoran communities that interact via phone, and increasingly through various social media

(i.e., MySpace, YouTube, Facebook). Recent gang communications (including a “kite” or jailhouse communication recovered from an MS-13 inmate in El Salvador’s Ciudad Barrios Jail) show that MS-13 is seeking to consolidate its strength and scope (i.e., territorial reach) and enhance coordination among cliques in El Salvador and Sureños in LA. This relationship is key because these three nodes are the most influential in the MS13 network. LA members migrated to Northern Virginia and the Washington, DC area earlier than other locations, and El Salvador is not only important as an ethnic home, but also because of the concentration of deported LA mareros. Shot callers, key gang leaders who authorize the luz verde, often are linked to LA or other prominent cliques within this three-way circuit of influence, where

Ophir Falk and Henr y Morgenstern have serious about winn compiled a book that should be read ing the war on terro better understan r. By painstakingly by anyone who is d the nature of analyzing the empi our enemies and rical data, they they offer important why they employ help us insights on how these barbaric tacti terrorism can be In so doing, they cs. Most crucially, effectively confr have performed onted and ultim an invaluable servi crucial battle. ately defeated. ce for all those who are committed to winning this —Benjamin Neta nyahu, former Prime Minister of Israe l

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many of the most respected members comfortably reside in Salvadoran prisons. Within El Salvador, members of MS-13 continue to expand the gang’s influence across the Central American country. Weapons trafficking has always fallen within the purview of MS-13 members, but the recent seizure of assault rifles from a female MS-13 member on a Salvadoran bus en route to Guatemala suggests that the gang is engaged with international drug trafficking networks, likely Mexican groups. In late April 2010 Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes disclosed that members of the MS-13 have formed an alliance with Los Zetas (a Mexican special operations unit turned criminal group) in his country. Salvadoran authorities remain concerned about an increase in MS-13 recruiting efforts, including a focus on recruiting women in Western El Salvador • 866-573-3999 52 The Counter Terrorist ~ August/September 2010

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MS-13 members incarcerated in county jails, and state or federal prisons in California. Failure to pay the tax results in a green light allowing any affiliated gang to kill violators in jail, prison, or on the street. This brutal enforcement mechanism allows the gang to ensure adherence to its “management vision” throughout the network.

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MS-13 continues to exert influence in the criminal world.

to use with smuggling, and the control of at least 12 education centers, where new recruits are trained in extortion methods and other illegal activities. Meanwhile, Salvadoran judges released more than 20 members of the MS-13 from custody due to“inconsistencies” in the testimonies against them. A few



MS-13 continues to exert influence in the criminal world. Yet, like many criminal networks, it is not a monolithic organization. It is comprised of interlocking, distributed nodes (cliques) that interact with other Sureños subject to La Eme’s hegemony, and increasingly with Mexican organized crime. MS-13 plays an active role in Mexico’s drug war, serving as foot soldiers and facilitating human trafficking operations (a skill gang members learned as they returned their own deported members back to the United States) for cartels, including Los Zetas in at least the United States, Mexico, and El Salvador. MS-13’s neo-feudal structure makes it malleable to shifting alliances, rivalries, and opportunities. The result is a flexible, agile network sustained by violence and social cohesion that can exploit a range of criminal activities, including drug distribution, extortion, prostitution, robbery, theft, human trafficking, and acting as sicaritos (assassins for hire) for transnational drug cartels. Recent media reports speculate that an alliance between MS-13 and the Zetas is being nurtured in El Salvador. MS-13 is also believed to be developing links to Barrio Azteca and the Texas Syndicate (a development that could facilitate interaction not only between MS-13 and cartels, but also among prison gangs in California and Texas). Such cross-pollination provides

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months later, in February 2010, judges released 31 members of the MS-13, citing a lack of credible witness testimony. Both cases, local observers have argued, point to the possibility that the MS-13 has managed to compromise and control judges in El Salvador, a tactic possibly learned from exposure to Mexican organized crime.

