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The Ten Real Life Exploits that Dae'sh / ISIS Use to Hack the World: Q&A with the author

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Q: You are a specialist in counter-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing strategies. But this book isn't about money. Why did you write it?

A: Ah, a very basic question right out of the gate! Money laundering and terrorist financing is partly about the money but mostly it's about people. To effectively design laws and strategies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing it is necessary to look at people's attitudes and behaviour. Criminal gangs, no matter what allegiance they claim and demand, have certain patterns. Terrorist groups are criminal gangs. There is lots of literature about criminal gangs: Da'esh is unusual for several reasons - perhaps the most important of which is that it's a trailblazer. Other criminal gangs will learn the lessons of how Da'esh has been so effective and that's why this book is needed now.

Q: Why do you refer to the group as "Da'esh?

A: Like most extremist groups, the group formerly known as ISIS, and several other names, has managed the news agenda in part by changing its name. The most recent change, to Islamic State was a highly effective Google hack: they instantly went from a significant result to almost the only result in the top 100 results for "Islamic state" which pushed reference s to e.g. Kuwait, a genuine Islamic state, out of the reckoning. The effect is that ordinary people browsing for valid information on such states are overwhelmed with references to this gang instead of the information they really want. "ISIS," similarly, has been effectively dominated in search engines. "ISIL," less so because there are less uses for that acronym. The term "Da'esh" is that generated by some Arab states, in part to ensure that there is a clear differentiation between the criminals and Islam. In short, using the name "Da'esh disenfranchises the criminals from the use of any reference, in their name at least, to "Islam" or "Islamic."

Q: So you want governments and media to use the name "Da'esh" instead of ISIS or ISIL?

A: It would help. It's a first step in taking back the news agenda. It's a first step to isolating them from huge numbers of people coming across their poisonous message effectively by accident. It will undermine the viral lift that is so effective because so many bloggers, posters to bulletin boards such as Twitter / Facebook etc. and even high profile, international media including broadcasters such as the BBC simply copy and paste or even scrape what they see without thinking about the long-tail effects of their actions.

Q: Do you know where Da'esh gets its financing from?

A: I know where some comes from, and where some of their weapons come from but this is not my specialist area, I've not studied it in detail (nor, it has to be said, have most of the "experts" who are expressing opinions masquerading as fact). At present the best available information is a new report from the Financial Action Task Force (www.fatf-gafi.org) which was published while my book was in final editing.

Q: Is the funding of Da'esh the biggest issue for the world?

A: No. It's a factor, a very important factor, but it's not the reason that Da'esh is the biggest threat to the world since the Ice Age. The biggest issue for the world is that Da'esh is able to hack the world because the world has not learned the lessons of extremists that have used similar tactics at various times in the past 100+ years. Da'esh have access to technology which accelerates their ability to function in the ways that make the old, slower, ways of the spread of extremism readily identifiable and, even, make combating it relatively easy. Whereas the IRA was defeated, largely, by the drying up of funding from the USA, the key to defeating the new wave of terrorism is hampering their communication networks. And if we thought following the money was hard, controlling information flows takes this to a level of difficulty that was previously unimagined. This is part of what I'm looking at in my book "Cleaning up the 'Net" which, in part, has been written in parallel with the book about Da'esh.

Q: So this isn't about Islam?

A: Absolutely not. Da'esh are pirates of religion, they cloak themselves in the words that some, in some cases all, Muslims wish to hear but they are a criminal gang seeking to overthrow governments for their own perverse purposes. It's a classic diversion: they constantly refer to Islam which has the effect of putting Islam onto the agenda and that gives them control.

Q: Does that mean that it's nothing to do with Islam?

A: Unfortunately, no. While Da'esh is the world's problem, it also presents some issues that, because it constantly refers to itself as representing Islam, are unique to Islam.

One of the exploits that Da'esh capitalises upon is the fact that are are many sects and factions within Islam. Da'esh is able to disrupt Islam because there are fifty shades of green.

