On Wednesday, December 14, 2016, The Jamestown Foundation held its Tenth Annual Terrorism Conference. The event featured a prestigious lineup of some of the world’s leading experts on Islamic State, al-Qaeda and its heirs. Panelists at Jamestown’s tenth annual conference provided analysis about the array of threats facing our nation at a critical juncture in its history.
The National Press Club
529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor
Washington, DC 20045
Bruce Riedel: “Terrorism Challenges for the Next Administration”
Former Jamestown board member Bruce Riedel opened his morning keynote address by emphasizing that the incoming Trump administration will inherit an effective, lethal counterterrorism machinery from the outgoing administration. This machinery comprises a network of networks—some defensive, with the more important ones offensive in nature. These networks have decimated the leadership of al-Qaeda and degraded the organization’s capabilities, but also successfully combated Islamic State (IS) in Libya and Iraq. However, this strategy does not address underlying problems that create terrorist groups.
Mr. Riedel continued that the Middle East was descending into chaos, the first signs of which are becoming visible now. Referring to Pakistan as another country with a significant rate of terrorist activity, he described it as both a victim and patron state sponsor of terrorism, and accused the army of providing a safe haven, training, and equipment to terrorist groups. Saudi Arabia was mentioned as another difficult partner for the United States. On the one hand, he labeled Wahhabism as the Petri dish from which al-Qaeda and IS emerged, and stated that the state tolerated private financial flows toward terrorist groups. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia provides critical intelligence to the United States and its allies, necessitating the challenging task for the new administration of finding a balanced relationship with the Saudi government.
Panel One: The Changing Landscape of Militant Movements
Michael Weiss: “Jihadist Threats to European Security”
Michael Weiss, Senior Editor with the Daily Beast, opened the first panel by describing the internal structure of Islamic State (IS) and the sophisticated intelligence and counterintelligence structures on which it is based. These structures enabled IS’ rapid territorial expansion within Syria. More recently, though, part of the intelligence apparatus has been Europeanized: the organization relies increasingly on networks of citizens of European countries to plan and carry out attacks on the continent. He illustrated this development with the examples of two Europeans (one of which was integrally involved in the Paris attacks), who joined IS, rose through its ranks and currently occupy the positions of head and deputy head of the group’s foreign intelligence arm. The knowledge of European societies, their strengths and weaknesses that they bring to the organization enables them to identify soft targets, increasing the likelihood of a successful attack. Meanwhile, the European networks focus their efforts on recruiting more members.
Hassan Hassan: “The Global Threat of Salafist Jihadist Groups”
Hassan Hassan, Resident Fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, proceeded by stating that Islamic State (IS) was a phenomenon of an unwinnable war, which is rooted in ideology and is part of a historical process. He described the ideology of IS as a hybridization of 2 strands of Islam: Salafism and political Islam. The hybridization first occurred in the 1970s, as leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood began travelling from Egypt and Syria to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region, coming into contact with Salafism. While this traditional strand of Islam provides the conservative, rigid worldview of Islam in the seventh century, political Islam provides revolutionary ideas which are authenticated by the traditional concepts of Salafism. Some extremist groups—such as IS or al-Qaeda—employ violent means to put some of the revolutionary ideas into action, ultimately aiming at the reification of a widely held Salafist worldview. Although the reconciliation of traditional Islam with modernity is a debate that Muslims must lead, Mr. Hassan concluded by noting that Salafi Jihadism can lead to the liberalization of Islam in the long term.
Amrullah Saleh “Afghanistan and the Return of the Taliban”
Amrullah Saleh, former head of the National Directorate of Security of Afghanistan, commented on the fragility of Afghanistan. He asserted that it was not caused by ethnic or tribal strife, but rather by the Soviet invasion, which had fragmented the unity and cohesion of the state. During the Cold War, the United States fought alongside Afghan forces, combating the Soviet invaders. After the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States abandoned Afghanistan, thereby creating the conditions for the emergence of al-Qaeda, which imposed a much higher cost on the United States than the costs of a possible continuation of U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. With regard to the question of the stabilization of the state, Mr. Saleh advocated for the expansion of efforts to combat the Taliban militarily, as this option has previously not been exhausted. Maintaining the status quo posed too high a cost for both Afghanistan and the United States, while a strategy of accommodation seemed hopeless, as the Taliban were not under pressure to negotiate thanks to their safe haven provided by Pakistan. He expressed hope that the incoming Trump administration would reengage in the area, as Afghanistan was not a lost cause, but instead the most trusted partner of the United States in the region.
