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The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have generated intense interest in counterinsurgency within the U.S. armed forces, the intelligence community, the State Department, and the Department of Defense. However, subversion — a critical part of the repertoire of many insurgent groups — remains a neglected subject. This paper presents a set of case studies to explore the elements of subversion in-depth. It discusses preliminary ideas for combating subversive activities in the context of the “long war” against violent Islamist extremism and concludes with a discussion of how American support for countersubversion within authoritarian regimes can conflict with other important U.S. foreign policy objectives, such as the promotion of human rights.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND occasional paper series. RAND occasional papers may include an informed perspective on a timely policy issue, a discussion of new research methodologies, essays, a paper presented at a conference, or a summary of work in progress. All RAND occasional papers undergo rigorous peer review to help ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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