The hunt for the perpetrators of the London attack is in full swing. The forensic evidence will be collected (including CCTV footage and Internet traffic), sifted, and analyzed over the next couple of weeks to identify the culprits and their origin. Unfortunately, what we may find is that this group had few, if any, direct ties to known al Qaeda entities. In fact, it is likely to be an operation accomplished completely by terrorist entrepreneurs that are using it to gain entry (through contribution) into al Qaeda.
The reason this is a likelihood, is that al Qaeda is not a cohesive organization anymore (it was a loose affiliation network to begin with). Their network has given way to an even looser but more potent form of development: open source warfare. In this model, autonomous groups arise, innovate, plan, and act locally without any central direction or support. Al Qaeda's recognized leadership merely serves as the final arbiter of the attack's efficacy to the articulated war plan -- endorsement of the action and the group, comes after the operation is accomplished. Success, in this model, is the only barrier to entry.Remember, al Qaeda (and to a lesser extent the US) set this new organizational structure in motion by providing a plausible premise for the war. This premise includes:
- The US and its allies can be attacked successfully. 9/11, Madrid, and Iraq.
- The US is at war with Islam. The ongoing situation in Iraq and Israel (and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Pakistan).
- New groups can gain favor with al Qaeda through successful operations. The embrace of Zarqawi and the Madrid bombers last year.
This group's adoption of system disruption as its primary means of attack merely shows that prior innovation (which has been endorsed by al Qaeda) has been widely disseminated and accepted. This group even added their own innovation to the development of the systems disruption model (for other groups to adopt in the future): the bombs were exploded while the trains were in the tunnels rather than in the stations. This maximized disruption at the expense of body count.
A cautionary note: The organic nature of this type of warfare explains why there was zero prior knowledge of an attack. It also implies that future intelligence efforts will fail since there isn't a cohesive organization to infiltrate. It's important to understand that an open source movement is much more virulent, innovative, and dangerous enemy than the hierarchical organization that al Qaeda had on September 10, 2001. As long as the plausible premise stands intact, this war will continue to accelerate.