Panel Two: Syria, Islamic State and the Regional Powers
Sami Moubayed: “The Future of ISIS in Syria and Iraq”
When Islamic State (IS) overran vast swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq during the summer of 2014, many predicted that this would be a short-lived phenomenon that would soon vanish. Born out of the chaos of the Syrian War, it was assumed that IS would disappear when the guns fell silent in Syria. Many analysts claimed that the ideological roots of IS were shaky, as was its power base. Despite setbacks in Iraq, it has not disappeared in Syria and still controls much of the cities that it did before the U.S.-led coalition entered the war in late 2014. Islamic State still controls al-Raqqa, Albukamal, and Deir ez-Zour on the Euphrates and pockets throughout Syria’s interior. It has set up its own functioning government with all the trappings of statehood: a court system, an efficient police force, a powerful army, a sophisticated intelligence service, a national anthem and a flag. More importantly its coffers are buoyed by oil money, enabling it to function as a proper state. Its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has received pledges of support from deadly groups reaching as far as Nigeria and Egypt. IS is reaching out to Europe as well, hoping to reestablish the Islamic empire that once ruled Spain. IS has not vanished. Its ideological roots have proved to be not as shaky and its power base not as weak as observers claimed it to be.
There is something appealing about al-Baghdadi that people like and follow. It’s his job title. He genuinely thinks he is the caliph of Islam, and many actually believe him. If the conditions were ripe and the caliph was a capable and sane leader, many would not be complaining about him. If al-Baghdadi is replaced by a caliph who pledges non-intervention, wears a modern suit and trims his beard – a leader who does not order decapitation of prisoners or the destruction of statues – would more people be willing to publicly support the Islamic State? And if that happens, would the Westphalia-style Islamic State receive official recognition as a new “country” in the Middle East?
All pious Muslims devoted to political Islam strive to create a caliphate and an Islamic state—perhaps not “this” Islamic State. It is mandated in the Prophet’s hadith and the Holy Quran. Trying to talk dissuade these believers will be hard—especially if secularism is used as a counter-ideology. Put simply, they will not buy it. Furthermore, bombing them is not effective. Although many top IS figures have been killed in recent months, the terror organization survives and remains in control of territory. The best way forward is to create a counter-ideology to challenge IS within its own constituency in both Syria and Iraq, one that speaks to Sunni Muslims and is strongly based in Islamic history and thought. In his presentation, Mr. Moubayed put forth the example of was Sufism, a spiritual form of mystic Islam; Other ideas should be put forth and debated if we are to take the counter-terrorism war to a new stage—an effective one that plans to deal with the IS threat in both Syria and Iraq in a long-term and effective manner.
Pavel Felgenhauer: “After Aleppo: Russian Military Power and Strategy in Syria”
Pavel Felgenhauer, Jamestown Non-Resident Senior Fellow, purported that the Russian campaign in Syria is aimed at achieving a military victory, on the basis of which a political solution shall be found. This would perpetuate the Assad regime by force, while maintaining Putin’s domestic popularity. More importantly, the elites of the military and intelligence communities of the Assad regime—many of which are Russian educated and have had close ties to Russia since the Soviet era—would remain in their positions. Russian military bases will be either retained or increased in capacity. By demonstrating that Russia can offer protection and support to ensure regime survival, Moscow gains a foothold in the Middle East and expands its influence throughout the region.
As the United States reduces its involvement in the region, the Kremlin seeks to expand its influence by creating an anti-terror alliance around what Moscow perceives to be the two pillars of a possible future regional order: Iran and Israel. While the two states have troubled bilateral relations, Moscow maintains strong ties to the leadership of both states.
However, the Russian strategy has caused some dissonance between the country’s diplomatic and the military communities. The latter perceives negotiated ceasefires as a severe limitation, enabling the Syrian opposition to regroup and further resist Assad’s regime. Instead, they advocate for a decisive blow, which would send a message to the entire opposition.
Another serious problem with the Russian military strategy is the lack of reliable, good infantry to hold conquered territory, which puts serious constraints on the Russian strategy. An inter-service group has been established to recruit a Sunni force for the purpose of backing the Assad regime and Russian military efforts. As this is not an immediate solution, there is the danger of a mission creep. A continuation or even expansion of the military campaign is therefore controversial among some of the siloviki. This and the rising cost of the operation have created a fraction of skeptics in Moscow.
Alex Vatanka: “Iranian Strategy in Syria and Iraq”
For the incoming Trump administration, the various challenges presented by Iran will be a key test for American policy in the Middle East. One of the first steps the Trump White House should take is to stop compartmentalizing its Iran policy.