But there is a caveat: if a group like Da'esh purported to represent e.g. Christianity, then it would be Christianity that had the unique problems. Islam is a victim, just as any other religion is a victim of extremists who claim to act in its name.

Q: What are those unique problems?

A: That's a major part of the book and would take far too long to explain here. To summarise just one of the primary issues, it's that the focus on ultra-radicals like Da'esh makes those that would otherwise be regarded as extremist seem almost normal.

Perhaps we should think of it like this: just because there are worse things, doesn't mean that the less bad is acceptable. We have to fight extremism and fundamentalism in all its forms be those political, religious or outright criminal such as drugs trafficking, people smuggling etc. We must not lose sight of what is unacceptable, just because some one exceptionally bad comes along and diverts our attention from the base lines we have set and defended over decades or even hundreds of years.

Q: In the book, you have quotations from several leaders of totalitarian regimes. Why?

A: Don't be coy. You are talking about quotations from Pol Pot, Chairman Mao and Hitler which are echoed in quotations from extremists who claim to represent the world's major religions. For the avoidance of doubt, Islam is just one victim of a small number of people who express extremist religious views and demand the formation of a totalitarian, or near totalitarian, state and seek to create and contain it by fear, force and fraud.

Q: Is there any anti-Islam attitude in the book?

A: Absolutely not. Not even the tiniest bit. In fact, it's the opposite. The book is in support of Islam and other religions and ideologies against criminals and extremists who undermine the world's great faiths. However, there is, worldwide, currently a wave of anti-Muslim feeling and one of the objectives of the book is to remove widely held misunderstandings about true Islam and to try to defuse anti-Islam and anti-Muslim feelings and actions around the world.

Q: What are you own religious views?

A: My religion is a private matter, not open for discussion or examination except on this one very narrow point. I firmly believe that everyone believes in something, and should believe in something. I firmly believe that there is a fundamental common position between all the world's great religions and that we should use that as a starting point to live together in peace and harmony, no one trying to claim their religion is better than others,everyone practising their religion in a way that does not impinge on others or disturb the lives of others.

So I have one basic point that I will make public: we should use our religion not for tolerance but for acceptance, and we should acknowledge God, whatever we call him, and accept that others call Him by different names but all still follow the same core beliefs and practices which, for some, are those set out in what the Old Testament calls "The Ten Commandments" and for others said to have been delivered by other means.

But we should not consider them literal. Almost all religious problems arise because, long ago some people set out to codify behaviour and attitudes within those ten rules - which is, of course, itself an interpretation of them. Today some people argue that those interpretations must be adhered to without question or interpretation and then, without recognising the irony of it, make their own, often ultra-restrictive, interpretation of those interpretations.

We should use the interpretations of those core rules, The Ten Commandments or whatever people call them, written thousands of years ago as a guide to living better lives. Those interpretations were made for their time: we should accept that and not regard them as a rule book for today.

This is especially so in relation to the first four, those that deal with the relationship with God. I prefer to think of them as an executive summary for how we should live our lives. My belief is that we have been given free will, each to live our lives as we think fit within the boundaries of the second five of the Ten Commandments. We should exercise that will for the common good, and have man-made laws to deal with those that fall below that standard.

Q: What are The Ten Commandments?

A: I had to look this up, partly because there are some I remember and some that are just common sense basics for being a good citizen! There are lots of variations and, of course, changes in the style of language used inevitably opens up the chance for re-interpretation. Here's one:

I am the Lord thy God
Thou shalt have no other gods
or graven images or likenesses
Nor take the LORD's name in vain
Remember the Sabbath day.
Honour thy father and thy mother.
Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness
Thou shalt not covet

In real life, I reduce these to "don't lie, don't cheat, don't kill and respect others when you use your mobile phone/device." [laughs]

Of course, we live by some more than others. But, if we take out the obviously restrictively religious ones (which made sense at the time because they were designed, in part, to defeat paganism with e.g. its sacrifices, including human sacrifices) they are the basic rules for a civilised society. Difficulties arise because some people claim that their interpretation gives them a right to claim God as theirs, exclusively. That's one of the exploits used by Da'esh and other religious extremists.

