Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Islamism and Stratagem, Part I

Last October, in a post entitled “Counterjihad and Counterintelligence”, I wrote about the book Chekisty: A History of the KGB by John J. Dziak. It was written in 1988, but much of its subject matter may be usefully studied today to help us understand the current war being waged against us by political Islam.

Dr. Dziak recently sent me an article he wrote several years ago about Islam. He views the Ummah as a diffuse “counterintelligence state” on the model of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. I have divided his piece into six parts, and will publish them here over the next few days.

The article is reprinted with permission of the author. It first appeared in Papers & Studies by the International Assessment and Strategy Center, Washington, D.C., on 6 April 2007. It was later republished in the Summer/Fall 2007 issue of Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies.

Islamism and Stratagem
by John J. Dziak, Ph.D

I. Introduction

This essay is intended as a running reflection on the intelligence and counterintelligence problems posed by resurgent, militant Islam, especially in the post-9/11 era. It is not meant to be a comprehensive assessment either of Islam itself or a prescription for the Intelligence Community on how to portray militant Islam as an intelligence issue for policy makers. Rather, it offers observations on these intelligence problems with an effort to identify and make sense of the deceptive dimensions therein. Such dimensions include not only active deception and manipulation activities undertaken by our adversaries, but the proclivities inherent in the doctrinal aspects of militant Islam itself. In that sense Islamic stratagems against the West are both explicit and implied within the theocratic culture of Islam. But they also embrace a tendency among much of the media and within US policy and intelligence to deny that there’s even a problem in the first place.[1] These reflections draw on the author’s experience in intelligence and counterintelligence and graduate school teaching of the same subjects for over four decades. Obviously, the views are those of the author alone and are meant as a stimulant to a discussion of timely and contentious intelligence issues related to hostile deception.

Palestinian kidsMilitant Islam (also frequently identified as Islamism, radical Islam, fundamentalist Islam, Islamo-fascism, etc.) arguably is the pressing U. S. strategic problem of the moment and promises to remain so for an indefinite period.[2] Ever since the 9/11 attacks, however, major elements of the U.S. leadership, policy, media, and academic elites have danced around the issue of clearly identifying or naming the enemy. Agreement on a generally accepted terminology for the present war itself is problematic. By attempting to define down a national security problem so as not to offend the larger faith community of Islam, or implicate it in the spreading terror attacks worldwide, opinion molders tend to seek refuge in highly inaccurate and misleading euphemisms such as the generic “terrorism” or “terrorists”. But terrorism is a technique, not an enemy. If, for instance, a similar plague of political correctness were in vogue in World War II, we would have been fighting the “perpetrators of blitzkrieg who needed to be brought to justice” or the “practitioners of surprise attack”, rather than the German Nazis or Imperial Japanese militarists.

A number of highly visible bloody actions in 2004-2006 in which Islamic driven anti-Western hysteria was even further whipped up, hopefully may have given pause to those exponents of such timorous Western behavior: to wit, the brutal murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the London bombings of summer 2005, the fall 2005 riots in France, the highly organized Danish cartoon frenzy in early 2006, and the case of the Christian convert Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan in March 2006. Equally disturbing to Western sensibilities was the favorable resonance these events generated among large numbers of Muslims throughout the world, especially among the immigrant Muslim populations (significantly, among the second and third generations) in England and elsewhere in Europe. What these events should force us to confront is that Islamic doctrine as found in the holy or revered texts (Koran, Hadith, Sira, etc.) of that faith is at variance with the core tenets of Western civilization and its survival. As aptly put by one observer,

…the Shariah principles in question are shared by all four of the Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi, and Shafi’i), plus the Shia school. There is no “sixth” school that recognizes religious and civic freedom, in any way what these expressions mean in the West.

All five of the actual schools or traditions take a view of idolatry that entirely removes the possibility of freedom of expression in public life. Moreover, all take a view of apostasy that presents a palpable threat to the life and liberty of every non-Muslim, and excommunicated Muslim. And such doctrines as “jihad” (when interpreted as holy war against all infidels), and “razzia” (permission to raid and plunder our infidel communities) are not such as can be assimilated with Western jurisprudence.[3]

That may be one of the many reasons why it is so difficult for so-called Muslim moderates to organize to soften or reform the scriptures of that faith. Aside from theological proscriptions forbidding changes to the unmediated word of Allah as revealed to the Prophet, there is no central institutional authority within Islam to facilitate or foster such changes even if a broad desire were present. It is unfortunate that such candid recognition of Islamic theocratic realities are not part of a broader public and official dialogue in the West in general and in the U.S. in particular, since its absence also affects the ability of the Intelligence Community itself to candidly come to grips with the strategic implications of a resurgent, imperial, and militant Islam.
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The inability or refusal of a putative victim to admit that he even is a target of another’s hostile attentions and attendant deception is by no means restricted to Western elites. The arch-deceiver of the Twentieth Century, Joseph Stalin, so valued his non-aggression pact with Hitler that, for all practical purposes, he deceived himself into absorbing Hitler’s design for Moscow’s defeat well before the June 1941 invasion. A recent compelling account of the reasons for the initial success of Operation Barbarossa put it this way:

…it was Stalin’s insistence on accepting German deception as truth, his rejection of valid intelligence from his own services, and his failure to recognize that the warnings from Western powers, themselves threatened by Hitler’s aggressiveness, were both accurate and well intentioned, that led to the debacle of the summer of 1941.[4]

In what may be an apocryphal account Lenin, in the early 1920s, is said to have advised his chief of counterintelligence, Artur Artuzov, to tell the Whites and the West what they wanted to hear when it came to devising the “legend” for the CHEKA’s classic strategic deception operation, the “Trust”. Even if the above tale is itself “legend”, Stalin should have remembered the actual “Trust” operation, for he too had a major role in its conception and conduct, and would have understood well the credulity of his Western opponents and their susceptibility to being gulled. The Whites and the West self-deceived in their response to Artuzov’s “Trust” deception of the 1920s; Stalin self-deceived before Hitler played him for the fool in 1941. The West’s failure with the “Trust” and Stalin’s failure with Barbarossa are lessons worth revisiting by Western leaders faced with a resurgent Islam — an ideology with almost fourteen hundred years of experience in empire, stratagem, and dissimulation, not unlike the totalitarian “isms” of the Twentieth Century.

Mongol Invasion

In view of the above experiences it is useful to reflect that an intimate connection between counterintelligence and deception has always existed, especially in non-Western systems. Whether in traditional Islamic societies, autocratic or totalitarian ones like Tsarist and Soviet Russia, or despotic systems like the ancient hydraulic societies of China or the contemporary People’s Republic of China, a counterintelligence system was the intelligence service of choice.[5] Counterintelligence was and is essential to the maintenance of autocratic, totalitarian and despotic elites whose singular claims to monopoly rule could be upheld only through secret police-type operations — hence “the counterintelligence state” in which a fixation with enemies and threats to the power of these elites was the reigning ethos. Penetration, provocation, deception and other active measures characterized the operational tradition of the “counterintelligence state”. This tradition carried over to methods of warfare as epitomized, for instance, by the Mongol conquests of Eurasia in which enemy attention was masterfully deflected by ruse, false threats, and myriad stratagems resulting in stunning victories, frequently against superior forces. In such traditions deception is not merely a military plan annex, dusted off for a particular military campaign, but rather is organic to the whole culture of a counterintelligence focused system. It is part of the DNA of traditional societies and cultures, including Islamic ones. Whether one looks at the religious police of Saudi Arabia, the secret police services of Syria or Iran, or the operations of Al Qaeda one sees the hallmarks of a counterintelligence system, not just Western style intelligence services.

Next: Part II The Setting

© Copyright 2007, John J. Dziak

John J. DziakJohn J. Dziak is an adjunct professor at The Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft and national security affairs in Washington, D.C., where he teaches a course on comparative intelligence systems. Dr. Dziak is also Senior Fellow, Counterintelligence and Strategic Technology, at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, and the president of Dziak Group, Inc. He retired from a distinguished career in the U.S. intelligence community in 1996. Dr. Dziak has written extensively on Russian intelligence, and holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University.


[1] Much of the mainstream media tend to refrain from any Islamic adjectival association with terrorism, in some cases even eschewing the use of the term “terrorist” in favor of the more benign “insurgent”. Pronouncements from the White House likewise, for several years after 9/11, decoupled “Islamic” from “terrorism” in discussions of the war we are in. This desire not to explicitly name culprits and thereby not offend even extends to non-Muslim actors. For example, the recent (March 2006) mild reaction of the U.S. government to the released Iraqi intelligence reports of alleged Russian penetration of CENTCOM and the passing of U.S. warplans to Saddam Hussein is suggestive of such an attitude. The object here apparently was not to antagonize President Putin and his government.
[2] This is not to diminish other pressing strategic problems such as an increasingly assertive and militarily powerful Peoples’ Republic of China. But the PRC is not the culprit in 9/11 and its aftermath.
[3] David Warren, “Staring Down Shariah”, Real Clear Politics, March 30, 2006.
[4] David E. Murphy, What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005, p. 249.
[5] For an in-depth treatment of traditional, despotic systems see Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957. For the linkage between these systems and more recent examples of the “counterintelligence state” see John J. Dziak, Chekisty: A History of the KGB, Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1988.


KyleS. said...


I thought this was absolutely excellent! Dziak here helps to codify several thoughts I've had about the current problem, but have had trouble putting into a framework. I look forward to reading the rest!

One_of_the_last_few_Patriots_left said...

I'll second your comments, KyleS.!