The differentiation between Iranian “hardliners” and “moderates” by the outgoing Obama administration has proven to be entirely unhelpful in arming the United States to counter ongoing Iranian threats to the national security of the U.S. and its regional allies.
This is an important point. There are still plenty in Washington who argue that the safeguarding of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran still needs to be prioritized above all. This is a mistake and unnecessarily limits the needed US pushback against Iran’s expansionist policies in the region.
Cutting back on the number of centrifuges is not tantamount to moderation of Iranian behavior – nor has it proven to be the case. The team assembled by president elect Trump needs to early on, publicly and forcefully highlight Iranian interventionist behavior that is aimed at one aim: the expansion of Iranian power.
The so-called “moderates” are not in fact in charge of Iran’s regional policies. The forces – principally the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) – that run Iran’s ideologically and often sectarian regional polices are not interested in finding accommodation with Washington.
The top brass at the IRGC is a close-knit group of men who have been working closely with one another for some 40 years. Anti-Americanism is a core part of their worldview. They are, however, not suicidal as such, and forceful U.S. stance against their policies is highly likely to shape their calculations.
This is the only way the United States can push back against the spread of the worst tendencies of the Iranian regime. At home, it took these hardliners some 20 years to impose their rule over the Iranian people. These same Iranian hardliners are bent on spreading their way of life to other parts of the Middle East.
They have made plenty of inroads across the region thanks to conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere. But the United States is capable of countering this Iranian threat if it prioritizes a concerted effort to counter it. The future of U.S. national security interests in the broader Middle East depends on it.
Douglas A. Ollivant: “The Future of Iraq After the Battle for Mosul”
Douglas Ollivant, Managing Partner and Senior Vice President of Mantid International, LLC and ASU Senior Fellow with New America, stated that the battle for Mosul will inevitably lead to the retreat of Islamic State (IS). This would be a watershed, as Mosul is the last urban area controlled by the group in Iraq, which would thus be degraded from being a quasi-state-like organization, holding and controlling territory, to a mere terrorist group.
Political processes in northern Iraq promise to be complex, and challenging, as the region is home to an ethnically and religiously diverse population. While intergroup relations are conflictual, intragroup dynamics will determine the political outcome. Mr. Ollivant outlined the deep fractures within three of these groups.
Sunnis have been degraded from consorting among the upper echelons of Iraqi society to ranging in the lower ones. IS has devastated Sunni cities, causing destruction and neglecting infrastructure. The Sunni leadership has been discredited, and large groups of Sunnis are have been displaced or are in exile.
The Shia community, constituting the majority of the population in Iraq, is being courted by both the West and Iran. This battle will determine whether Iraq’s outlook will be more pro-Western or pro-Iranian. The outlook of Shia leadership – a fact that will influence the outcome of this battle – depends to some extent on the locations in which those previously exiled spent their time, the West or Iran.
The low oil price is drying up the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) major revenue stream, causing the regional administration to stack up debt, now totaling $30 billion. The KRG is unable to pay its civil suits and civil servants, and internal divisions hitherto glossed over by a high oil price are coming to the fore once again. The legitimacy of the Kurdish president is questionable, and the political environment in the region divisive.
Any approach by the new White House administration should therefore take into consideration the limits of U.S. influence. Although it is possible to intervene directly into Prime Minister Abadi’s policies, any such move would be to the detriment of his domestic legitimacy and thereby reduce popular support for a Western orientation. Meanwhile, the United States should maintain military-to-military ties at the highest possible level, while promoting intelligence-based policing and long-term infiltration of networks in the north.
Panel Three: 2017 Trend Lines in Militant Movements
Jacob Zenn: “2017 Trend Lines in Militant Movements: The North Africa-Syria-Afghanistan Nexus”
Jacob Zenn explained how events unfolding for Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda in Syria are having an effect on the “periphery” of the Middle East, with a focus on Northwest Africa and Central Asia-Afghanistan. While the impact of events in Syria on Europe, from migration to terrorism, are commonly discussed, this is not the case with these other two regions.
First, Zenn explained that IS has often viewed Northwest Africa as the “Maghreb,” despite naming Boko Haram as its West Africa Province, which means that ISI has not placed a local enough emphasis on sub-Saharan Africans like al-Qaeda has done (Maghreb refers mostly to Arab North Africa alone). Similarly, IS naming Central Asia as “Khorasan” does not resonate well in parts of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which are not part of historic “Khorasan.”
