The Islamic State, popularly known as ISIS, is in many ways an innovative economic actor. But its method of bringing oil to market has been anything but cutting-edge. ISIS took advantage of a black market that had been sharpened long ago, when Saddam Hussein’s regime looked for ways to skirt ...

Retired Brigadier General Russell Howard discussed ISIS’s involvement in antiquities trafficking with The Cipher Brief, explaining that ISIS taxes artifacts that are smuggled in territory it controls and even directly sells artifacts to antiquities traders on the black market. According to Howard, as the U.S. continues to target ISIS’s oil ...

Some have argued that since the jihadist attack in Paris on November 13th, killing 130, and the December 2nd attack in San Bernardino, California, which killed 14, the United States has stepped up its domestic counter-terrorism efforts.  But with only five interdictions of ISIS supporters in the six weeks since ...

As the calendar turns to 2016, homegrown terrorists seeking to carry out violent jihadi attacks continue to headline the most critical threats to U.S. security. To date, more than 150 American citizens have traveled abroad with U.S. passports in hand to join the ranks of terrorist groups, such as ISIS. ...

The New York Police Department arguably has the most advanced intelligence and counterterrorism operations of any other U.S. municipality. As the Former Director of Intelligence Analysis at the NYPD, Mitch Silber played a key role in all terrorism related investigations.  Silber told The Cipher Brief that homegrown terrorists will continue ...

The shift in the radicalization landscape in 2015, especially the ever-changing profile of the “homegrown terrorist,” has become one of the greatest concerns of those who protect our homeland.    Notwithstanding the horrific attacks in other parts of the world during the past year, the devastating events in San Bernardino, California ...

We humans are fond of organizing our lives around arbitrary constructs. Like calendars for example. Many businesses and government departments engage in strategic thinking only at the start of a new year, as if social and economic forces were governed by calendrical functions. And so we have the tradition of ...

As the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen oversaw the integration and analysis of all intelligence related to terrorism.  As he looks ahead to 2016, Olsen told The Cipher Brief the West faces the difficult challenge of countering terrorist plots more in line with the attacks that recently ...

With 34 years of service in the CIA now behind me, I was recently asked how our ongoing war with ISIS will end.  My answer that ‘either we will defeat them or they will defeat us’ struck some in the room, I am sure, as overly stark.  I am, however, ...

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the most successful terrorist organization in modern history.  ISIS has aggressively expanded into nine other countries and, through social media, has motivated and inspired its followers around the world to kill fellow citizens. What differentiates ISIS from other terror groups is ...

Victory against ISIS requires not simply more military muscle but diplomacy.  On the Iraq front that means complementing more effective military and political action in Sunni areas with diplomacy involving Iran, Turkey, the Arab states and Baghdad. The Obama Administration’s policy to defeat ISIS is the right mission, but defeating ...

Since December 2011, when the last American troops officially left Iraq, the members of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) were mostly wiped out or on the run. However, the remaining AQI soldiers found new opportunities to rise again and went through a metamorphosis steered by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The violent ...

Nasser Arrabyee, a journalist based in Sanaa, Yemen, told The Cipher Brief that “al-Qaeda and ISIS are the biggest winners” from the ongoing war in Yemen. Furthermore, Arrabyee explained that Yemeni citizens have begun to view the Houthis as heroes defending against Saudi aggression. The Cipher Brief: How do Yemeni ...

Shi’a Houthi forces recently killed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) commander Mohammed Jamal in the Yemeni governorate of Taiz. Jamal died while fighting the Houthis alongside forces supported by the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia, two long-time opponents of AQAP. His death was not unique in the conflict’s shifting ...

The conflict in Yemen has enabled ISIS to make its presence felt for the first time in Yemen and al-Qaeda to carve out a strategic territory on the coast of eastern Yemen.  Shortly after the Houthi movement took over the government in Sana’a, ISIS carried out its first significant attack in ...

