Merchant of Death
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Cross Pollination in Terrorist Groups
My colleague Zachary Abuza wrote an interesting look at the Tamil Tigers, now in demise. As he notes, the LTTE pioneered many innovations in the use of terrorism that spread to other terrorist groups around the world.

Among the strategies the LTTE innovated are the use of suicide bombings and fund raising outside of state sponsorship. One of the most adaptive groups using some the LTTE model has been the FARC in Colombia, while suicide bombing have been taken up by Islamist groups around the globe.

This is, to me, one of the biggest changes that the new world order has brought in the past 15 years among non-state armed groups-the ability to rapidly exchange "best practices" and experiences across the globe.

In years past, Marxists would train Marxists, (the Cubans, Sandinistas and FMLN for example, in the Central American conflicts) and U.S. sponsored groups would receive instruction, but there was no real way, except direct meetings in camps and under state sponsorship, to exchange experiences.

The internet has changed that, and the end of the Cold War has helped erase many of the lines that once existed in who will deal with whom. At the same time, state sponsorship for many organizations was being reined in or cut off.

The shifting lines was largely lost on the intelligence community looking at radical Islamist groups, who believed Sunni groups like al Qaeda would not deal with Shiite groups like Hezbollah, although the documented cross-training between the two groups began at least in the ealry 1990s, while bin Laden was in Sudan.

As LTTE pioneered certain tactics, so did ETA in Spain (the use of explosives and LNG bombs), the IRA and IRA-P in Ireland (also explosives and cell structures) and others. The FARC, in turn, picked them up, improved on them, and taught new techniques.

The sharing is not new. But the Internet and lack of ideological constraints have greatly accelerated the ability to share knowledge among terrorist groups. Manuals can be found on the internet, the FARC and other groups regularly exchanged ideas with both non-state actors and state actors (Cuban and Venezuelan intelligence) and the lag time has shortened.

Those using IEDs in Iraq were quickly able to transfer the technology to the Islamists in Afghanistan, in matters of hours or days, rather than weeks or months. Money transfer mechanisms, pioneered by the drug cartels and other groups around the world (the Black Market Peso Exchange, a perennial favorite in the drug world, has been adapted by terrorist and organized crime groups around the world, with regional adaptations.)

My point is that the cross-pollination among terrorist groups, secular and religious, has greatly accelerated and now any group will deal with almost any other group in the mix if the situation is mutually advantageous to do so.

We can no longer compartmentalize among them and pretend they don't deal with each other. They do, and often it does not have to be face to face at all. Chat rooms, electronic bulletin boards and virtual classrooms make that unnecessary. The Tigers, FARC and others are far ahead in information sharing than the law enforcement and intelligence community is.

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