Zenn then explained that the three trends to watch in Northwest Africa are the factionalization in Boko Haram / IS’ West Africa Province, IS’ recognition of Abu Walid al-Sahrawi as its Greater Sahara Division in the Mali-Burkina-Niger axis, and the flow of foreign fighters from Libya southwards. Shifting to Central Asia, Zenn explained that with al-Qaeda’s coalition losing Aleppo, the Taliban is set to become the premiere al-Qaeda group in the world. Central Asians in Syria who were with al-Qaeda in Syria are now planning a return to Afghanistan where they can support the Taliban and pressure the Central Asian region.
In the conclusion, Zenn explained that the key trendlines for analysts of Northwest Africa and Central Asia-Afghanistan relate to foreign fighter outflows–no longer inflows– a recalibration of insurgency methods based on al-Qaeda’s and IS’ losses in Syria, al-Qaeda’s “rehabilitation” of former IS fighters, and geopolitical consequences of terrorism.
Nicholas A. Heras: “2017 Trend Lines in Militant Movements in Syria”
The Syrian armed opposition movement as a whole will be challenged by two major trends in 2017. These trends are: strong pressure in northern Syria for all rebel groups to unite as one Islamic Army under the leadership of the more ideological extremist groups aligned with al-Qaeda; and the division of the broader armed opposition into Northern and Southern segments that increasingly have less in agreement with each other’s aims for Syria. These trends within the Syrian armed opposition are important for U.S. planners to be aware of because the al-Assad government and its allies are unlikely to reconquer all of the areas of the country that are now under opposition-control by the end of 2017.
The broader armed opposition movement in northern Syria is already well into a process of uniting under a primarily Turkish and Qatari backed coalition that incorporates the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and other groups that enable al-Qaeda in Syria. This coalition will be composed primarily of armed opposition groups that are Islamist in their outlook and are already recipients of lethal assistance, including from the United States, for use against the al-Assad government forces and their allies. The coalition will likely be framed as an Islamic Army and will control large areas of the northwestern Syrian countryside that has lines of supply and reinforcement into Turkey and the Turkish military built territorial zone of influence, Euphrates Shield, which is located east and north of the city of Aleppo. This Islamic Army will support and protect Syrian groups aligned with al-Qaeda, and will tolerate al-Qaeda’s objective of shifting the norms of civil society to accept Salafism and create the conditions to provide an enduring refuge for global Salafist-jihadist operatives seeking to use Syria as a base of operations to strike at the West.
In contrast to the situation in northern Syria, the broader armed opposition movement in southern Syria will unify around the more moderate and acceptable groups, most of which are currently affiliated with the Southern Front coalition. This coalition will be utilized as an indigenous counterterrorism force with the primary objective of holding and stabilizing the considerable areas of southwestern Syria that are opposition controlled, both on the Syrian-Golan Heights border and the Syrian-Jordanian border, to prevent them from being seized by Sunni ideological extremist actors, particularly IS. The coalition will be primarily supported by Jordan, the United States and Israel, with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia working closely to supplement Jordan’s role. Additionally, Israel will continue to work covertly to support certain armed opposition groups that both control territory on the Golan Heights and are willing to fight IS and al-Qaeda. The development of this coalition will be a primarily covert joint effort by Jordan and Israel in southwestern Syria, while the United States and Jordan will work to link this coalition with the anti-IS armed opposition that is being built to displace IS from eastern Syria.
Michael W.S. Ryan: “Jihadist Trends in 2017 After the Defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria”
The presentation by Michael W. S. Ryan focused on jihadist trends after Islamic State (IS) loses governance in the central lands of the greater Middle East. Ryan concluded that IS will become a virtual government in exile, striving to regain lost lands while proliferating IS outposts internationally. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda has begun morphing into a hybrid federation of jihadist groups sharing a common ideology but not belonging to a single organization in the traditional sense. This hybrid federation will compete with IS to lead the jihadist movement. Both groups will continue to radicalize individuals directly and indirectly. In the case of al-Qaeda, it will continue efforts to seed initially ambiguous Jihadist Salafist groups, in some cases attempting to hide from Western scrutiny by claiming to be simply non-violent religious groups for preaching (Dawa). Both groups’ international efforts will result in continued global threats against the United States along with its partners and allies. This threat will be assisted by the return of foreign fighters to home countries and the continued conflict in Syria and Iraq. The emerging new groups and traditional local groups in the Greater Middle East and beyond will follow al-Qaeda’s and the IS group’s two part ideology (Islamized classic guerrilla warfare strategy and doctrine on a Maoist model in concert with Jihadist Salafist preaching/radicalization). Jihadist ideology is the even more radical stepchild of the ‘Islamic Awakening” inside Saudi Arabia, the merger of Muslim Brotherhood political Islam and fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine, which was suppressed by the Saudi government in the 1990s. The large trove of IS educational documents, including the publication of early Wahhabi tracts, reveal that Saudi Arabia will continue to be a major target of IS and may become critically vulnerable to internal jihadists if falling Saudi oil revenues cause an economic crisis. Meanwhile, clandestine jihadist groups in the West will continue to generate small cell and individual terrorism.
