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Anatomy of Lone Wolf

The recent attack on Westminster in London once again highlighted the phenomenon of the "Lone Wolf" terrorist. Although the term suggests the spontaneous and unpredictable transformation of an innocent into a kind of murderous beast, such wolves are actually "lone" only in a very limited sense. They differ from their background in degree, distinguished by critical extras such as 1) the willingness to use violence; 2) the training to employ it; and 3) the means necessary for an attack.

A lone wolf or lone-wolf terrorist is someone who prepares and commits violent acts alone, outside of any command structure and without material assistance from any group. However, he or she may be influenced or motivated by the ideology and beliefs of an external group, and may act in support of such a group.

He starts as an outsider but without these criminal extras, the pre-Lone Wolf remains essentially inside the law. While he might adopt behavior hostile to the host culture for so long no open incitement and acts of violence occurs he may not be hindered -- and may even be admired by the politically correct.

This 'critical ingredient' theory was prominent in British Prime Minister Teresa May's statement to the House of Commons on the attack. According to May, MI5's mistake was failing to notice that attacker Khalid Masood had made the move from mere "ideology and beliefs" to the level of the Lone Wolves.

"Mr Speaker, it is still believed that this attacker acted alone, and the police have no reason to believe there are imminent further attacks on the public.

"His identity is known to the police and MI5 and, when operational considerations allow, he will be publicly identified.

"What I can confirm is that the man was British-born and that - some years ago - he was once investigated in relation to concerns about violent extremism. He was a peripheral figure.

"The case is historic - he was not part of the current intelligence picture.

"There was no prior intelligence of his intent - or of the plot. Intensive investigations continue."

At some unnoticed point -- "intensive investigations continue" -- the "peripheral figure" of Masood acquired the extra ingredient that boosted him over the border and turned him into a soldier for ISIS, killing 5 and maiming or injuring 40 more. The essential thing to grasp is he did not have far to go. Like many other Lone Wolves exposed to "extremism" -- whatever that means -- he was conveyed to the very edge of the legal line without actually crossing over, awaiting only someone to take him by the hand into a 1) willingness to use violence.

The 2) training and the 3) means were ingredients easily supplied. Over the last 8 years, ISIS has developed a set of very effective combat skills in the battlefields of Iraq and Syria that are readily adapted to Western cities. The pool of trainors is assured. All they had to do was adapt these experiences to the availability of materials in the West. Masood's ramming attack (and the French Riviera and Berlin attacks) is a variant of the classic car-bomb strike adapted to compensate for a lack of readily available explosives in Western Europe.

Where firearms are available, light infantry assaults (a la Orlando) and sniping attacks (the Beltway sniper) can be attempted, as in the US. Where even modest quantities of explosive can be obtained, commercial photographic enthusiast drones can be turned into mini bombers. The jihadis from Syria know the mechanics of mayhem; better yet they know how to dart in from the woods and find the shy dancer waiting at the edge of the line just waiting for the music. In each case, the formula is the same. Obtain 95% of the training and means legally and openly from the hated West and supply the rest. The last 5% is relatively easy to supply and hard to detect.

It is a mistake to dismiss the Lone Wolves as "cowardly and depraved". On the contrary, their tactics require a willingness to die and the intelligent use of abundant dual-use materials that is rarely if ever equaled by the political leadership of the West. The September 11 attacks are a superb example of how creative and determined a foe the jihadis can be. Using box cutters and wide-bodied aircraft the Muslim world could not invent for itself a handful of highly motivated men that killed thousands of people in the heart of Manhattan.  In some respect, the Lone Wolves are more accurately likened to the U-Boat wolfpacks of WW2 notoriety than to werewolves who mysteriously arise at random in the depths of the forest. The Wolfsrudel, like the Lone Wolves, were only loosely coordinated and "could attack as they saw fit ... If their number were sufficiently high compared to the expected threat of the escorts, they would attack."

And attack they do, surprisingly yet unsurprisingly. It is Western leadership that is more deserving of criticism for turning in such a poor defensive performance despite their vast resource superiority. Obsessed with looking good, timid to the point of inactivity, determined at all costs to proclaim their own virtue, the Western elites have proved singularly incapable of combating their vastly weaker foes. The ritualistic candle-lighting, trite speeches, frightened processions and self-congratulation of the political class are completely ineffective against the laser-like menace of their foes. They haven't noticed but the voting audience is starting to.

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Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, Author Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, tracks the rise of behavioral addiction, and explains why so many of today's products are irresistible. He shows that their extraordinary and sometimes damaging magnetism is no accident. By reverse engineering behavioral addiction, he explains how we can harness addictive products for the good — to improve how we communicate with each other, spend and save our money, and set boundaries between work and play — and how we can mitigate their most damaging effects on our well-being, and the health and happiness of our children.

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, Author Joseph J. Ellis sifts the facts shrewdly from the legends and the rumors, treading a path between vilification and hero worship in order to formulate a plausible portrait of the man who still today "hover[s] over the political scene like one of those dirigibles cruising above a crowded football stadium, flashing words of inspiration to both teams."

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. In this book, Duhigg takes the reader to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. He presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. By harnessing this new science and understanding how habits work, he believes we can transform our businesses, our communities and our lives.

Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, Authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT bring together a range of statistics, examples, and arguments to show that technological progress is accelerating, and that this trend has deep consequences for skills, wages, and jobs. They make the case that employment prospects are grim for many today not because technology has stagnated, but because we humans and our organizations aren't keeping up.

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The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

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The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

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