Resilient ISIS Immune to Killing of its Top Leaders

By Michael Leiter

Michael Leiter is a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where he heads the firm’s CFIUS and national security practice. He represents clients in a broad range of transactions, investigations and incidents involving U.S. national security. Mr. Leiter also co-leads the firm’s cybersecurity practice and has an additional focus on aerospace and defense mergers and acquisitions, and government relations and investigations. Prior to joining Skadden, served as the President of the Defense Group at Leidos (LDOS), a Fortune 500 technology company based in Reston, Virginia. In this role Mike led more than 8,000 personnel providing mission critical technology, solutions, and support to the U.S. Department of Defense and allied nations around the world. In addition, he served as Executive Vice President and Head of Integration for the merger of Leidos and Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems & Global Solutions (IS&GS), as the Executive Vice President for Business Development, Strategy, M&A, and Government Affairs, and the company’s Chief Strategy Officer. Mike served in several senior national security positions in the federal government, to include as the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) from 2007 until 2011 for both Presidents Bush and Obama.  Prior to NCTC, Mike helped establish the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where he served as the organization’s first Deputy Chief of Staff.  He currently serves as an advisor to organizations inside and outside of government, to include as the current Chair of the RAND Corporation’s Board of Trustees.

The removal of top terrorist leaders from the battlefield continues to be a critical element of the United States’ counterterrorism strategy. In the years since 9/11, the U.S has managed to keep pressure on several key terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and ISIS, by targeting their senior leadership and damaging their operational capacities. The Cipher Brief sat down with Mike Leiter, Cipher Brief expert and former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, to discuss the importance of leadership decapitation as part of the United States’ counterterrorism strategy and how eliminating terrorist groups impacts the functionality of an organization.

The Cipher Brief: In your view, has leadership decapitation been an effective pillar of the U.S. counterterrorism strategy?

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