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the opportunity for enhanced gang capability, sophistication, and reach.


Mr. Sullivan is a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and a senior research fellow with the Center for the Advanced Studies of Terrorism (CAST) in Los Angeles. His current research focus is terrorism, transnational gangs, criminal insurgency, and their impact on policing, intelligence, and sovereignty.


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Mr. Logan is author of This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha (Hyperion, 2009). He is also a Latin American analyst at iJET Intelligent Risk Systems, and an investigative journalist. He is the founding editor of Southern Pulse Networked Intelligence.

REFERENCES Logan, Samuel. This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America’s Most Violent Gang. New York: Hyperion, 2009. Nagle, Luz. “Criminal gangs in Latin America: The Next Great Threat to Regional Security and Stability?� Texas Hispanic Journal of Law and Policy, Vol. 14, No. 7, Spring 2008 (14 Tex. Hisp. J.L. & Pol’y 7). Sullivan, John P. “Maras Morphing: Revisiting Third Generation Gangs,� Global Crime, Vol.7, No. 3–4, August– November 2006. Sullivan, John P. “Transnational Gangs: The Impact of Third Generation Gangs in Central America,� Air & Space Power Journal-Spanish Edition, Second Trimester 2008 at apjinternational/apj-s/2008/2tri08/ sullivaneng.htm. Wolf, Sonja. “Maras transnacionales: Origins and Transformation of Central American Street Gangs,� Latin American Research Review, Vol, 45, No. 1, 2010.

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CYBER VIGILANTES: Citizen Hackers Go To War By Jennifer L. Hesterman

Counter The

Chaos Communication Camp, Finowfurt 2007: Hacking is not a crime. Photo: SimonOx

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Most terrorist groups are now leveraging the Internet to recruit, train, and spread propaganda, especially “global brands” such as al-Qaeda. Criminal groups and foreign intelligence services appear to have demonstrated electronic theft and sabotage capabilities. In the last year, social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace have all been used as vehicles for international and domestic terrorist communication.


oogle Earth has been used by al-Qaeda operatives to locate potential targets such as military recruiting stations. We shouldn’t underestimate the sophistication of terror groups. When it comes to communications technology, if we use it, they use it. Extremist websites are surprisingly easy to find and access, and experts believe there are perhaps thousands in existence.1 Some sites are published in English, and others offer quick translation for the interested reader. Other web pages look benign, appearing to be classified ads or an online directory; however, with one correct click, the secret door opens to the actual home page. The sites invoke the call of jihad, contain bomb-making advice, and even offer “webinars” during the week for those who want to hear and interact with clerics and group leaders. Cyber vigilantism by private citizens is

a response to their frustration with the number of extremist sites in operation and what they believe is the unwillingness or inability of our government to take them down. Depending on whom you ask, private citizens engaging the enemy on the Internet either helps or hinders the fight against terror. However, the activity occurs daily, and the actors are increasingly savvy and effective.

VIGILANTES AND THEIR TRADECRAFT It would be impossible to profile extremist “hacktivists”; they are men, women, young, old, ex-military, businessmen, lawyers, housewives, and techies. They live in big cities or small towns and their reasons for engaging and methods of infiltration vary. Some have come out of the shadows, but most use pseudonyms and are colorful characters, and are often as intriguing as their work.

Most terrorist groups, including the Taliban use the internet to spread propoganda. Taliban in Herat. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/bluuurgh

Scam mail vigilantes are a new phenomenon and already number more than 1,000— and they may be unintentionally helping the fight against terror.