Now in its eighth month, the conflict that Amnesty International has called Yemen's "forgotten war" grinds on, overshadowed by a metastasizing terrorist threat emanating from Syria, and a seemingly endless wave of Middle East and African refugees sweeping into Europe. But the international community ignores Yemen's war at its own ...

The recent ISIS attacks in Beirut, Sinai, Paris, and now San Bernardino, and subsequent discussion about Syrian refugees highlight the seriousness of the potential threats to the U.S. homeland.                                           ...

Having spent some years living in Muslim countries and fighting terrorism, I always cock an eyebrow when I hear someone like Secretary of State John Kerry speak in the wake of the Paris attacks and say, "This is not about a clash of civilizations..."  Secretary Kerry’s statements tracked closely with ...

The framework for a political settlement in Syria, recently negotiated by the United States, Russia, Iran, and regional players in Vienna, is superficially impressive. It calls for a ceasefire, the establishment of a transitional government in six months, and new elections in 18 months. It does not specify which members ...

Here we go again.  Security vs. privacy.  Round n.   Of course, I'm referring to the aftermath of the horrific ISIS attacks in Paris.  What did we (the U.S., France and like minded societies) know before the event?  When did we know it?  Could we have known more?  What may have ...

The Cipher Brief spoke with Hans Kanold, CEO of SafeHotels Alliance, a standards organization for hotel security. TCB spoke with Kanold about the siege of the RadissonBlu in Mali, the difficulty in preventing terrorist attacks, and the importance of the human factor in keeping a hotel safe.  The Cipher Brief: ...

The Cipher Brief reached out to Dr. Geoff Porter, the founder of North Africa Risk Consulting, to get his take on security trends in Mali in the wake of yesterday’s attack against the RadissonBlu hotel. Porter, also an assistant professor at West Point, has spent more than two decades working ...

The Cipher Brief spoke with Kathleen McChesney about hotel and personal security in the wake of the attack against the Radisson Hotel in Bamako, Mali. McChesney was the Vice President for Global Security for the Walt Disney Company and served as the Executive Assistant Director for Law Enforcement at the ...

Osama bin Laden would be a happy man were he still alive. His hopes and dreams have seemingly come to fruition. And, the master plan that one of his closest disciples devised for him a decade ago to reverse al Qaeda’s then waning fortunes and launch it on a trajectory ...

As the world reacts with horror to Friday's terror attack in Paris coming so shortly after the downing of the Russian-operated A321M over the Sinai, it should be clear to even the most casual observer that the piecemeal and divided international effort to deal with violent radical Islam in general ...

Here’s the wicked paradox about terrorism. Long-term responses do nothing about short-term dangers. Short-term reactions feed extremism over the long term. There are no quick solutions and there may be no "solution" as we think of it. This is quite distressing for Americans in particular, I think. Pick your point ...

This weekend, the international talks on Syria will reconvene in Vienna, and a main focus will be the creation of a list of rebel groups deemed acceptable in a transition and postwar government. This process will be extremely divisive; countries like Saudi Arabia will vie to get the United States ...

Dr. Sebastian Gorka, an expert in counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and irregular warfare, told The Cipher Brief that ISIS has superseded al-Qaeda as the world’s leading jihadist terror organization. Furthermore, Gorka explained that the U.S. is currently losing the war against ISIS due to its inability to effectively counter ISIS’ strategy. The ...

“We have contained them.”  Those words from U.S. President Barack Obama about the status of ISIS came the day before the Paris terrorist attacks and continues to reverberate around the world.  The President has since said he was referring to stopping ISIS’ march across Iraq and Syria when he made ...

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, U.S. defense officials announced a rare military strike on a senior Islamic State group (ISG) leader in Libya. Wall-to-wall press coverage of events in Europe made the strike on the Iraqi commander Wissam al-Zubaydi (aka Abu Nabil al Anbari) seem relatively trivial, but ...

