The Terrorist Cell Group

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I want to
discuss something that you rarely read about. Given what has happened
in Iraq since last April, and what will happen between now and
May 30, when the U.S. will turn over power to the new Iraqi government,
there should be a lot of discussion about the cell group. There
won’t be. It is a topic of very limited interest, except for specialists
in revolutionary organizations and old-time anti-Communists who
devoted time decades ago to a study of Communist subversion.

Western revolutionary
groups adopted the cell group no later than the years immediately
preceding the French Revolution. It existed in the Middle East
centuries earlier. The masters of the cell group have been revolutionary
Muslims. Their use of the structure goes back to the 12th
century: the Assassins. This group was Shi’ite in its theology.
They were a well-organized, secret society that was devoted to
killing Sunni leaders. Bernard Lewis, America’s most respected
historian of Islam, writes in his book, The
(1968): "In one respect the Assassins are
without precedent — in the planned, systematic long-term
use of terror as a political weapon" (p. 129). Their founder
and mythical leader was called the Old Man of the Mountain. I
am convinced that Osama bin Laden has self-consciously cultivated
this tradition for his purposes, which are not anti-Sunni but

The cell
group has secrecy as its supreme priority. The archetypal cell
group is a triad: a leader under the authority of a superior cell
group member, plus two followers, each of whom seeks to create
one or more cells. Sometimes the members do not know each other’s
names. In the Communist cells in Washington in the 1930s, this
was often the case. Whittaker Chambers did not know Alger Hiss
as Hiss.

The organizational
features of a cell are these: (1) screening of unauthorized outsiders;
(2) absolute loyalty to the senior member; (3) secrecy regarding
one’s subordinates in spin-off cells; (4) secrecy regarding one’s
partners in a superior cell. Thus, if one cell is infiltrated
by the authorities, the information available to the infiltrator
is limited mainly to that cell.

usually involves some form of initiation process: oath, deviant
act, ritual.

There are
two main ways to understand the operations of secret societies,
which include cell groups: (1) follow the money and (2) follow
the oath.


The old rule
in finding out what some nice-sounding liberal activist group
was up to was this: find out who the treasurer was. If he was
a known Communist, that’s who set policy. "Follow the money"
was not a slogan invented by Deep Throat to assist Woodward and
Bernstein in investigating Watergate.

When Saddam
Hussein was captured, he had $750,000 in cash. There were two
men with him, we are told. This was a typical triad. If the American
interrogators cannot locate cell hierarchies under those two men,
this indicates that Hussein was out of the loop. He maintained
secrecy by shrinking the number of men close to him. The age-old
problem of the cell group is maintaining secrecy. The larger the
cell, the more difficult it is to maintain secrecy. Someone probably
tipped off the Americans as to where he was hiding. The best way
to break a cell is not to infiltrate it. It’s cheaper to pay an
existing member to become an informant.

At the end,
Hussein was acting almost alone. He produced audiotapes, but there
seems to have been no chain of command from him to armed subordinates.
This was to be expected. His former rule was based on public control
of money and a system of discipline. A man who had ruled with
state power for 35 years was unlikely to have created a rival
system of hierarchical control designed to operate in resistance
mode. That would have created another level of risk for him: a
second chain of command that could produce potential rivals. That
system would also have been much more ready to use assassination
as a method.

There is
no doubt that the attacks on our troops are being conducted by
people with access to low-technology weapons. There is money coming
into these groups. The sources are unknown. The potential supply
of weapons is huge. Unguarded weapons dumps are located all over
Iraq. A
UPI story that ran in The Washington Times (Oct 15) reported

The U.S.
military now says Iraq’s army had nearly a million tons of weapons
and ammunition, which is half again as much as the 650,000 tons
Gen. John P. Abizaid, the senior U.S. commander in the Persian
Gulf region, estimated only two weeks ago.

also say Saddam stockpiled at least 5,000 shoulder-fired missiles,
and fewer than a third have been recovered. They fear many have
been smuggled out of the country and may have fallen into the
hands of terrorists.

are more sites than we can guard," an allied official said.
"We are destroying them as fast as we can, but we are finding
more and more every day."

When Hussein
was on the run, it would have been possible for the military to
blame the attacks on his leadership, but hardly anyone did. There
was ready acknowledgment that the acts were being committed by
small groups. The field marshal, if any, is supposedly his second
in command, who is still at large. But there is no evidence offered
to prove this connection. The Administration blames terrorists
who have come to Iraq secretly, along with Ba’athist Party die-hards.

What is not
discussed publicly is the possibility that these resistance groups
are made up of Iraqis who regard our troops as occupation forces.
If the attacks are coming mainly from these home-grown cells,
then the attacks will continue.

The attacks
are coming mainly in Sunni-dominated areas of the country. This
doesn’t point to the presence of a Shi’ite secret society. It
points to more traditional resistance groups: civilians who are
using random attacks to wear down the Americans’ will to occupy.
It is the local will to resist vs. foreign occupation forces.

The Iraqis
know that Western democracies, other than the State of Israel,
do not have the same degree of staying power that the USSR had,
and the USSR was beaten by the Afghans. Then it disintegrated.
The attacks are going to continue, just as they continue inside
the State of Israel. The guerilla’s war of the flea is the most
cost-effective way to drive out an invader. It is also a way to
get revenge. Do not downplay this motivation.