Baron, you never cease to amaze me with the quality of your posts here on Gates of Vienna! Honestly, I don't know where you find the time or the energy.
I have long since abandoned the Mainstream Media (what I call the Obsolete Media) and get my news from talk radio and the internet. The internet allows us to peruse many different websites quickly and to assemble the jigsaw puzzle, so to speak. I find that Gates of Vienna is consistently among the very best!! Many thanks to you and Dymphna!

One_of_the_last_few_Patriots_left said...

"...Joseph Stalin, so valued his non-aggresion pact with Hitler that,
for all practical purposes, he deceived HIMSELF..."

My own FATHER, (who passed away in 2002) who was just a farm kid in Poland at the time, could have told the mass murdering psychopath dictator Joe that, hey, you are being SNOOKERED. A Kraut press gang... uh... I mean... a heavily armed group of "undocumented immigrant" Teutonic "Cultural Enrichers" looking for eager and enthusiastic volunteers for "Community Service," showed up at the family farm and took him to the forests of East Prussia to do forestry work. This put him within the staging area for Army Group North, Operation Barbarrosa. The forests were filled with military equipment of every description. To quote my father: "...crates of ammunition stacked as high a house..."

" was Stalin's insistence on accepting German deception as truth,...that led to the debacle of the summer of 1941."

It appears that 9/11 was not enough of a debacle to wake up the lunatic Liberals. Like Stalin, they are too good at deceiving THEMSELVES. When the Iranians finally build a nuclear device, and USE it, will that be enough of a debacle?

Zenster said...

There is a typo in the link to David Warren's "Staring Down Shariah".

The short article is well worth reading.

My own comments will be posted in Part II of this excellent essay.

Baron Bodissey said...

Thanks, Zenster. I knew that link was broken, but I didn't have a correct version. Now I can hot-link it.

Zenster said...

Always a pleasure, Baron. Please permit me to echo KyleS.'s praise for this new series. Clearly, Dr. Dziak "gets it".

Also, for those who are interested, here is an explanatory link about Operation Trest (Trust).

Operation Trest (Trust) was the codename for a fictious monarchist underground movement, the Monarchist Association of Central Russia, first invented by Artuzov of the OGPU in 1921 and used as the basis for a six- year deception to trick anti-Bolshevik campaigners back to Russia where they could be imprisoned or executed. The operation succeeded in luring many enemies of the Revolution back to Russia, including trapping the British spy Sidney Reilly who was arrested, interrogated and shot.

Anonymous said...
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Zenster said...
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Baron Bodissey said...

Anonymous --

Read our rules. I'll not have you calling our contributors names. Go somewhere else and be nasty.

Baron Bodissey said...

Zenster --

I prefer "political Islam" to "Islamism", but the term can be useful when it is well-defined.

In Dr. Dziak's terminology, an "Islamist" is a Muslim who is politically active. He follows the dictates of the Koran and Islamic laws to define his political ends, and also to devise the means to achieve those ends.

Under this definition, Muslims who are politically apathetic are not "Islamists". It doesn't mean they are not also dangerous, but they are generally less dangerous, and are not usually the direct targets of military and intelligence operations.

As I say, this definition is clear and useful. However, I prefer other terms, because "Islamism" has been tainted because of its use by dreamers pursuing the elusive "moderate Muslim".

Zenster said...

Baron Bodissey: However, I prefer other terms, because "Islamism" has been tainted because of its use by dreamers pursuing the elusive "moderate Muslim".

As do I, and I also made sure to note how the overall usefulness Dr. Dziak's work precluded condemning him for his own choice of terms.

Unfortunately, I am not able to get my comments about Part II to stay put. In them I address a crucial aspect of "moderate" Muslims that is proving to be grist for an entire essay.

I will try to post them one more time.

Anonymous said...

Read our rules. I'll not have you calling our contributors names. Go somewhere else and be nasty.

Very well, I assumed the i***t word wasn't bad enough to be in breach of the rules. That said, I don't see any nastiness in expressing my disappointment with Dziak's use of weasel qualifiers when speaking of Islam.

Baron Bodissey said...

Anonymous --

It wasn't what name you called him, it was calling any names at all.

Rule #1 Civil: No name calling, gratuitous insults, personal slurs, denigration of someone’s intelligence, etc.

If you had taken the trouble to examine the definition of the term, you would see that "Islamism" makes a useful distinction. I, too, would prefer a different word, but Dr. Dziak's distinction is still valid.

Politically active Muslims need to be distinguished from politically apathetic Muslims, because the former are those at whom we primarily direct our strategies. We could make up a new word -- they could be called "Spembogles" for all I care -- but the ability to refer to them as a separate category is necessary.

This sort of unthinking knee-jerk antagonism based on the use of a single word is unhelpful and counterproductive to our cause.

There are other terms I could use to describe it, but then I would be breaking my own rules.