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Cyber experts agree that Jester is very skilled and employs a technique not seen before and not easily duplicated. Jester A few months ago, I was given rare insight into the world of cyber vigilantes when contacted by “Jester,” or th3j35t3r in 3133t language. Jester told me he is prior military, special forces—although he is careful not to identify in which country’s military he served. He spent time in Afghanistan, and watched friends die on the battlefield. It became evident that unlike other vigilantes, his fight is very personal. My online discussions with Jester were enlightening. I found him patriotic, well intentioned, and thoughtful. He often struggles with whether his activities are judicious in light of the possible ramifications, from legal and safety perspectives. The targets of his attacks have reached out and threatened his life, but, undaunted, he carries on. Cyber experts agree that Jester is very skilled and employs a technique not seen before and not easily duplicated. In fact, using his program XerXeS, he could bring down most any website in the world instantly. Fortunately, he is on our side of the fight. Jester’s goal isn’t to permanently bring down an extremist website; instead, it is to randomly disrupt and take the site off line, typically for 30 minutes. The site then returns to normal, no damage done, other than to the psyche of the owner and users. This disruption results in anger and frustration because the Internet may be terrorists’ last line of clandestine electronic communication

and virtual lifeline to the world. Through XerXeS, Jester initiates Denial of Service (DoS) attacks against extremist websites. His method is unlike typical Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks use many computers to overwhelm the server with requests, shutting down the site. Jester uses a single, low-spec computer with low bandwidth in his attack. He transmits few packets, but the attack is effective. He demonstrated this to me online and as the jihad site “fought back” against the attack, Jester’s XerXeS program altered activity to match the efforts, bringing down the site. To prove the effectiveness of his program to the world, Jester released two videos exclusively to Infosec Island, a website for IT security professionals. His first video shows how he uses the XerXeS program to bring down a Taliban website.2 But his second video really caught the attention of those in the cybersecurity business: Jester used an improved XerXeS to successfully attack Apache, the HTTP software program that runs 57 percent of the world’s websites. Infosec Island’s Anthony Freed explains the weaknesses in Apache are fairly well known among the savvy tech elite, but it was only since Jester came along with his non-distributed DoS attack that the unpatched vulnerabilities in Apache finally became the subject of much concern. Mr. Freed’s primary concern: if a hacker used a tool like XerXeS in combination with a zombie army consisting of thousands of hijacked PCs, the implications for critical systems security could be extremely serious.3

Other Notable Vigilantes Although perhaps the most interesting, Jester is not the first cyber vigilante. Shannen Rossmiller is a lawyer and

mother of three from Montana who taught herself Arabic and began engaging in chat rooms on jihad websites in 2003. She spent years creating her personas and the persistence paid off: posing as an alQaeda sympathist, she ensnared several Americans who had radicalized and turned on their country. One would-be terrorist was convicted and is spending 30 years in jail for offering to use explosives on U.S. pipelines. Her most notable case is that of an Army National Guard specialist who was preparing to deploy and who is now serving a life sentence for treason, aiding the enemy, and attempted espionage.4 In 2008 Bill Warner, a private investigator and self-proclaimed cyber crusader, shut down three extremist websites hosted by a Tampa, Florida, Internet service provider. One site contained graphic images and video related to attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan along with propaganda such as inflated casualty counts. The site had 19 million hits in 10 months.5 Cyber vigilante Aaron Wiseburd is the creative force behind “Internet Haganah,” a repository of extremist site information. Wiseburd gathers and stores intelligence on the site (accessible to all), and states he has dismantled thousands of extremist sites on his own.6 The quote on his web page serves as his mantra: “asymmetric warfare: It’s not just for the other guys.” Video vigilantes patrol popular websites for jihadist postings, flagging them and working through established procedures with the site owners to have the videos pulled. One site claims to have had more than 15,000 videos removed, and identified dedicated “channels” maintained by groups such as the Taliban. Usually, the service provider is happy to comply with the removal requests because providing services to

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When asking industry and counterterror experts their opinion, I found the arguments for cyber vigilantes are equally as compelling as those against.

