Breaking Al-Qaeda: Psychological and Operational Techniques, Second Edition, 2nd Edition (Hardback) book cover

Breaking Al-Qaeda

Psychological and Operational Techniques, Second Edition, 2nd Edition

By Elena Mastors

CRC Press

241 pages | 13 B/W Illus.

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Breaking Al-Qaeda: Psychological and Operational Techniques, Second Edition explores the background and history of al-Qaeda, covers recent developments, and explains how, why, and where the al-Qaeda network is expanding. The author examines the current state of the terrorist network and describes what groups in the network are doing to recruit, plan, and carry out attacks worldwide.

The book reports on intelligence and counterterror methods being used to garner information on al-Qaeda. It describes how the destabilization of Arab countries has led to opportunities for terrorists to capitalize on that instability and gain a foothold in countries such as Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria.

  • Addresses information collection and analysis
  • Provides an overview of the business of informational influence
  • Explains how psychology can be used to understand and exploit individuals in terrorist networks
  • Explores the relationships between the core of al-Qaeda and other groups

Illustrating the message and ideology of al-Qaeda since the death of Usama bin Laden, the text explains the steps being taken to counter this threat. It also details psychological and operational techniques that can be used to counter network groups and fracture relationships between groups.


… there is a need for a very hands-on, up-close, and personal engagement to dislodge the radical Islamist ideology once it takes root. Dr. Mastors’ work fills this gap between the psychological and tactical approaches to defeat Al-Qaeda. Her experiences, as an intelligence operator and conducting field research to interview those who were compelled to turn away from political terrorism, well position her to offer insight and practical guidance to defeat the radical ideology. This book serves to educate those on the front line, as well as strategic planners and thinkers on the subject of Breaking Al-Qaeda.

—Colonel Jennifer L. Hesterman, United States Air Force (retired) and author of The Terrorist-Criminal Nexus: An Alliance of International Drug Cartels, Organized Crime, and Terror Groups

Table of Contents

The Road to Breaking Al-Qaeda

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and the Resilient Network

The Arab Spring and the Al-Qaeda Foothold

Combating Terrorism: U.S. Counterterrorism Initiatives

Bureaucratic Solutions: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)

The PATRIOT Act and Expansion of Government Power

The National Security Agency (NS A) and Domestic Spying Fears

Government Detention and Guantanamo

Beware of the Buzzing Drones

The Nature of International Cooperation

Intelligence Leaks

Ceding Ground to Terrorists

Challenging the Bureaucracy

Informational Strategies

Informational Influence

Chapter Outline

The Origination and Continuation of the Threat

The Failure of Bureaucracy

Unwinding the Puzzle: The Afghan–Soviet War

From Saudi Arabia to Somalia: The Mujahedeen Expands

World Trade Center One and Bojinka

Return to Afghanistan and the Fatwas

Joining Forces against the Jews and Crusaders, and Global Jihad

Pre–9/11 Attacks

9/11: The Justification

9/11: The Immediate Response

Continuation of the Threat

Post–9/11 Attacks

Vilification, Degradation, and Iraq

Post-Iraq Implications

The Homegrown Threat

Learning Strategies

Concerns about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Terrorism–Criminal Nexus

The Mentality of the Threat

Are Terrorists Crazy?

Understanding Complex Motivation

Demographic Profiling

Vast Network of Propaganda

Uses of Propaganda

The Propaganda Message

The Enemy Defined

Tailored Propaganda

Information Dissemination

Swear Allegiance to Al-Qaeda

Magazine Jihad

Network Books

Video Productions

Edicts and Fatwas

Singing the Songs of Jihad

Point and Shoot: Killing the Kuffar

Propaganda Dissemination

The Business of Influence

Intelligence Collection

Psychological Influence Techniques

Operational Influence Techniques

Source Credibility and Delivery

Breaking Individuals

The Leadership Framework

Personal Characteristics

Operating Environment

Advisory System

Information Environment

The Case of Ayman Al-Zawahiri

Some Background and Early Traits

Quest for Relevance and Power

Influencing Al-Zawahiri

Breaking Groups

The Nature of Groups

Group Fissures

Fissure: Personal Conflict and Mistrust

Fissure: Substantive and Procedural Disagreement

Fissure: Deviants

Breaking Relationships between Groups

Relationships between Groups

Fissure Points

Diverging Goals and Ethnic Differences

Security Risks

Leadership and Authority

Competition over Resources

Other Exploitable Situations

The Final Break

The Learning Process

The Final Piece

Hindering Change


Each chapter includes a conclusion and notes.

About the Author

Elena Mastors, Ph.D., is the vice president and dean of Applied Research at the American Public University System (APUS). She is the former vice president and dean of the School of Security and Global Studies and program director of the Graduate Intelligence Studies and National Security programs.

Previous to her work with APUS, she was an associate professor in the National Decision Making Department of the Naval War College, and also held various senior intelligence and policy positions in the Office of Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Dr. Mastors is an expert on political psychology as it pertains to conflict, terrorism, and political leadership. She writes frequently on understanding leaders and group dynamics from a political–psychological perspective. She is also a frequent lecturer on the important role of individuals and group dynamics in armed groups.

Dr. Mastors is on the Board of Directors at the Institute for the Study of Intercommunal Conflict at Washington State University. Her professional affiliations include the International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE), the International Studies Association (ISA), the International Society for Political Psychology (ISPP), and Women in Security (WIS).

Dr. Mastors has published on the subjects of conflict and armed groups. Her coauthored books include Introduction to Political Psychology (Psychology Press, 2010) and The Lesser Jihad: Recruits and the Al-Qaida Network (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
COMPUTERS / Security / General
HISTORY / Military / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / International Security
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Terrorism