The Rise of Lone Wolf Terrorism

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National security in the modern age has become an issue just as considered with individual threats as those posed by nations. A single person, lacking any organization or leadership structure to make him or her easier to locate, has the power to do incredible harm in a variety of ways. Bombs are smaller and more powerful than ever before, biological and chemical weapons can be manufactured or acquired with surprising ease, thanks to the internet and dependence on electronic storage of money and data makes the civilized world highly susceptible to hacker attacks. Not only are individual, lone wolf terrorists a significant threat, they are also elusive. Their ability to disappear into a population, since they lack any organizational contacts that would reveal their intentions, makes them nearly impossible to identify before an attack is made and difficult to track after. However, some mimic the methods of terror groups like ISIS. For the communications they must make, the internet has proven a relatively safe haven for them with its many electronic back alleys and poorly regulated vendors of material and information. Lone wolf terrorism and leaderless resistance takes up many different causes and methods, but the common thread between them all seems to be the use of the internet for all of their terrorism related needs.

There has been no shortage of terrorist threats in the 21st century. But the growing world of cyberspace has had a noted effect on the methods of those terrorists. Because the internet is so vast and difficult to monitor as a whole, it provides many opportunities for individuals, lacking any leadership or organizational structure, to pursue terrorist resistance activities on a scale with national implications (Bates, 2012 and Weimann, 2012). Because they are alone and communicate only as one individual to the whole of the internet, they can be easily overlooked. Even for those who communicate with others online, sharing ideas and even plans, it must be acknowledged that the internet is full of angry, outspoken people and identifying which are serious is an overwhelming challenge for electronic security endeavors. Because lone wolf terrorists operate autonomously, their presence in the physical world is difficult to track and their harmful actions even more difficult to prevent (Bates, 2012, Betz, 2012, Eby, 2012, Michael Lone wolf terror, 2012, Nesser, 2012 and Spaaji, 2012). Simply by existing, lone wolf terrorists effectively create an atmosphere of unknown danger because they are so difficult to identify before they strike.

This new era of terrorism requires adaptation, but it is difficult to apply old methods. Psychological profiling was useful for identifying terrorists in the past, but lone wolf terrorists are not as easy to characterize or understand. The binding ideology of a group makes them stand out, since as a terrorist organization they are extremist in their thoughts and behaviors. Lone wolf terrorists, however, are better able to keep their extremist tendencies to themselves. What prompts them to acts of terrorism may never be understood, on an individual basis. Eby (2012) has begun the process of profiling lone wolf terrorists through case studies, though the fruits of that endeavor still lie in the future. The ability to predict acts of lone wolf terrorism would be an incredible step forward for security agencies, but it may be one that is forever out of reach.

Leaderless resistance groups also present a complication for security organizations. Groups that operate under clear leadership can be profiled based on that leadership as well as their shared characteristics, making it even easier to identify and predict their behavior. When a formerly organized group loses its leadership and that vacuum is not filled, the elements of the group are free to pursue their interests without a stabilizing hand (Dishman, 2005, Joose, 2007 and Sabou, 2012). Whether the scattered elements of a formerly organized terrorist group go on to work individually as lone wolf terrorists or remain together as a loosely bound, leaderless resistance group, they are made less predictable by the lack of oversight.

Powerful ideology is one of the only things that could keep a group together absent leadership. The group must see a common goal that transcends the ambitions of any individual. Social change is often the driving force behind effective leaderless resistance because social oppression affects large populations, forming resistance groups where no shared vision would otherwise exist. Sabou (2012) identified this phenomenon as what pushed the Czech people to resist German occupation in World War II. Leaderless resistance based on social ideology can be seen in modern times, as well. One of the most popular ideologies in the 21st century with this kind of binding strength is ecoextremism. Through the vision of a wider calling, groups of people are motivated to commit terrorist acts with a similar objective, even though they lack any organized planning that a leader might offer (Michael, “Leaderless resistance”, 2012 and Joose, 2007). Though the general objective of groups with a shared ideology might be easier to identify and predict than those of lone wolf terrorists, the lack of leadership makes it harder to predict how those objectives will be pursues or what individuals might be involved.

The only unifying force among lone wolf terrorists and leaderless resistance groups appears to be the internet. It spans most of the globe and is accessible by nearly anyone in developing nations on up through the first world. United States intelligence is aware of the power of the internet over national and international infrastructures and has also acknowledged that tracking an individual’s intentions in the internet is practically impossible (Betz, 2012 and Weinmann, 2012). Even for leaderless resistance organizations who have a greater need for communication between members, the sheer size of the internet and the number of people using it makes it something of a Wild West for ideas where it is difficult to determine whose gun is loaded with real bullets.

This report on the nature of lone wolf terrorism and leaderless resistance identified some of the key difficulties in countering these security threats and the role of the internet in their operation. The discussion of leaderless resistance was supported by Michael (2012), Sabou (2012), Bates (2012) and Joose (2007). The discussion of lone wolf terrorism was supported by Bates (2012), Eby (2012), Dishman (2011), Nesser (2012), Spaaji (2012) and Betz (2012). Weinmann (2012) and Betz (2012) were used to support the specific discussion of how the internet was employed by both leaderless resistance and lone wolf terrorism. Through these sources it was suggested convincingly that lone wolf terror and leaderless resistance are increasing threats to the security of nations all over the world. An unfortunate lack of knowledge was also identified, indicating that more study is urgently needed in this area, particularly the psychology of lone wolf terrorists who are notoriously difficult to profile according to established methods.

It has been suggested by sources and analysis that the key to both the operation of both these forms of terrorism is the internet. Accordingly, the key to stopping them will also lie in the internet, if security agencies can figure out how to do that without severely curtailing the rights of civilians. The elusive nature of lone wolf terrorists and leaderless resistance makes them difficult to identify and difficult to track in cyberspace and, as a long as they are protected by anonymity in the great mass of internet users, they will pose a constant and serious security threat.

References

Bates, R. (2012). Dancing with wolves: Today's lone wolf terrorists. The Journal of Public and Professional Sociology, 6(6). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/jpps/vol4/iss1/1

Betz, D. (2012). Cyberpower in strategic affairs: Neither unthinkable nor blessed. Journal of Strategic Studies, 25(5), 689-711.

Dishman, C. (2011). The leaderless nexus: Where crime and terror converge. Terrorism Studies: A Reader (pp. 331-344). Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Eby, C. (2012). The nation that cried lone wolf: A data-driven analysis of individual terrorists in the United States since 9/11. Monterey: Naval Postgraduate School.

Joosse, P. (2007). Leaderless resistance and ideological inclusion. Terrorism and Political Violence, 19(3), 351-368.

Michael, G. (2012). Leaderless Resistance: The New Face of Terrorism. Defense Studies, 12(2), 257-282.

Michael, G. (2012). Lone wolf terror and the rise of leaderless resistance. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.

Nesser, P. (2012). Research note: Single actor terrorism: Scope, characteristics and explanations. Perspectives on Terrorism, 6(6). Retrieved February 21, 2013, from http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/231/html

Sabou, Jr., J. S. (2012). Czech resistance to German occupation, 1939-1945: A case study of decentralized networks engaged in irregular warfare. San Diego: San Diego State University.

Spaaij, R. F. (2012). Understanding lone wolf terrorism: global patterns, motivations and prevention. Dordrecht: Springer.

Weimann, G. (2012). Lone wolves in cyberspace. Journal of Terrorism Research , 3(2), 75-90. Retrieved February 21, 2012, from http://ojs.st-andrews.ac.uk/index.php/jtr/article/view/405/430