Scam mail vigilantes are a new phenomenon and already number more than 1,000—and they may be unintentionally helping the fight against terror. “Scam baiting” targets illicit e-mail fund-raising schemes by sending bogus replies, tracking IP addresses of the sender and reporting these to authorities, defacing websites, and reporting the e-mail as spam to Internet service providers. The scam communication (legally known as “419 advance-fee fraud”) relays the good news of an inheritance or a lottery win, tells a tragic story about a child, or informs of a hot, new investment scheme and asks for bank account information and wiring instructions. Sadly, people do fall for this ploy, and there is a 5 percent growth each year in the amount of loss to the public.7 According to UltraScan, a Netherlandsbased research organization that studies 419 scams, global revenues exceeded $9 billion in 2009, with a total of $49 billion lost to date.8 These scams are a rising concern in the counter-terrorism realm with respect to fund-raising. Most are launched from Nigeria, which yielded the “Christmas Day Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and is emerging as a new source of manpower for alQaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Also, a recent UltraScan report stated: “Between 2003 and 2008, there was evidence of a terrorist connection in the slipstream of 419 fraud networks, supporting attacks. In 2008 and 2009, there was evidence directly linking 419 to (attempted) attacks.”9

• Do private citizens, who are clearly in the crosshairs of the enemy, have the right to self-defense by hacking or otherwise engaging on jihad sites? • Does the hacking interfere with intelligence collection? Government agents know about the sites, monitor and possibly engage; therefore, cyber vigilantes unwittingly may interfere with information gathering or psyops. On the other hand, how much actionable intelligence can really be gleaned from these sites, most often meant for recruitment, propaganda, and insurrection? Most cyber vigilantes say little . . . then again, they may only see a piece of what is perhaps a much larger puzzle. • Hacking jihadist sites may cause them to move or go underground, which leads to more work for intelligence collectors. Also, we are in a manhunt for the terrorists and their use of the Internet can often yield valuable data about their location, communication patterns, etc. However, taking down the site stops recruitment and proselytizing, and if this prevents even small numbers of U.S. citizens from taking up arms against our country, is it worth it? • Bringing down the sites results in less access by those supporting the counter-terror effort. Open source analysts, theologians, social scientists, psychologists, and professors all visit extremist sites to glean information on shifting ideology, social trends, and subtle changes in behavior. The tenet of Sun Tzu, ancient Chinese strategist—

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“know thy enemy”—has never been more applicable than it is in this fight and removing websites may diminish this insight. • The more people involved with threat reduction and national security, the better. Resources are finite and the vigilantes are force multipliers. They may accomplish work that others can’t or won’t do. We are at war; the enemy is engaging asymmetrically, so should we. • Cyber vigilantes are no different than child predator vigilantes on the Internet who enter chat rooms and post ads in the hopes of identifying a predator for law enforcement. This is community policing for the twentyfirst century.

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The universe of cyberspace is largely a free realm lacking international covenants or laws and is not subject to a singular governing body. Dorothy Denning, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, may have said it best: “Soon, every interstate conflict, however minor, may be accompanied by some form of hacker war that is beyond the control of ruling governments.”10 Open to all, the Internet is unpatrollable and uncontrollable, making it ripe for anonymous and rampant engagement by all parties. I am neither an IT expert nor a cyber expert, but I have extensively studied the minds of terrorists. I understand how terrorist groups use the Internet to turn the switch from “off” to “on” and recruit those who will carry out the most heinous of missions, sacrificing their own life in the process. The radical Islamist ideology can be seductive and like a poison to the mind, equally so to the all-American quarterback or the downtrodden in a failing state who would rather die as jihadists in a spectacular blast than as hungry beggars on the streets. Circle 55 on Reader Service Card

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Something to consider: If we are to prepare to fight cyber war on a large scale, the most influential changes in this battle are actually happening at the microlevel: page by page, e-mail by e-mail. And in the words of Jester: lone wolves work faster, eat more, and are harder to track and capture.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Ms. Hesterman is a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. She is currently a senior analyst for the MASY Group, a global intelligence and risk management firm, as well as a full professor of counter-terrorism studies at American Military University. Her book Transnational Crime and the Criminal-Terrorist Nexus was published in 2005. She authors a scholarly blog:

