TCS Daily

Managing the Terror War

By Arnold Kling - October 31, 2003 12:00 AM

"But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that we never see another attack on America again. That's how we ought to measure success. Deep down, I think Don Rumsfeld knows this, and he's puzzled about how to construct aggregate and granular metrics that measure progress towards this ultimate goal. Thankfully, he's supported by some incredibly smart people in the Pentagon, and he can call in support from other agencies such as State, Treasury, Justice, DHS and the CIA to help unpack this problem. Defining success in this war won't be easy. But it's still important that we try."
-- Phil Carter


The challenge of organizational management is to induce a bureaucracy to behave intelligently. This is a surprisingly complex problem. As Donald Rumsfeld and Phil Carter recognize, it is important to address this issue in the context of the war against terrorism.


Some Important Acronyms


My first exposure to the discipline of organizational management was the Executive Guide to Operational Planning, by George L. Morrisey. Written 15 years ago, its TLA's (Three-Letter Acronyms) may be somewhat out of date, but I still use them. Two important acronyms are:


  • KRA's (Key Results Areas). These are general topics or issues that stand out in terms of importance to the organization. The goal of articulating KRA's is to get people focused on important issues. Each activity and project within an organization should be evaluated in terms of whether it ties to a KRA. Often, bureaucracies focus their efforts on outmoded activities or easy projects, and then they tell upper management that they do not have the resources to address the really important issues. KRA's provide a mechanism to enforce a connection between the goals of the overall organization and the activities of the bureaucracy.


  • IOP's (Indicators of Performance). These are measurable indicators that can be used to track how well an organization is doing in achieving success in its KRA's. Without IOP's, the bureaucracy can claim to be working on KRA's and yet the problems persist. The IOP's have to be reviewed constantly to make sure that they really are leading employees to achieve genuine solutions, not just hitting meaningless targets. What Rumsfeld and Carter are talking about is the challenge of coming up with IOP's for the fight against terrorism.


If we were to apply the operational planning process as described in Morrisey's book to the problem of terrorism, we would articulate KRA's and then come up with IOP's. Here is how that might work.


Key Results Areas


One way to come up with KRA's is to describe things that are of concern. List what's broken, and then develop KRA's that fix the problems.


In the war against terrorism, these concerns come to mind:


  • The possibility of a mega-terror attack, using weapons of mass destruction
  • Inability to track terrorist groups
  • Inability to anticipate and prevent attacks
  • Hate being fostered by religious and secular leaders in Islamic societies
  • Lack of unity in the Western world
  • Foreign governments unwilling or unable to co-operate to shut down terrorist groups
  • Apparent ongoing ability of terrorist groups to recruit fighters and carry out operations
  • The absence of a strong, well-organized moderate movement within the Muslim community


Overall, this list suggests to me three Key Results Areas: intelligence, diplomacy, and morale. We need intelligence in order to be able to track terrorists and to provide security against a mega-terror attack. We need diplomacy in order to reduce hate-mongering and achieve better co-operation in shutting down terrorist groups. We need to maintain morale among those who oppose terror and lower the morale of the terrorist organizations.


IOP's for Intelligence


We should be confident that there are no safe havens for terrorists. Today, there are parts of the world where terrorists might be hiding in large numbers without our knowledge. The number of potential safe havens is an indicator of performance for intelligence. We should aim to reduce the number of potential safe havens.


We do not have enough intelligence personnel who can interpret the necessary foreign languages. There are a number of indicators that we could use to measure our translation capability, including the number of key documents and conversations successfully processed, the number of qualified translators available, and the time lag in translating key communications.


The fact that we subject innocent citizens to intrusive and time-consuming searches at airports reflects a lack of intelligence weakness. The cost to innocent citizens of security measures at airports and other locations is another indicator of performance.


Our ability to track and detect materials that could be used in a mega-terror attack would be another indicator of performance. Our ability to track and detect explosive materials that are used in "ordinary" terrorist bombings also would be an IOP.


IOP's for Diplomacy


The amount of hate speech that takes place in mosques, religious schools, and the media in Islamic countries would be an indicator of performance for diplomacy. Our goal should be to reduce this hate speech, which otherwise threatens to create an unending supply of terrorist recruits.


The quality of co-operation in shutting down terrorist operations would be another indicator of performance for diplomacy. We would want more countries to engage in strenuous efforts to disrupt terrorist financing, eliminate safe havens for terrorists, and locate and arrest key terrorist figures.


I should point out that diplomacy in this context does not necessarily equate to becoming well-liked. Instead, diplomacy might be highly assertive, consisting of expectations that we articulate and different consequences for countries, depending on how well they co-operate.


IOP's for Morale


We want decent citizens throughout the world to support the war against terrorists. Polls on this issue could be an indicator of performance.


With one billion Muslims in the world, we want a strong movement of moderates to develop. An indicator of performance would be the number of Islamic organizations that take an unequivocal stand against violence and in favor of toleration and co-existence with the non-Islamic world.


We want to see a decline in the morale of the terrorist groups. An indicator of performance would be the number of terrorists who defect.


An Ongoing Process


Finding the right set of Indicators of Performance is an ongoing process. The indicators that I have suggested here might not be sufficient. Some indicators might not be measurable in a reliable way. Other indicators might turn out to be tangential to the desired result of reducing the risk of terrorist attacks.


The point is that we can use IOP's as a management tool for the CIA, the State Department, and other key bureaucracies. Moreover, I think that we can be fairly confident that our leaders, including the President, have spent enough time managing large organizations to understand this.

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