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Editorial: Dark Knight Diplomacy

Bombing campaigns aren’t the only way of dealing with the bad guys

I was reading Batman comics back in the 1980s, before they became cool again. One of my favorite moments comes from issue #423, where a thug holds an elderly woman hostage, warning, “I’ll blow her head off! I swear I will.” The Dark Knight tells him that he swears he’ll make the guy pay. “I will break and twist things within you. You can’t conceive of the pain I can cause. It’s pain that will go on forever… because I won’t let you die!” And this was long before grim and gritty came into vogue.

Okay, that’s a comic—it’s fantasy. But the principle of fear holds. Because, God knows, we’ve had enough fear of our own. As we go to press, it’s just two weeks after the tragedy in Ottawa, and the reaction has been, predictably, more cops at transit hubs and on the streets. Why always the defensive mode? Because there are other things we can try, and I don’t mean just talk therapy by community leaders and the RCMP to lead individuals away from the terrorist groups eager to recruit them. I’m not discounting the value in this method; I know that it’s proved highly effective for street gangs. I’m suggesting we can do more.

Read: The Trouble with Terrorism Risk Models

And by more, I don’t mean bombs. So far, the only response to the horrors of the Islamic State (whose link, if any, to the Ottawa attack is unclear) seems to be broad military attacks on their areas, potentially harming innocents. Why the sledgehammer? Why not a knife in the dark? Put real fear into those who try to profit from it. Let’s keep in mind that the Islamic State wound up on our radar to begin with because these vicious sociopaths wanted ransoms. Bombing them into the Stone Age gives them, unwittingly, the de facto status of soldiers, of combatants. They’re not. They’re terrorists and criminals who deserve the anonymous deaths of creeps who live the last minutes of their careers in pure dread, not as heroes in their own warped, stylized drama. And there are ways to arrange that.

Take one real-life example: in the ’80s, some Soviet diplomats in Beirut were snatched by terrorists. There are two versions of the story about the KGB’s response: either they tracked down one of the terrorist ringleaders and delivered his body to the group’s HQ—in a few suitcases; or, they murdered one of the leader’s relatives and sent various organs to the group. Whatever happened, the diplomats were released, and no one tried to kidnap any others.

Read: I.I.I. Says Industry Can’t Handle Terrorism Losses Alone

I don’t advocate mutilations or dismemberments, but for one of the most volatile risk scenarios of our times, I wish our political leaders would learn history, study guerrilla warfare and respect the top spymasters. In this issue, for instance, The Oracle is Jack Devine, formerly of the CIA, who recommends covert action sometimes, instead of always sending in troops and planes.

Another anecdote: when MI6 wanted to get rid of a certain IRA operative, the story goes that they used a particularly ruthless and yet elegant approach. They broke into the guy’s home and screwed with his alarm clock. He missed an important operation, and his enraged fellow terrorists murdered him, doing MI6’s wetwork for them.

Read: Terrorism and Cyberattacks Are Top Risk for Reinsurers: Survey

So if civilization’s enemies relish lashing out and being unpredictable, it’s time we made them tremble, made them live in fear. The Islamic State is fast becoming an occupying power, which means we need better strategy and tactics. Bombings won’t work, and destabilize whole regions. Covert action can be precise, surgical, imaginative. Best of all, it’ll be the monsters’ turn to wonder what’s coming.

It’s time the good guys learned how to use the shadows again.

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Copyright 2014 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the November 2014 edition of Corporate Risk Canada magazine

Copyright © 2016 Transcontinental Media G.P.
Transcontinental Media G.P.