Addressing this new threat will require a new American-led and coordinated international military and political grand strategy. The military effort should be a vigorous Special Forces and intelligence approach assisted politically by a newly created CVE strategy (probably using a new name). The new CVE approach would need to concentrate on countering jihadist ideology and triaging individuals and groups to prioritize threats and to reeducate individuals where possible. The United States will need to urge our Muslim partners to take the lead in countering Jihadist Salafist ideology in a much more serious fashion in return for U.S. coordinated military assistance. New effective private sector counter-ideology efforts will probably need to replace largely ineffective government programs in the Middle East. Moreover, small footprint, fast-burning economic assistance (where necessary) should replace large, slow-burning economic programs, which have consistently proven to be ineffective.
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, USAF (Ret.)
General Michael Hayden (ret.), former Director of CIA and current Jamestown Foundation board member, marked 9/11 as a turning point, which triggered the shift from a highly defensive posture of the U.S. counterterrorism apparatus to a more offensive tactical approach, which successfully denies terrorist groups the capability of conducting mass casualty attacks in the United States. Meanwhile, General Hayden pointed out that the underlying apparatus is not able to prevent isolated acts of terror, and he highlighted that there were hardly any areas in which increased authority for security services could reduce the probability of a terrorist attack without changing the DNA of the country.
At the strategic level, he asserted that counterterrorism was a question of the ideology of Islam, an area in which the West has no legitimacy to play a defining role. He described the situation in the Middle East as a great civil war inside one of the world’s great monotheisms, drawing a parallel to the struggle within Christendom in the 17th century. It is a struggle for the reconciliation of religion with modernity, the conduct of which is just as violent as the Thirty Years’ War.
Layered on top of the inner religious struggle is the dissolution of states and their externally imposed, arbitrarily drawn boundaries in the Middle East. After a long phase of vertical governance – first by foreign empires, then by client governments during the Cold War, then by despots – General Hayden stated that Middle Eastern states were now experimenting with horizontal governance. He identified a cycle consisting of regional civil wars creating a supply of people particularly susceptible to a certain form of Islamic extremism.
8:15 A.M.–8:40 A.M.
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8:40 A.M.–8:45 A.M.
Glen E. Howard
President, The Jamestown Foundation
* * *
8:45 A.M.–9:15 A.M.
“Terrorism Challenges for the Next Administration”
Senior Fellow, The Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution &
Former Board Member, The Jamestown Foundation
* * *
The Changing Landscape of Militant Movements
9:15 A.M.–10:30 A.M.
“Jihadist Threats to European Security”
Senior Editor, The Daily Beast
“The Global Threat of Salafist Jihadist Groups”
Resident Fellow, The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
“Afghanistan and the Return of the Taliban”
Former Head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security
Q & A
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10:30 A.M.–11:00 A.M.
* * *
Syria, Islamic State and the Regional Powers
11:00 A.M.–12:30 P.M.
“The Future of ISIS in Syria and Iraq”
Research Fellow, St. Andrews University in Scotland
& Founder and President, The Damascus History Foundation
“After Aleppo: Russian Military Power and Strategy in Syria”
Non-Resident Senior Fellow, The Jamestown Foundation
“Iranian Strategy in Syria and Iraq”
Senior Fellow, Middle East Institute and The Jamestown Foundation
“The Future of Iraq After the Battle for Mosul”
Douglas A. Ollivant
Managing Partner and Senior Vice President of Mantid International, LLC
& ASU Senior Fellow, New America
Distinguished Senior Fellow, The Jamestown Foundation
& Partner, StrateVarious LLC
Q & A
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12:30 P.M.–1:15 P.M.
* * *
2017 Trend Lines in Militant Movements
1:15 P.M.–2:45 P.M.
