Weapons of Mass Influence - Undermining Terrorism - An Interview With Jerrold M. Post

"And when the White House spokesperson is asked, "When are we going to get Osama bin Laden? I'd have him respond, "Osama who?"
Jerrold M. Post, PhD

When we talk about Terrorism, very little is discussed by the media -- let alone the military and intelligence community -- about the most critical weapon towards minimizing terrorist activities and getting it under control. Perhaps because there is nothing shocking about it that gives us any awe, our government doesn't spend enough of the necessary resources for this weapon of mass influence. It's been clearly low on the priority list and secondary to guns, missiles and bombs.

Like anything that is to have a lasting and changing effect, this weapon could take decades to yield its greatest results towards a more peaceful planet with fewer terrorists. As General David Petraeus takes daily assessments of Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and Palestine and the entire Cent Comm Region, he without a doubt understands this Art of War strategy is the only way to effectively undermine the enemy.

The weapon of mass influence I'm talking about is Psychological Operations (PSYOP). Noted author of many books about crisis decision-making, leadership, and on the psychology of political violence and terrorism, Dr. Jerrold M. Post talks candidly about psychological operations and the fight against terrorism.

A professor of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs and director of the political psychological program at The George Washington University, Dr. Post confirms terrorism will never be eliminated. To eliminate terrorism eliminates Democracy. He says finding Osama Bin Laden is not that relevant -- the bounty reward for smoking out Laden should be $1.00. Dr. Post talks about the mind-set of the "Human Bombs" who he says are psychologically normal. He reacts to former Veep Dick Cheney's comment about how unsafe America is under President Obama. Finally, he gives the parents who are victims and victimizers of terrorists some advice and offers a step-by-step approach for political, military and ideological actions to induce behavioral, emotional and attitudinal changes to manage and minimize a "war" we just can't win.

Do you believe the name change from the "War on Terror" or "Global on Terror" to "Overseas Contingency Operation" or "Man Caused Disasters" connotes a different message to the world when it comes to fighting Terrorism?

"I've felt from the onset that the term "War on Terror" is unfortunate rhetoric because it evokes the memory of a ceremony like that on the USS Missouri the end of World War II, and suggests the war will only be won with the end of terrorism. The goal in my judgment is to reduce the frequency of terrorism. Terrorism can never be eliminated. To completely "eliminate terrorism," eliminates Democracy. This is what the junta in Argentina did with enemies of the state during the so-called "dirty wars." They "disappeared" people who disagreed with the state out of airplanes and into the open seas. This was state-sponsored terrorism.

In a Democracy, the minority should always have the ability to protest against the majority. There will always be some who will resort to violence. The more space there is to communicate, to express dissident views, the less likely terrorism is to occur. Part of the reason why the United States has so little terrorism is because there is an opportunity in this country for dissent."

You talk about Psychological Operations and Counter Terrorism. Please explain to me what you mean when you say, "Influencing attitudes by deconstructing the enemy?"

"If one accepts the premise that terrorism is a vicious species of psychological warfare, waged through the media, with violence as communication, you don't counter terrorism with smart bombs and missiles. You counter psychological warfare with psychological warfare.

There are four avenues of a psychological program to counter terrorism. They are components of a long term strategy:

1. Inhibit potential terrorists from joining terrorist groups.

2. Creating dissension in the group.

3. Help people leave the group.

4. Reduce support for the group and delegitimize the leadership.

Inhibit Potential Terrorists from Joining Terrorist Groups.

"The real problem is that youth, from childhood on, are being led onto the path of terrorism. Psychologically normal, they are led into terrorism by their families. There is a social value attached to joining a terrorist group. One of the most compelling aspects of the persistence of terrorism for certain types of terrorism is that "hatred in bred to the bone;" it is generationally transmitted from one generation to the next. The Palestinian and Israeli struggle is such an example. It is a struggle of victimhoods.

Ariel Merari, who teaches at Harvard Law School, made a revealing comment to me in the fall of 2004. As we were walking around Harvard Square, Merari said, "I am struck by the fact that teenagers are teenagers the world around. Here you walk into a pizza parlor, kids are gossiping about their favorite team, the New England Patriots, and their heroes on the team, like Tom Brady the Quarterback - some day when they grow up they want to be professional football players like their heroes. Well it's the same thing," he said, "in the refugee camps in the occupied territories in Israel and in Jordan; however their favorite team is HAMAS, and their heroes are the Shaheeds, the martyrs, and when they grow up, which they won't, they want to be Shaheeds like their "heroes."

The question we have to answer is how do we change the attitudes of the families and show them that they are going to lose their children if they do not find other ways to deal with conflict?" Youth taught hate and to be anti-West in radical madrassas see a bleak future. They are more inclined to violence. There needs to be support that encourages reformed educational policies and more open societies, so that bright, ambitious youth can succeed within their societies, rather than striking out in despair.

The Department of Labor funded a $25 million program in Pakistan to combat child labor, establishing a network of secular, moderate curriculum schools. For $80, a student received a year's education at a secular school. Each child enrolled was not educated in a radical madrassa and was not exposed to anti-Israel and anti-west propaganda."

Creating Dissension in the Group

"A number of voices are crying out over the killing of the innocent and the excesses in the name of radical Islam. These voices need to be amplified. It is critical to magnify and create dissension within the ranks. Sowing seeds of distrust, recasting the image of the leader and paralyzing the group is very difficult, but it can reduce group cohesion."

Helping People Leave the Group

"Once one makes the choice to join a terrorist group, it is hard to turn back. An early hurdle for full acceptance into a terrorist group is to carry out a terrorist action. This makes them criminals and they are stuck. A number of countries have done a lot to facilitate exit from the groups through creative amnesty programs in return for cooperation and information about terrorist activities. Financial support and new identities are given to people for a new life. In some cases plastic surgery is given to the person."

