Spiders have eight legs and two body parts, including the head region (cephalothorax) and the abdomen. Most spiders have toxic venom, which they use to kill their prey. So, if the international community wants to get rid of ISIS, hypothetically speaking, they must get rid of ISIS’ cephalothorax, rather than fight with its eight legs. What I try to pinpoint here is that, while ISIS's headquarters (cephalothorax) are in Syria, their means of survival (abdomen) depend on how much area they control in Iraq. Thus, before this ISIS "spider" transforms into a "multi-headed" and "multi-pronged" spider, the international community must target their headquarters in Syria.
Although international intelligence agencies have feet of clay, particularly in dealing with an enemy of many different faces, I feel that they deserve a more involved role than just being the eyes and ears of any one nation. Recommendations for an appropriate tradecraft to achieve collective intelligence are the need of the day. Although there is no truth to search for, no absolute truth, since everything is subjective, the valuable role that intelligence agencies play in producing deterrence is paramount. Achieving a state of global terrorist deterrence is what I consider the essential argument.
Sri Lanka, a small South Asian island nation located in the Indian Ocean, has been politically and economically destabilized as a result of ethnic conflict that has lasted over three decades. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the “Tamil Tigers”, a secessionist-cum-terrorist organization, fought against the Sri Lankan government to establish a separate homeland for Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. This organization was a trendsetter for other terrorist groups around the world. Many organizations, including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and now ISIS have used LTTE’s tactics as a template for terrorism. In May 2009, the Sri Lankan security forces militarily defeated the LTTE.
The timely detection and precise ground intelligence received from the directorate of military intelligence was proven valuable, as LTTE’s offensive waves were received with intense military counter-attacks. The Sri Lankan security forces could finally claim that the Mullaittivu battle was reaching its final phase. Over 150 cadres were killed during the initial thrust while the rest were hunted down by the 2nd Commando Regiment, 12th Gajaba Regiment, 12th Gemunu Watch, and 8th Gemunu Watch troops during the last 48 hours of the final battle. As claimed repeatedly by defense experts, the fighting power of the LTTE was enormously weakened by the scarcity of military supplies and manpower. This contributed to the defeat of the LTTE. The last LTTE offensive attempt was initiated from the control of a 65-kilometer radius, reminding troops that the LTTE was still capable of planning, preparing and executing surprise raids on any advancing military. It was against this backdrop that security forces were forced to rethink strategy and implement unconventional warfare tactics, that is, to lead by military intelligence.
By utilizing OSINT intelligence agencies can extract fantastic amounts of strategic intelligence. However, tactical intelligence depends on human intelligence (HUMINT) which refers to any information that can be gathered from human sources. It is no secret that the Sri Lankan security forces have been trying to strengthen their HUMINT gathering capacity for some time now. In fact, they have been openly recruiting former LTTE cadres and other Tamil militants who were working with security forces as “paramilitary” groups. In addition, the Sri Lankan Army’s Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) and/or Special Force Regiment (SF) also plays a vital role in the forces’ HUMINT gathering efforts. It can therefore be seen that the security forces’ HUMINT played a vital role. The military’s signal intelligence infiltrated and analyzed the LTTE’s communications and transmissions systems for the purpose of convincing these cadres to surrender. All in all, the fusion of the military's SIGINT and the contribution of Karuna Amman’s HUMINT was an effective strategy.
Given the status quo in Sri Lanka, it was very easy to conduct projects of psychological warfare, since security forces were moving in quickly and most of the non-hardcore LTTE cadres and leaders were in low morale within the organization. As a result of human nature, LTTE cadres prioritized their survival during those days. Nonetheless, security forces were not successful in the defection of LTTE top leaders like Banu, Soosai, Swarnam, Theepan, Pottu Amman, Lawrence, or Nadesan. This is because these men were married to female LTTE cadres and bore children together. Consequently, security forces sought young, but clever, LTTE cadres for the job. It was indeed a good strategy, proven by the fact that Karuna Amman was made a minister following his defection and by the fact that former LTTE child soldier Pillaiyan was appointed chief minister of the eastern province.
As a terrorist organization that possessed an army, navy, and rudimentary air force, the LTTE set a threatening example for other terrorist groups and therefore they were not only a threat to the domestic stability of Sri Lanka but also to the security of the regional and global systems. This explains the support from the international community for the Sri Lankan government during its war against terrorism. This support contributed to the eventual annihilation of LTTE. By and large, the Sri Lankan security forces were attempting to engineer a defection within the LTTE, as they battled to destroy LTTE leadership. In other words, security forces were attempting to engineer defection against the “cephalothorax” of the spider, instead of fighting its eight legs in futility. The defection of LTTE’s top commander, Karuna Amman, along with two-thirds of the organization’s manpower created a desperate split within the LTTE, fatally weakening the organization. The Sri Lankan military intelligence exploited this situation and enlisted Karuna Amman and his cadres in the Sri Lankan army as a paramilitary group, making their fight against terrorism easier. Moreover, the killing of LTTE’s supreme leader Veluppillai Pirabhakaran reinforces the argument and importance of the spider analogy. This also reinforces the argument that military intelligence deserves a primary and active role in counterterrorism efforts.
The importance of intelligence as capital in counterterrorism is further illustrated by the response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the United States, since the international community came together to share intelligence on terrorist organizations in order to dismantle their operations throughout the world. This essentially crippled the LTTE’s maritime logistics support to which their survival depended. The LTTE’s threat to global security was obliterated at the hands of an international collaboration of intelligence agencies that was not even primarily focused on the LTTE. Since the modus operandi and tradecraft of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State are replicas of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, I believe that the international community is capable of combatting and defeating it by utilizing the same model that Sri Lankan military used against the LTTE. Unfortunately, so far this concept has not gained heavy traction with intelligence and military forces in the West, especially the Americans. This is a good example of where innovation in intelligence outside of the Anglosphere would provide excellent new methods and tactics for Western intelligence. If only Western intelligence would notice.