“2017 Trend Lines in Militant Movements: The North Africa-Syria-Afghanistan Nexus”
Fellow of African and Eurasian Affairs, The Jamestown Foundation
“2017 Trend Lines in Militant Movements in Syria”
Nicholas A. Heras
Bacevich Fellow, Center for a New American Strategy (CNAS)
“Jihadist Trends in 2017 After the Defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria”
Michael W.S. Ryan
Senior Fellow, The Jamestown Foundation
Richard Borow Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
& Founder of Jihadology.net
Q & A
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2:45 P.M.–3:00 P.M.
* * *
3:00 P.M.–4:00 P.M.
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, USAF (Ret.)
Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency &
Board Member, The Jamestown Foundation
Q & A
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Dr. Pavel E. Felgenhauer is a Moscow-based defense analyst and columnist at Novaya Gazeta. Felgenhauer was born in Moscow, Russia, and he graduated from Moscow State University in 1975. He served as researcher and senior research officer in the Soviet Academy of Sciences (Moscow) and received his Ph.D. from the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1988.
Felgenhauer published numerous articles on topics dealing with Russian foreign and defense policies, military doctrine, arms trade, military-industrial complex and so on. January 1991–January 1993, he was associated with the Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Independent Newspaper), in Moscow, as Defense Analyst and Defense Correspondent. From February 1993 until September 1999, Felgenhauer was member of the editorial board and Chief Defense Correspondent of Moscow daily Segodnya (Today). And from May 1994 until October 2005, Felgenhauer published a regular column on defense in the English-language local daily The Moscow Times.
In July 2006, after more than six years as an independent defense analyst, Felgenhauer joined the staff of Novaya Gazeta. Felgenhauer continues to provide regular comments on Russia’s defense-related problems to many other local and international media organizations. Since June 2006, Felgenhauer has also been a weekly contributor to The Jamestown Foundation publication Eurasia Daily Monitor.
Hassan Hassan is a resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. He is also co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, a New York Times bestseller chosen as one of the Times of London’s Best Books of 2015 and the Wall Street Journal’s top ten books on terrorism. He is a columnist with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, and his writing has appeared in the Guardian, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and the New York Times, among others. His research focuses on Syria, Iraq and the Arab Gulf states as well as Islamist and Salafi groups. He received a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, USAF (Ret.)
General Michael V. Hayden (USAF Ret.) served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 to 2009 and was responsible for overseeing the collection of information concerning the plans, intentions and capabilities of America’s adversaries, producing timely analysis for decision makers and conducting covert operations to thwart terrorists and other enemies of the United States. Before becoming Director of the CIA, General Hayden served as the country’s first Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence—and was the highest-ranking intelligence officer in the armed forces. Earlier, he served as Commander of the Air Intelligence Agency, Director of the Joint Command and Control Warfare Center, Director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005 and Chief of the Central Security Service. General Hayden graduated from Duquesne University with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1967 and a master’s degree in modern American history in 1969. He was a distinguished graduate of the university’s ROTC program and began his active military service in 1969. General Hayden is currently a principal at the Chertoff Group in Washington, D.C., and a Board Member at The Jamestown Foundation.
Nicholas A. Heras
Nicholas A. Heras is the Bacevich Fellow in the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). From 2013 to 2014, he served as a Research Associate at the National Defense University (NDU) where he worked on a project that studied the impact of the Syrian conflict on the greater Middle East region. He has over two years in-depth field research experience in all regions of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan and has also conducted substantive research in Turkey.
He has presented on the topic of armed groups in the Syrian civil war, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), at the annual U.S. Naval War College, Center for Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups (USNWC-CIWAG) Symposium; he also presented a lecture on ISIL’s state formation strategy to the U.S. SOCOM J3I. As a regular contributor to The Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor and Terrorism Monitor, Mr. Heras is a prolific author of analytical works focusing on security issues in the greater Middle East region. He has also authored a monograph, Policy Focus #132, The Potential for an Assad Statelet in Syria, through the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP)’s Soref Fellowship program.
Sami Moubayed is a Syria expert and author of Under the Black Flag: At the Frontier of New Jihad (IB Tauris, 2015). He has been a research fellow at St. Andrews University in Scotland since 2006, where he helped found the Syrian Studies Center. From 2012 to 2013, Mr. Moubayed was a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Additionally, he is the founder and president of The Damascus History Foundation.
Mr. Moubayed is a regular contributor to Gulf News and The Huffington Post. He also is author of Washington’s Relations with Damascus from Wilson to Eisenhower (IB Tauris, 2012). Mr. Moubayed studied at the American University of Beirut and obtained his PhD from the University of Exeter.