Osama bin Laden would be a happy man were he still alive. His hopes and dreams have seemingly come to fruition. And, the master plan that one of his closest disciples devised for him a decade ago to reverse al Qaeda’s then waning fortunes and launch it on a trajectory ...

Intelligence failure: those are two words we often hear following a devastating terrorist attack such as what we saw this weekend in Paris.  Almost by definition, if the intelligence community didn’t know about it, then it failed in its core mission: keeping citizens safe.  But when a small group of ...

The Cipher Brief spoke with Rob Richer, CIA's former Associate Deputy Director for Operations, about the terrorist attacks in Paris. Richer spoke about the importance of cooperation between US intelligence agencies and their foreign counterparts. He also discussed how legal restrictions have hurt the Intelligence Community’s ability to collect. The ...

The Paris attacks last Friday demonstrated ISIS ability to strike in the heart of Western Europe. Kevin Hulbert, a former senior intelligence officer in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, tells The Cipher Brief that these attacks signify a paradigm shift in ISIS’ tactics. The Cipher Brief: Do you think the ...

The Cipher Brief sat down with General Keith Alexander, former Director of the National Security Agency. Alexander discussed the Paris attacks, the impact of the Snowden leaks on intelligence collection, and the trade off between privacy and security. TCB: You were the longest-serving NSA director.  During your tenure, you saw ...

Over the course of the last 18 months, since ISIS burst on to the scene with its dramatic regional tactical advances, capturing Mosul in Iraq and significant territory in Syria, it has maintained that its primary focus was on expanding its Islamic State, or Caliphate, in the Middle East and ...

ISIS is part of the multi-generational struggle against radical Islam which will likely dominate the first half of the 21st century similar to the fight against communism which dominated the second half of the 20th century. ISIS is the most successful terrorist organization in modern history. It is driven by ...

Former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was preparing for his new post-NYPD role as Vice Chair at K2 Intelligence in New York when news of the Paris attacks started rolling in last week.  He knew from initial reports that the news would be bad, but he wasn’t at ...

Conventional wisdom among Western officials indicated ISIS was primarily interested in gaining territory for its caliphate or Islamic state.   Big bold attacks against Western targets were the hallmark of al Qaeda.  But the coordinated, multiple attacks by at least eight terrorists in Paris this weekend, as well as the suicide ...

Do you want an opinion from someone who doesn’t have any relevant information?  Probably not.  However, many journalists and self described experts don’t seem deterred by their ignorance when they write about the U.S. intelligence community.   Normally, a failure to understand a subject would deter someone from writing about ...

Few things are more hotly debated in Washington and other capitals than the question of how to defeat the Islamic State. Ideas are all over the map, but a starting point for strategy has to be acceptance of the realities we face. Here are six: First, the context is totally ...

Over fifteen years ago, I spoke with someone in Gaza about a Hamas bomb maker who had been killed in an Israeli anti-terrorism operation. I told him, mockingly, “That’s the end of that terrorist.” The man said, “No, his words will live forever.” The Hamas bomb maker had recorded some ...

A great deal of attention in the U.S. has understandably been paid to how ISIS promotes its ideology, with a focus on ISIS’ social media prowess and its ability to reach a potentially limitless supply of lone wolf actors. Yet the medium is less important than the message, and specifically, ...

Last October, in an interview with “60 Minutes,” FBI director James Comey revealed that there were “a dozen or so” Americans fighting in Syria on the side of terrorists. Only nine months later, Comey revised those numbers when he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that “upwards of 200 Americans have ...

The call came on June 23. Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the spokesman for the Islamic State, in June urged ISIS followers to go on a month-long killing spree. “Muslims, embark and hasten toward jihad,” said al-Adnani in an audio statement released last month. “O mujahedeen everywhere, rush and go to make ...

Seemingly a typical teen living in the Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital, Ali Shukri Amin, 17, led a different life online as curator of a pro-ISIS twitter account. Last week, Amin pled guilty in federal court to providing material support to ISIS. This case, and others like the shootout in Dallas or the ...