I was having lunch with a couple buddies of mine, one of whom took Michael Scheuer’s “Al-Qaeda and the Global Jihad” class with me. He reminded me of one of Professor Scheuer’s best points made during the semester.
I might have forgotten some of the details, so I apologize, but I hope to capture the main crux of his argument.
Scheuer was in the Agency during the days of the Cold War, and so recruitment of Soviets was of course a large priority.
Scheuer drew a large circle with a much smaller circle in the middle of it. The large circle represented all the Soviet military members. The smaller one was the top brass, the tight inner circle.
He said that the higher a servicemember got in the hierarchy within the Soviet system, the easier he was to recruit. The reason for this was that he had more access and could see the faults with the system, how flawed it was and how vaporous it was. The grand promises extolled by the privates and the junior servicemembers were never delivered, and after promotions and receiving more responsibilities, it became an alienating experience.
Thus the US could recruit them, no doubt in part because the US had a healthy economic and political model to confront the Communist model with.
But Al-Qaeda and the mujaheddin movement is something else entirely. The US can’t find defectors or agents in the same way.
Scheuer used the same diagram, and then explained that it was in fact those on the periphery of the mujaheddin movement who were easiest to pick off, because they were the least indoctrinated and the most conflicted about trying to earn money versus taking up the jihad against injustice, anti-Muslim policies, etc.
Once people had been through the training camps and had seen how the senior leaders lived and led by example, eschewing comfort and wealth and the pride and glory of the world of the infidels, they in fact became even more hardened. The inner circle of the mujaheddin are even more devout, even more disciplined in their worship of Islam, even more devoted to their cause. They are tied together by common suffering and hardship in the camps. They become even more incorruptible by outside attempts of recruitment.
For more, read Omar Nasiri’s “Inside the Jihad”.