Douglas A. Ollivant
Douglas A. Ollivant is a Managing Partner and the Senior Vice President of Mantid International, LLC, a global strategic consulting firm with offices in Washington, Beirut, Baghdad, Hilla and Basra, since 2012. He has also been appointed as an ASU Senior Fellow at the Future of War project at New America. A retired Army officer (Lieutenant Colonel), his last assignment in government was as Director for Iraq at the National Security Council during both the Bush and Obama administrations. Ollivant spent one year in 2010-2011 in Afghanistan as the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Commander, Regional Command-East.
Prior to his posting at the White House, Ollivant served in Iraq as the Chief of Plans for Multi- National Division Baghdad in 2006-2007. During this time he led the planning team that designed the U.S. and coalition portion of Baghdad Security Plan, the main effort of what later became known as the “Surge.” He spent an earlier Iraq tour in 2004-2005 in Baghdad, Najaf, and Fallujah. He also taught politics at the United States Military Academy at West Point for three years.
A graduate of Wheaton College, Ollivant holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University, and is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies. He is a frequent television commentator on defense and Middle East issues, on networks including CNN, PBS, NPR, MSNBC, ABC, and was a national security contributor with Al Jazeera America. A life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Political Science Association, he also serves in various advisory capacities to Monument Capital Group, Meridian Hill Advisors, and TranScan LLC. He is working on a book manuscript on the topic of Hybrid Warriors, as well as various manuscripts on the Iraq conflict, 2003-present.
Bruce Riedel is Director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution. He retired in 2006 after 30 years’ service at the Central Intelligence Agency including postings overseas in the Middle East and Europe. He was a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to the last four Presidents of the United States in the staff of the National Security Council at the White House. He was also Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Near East and South Asia at the Pentagon and a senior advisor at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels. He was a member of President Bill Clinton’s peace process team and negotiated at Camp David and other Arab-Israeli summits. In January 2009, President Barack Obama asked him to chair a review of American policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, the results of which the President announced in a speech on March 27, 2009. In 2011, he served as an expert advisor to the prosecution of al-Qaeda terrorist Omar Farooq Abdulmutallab in Detroit. In December 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron asked him to brief the United Kingdom’s National Security Council in London on Pakistan. He is the author of several books: The Search for al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology and Future, Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad; Avoiding Armageddon: America, India and Pakistan to the Brink and Back; and What We Won: America’s Secret War in Afghanistan. His latest book is JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA and the Sino-Indian War. He is a graduate of Brown (BA), Harvard (MA) and the Royal College of Defense Studies in London.
Michael W. S. Ryan
Michael W. S. Ryan is a Senior Fellow at The Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C. and an independent consultant. Previously, he served as Senior Vice President at The Middle East Institute (2008-2009). The White House appointed him as Vice President in The Millennium Challenge Corporation (2006-2008). Dr. Ryan also held senior positions in the Departments of State, Defense, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after joining the U.S. federal government in 1979 as a Middle East/North Africa analyst for the Department of Defense. He is author of Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle against America (Columbia University Press, 2013) and a U.S. Naval War College Case Study, “ISIS, The Terrorist Group That Would Be a State,” (available to the public online). Dr. Ryan is currently writing a book on the Heirs of Al-Qaeda and is engaged in research on countering radical extremism with a focus on ISIS ideology. Ryan received his doctorate from Harvard University in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.
Amrullah Saleh served as the former head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) from 2004 to 2010. Prior to that, he lead Department One of NDS whose duties included liaison with foreign military, diplomatic, and intelligence organizations. In 1997, at the age of 24, he was appointed by Ahmad Shah Massoud to head the Afghan Northern Alliance’s office in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where he served as an informal ambassador and coordinator of non-governmental organizations also handling contacts to the CIA. With the fall of the Taliban, he returned to Afghanistan and helped rebuild the country’s intelligence organization. Saleh was born in the Panjshir Province of Afghanistan in 1972 and holds an honorary Doctorate Degree in Analysis Science from Clearly University.
Alex Vatanka is a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute and at The Jamestown Foundation. He specializes in Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran. From 2006 to 2010, he was the Managing Editor of Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst. From 2001 to 2006, he was a senior political analyst at Jane’s in London (UK) where he mainly covered the Middle East. Alex is also a Senior Fellow in Middle East Studies at the US Air Force Special Operations School (USAFSOS) at Hurlburt Field and teaches as an Adjunct Professor at DISAM at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
He has testified before the U.S. Congress and lectured widely for both governmental and commercial audiences, including the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, U.S. intelligence agencies, U.S. Congressional staff, and Middle Eastern energy firms. Beyond Jane’s, the Middle East Institute and The Jamestown Foundation, he has written extensively for such outlets as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, the Jerusalem Post, Journal of Democracy and the Council of Foreign Relations.
