July 22, 2011

If you only listen to five counter-terrorism analysts...

If you watch U.S. cable news in the aftermath of today's attacks in Norway -- and really, why are you watching U.S. cable news? -- you are likely to see various "terrorism" "experts" talking about what happened. If you are lucky, you'll see someone like Peter Bergen who has written extensively and well on various jihadi groups, but beyond that, the quality can go downhill pretty quickly.

As a service to the readership, the following is an incomplete list of several scholars who write and comment well on terrorism.

1. Will McCants. Will, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis, worked in the State Department's counter-terrorism shop until recently. Armed with excellent Arabic and a PhD in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton, Will is a serious scholar of both Islam and jihadi movements. He founded the website Jihadica and can be followed on Twitter at @will_mccants.

2. Thomas Hegghammer. A Norwegian himself, Thomas is the author of this incredible book
and introduces the field of jihadi studies quite well in this excellent if dated essay.

3. Brynjar Lia. Another Norwegian, Brynjar also wrote a rather wonderful book
and is an analyst at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.

4. Leah Farrall. Aussie goddess of all things counter-terrorism. Follow her on Twitter at @allthingsct.

5. Brian Fishman. A research fellow at the New America Foundation, you might actually see Brian on television. He probably will not say anything ignorant. Which is more than you can say for most people you will see on television. @brianfishman

You will note my incomplete list of counter-terrorism experts is somewhat biased toward those with language skills and formal education in the subject and away from law enforcement and military experience. This is not an accident. Nothing wrong with the latter, of course. It's just that if you want someone to explain the origins of al-Qaeda, some guy who used to kick down doors is probably not your man. (Though he may be, I guess.) My list is also biased toward experts on Islamist terror. There are those in the field of strategic studies who focus more on terror and coercion as general subjects, but I have found they are less likely to be able to say something of consequence about specific groups than people who are experts on specific groups can say something of consequence about terror tactics and coercion in general. Anyway, do add your own names in the comments section.

P.S. This list was compiled after jihadi groups claimed responsibility for the Norway attacks. If the attacks were instead the acts of what we social scientists call an "LDA," or Lone Derranged A******, save this list for the next time there is an attack by bona fide terrorist group or you're just otherwise curious about terror and counter-terrorism.