In this well-organized book, Shapiro invites us to turn away from sensationalized media descriptions and toward more analytical, accurate, and effective approaches for understanding what terrorism is and how it works. At the core of his argument is the idea that groups such as al-Qa’ida, the Irish Republican Army, and even pre-revolutionary Russian leftists are organizations that must exert control over field operations while preserving secrecy so as to avoid detection by governmental and other authorities.
The purpose of the book is to demonstrate analytically that this tradeoff between field control and secrecy is pervasive among terrorist organizations. For the public, this message should be reassuring, argues Shapiro, as the costs of secrecy are normally high enough to prevent the effective operation of organizations such as al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan in the years prior to the 9/11 attacks on the United States; Shapiro refers to the organization behind 9/11 as “the exception that proves the rule,” by which he means that terrorist groups can no longer operate with the security and secrecy of pre-9/11 al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan and therefore cannot execute attacks on the same scale (p. 15).
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