Born in Tehran, he holds a BA in Political Science (Sheffield University, UK), and an MA in International Relations (Essex University, UK), and is fluent in Farsi and Danish. He is the author of Iran-Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy, and American Influence (2015), and contributed chapters to other books, including Authoritarianism Goes Global (2016). He is presently working on his second book, The Making of Iranian Foreign Policy: Contested Ideology, Personal Rivalries and the Domestic Struggle to Define Iran’s Place in the World.
Michael Weiss is currently a Senior Editor at The Daily Beast, where he focuses mainly on world affairs and culture. He is also a Contributor to CNN and is a regular guest on Wolf Blitzer’s The Situation Room, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.
Weiss has covered the Syrian revolution since its inception in 2011 for a variety of publications, including The Daily Telegraph, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy. In 2012, he reported from war-torn Aleppo days after the city had fallen to the anti-Assad opposition. And he is the coauthor of New York Times bestseller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, published by ReganArts in 2015, with a revised and expanded edition released in April 2016.
Additionally, Weiss is the Editor-in-Chief of The Interpreter, an online translation and analysis journal originally founded to make news out of the Russian Federation accessible to an English-speaking audience. It has translated two major reports on the alleged graft of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the first by former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and the second by opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption. Cited by presidents, ambassadors, and diplomats, The Interpreter has since evolved into a real-time chronicle of Moscow’s wars in Ukraine and Syria.
Weiss has written extensively on state corruption, from Russia to Angola to Azerbaijan, and on information warfare. He is the coauthor of “The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money,” a white paper on Russian propaganda and disinformation, and “An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine,” both published jointly by The Interpreter and the Institute of Modern Russia, where he was formerly a Senior Fellow. Weiss is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.
Enders Wimbush is Distinguished Senior Fellow, The Jamestown Foundation, and Partner, StrateVarious LLC. From 2011 to 2012, he served as Senior Director, Foreign Policy and Civil Society, at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Before joining the German Marshall Fund, Mr. Wimbush served as Senior Vice President of the Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. He spent many years in the private sector with Booz Allen Hamilton and Science Applications International, directing analyses of future security environments for both government and corporate clients. Mr. Wimbush served as a member of the United States Broadcasting Board of Governors during 2010–2012, and during 1987–1993 as Director ofRadio Libertyin Munich, Germany. Mr. Wimbush founded and directed the Society for Central Asian Studies in Oxford, England from 1980 to 1987. Before this, from 1976 until 1980, he served as analyst of Soviet affairs at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California.
Mr. Wimbush completed graduate work at the University of Chicago and, as a Fulbright Fellow, at Moscow State University. He is the author, co-author or editor of seven books and numerous articles in professional and popular media, as well as dozens of policy studies. His ideas have appeared frequently in professional, policy and popular media, including The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Christian Science Monitor, Journal of Commerce, National Interest, Survival, Global Affairs, and The Weekly Standard.
Aaron Y. Zelin is the Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is also a PhD candidate (ABD) at King’s College London where his dissertation is on the history of the Tunisian jihadi movement. Zelin is the founder of the widely acclaimed and cited website Jihadology.net and its podcast JihadPod.
Zelin’s research focuses on Sunni Arab jihadi groups in North Africa and Syria. He is also the author of the New America Foundation’s January 2013 study The State of the Global Jihad Online, the June 2014 Washington Institute study The War Between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement, and the January 2016 Washington Institute study The Islamic State’s Territorial Methodology.
Jacob Zenn is a Fellow of African and Eurasian Affairs at The Jamestown Foundation. He is an expert on Boko Haram and a consultant on countering violent extremism for U.S think-tanks and international organizations in Nigeria and Central Asia. He is the author of “Northern Nigeria’s Boko Haram: The Prize in al-Qaeda’s Africa Strategy,” published by The Jamestown Foundation in 2012 and based on his fieldwork in Boko Haram’s main area of operations in northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, Chad and southern Niger. Mr. Zenn also writes reports on Nigerian security for The Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor and West Point Combating Terrorism Center.
In February and November 2013, Mr. Zenn provided testimony on Islamist Militant Threats to Central Asia and the Threat of Boko Haram and Ansaru in Nigeria to the U.S. Congress. Mr. Zenn speaks Arabic, Swahili, Chinese, French and Spanish in addition to his native English. He holds a J.D. from Georgetown Law, where he earned the commendation of Global Law Scholar.