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Terrorist groups — both inside and outside the al Qaeda network — sometimes form mutually beneficial partnerships to exchange “best practices.” These exchanges provide terrorist groups with the opportunity to innovate (i.e., increase their skills and expand their reach). Understanding how terrorist groups exchange technology and knowledge, therefore, is essential to ongoing and future counterterrorism strategies. This study examines how 11 terrorist groups in three areas (Mindanao, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and southwest Colombia) have attempted to exchange technologies and knowledge in an effort to reveal some of their vulnerabilities. The analysis provides the Department of Homeland Security and other national security policymakers with insight into the innovation process and suggests ways that government policies can create barriers to terrorists’ adoption of new technologies.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Organizational Theory and Terrorism

  • Chapter Three

    Mindanao: A Mecca for Transnational Terrorism in Southeast Asia

  • Chapter Four

    West Bank and Gaza: Israel as the Common Enemy

  • Chapter Five

    Southwest Colombia: A Safe Haven for Mutually Beneficial Exchanges

  • Chapter Six

    Policy Implications

  • Appendix

    Applying the Framework to Terrorist Groups

"Noting that terrorist groups have increased their effectiveness through exchanges with other groups, the authors provide suggestions for disrupting these channels of communication and preventing the uptake of new technologies and strategies by some of the world's most dangerous organisations"

- Survival, August-September 2008

"The authors examine the partnerships that various terrorist groups have formed, especially with regard to mutually supportive technologies… The authors conclude that if legitimate governments are going to be successful against these organizations and their technological capabilities, they must take positive action to improve current threat assessments, create innovative ways to counter such groups, and make the possible use of these technologies too expensive in terms of cost-benefit for the terrorist groups."

- Parameters, US Army Ware College Quarterly, Winter 2007-08

This research was sponsored by the United States Department of Homeland Security and was conducted under the auspices of the Homeland Security Program within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment.

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