Of MICE and men
In a recent exchange of comments attached to my op-ed about the ineffectiveness of the usual responses and the need to address root cause I expressed my opinion that the motivation of the actor in a mass shooting as defined in the previous post could be found in MICE: Money, Ideology, Coercion, and Ego.
Before we proceed, let’s take off the table any state-sponsored mass killing – when “our” state does it, it is probably good and if “their” state does it, it is probably bad. Let’s also take off the table any pure lone-wolf incidents – those where one person makes a decision to act, makes all the plans and preparations, and acts alone – because it is unlikely that anyone could predict and prevent those acts where – for example – a single individual takes a firearm to the workplace with the singular purpose of killing.
In this restricted space, we are left with violence as a result of radicalization. It is here that, I believe, we can find the majority of news-grabbing, response-demanding, do-something, mass-shooting incidents. So too does our government.
The Canadian government launched in 2017 the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence (The Centre) and published in December 2018 a National Strategy on Countering Radicalization to Violence. One would think that within this document and from this Centre you could find all of the answers. I am unconvinced.
To be clear, the Centre, the Strategy, the National Expert Committee, and the Research Portal are relatively new. They speak to an operational plan that funds and supports anti-radicalization at the local level. Yes, there is a Community Resilience Fund (since December 2016) that provides financial assistance to organizations for enhanced research capacity, increased expert knowledge and knowledge transfer, and for “empowering local communities” with a focus on funding “Youth-Led Projects … empowering young people working to counter radicalization to violence”. To apply (I summarize) you must be a not-for-profit organization, a research facility, a police service, or a “provincial, territorial, municipal, regional, [or] indigenous government”.
It would be unwise to criticize so soon. But … I do see a focus that, in my opinion, is too constrained. The Strategy and the funding arising from the Centre speak to preventing right-wing, ideologically-driven, internet-enabled, radicalized Canadian youth from undertaking violence by creating and supporting institutional research, inter-agency communication, and multi-agency targeted responses (my words, not theirs).
The list of funded projects summarizes the Centre’s approach: John Howard Society of Ottawa Project ReSet to disengage individuals in Eastern-Ontario from extremist-based violence; UQAM produced training materials to support practitioners in health and social services; Shift (under the British Columbia Government Office of Crime Reduction) a civilian-led program to support multi-agency hubs in BC that “connect at-risk individuals with local counselling, social services, or other tools”; MediaSmarts a national survey “of up to 1000 youth in grades 9 and 10”; and Moonshot CVE to “provide alternative, positive content to vulnerable individuals searching for violent extremist material online.” This is not the entire list but it is representative.
Allow me some cynicism, please. Will this all lead to the establishment of welcoming store-front facilities staffed with paid trained experts representing the community stakeholders standing ready to receive walk-in at-risk youth who have suddenly realized that they are headed down the road to violence and want to change? Will it create technology-enabled re-directions within search engine results – like sponsored ads? That sounds about as effective as expecting that mentally-ill persons can realize that they are sick and seek treatment. Such is the Canadian model.
How did the Canadian government come to this CVE (Countering Violet Extremism) model? I believe that the answer can be found in a paper on the Centre’s Research Portal titled “Radicalization and Violent Extremism: Lessons Learned from Canada, the UK and the US” reporting the “highlights from a major conference hosted by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) of the US Department of Justice, which took place July 28 to July 30, 2015.” Attendees discussed – but did not conclude – “whether it would be more helpful to develop (1) high-level models that can be used as guides to help identify specific factors at work in a particular situation, or (2) specific models focused narrowly on types of individuals, groups, belief systems, and contexts.” Apparently, there was agreement that more research was needed.
I do not know who represented Canada at this seminal conference; however, the report does describe how “practitioners … those developing and implementing programs to counter violent extremism” want more research, more outreach, more inter-agency coordination, and more ways to make use of case studies, vignettes, videos, and podcasts “in a more user-friendly manner”.
Included within the report is a statement that it is important for government agencies to engage the entire community, to tailor outreach strategies to the different community groups, and to “take into account the stigma that can result when community members engage with the government.”
I fear that my perspective and that of our government diverge. It is my belief that there is no way to prevent groups of like-minded persons from forming, that there is no effective way to prevent their use of the internet and social media, that they are not age-restricted, and that 99 per cent of the members will never get beyond talk.
My concern is what makes that one person rise out of the flock and act.
Would money work? Yes – paid in advance to create a debt to be repaid by flesh and blood. Promissory notes are unlikely to motivate given that the agent is unlikely to survive or unlikely to have freedom if they do. The exception is a promise to support the actor’s survivors – a form of insurance if you will. If, however, you take a lesson from those institutions that recruit spies, you would find that the recruiters are instructed to not try to buy people because it isn’t necessary and in most cases does not work. From the financier’s perspective the return on investment is unsecured – they might take the money and run. From the client’s perspective the interest is exorbitant.
Case officers managing intelligence and counter-intelligence agents are encouraged to always have something for the agent to eat and drink at every meeting. Why? To stimulate the need to reciprocate. The same approach exists in almost all cultures where the sharing of food and beverage precedes or accompanies ‘getting down to business’.
Would ideology work? According to the Strategy, The Centre believes it is the singular motivation. Are there historical examples? Maybe, but I suspect that ideology alone is not enough. Take another page from the history of espionage. Of the many, there are three successful spies who attributed their motivation to ideology: Ana Belen Montes within the US DIA for Cuba; Colonel Oleg Penkovsky within the GRU for the CIA and MI6; and Harold Kim Philby within MI6 for the USSR. Montes was imprisoned before she could escape while Penkovsky and Philby escaped and were taken care of – as promised – within their chosen homes. I might put as much emphasis on the promise of being taken care of as on acting on commitment to a belief.
Would coercion work? Yes. I am personally aware of a Canadian case where an individual had something to hide and was therefore blackmailed by an ideologically driven organization to enable their violent acts. He was vulnerable, had an expertise that they required, and they pushed his buttons with threats. Take another page from the history of espionage and the use of Kompromat.
One more example: Suppose you were approached by a community organization asking you to buy a $25 ticket to a fund-raising event and – if you hesitate – the seller immediately offers a $2 chocolate bar. Do you buy it? You have been coerced.
What about ego? From the history of espionage we find that ego satisfaction is considered the most prevalent driver. There are even historical examples of agents motivated simply by the art and science and practice of tradecraft. Within the world of violent extremism, expressed in mass shootings, of course ego plays a role. Compare the resulting body count to getting – and everyone knowing – that you have the highest score on record for a particular video game.
A distasteful conclusion: if I were to attempt to motivate someone to undertake violence in the name of an ideology, I would stimulate their ego, lavish them with purchased perks, and play upon their greatest fear. I suspect that our government’s focus on countering ideology with ideology is too academic and aristocratic and not sufficiently plebeian.
I could be wrong.