CTC Fellow Dr. Assaf Moghadam has published an article in the current issue of Security Studies. In the article he argues that although military innovation scholars have emphasized the importance of both top-down and bottom-up innovation, the few existing studies on terrorist innovation have acknowledged the importance of the terrorist leadership but largely ignored the role played by middle- or lower-ranking operatives in the innovation process.
His study examines the planning of the September 11, 2001 attacks and finds that, contrary to the predominant claims on terrorist innovation, the 9/11 attacks featured both top-down and bottom-up processes of innovation, with the latter including a critical role played by an independent terrorist entrepreneur. Theoretically, the findings suggest that the conventional wisdom of the predominance of top-down innovation in terrorism is dependent on a problematic assumption, namely that terrorist groups are centralized, hierarchical, and localized entities. As more terrorist groups adopt decentralized structures, they are increasingly likely to display multi-directional processes of innovation.
The study has important implications for counterterrorism policy. It suggests that thwarting the most innovative terrorist groups requires targeting senior- and middle-management operatives of the group itself and expending greater effort at apprehending independent terrorist innovators with fluid organizational affiliations. A mix of offensive and defensive counterterrorism strategies, coupled with greater international cooperation, is critical to achieving this goal. To access the article (gated), please click here