Q: So it's a religious problem, not an Islamic problem?

A: Da'esh is a criminal problem, not a religious problem at all. The criminal gang uses, in this case, religion as an excuse to take control of territory and people for the benefit of its own cadre of leaders. It's about control and wealth. Universally, the leaders of totalitarian regimes take substantial benefits for themselves while telling the people that deprivation is good for them. It's greed and hypocrisy and abuse of the masses by the few. It doesn't matter if it's religion or any other form of ideology. It's just bullying and abuse.

One of the primary purposes of the book is to dis-align, in the minds of the public, Islam and terrorism and to draw attention to the links and distinctions between terrorism and extremism regardless of the faith.

It is there that there is a religious problem, in relation to extremism in all its forms and that is no more an Islamic problem that it is a problem for any religion or ideology. Extremism in any form is bad.

Q: When you say "Da'esh is a criminal problem," it sounds very simple

A: To understand it is simple. To combat it is complex

Q: Do you have a solution, a way to combat it?

A: Only in the most simplistic way: the power of criminal gangs arises from their ability to force their will on others and to keep them in fear. Bullies fail when brave people stand up, even though some of those brave people will be hurt for so doing. It is important to prevent criminal gangs or any kind of extremist gaining a critical mass where they have control over governments and enforcement, or where they are so dominant that governments and law enforcement surrender control, such as in the barios of Sao Paulo. But the mechanisms of how that is achieved are, unfortunately, something I can give only the broadest guidance on. For me, the task was to identify the risks. Others will have to identify solutions.

Of course, as is happening now (beginning April 2015), the action by a group of nations to disrupt the supply lines and asset base of Da'esh is a huge step forward. It's a basic tactic of war (I know, I wrote a book about litigation using Sun Tzu as a model) that has been successful for thousands of years. It's by far the most cost effective - in all respects - method of dealing with ground forces. In effect, modern arms can be used to create a siege around ground positions wherever they are. But at the end of the day, Da'esh will take back the initiative by using murderous propaganda to try to remove any blockade. This is why it is also essential to try to identify and paralyse their communications networks.

Q: We recently saw a dramatic change in the terror levels when a young boy, who seemed to be about 10 years old, was shown in a Da'esh video murdering a hostage. Why?

A: In the days before that video was released, a man claiming to be a runaway from Da'esh appeared in a long TV interview. In that interview he explained that there was a hierarchy amongst those authorised to murder hostages. The apex murderer was, he said, an Englishman widely known as "Jihadi John." From other sources, the intelligence relating to Jihadi John is that he was born in Kuwait but migrated to the UK, with his parents, when he was six years old. His real name is reportedly Mohammed Emwazi and while a number of his associates have confirmed this, Emwazi's parents deny that he is Jihadi John. He speaks in the videos of the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The runaway explained that victims are repeatedly taken into a room where they are told that a video will be made for propaganda purposes, that they must read or recite a statement and that it will show threats to behead them. It is for this reason, the runaway said, that the victims are calm during the moments leading up to the actual beheading. Some video analysts have said that the videos of some beheading are edited and it is likely that the edits are because the released versions are made up of parts of several "practice runs." The runaway went on to say that massacres and killing of local victims are done by a number of people but that Jihadi John is the only one who is permitted to murder foreign, high news value, hostages. Only a matter of two or three days after this interview was published, Da'esh released the video of the boy murdering a western hostage, providing both increased shock value and also undermining the message of the runaway.

Q: (For Malaysian media) One final question: why do you live in KL?

A: It's historical. I came here for commercial reasons, came to love Malaysia and its people and didn't leave.

To buy the book, see http://www.pleasebeinformed.co...

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© 2015 Nigel Morris-Cotterill
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