(UPDATED: New section added) Global guerrillas are refining their use of hostages and assassinations as a means of coercion. The real target of these efforts was revealed when the late al-Moqrin's Saudi guerrillas beheaded Paul Johnson, an engineer working for Lockheed Martin in Saudi Arabia. He justified the hostage taking and eventual beheading by claiming he was attacking Halliburton. To al-Moqrin and Islamic global guerrillas in general, all companies providing "outsourced" support services to the Saudi and American governments fall under the "Halliburton" label.
A focus on "Halliburton" is in line with global guerrilla strategy. The market for outsourced services provided by western and associated companies are critical to the reconstruction of Iraq, the logistics of the US military, and the operation of critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. It's our "soft underbelly." Because these services form a market network, global guerrillas can use the dynamics of the marketplace to amplify the impact of their attacks.
How these attacks work
The endless series of hostage dramas and assaults on contractors in Iraq form a pattern. They are aimed at the fault lines in the "outsourced services" market. This pattern is quickly being copied via stigmergic learning by a rapidly proliferating number of groups that swarm on targets. Global guerrillas are using the following methods to disrupt this market:
- Companies. Assaults on employees in Saudi Arabia forced the engineering company ABB to withdraw their employees. Within Iraq: Siemens, Tekhnopromexport, GE, etc. have withdrawn employees due to direct pressure. Focused attacks on specific employers can create pressures within boardrooms and among employees/families back home to withdraw.
- Nations. An indirect method of coercing companies is to target employees of specific nationalities. Attacks on South Korean, Chinese, and Russian employees have resulted in government pressured evacuations of workers of those nationalities from Iraq. The attacks in Saudi Arabia targeting Americans, has caused the US government to urge that all Americans leave the country. This strategy will increasingly widen to include nations outside the US coalition (Egypt, Kenya, China, and Russia have already been targeted). Nations will increasingly tire of the crisis management and domestic political fallout caused by these attacks.
- Individuals. Beheadings and seemingly random assassinations, in particular, have created a climate of fear among employees of outsourced service companies. This fear has driven thousands of Americans and Europeans working for companies in Saudi Arabia and Iraq back home.
The impact of this disruption
The ongoing attacks against these companies and their employees are increasingly undermining the operation of the market for outsourced services. In large part this is due to the reaction of the marketplace to these systemic insults. These reactions include:
- Higher transaction costs. The need to protect employees has driven up costs across the board. Approximately 25% (although recent reports indicate that this may have risen to as high as 50%) of all reconstruction expenditures are now for private security services to protect employees (an impact that will be measured in billions of dollars). Lengthy security procedures severely limit the workday (by up to 1/3) for domestic employees of "Halliburton" companies. Companies are also being forced to offer substantial bonus pay (often exceeding 100% of pay) as a risk-premium to entice expatriate employees to work in these areas. Additionally, insurance costs have skyrocketed.
- Systemic chaos. Many of these attacks have been focused on workers involved in corporate logistics/transportation. This disruption has had a systemic impact on all work being done in Iraq. Critical parts, military supplies, food, etc have been interdicted. The loss of key engineers, through departures or injury/death due to attacks, has left critical projects in Iraq's electricity reconstruction in piles of parts on the floor.
- Stalled decision-making. These attacks have increased uncertainty to the level necessary to impair the allocation of investments and the contracting process. The recent disclosures that the vast majority of Iraq's reconstruction funds are still uncommitted, demonstrate this problem. This uncertainty makes it difficult to: entice companies to participate in reconstruction work, to determine metrics of success (profit/loss), to secure insurance, etc. (basically, everything necessary to build plans for the future). The end result, is that business decisions are put off into the future in the expectation that eventually, the security situation will improve and uncertainty will be reduced.
What this means
Global guerrilla attacks and abductions will continue. However, the bazaar of violence in the country will continue to reward innovation and its networked participant organizations will quickly implement these advances. The result will be an acceleration of the outsourcing market's current distress. While many new methods will be tried, the innovations that will gain the most traction are the following (although they will require participation of al Qaeda or al Tawhid for international operations during the initial phases):
- Attacks on a company's stock price. GGs will increasingly single out companies out by name (other than Halliburton) for particular attention. Halliburton's status makes it immune to this type of pressure. Other companies are not as prepared. This can be amplified through increasing the geographic zone of a company's operations that are under threat. A world-wide threat against a company will depress stock values and radically improve the potential of share-holder pressure to leave the region. Companies are not countries and much less likely to hold out against a threat of terrorism when significant monetary loss is involved.
- Threats against senior corporate management. GGs will increasingly target senior management in participating companies (wherever they are located). This will be used as a means of amplifying any specific corporate targeting. The identification of senior executives by name for assassination, even if it is only a bluff, is more than enough to accomplish much of this effect. A single assassination of a corporate executive would be sufficient to make these threats real. By piercing the corporate veil of executive anonymity and immunity, decision making within participating companies will be radically altered.