The Administration
has said that it will turn over ruling authority to a new Iraqi
government on May 30. How a democratic government will not lead
to Shi’ite domination, no one in the Administration has said.
How the Kurds will be kept in the system is also a mystery. The
transfer process has been speeded up in preparation for the 2004
election next November.

The big questions
now are these: (1) whose troops will serve as peacemakers, the
U.S. or NATO? (2) Whose money will fund most of the rebuilding,
U.S. taxpayers’ or Europe’s taxpayers? (3) Will NATO take charge
if America refuses to allow contractors in Germany, France, and
Russia to bid on these projects, estimated at almost $20 billion,
as the Administration declared a week ago?

Pentagon’s bidding process has been delayed again — no explanation.
There is a lot of ducking and weaving going on in Washington.

This all
has to do with the Federal deficit. It looks as though the deficit
will remain above $400 billion in fiscal 2004. Money lent to the
government is not lent to private businesses. This will unquestionably
retard the economic recovery process. It is capital, not Federal
Reserve credit, that creates wealth.


The other
guideline for tracing the history of secret societies is to follow
the oath. Some binding confession operates as a screening device
in every revolutionary secret society. The oath may be theological.
It may be racial or national. But it exists. Without it, the organization
cannot maintain discipline, which begins with the self-discipline
of the oath.

Because nothing
factual has been published regarding the organization or membership
of the groups that are attacking our troops, we don’t know if
the oath is Islamic, implying al-Qaeda’s presence, or Sunni, or
Iraqi nationalist. If it is the last, then the attacks may cease
when there is a complete transfer of power. But such a transfer
is highly unlikely. There is too much oil to be protected in the
ground and shipped by pipelines that even today are being blown
up, although Western media give little coverage to this fact.
Paul Bremer has said that these attacks are costing $7 billion
a year in lost revenues. The pipeline bombings are steady.

There is
very little possibility that control over oil will be surrendered
to any Iraqi government in the next few years. If control is surrendered
and foreign troops leave, then the war was not mainly about oil.
Watch what the government does, not what it says.

To infiltrate
an oath-bound Islamic secret society that is dedicated to the
removal of Westerners from Iraq will prove extremely difficult.
There will be a few informants, but in the case of a $25 million
reward, it took eight months to capture Hussein. There will be
no similar incentive for informing on clandestine groups. There
are always informants, but the fact that no assassin has been
put on trial yet, let alone convicted, for any of the hundreds
of deaths of coalition troops, let alone Iraqi police and civilians,
indicates that the cell system is alive and well in Iraq.

An Islamic
oath makes it difficult for an informer to reveal a cell’s secrets
without betraying Islam. The only oath with anywhere near the
same degree of commitment is an oath to Iraq as a nation. Again,
Western intelligence organizations will find it almost impossible
to get informants to violate this oath. There is no equal commitment
in Iraq to the ideals of democracy or economic growth to justify
such a betrayal.


The tradition
of the Assassins runs deep in Islamic history. That there will
be continual attacks on coalition troops and Iraqis who cooperate
with them is obvious. What is equally obvious to Islamic radicals
is that Westerners don’t stick around very long. They eventually
depart. Administrations change. When it costs Americans $100 billion
a year to run Iraq, and when it costs the lives of American troops,
American voters will eventually send a message to Washington:
get out of Iraq.

I think NATO
troops will go in, with the United Nations close behind. American
troops will participate, but as part of a multinational force.
The assassinations will continue.

The capture
of Hussein makes it that much more difficult politically to keep
our troops there. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There
was no al-Qaeda connection. There was only Hussein. Now he has
been captured. There is no way that President Bush can get Americans
to foot the bill alone much longer. The symbol of evil is in custody.
Americans are practical people. They will not be persuaded to
pay the price of occupying Iraq much longer.

When we pull
out, this will send a message to Islamic terrorists all over the
world: America will not be back. They will see the departure as
a retreat. They will see that the cell structure is a low-cost
way to drive out the Great Satan. They will also see that to become
a client of the U.S., as Saddam Hussein was, is suicidal. So will
the client rulers in the region.

If I am correct,
then the Middle East will become more of a tinder box than it
was before last March. Client regimes will lose confidence in
the support they can expect from America. Congress is not going
to authorize any more adventures in the Middle East without the
presence of a provable direct military threat. Meanwhile, the
cells, like cancer, will multiply. Recruiting will become easier.

The guerilla
wages the war of the flea. The West has not found a way to defeat
this strategy. The suicide bomber, the assassin, and the saboteur
work together, yet independently in cells, to wage a war of terror
against civilians, opposition parties, and foreign armies.

The President
has said that our presence in Iraq has lured the terrorists to
attack us there, keeping America’s homeland safe. I ask the obvious
question: What will happen after our troops pull out?


We are told
by television pundits that now that Saddam Hussein is in captivity,
Iraqis will not be afraid to become informants on other Iraqis.
Iraqi civilians will now cooperate with American intelligence
operations. This argument ignores both the history of Islam and
the history of the cell group.

Within hours
of Hussein’s capture, a suicide bomber killed eight Iraqi policemen.
Ten others were injured. Seven police officers had been wounded
a few hours earlier when a car bomb exploded.

Our invasions
of Afghanistan and Iraq have ignited the fuse. The explosives
were already in place. It is a matter of time before Islamic cell
groups metastasize in the West. I think it would be nave to imagine
that the process is not already well underway.

17, 2003

North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit
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