Compassion International

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Bobby Fischer of Terror: Of Chess, Dominoes, and Wanton Destruction

"What do dominoes and chess have to do with it?" you might ask.
"Terrorism is no game."
Oh, but it is.

To take the Devil's side for a moment, terrorism is all about the game.
  • There is an end goal
    • Instead of a finish line or a high score, the terrorist seeks the drama of a high level of gore.
  • There is the thrill of outsmarting an opponent. 
    • Taking multiple airliners, the Boston Marathon, a US Embassy—all good targets have defenses to overcome, and therein lies both the challenge and the victory. To see your opponents' patterns, predict their movements, and defeat them on their own ground is inordinately satisfying no matter who you are.
  • And, of course, there is the prize. 
    • Where the successful soccer team takes home the trophy, the successful terrorist cell wins notoriety and fear. 
    • Even better, the well-planned act of terrorism has a domino finally. It tips the first of many, sending trails of outcomes spreading out in all directions like so many little black and white tiles. The terrorist can sit back and watch the fear ripple through the public, watch the alphabet soup of government organizations rush to create new procedures and spend taxpayer money, and watch the cheers in the West Bank and the copycat strikes in Europe.
Good times.

How good are today's terrorists at this game? What will happen the next time we have to face down a superior player? These questions weighed heavily on my mind while I composed SHADOW MAKER

If a terrorist leader on the level of Usama Bin Laden plays his game with the forethought of a chess
master. How many more of him can there be?

That is actually something we can quantify. With disturbing results.

There are approximately 6000 World Chess Federation (FIDE) masters worldwide. That's approximately 1 chess master per 1,200,000 people. 1 in 1,200,000. That number isn't too alarming. But only a tiny fraction of people with the intellect to be chess masters choose to play in the FIDE system, so we're not getting the full story.

Instead, we have to look at IQ. 

I'd call UBL a chess master, but not a grandmaster 

A FIDE chess master has an IQ of around 130 based on a study by J. Levitt. A 130 IQ is not terribly rare. In fact, approximately 1 in every 50 people meet that criteria. For a counter-terrorism guy, that number is kind of frightening. 1 in 50 worldwide is a mighty big pool from which to draw the next terrorist mastermind.

But it isn't too frightening, is it? We've dealt with a terrorist chess master. UBL is dead, and in the last decade our counter-terrorism networks and techniques have matured a hundred-fold.

So let's look at the worst case: What about a terrorist grandmaster? There are less than 600 FIDE grandmasters. How many people in the world can possibly be that smart?

Far too many.

A grandmaster will usually have an IQ above 145. That's 1 person in every 800.  

Again, 1 in every 800 people has the intellect to become a grandmaster.

Oh dear.

Applying the ratio of 1 in 800 to the pool of current active terrorists is... well... terrifying.

According to a Rand report, the high estimate of active Salafi-jihadist fighters worldwide is over 100,000 and growing, referring to Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda-like groups. That's 100,000 fanatics in the active pursuit of killing the infidel right this very moment—a figure that ignores their support systems, financial backers, etc. Apply 1 in 800 to 100,000 and you get 125 potential grandmasters.

125 angry, gun-toting, misogynistic, blood-lusting grandmaster Salafi fanatics. Right now. Worldwide. 

And the pool is growing. Rand's 100,000 is up from less than 5000 in the late '80s, the period when UBL came into his own. The pool of potential grandmaster killers is up by 2000%, with the lion's share of the increase coming in the last five years.

Nervous yet? I am. UBL was just a chess master intellect, remember? 20 years ago there were only 100 chess master potentials in the whole terrorist pool. Today we have 125 potential grandmasters.

The Bobby Fischer of the terrorist world is already out there. He's going to make UBL look like the local high school chess champ who bombed out at the state competition. 

And if he's that good, then he's not just going to just sit back and watch the dominoes fall after the big attack. He's going to make them fall, setting them in motion with pure purpose, predicting outcomes like Nostradamus never dreamed.

This is how Shadow Maker started in my brain.

1 in every 800 is a Bobby Fischer.

This is a future that is far too deep inside the realm of possibility to ignore.

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