Profit-Minded Suppliers: Convergence of IED Facilitation and WMD Proliferation Networks for Non-State Actors.

Author:Hummel, Stephen F.
Position:Improvised explosive device; weapons of mass destruction

During the 12-month period between September 1, 2017, and August 31, 2018, there were "approximately 16,300 reported" improvised explosive device (IED) incidents worldwide, not including those within the United States. (1) These attacks caused over 25,000 casualties. Of these incidents, roughly 37 percent (approximately 6,000) occurred outside of Iraq and Afghanistan in countries like Nepal, Colombia, and India. The number of incidents worldwide highlights the growth of IED facilitation networks by--as John Caves, Deputy Director of the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction at National Defense University, put it--"profit-minded suppliers" to meet the demand. (2) Similarly, there has been a growth in the number of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) incidents by non-state actors. (a) According to the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), between 1990 and 2016, there were 525 such events--of which 400 were chemical, 107 were biological, and 18 were nuclear. (3) (b) Between 2013 and 2016, the last year for which such information is available via GTD, the planned use or actual use of a chemical, biological, or nuclear device was on the rise. (c)

The increasing rate of WMD incidents associated with non-state actors demonstrates their desire to possess a WMD, whether developed internally or acquired externally. IED facilitation networks, however, have been far more successful in disseminating the knowledge, technology, and material required to manufacture and employ an IED worldwide. There is growing concern among counterproliferation practitioners and policy makers that an IED facilitation network with an already existing, diversified, and far-reaching structure could converge with a WMD proliferation network, leading to wider dissemination of WMD to non-state actors--that is, the merging of "terrorists with profit-minded suppliers exploiting the opportunities created by globalization." (4) Convergence between IED facilitation and WMD proliferation networks could potentially lower existing thresholds, making proliferation of WMD not only easier but more widespread.


In the context of discussing threats, former European Command Commander Admiral James G. Stavridis defined convergence as "the merger of a wide variety of mobile human activities, each of which is individually dangerous and whose sum represents a far greater threat." (5) The concept of network convergence relates to one network crossing over and enhancing the capabilities of another, instead of contributing a specific technology. For example, the international human smuggling networks that typically smuggle criminals, fugitives, terrorists, trafficking victims, and migrants overlap and link with drug trafficking networks in certain areas. (6)

The United States, spearheaded through the Department of Defense in conjunction with other agencies, has sought to counter IED facilitation networks to prevent their presence on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization dedicated to this mission is the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization (JIDO), formally known as Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), which is a component of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. In 2013, then JIEDDO Director Lieutenant General Michael Barbero, during a seminar at Johns Hopkins University, highlighted that IED facilitation networks are transnational, composed of human capital--ranging from financiers, smugglers, training camps, technical experts, and propagandists--and utilize readily available material and dual-use technology. (7)

IED Networks

Improvised explosive device proliferation can occur, simplistically speaking, in two ways. The first is through consolidated proliferation, where the process is centralized such that IEDs are manufactured internally and then dispersed for employment. The second method of proliferation is disparate. Raw components and knowledge are disseminated to the tactical/employment level where IEDs are manufactured and deployed. The first method enables leadership to maintain control of the process and knowledge required for manufacturing, while the second relinquishes control and knowledge down to numerous semi-independent subgroups.

From the vantage point of terrorists, both means of proliferation have their advantages and disadvantages, and regardless of the method, both require the same components, which are dual-use in nature and transported internationally on a daily basis. The components of an IED are relatively basic: an explosive main charge, initiating...

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