Reduce support for the group and delegitimize the leaders.

"There is now an assembly line for producing suicide terrorists. For every terrorist killed, 10 more are waiting in line. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of HAMAS, said there is no shortage of willing recruits for martyrdom. Bin Laden is a hero in many ways. The question is how do we diminish the luster of becoming a terrorist? There are now several programs overseas to disengage terrorists. In Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan and Indonesia former terrorists are talking to captured terrorists to help them through this morass of disengaging from terrorism."

How does the West -- particularly the United States -- do this when the persons involved in these terrorist or extremist organizations are indoctrinated to hate the West and will do anything at all costs?

"That is part of the reason why we need to take a long term perspective. For example, there are computer games designed for children where radical Islamist groups are rewarded for killing Americans or Jews on the computer games. But in contrast, there are Ecumenical programs such as Seeds of Peace where Muslim, Christian and Jewish kids go to camp together, play on teams together, work on projects together. When they have been friends, the kids can't hold the stereotypes that all Christian, Muslims or Jews are this or that.

You say the parents play a crucial role. How do we change that?

"I've emphasized the role of parents in leading their children onto the path of terrorism, celebrating martyrdom. But there is grief too, and the fact is no parent really wants to lose their child. In November 2001, Nashra Hassan, a Pakistan Muslim former journalist and official with the U.N., conducted 250 extensive interviews with terrorists training to be suicide bombers and their families in an article in the New Yorker Magazine, "Talking with the Human Bombs." Hassan interviewed the mother of a young man in the Gaza Strip, who was on the pathway to become a suicide bomber. She had already lost one son to a "martyrdom operation," and feared that she would lose this son, too. "If I could, I would take a cleaver, cut open my heart, and stuff him deep inside," she said. "Then I would sew it up tight to keep him safe." So the dilemma is slowly changing attitudes of the generation of the parents so that they inhibit their children from entering the path of terrorism, but culture changes slowly, and this will require decades."

Why is it so hard for the United States Military to get Bin Laden? Is he no longer a priority?

"One of the very unfortunate things about US Middle East policy has been to personalize the leadership -- we seem to have a need for the "Mad Man of the Middle East Du Jour" -- Muammar Qadaffi, Saddam Hussein and now Osama Bin Laden. We promoted him as the world's number one terrorist. I would suggest reducing the current bounty for the killing or capture of Osama bin Laden from its current level of $50 million to $1.00. And when the White House spokesperson is asked, "When are we going to get Osama bin Laden? I'd have him respond, "Osama who?" Killing or capturing Bin Laden does not mean the end of terrorism. Al-Qaeda is inspired by Bin Laden, but not controlled by him. And when he is killed or captured, the leadership of al Qaeda will pass on seamlessly to his deputy and designated successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the loosely affiliated network of jihadists will continue. "

In your book, The Mind of the Terrorist: The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to Al-Qaeda, you discuss the Al-Qaeda as a horizontal corporation. Is this a reason why the U.S. has not been able to attack and destroy the organization because it is so well organized?

"Al-Qaeda is horizontally run like a corporation. Bin Laden, who took courses in business management, has "grown" his extremist corporation through mergers and acquisitions. For example, when Mohammed Atef, chief of operation was killed, his former chief of personnel Zubaydeh moved into this role. And when Zubaydeh was captured, he too was replaced. Bin Laden is Chairman of the Board of Radical Islam, Inc., and Aymann al- Zawahiri is the CEO who runs Al-Qaeda.
A major challenge is countering the propagation of radicalism through the Internet. There are some 6,800 radical Islamist web sites, and increasingly youth is being socialized on the Internet. The Internet can't be controlled. There is a virtual community of hatred."

Hasn't the United States failed at this approach or has this approach not been properly used yet?

"The U.S. Military and the CIA have a solid understanding about the nature of the struggle and are also fairly clear about the complexity of the problem. We have insufficiently made use of strategic communication and coordinated information operations to combat terrorism, and in the past there has been a tendency to think in terms of military solutions only.

I've been impressed with General David Petraeus' comprehensive approach to counter insurgency and it has been extremely important. Similarly, counter terrorism must rest on a comprehensive interdisciplinary strategy."

Do you agree with former Vice President Dick Cheney that Americans are less safe now under President Obama?

"To the contrary. Fostering an "us versus them" psychology has helped create the very climate that produces terrorists. We have to be actively engaged in understanding the very diverse societies with which we are interacting in terms of their needs, their perspective and their goals. We need to move towards to a more global us instead of us versus them.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton stress that "The Three Legs of our foreign policy are: Military, Diplomacy and Aid." All three are necessary in reducing the reservoir from which terrorists emerge. The kind of approach that the Obama Administration is pushing for is a broad based approach cognizant of other cultures with attempts to communicate across cultures to overcome barriers; over time will pay great dividends.

But culture is not easily influenced, and man's inhumanity to man is deeply rooted within the human species. As the philosopher Walt Kelly, who gave us the comic strip "Pogo," said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." So long range programs must be set in place that will require generations."

What type of education do Americans need about terrorism and how to overcome it?

"Again, for every terrorist that is killed, there are more lining up to take his or her place. There needs to be a continuing program to reduce the frequency of terrorism, but it can't be eliminated. Certainly in this global society, we [Americans] can no longer comfortably "hunker down" in our isolated shores. As former President Bush and now President Obama have both said, reducing terrorism will be a long and consistent struggle that is and will be frustrating, but necessary to sustain. This could take 80-years. After all, the struggle in Northern Ireland seems finally to be resolved, after only 1,000 years. When "hatred has been bred in the bone," it does not easily yield."