ENDNOTES story/0,2933,340613,00.html 2 blogview/2990-Exclusive-Video-ofXerXeS-DoS-Attack.html 3 blogview/3258-Hacker-Releases-SecondVideo-of-Enhanced-XerXeS-DoS-Attackon-Apache-Vulnerability-.html 4 5 story/0,2933,340613,00.html 6 7 html/html/public_research_reports.html 8 html/html/public_research_reports.html 9 html/html/pdf_files/419_Advance_Fee_ Fraud_Statistics_2009.pdf 10 article.cfm?id=web-brings-new-weaponsof-war&page=2 1

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ou must be able to communicate with the people you encounter to conduct effective operations. The U.S. Border Patrol’s position may have exemplified one of the most constructive policies for language training. Trainees were required to pass multiple Spanish language proficiency tests within their first year of employment to become agents. * Sadly, the U.S. military may represent the opposite end of the spectrum. We are approaching 10 years past the beginning of American (post-September 11th) counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. Even today, far less than 1 percent of deploying special

operations forces and infantrymen are capable of speaking with the people they encounter in their native languages. There are a variety of technology-based, language-learning solutions consisting of software, online services, and audio practice tools. Rosetta Stone combines these tools in one package. Rosetta Stone language-learning software does not rely on basic translation or grammar rules; rather, it uses a method of learning language by connecting words to objects and events around you. There are two principles at the core of Rosetta Stone’s language-learning philosophy: immersion and interactive technology. The immersion method

simulates a more natural learning environment by matching spoken dialogue and text with photographic images from real life. Language skills are further developed by “contextual formation,” which uses a person’s ability to associate words and images when prompted. Through interactive technology, the listener is asked to continue the “conversation,” requiring him or her to form responses in the context of “real life” situations. The Rosetta Stone program is structured into units that focus on a language topic. Each unit is divided into “Core Lessons” that are then divided into “Focused Activities” and “Milestones.”

*Editor’s Note - The USBP may have lowered this standard. 72 The Counter Terrorist ~ August/September 2010

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“Core Lessons” consist of reading, listening, speaking, and writing exercises. “Focus Activities” concentrate on one or a combination of the aforementioned specific language skills. The “Milestone” sections of the program are more interactive and focus on practicing the new language using “real-life”-based scenarios. The order of the activities and lessons is tailored to the individual’s learning goals as determined by selections made when logging on to the program. Rosetta Stone also uses speech recognition technology and speech analysis to evaluate speech patterns. The listener can mimic the native speaker’s voice and view a graph comparing the voice patterns. Writing skills are also developed using native speakers. This skill is taught by requiring the listener to type words and phrases as he or she hears them. As you progress to new

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lessons, Rosetta Stone provides periodic reviews using “Adaptive Recall.” Review of material at optimal times is intended to increase the long-term memory of the language learned. The technology–based, languagelearning software provided by Rosetta Stone has expanded to online programs. Rosetta Stone TOTALe combines the learning program with live interaction. “Rosetta Studio” adds live practice sessions with other students at the same skill level led by a native-speaking coach. “Rosetta World” connects a native speaker with a learner to interact by playing language games. Rosetta Stone TOTALe provides access to a network of language students and native speakers simulating an immersive environment online. The use of word association and images in real-life scenarios is combined with an Internet-based social element.

If you are a first responder in the United States, Spanish may be the most useful second language for you to learn. If you are preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan, you will likely be best served by learning Pashto or Urdu. An inability to communicate and understand local culture will adversely affect your mission and may create significant personal hazards. Regardless of the degree of training support your agency provides, appropriate linguistic skills are highly valuable. Rosetta Stone provides some of the most convenient and comprehensive language-training available to individuals.

About the Author Ms. Smith is an assistant state attorney, felony division prosecutor, and former editor of The University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy.

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