Terrorism as Genocide: The Impact of a Revolution in Military Intelligence in an Era of Unconventional Warfare

Written by Tyler Goudal

This paper will explore whether or not a revolution in military intelligence (RMI) is a feasible concept built off the ideals of a revolution in military affairs (RMA). Using the argument of John Ferris (2009) as the origin for this analysis, the case study of terrorism as genocide – as discussed by Whiteside (2015), Perry (2012), and Martin & Weinberg (2016) – will contextualize the argument of whether or not the concept of RMA can be applied to intelligence. Owens (1994), Ibrügger (1998), and Barger (2005) provide the definition and framework for analysis of these two concepts.

Ferris (2009) affirms that the RMA does exist, and argues that in order to prove so, a RMI is necessary. The fundamental objective of intelligence is to prevent threats of uncertainty, surprise, deception, and an improbable future; globalization, the internet, and social media are fundamentally changing the nature of the threat (Martin & Weinberg, 2016). Ferris (2009) and Betz (2006) explain, for example, the ability of net centric warfare (NCW) to exploit information in order to make regular weapons more effective in combatting contemporary threats. Therefore, this paper asserts that the concept of RMA can be applied to intelligence, and uses the phenomenon of “terrorism as genocide” – a contemporary threat – committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as a case study to demonstrate how parallel planning and real-time decision making through NCW can combat the threat.

Tyler Goudal is a honours candidate studying international security and conflict at Simon Fraser University. Tyler’s main research interests are in international law, human rights, and security studies. This piece was first submitted to Simon Fraser University

In order to prove this position, this paper will argue that a shift in culture and procedural elements of the intelligence community are necessary in order for a RMI to effectively address contemporary threats. The cultural element addresses the desire of the intelligence community to maintain the status quo (Barger, 2005). The phenomenon of terrorism as genocide as evolved due to a fundamental shift in power and influence of threats from states to non-state actors, yet intelligence agencies are focused on viewing ISIS as an unsynchronized terrorist organization (Kelshall, 2015; Martin & Weinberg, 2016). The procedural element explores the concept of power to the edge. Using the framework of NCW, this element argues that empowering individuals’ on-the-ground conducting intelligence and military operations would in turn “move [the intelligence community] away from the search for the predictive to an emphasis on a broader, intuitive understanding of” threats (Ferris, 2009, p. 457; Barger, 2005; Alberts & Hayes, 2003). A counter-argument for justifying why it is not feasible for an RMI is evolutionary in nature. Instead of fundamentally changing the structure, organization, and training in the intelligence community through a “revolution”, adapting policies to each threat is more effective so the existence of the intelligence community is not threatened (Barger, 2005). Through an analysis of the evidence presented, a RMI would be more effective than an “evolution” of practice and procedure to ensure the intelligence community remains a relevant and effective actor in combatting contemporary threats.


Owens (1994) indicates that in order to “maintain the flexibility to meet the demands of” warfare engagement while military resources are declining, an RMA is necessary (p. 56). The North Atlantic Treaty Organization defines RMA as “a major change in the nature of warfare brought about by the innovative application of new technologies which, combined with dramatic changes in military doctrine and operational and organisational concepts, fundamentally alters the character and conduct of military operations” (Ibrügger, 1998, para. 3). In the case of ISIS utilizing the unconventional method of warfare of terrorism as genocide, the concept of RMA can be applied to intelligence in order to ensure that the intelligence community remains “relevant and effective in the face of an evolving security environment” (Barger, 2005, p. 2).

A RMI can be defined as a process of reinvention and reorganization of military intelligence to a system that is all-learning and able to adapt to the continuously evolving nature of threats (Ferris, 2009; Barger, 2005). NCW is a mechanism of information technology that will allow intelligence officials “to pursue ‘parallel, not sequential planning and real-time, not prearranged, decision making’” (Ferris, 2009, p. 455). This is attainable because the principle of NWC is for militaries to make quick decisions through communication with soldiers on-the-ground, and data processing systems that creates an environment with perfect information (Ferris, 2009; Alberts & Hayes, 2003). Therefore, through an RMI, NWC can be utilized to effectively gather and assess information via the principle of power to the edge.

Power to the edge “involves the empowerment of individuals at the edge of an organization”, such as soldiers on the ground in military operations (Alberts & Hayes, 2003, p. 5). Within NCW, power to the edge allows for the synchronized action of the military to achieve command and control, which creates a synchronized mission and intent, effectively allocates resources, and establishes rules of implementation and engagement in military operations (Alberts & Hayes, 2003; Betz, 2006). In the case of ISIS and terrorism as genocide, an RMI that utilizes this mechanism can help a military in not only combatting the threat, but further understanding the nature of the threat.

Terrorism as genocide is a complex concept that links the definitions of terrorism and genocide through the common characteristic of intent (Perry, 2012). Links between terrorism violence and genocidal acts, terrorism targets and protected groups, and premeditation and intent are the focal point of analysis in the concept of terrorism as genocide. Craig Whiteside (2015) notes these commonalities in conjunction with globalization, non-state actors, and less secure states; the genocide of the Yazidi perpetrated by ISIS exemplifies all of these characteristics. Conventionally, genocide was a domestic issue perpetrated by the state within a defined set of borders. However, the transnational nature of terrorism is shifting this preconceived notion (Perry, 2012; Whiteside, 2015; Martin & Weinberg, 2016).

Through an analysis of this evidence, an argument can be made that applying the concept of RMA to intelligence will allow the intelligence community to more effectively recognize and analyze contemporary threats, such as terrorism as genocide.


The twofold argument of the shift of cultural and procedural elements of the intelligence community demonstrates why a “revolution” in military intelligence is more effective than an “evolution” in military intelligence to combat contemporary threats. The goal of RMA is to “confront national security challenges presented by changes in information technology” (Nolte, 2010, p. 406). Because support to the military is a primary objective of intelligence, large changes in military affairs will inherently have a profound impact on many – if not all – realms of the intelligence cycle (Nolte, 2010). Therefore, if the intelligence community is dynamic, able to bypass bureaucratic delays, and work coherently with military structures, more relevant and effective outcomes are achievable. An RMI is necessary to reform the current structure of maintaining the status quo, and only accepting and disseminating information from soldiers on the edge when deemed necessary by high-ranking intelligence and military officials.

Barger (2005) indicates that the cultural element in an RMI involves the need to question the status quo and “the bureaucratic tendency to defend existing organizational boundaries and purviews” (p. 3). While terrorism as genocide clearly indicates that the nature of the contemporary threat has evolved, the intelligence community has been unable to identify the issue due to bureaucratic tendencies and the need to maintain the status quo. This is because military and intelligence infrastructure is only trained to combat a visible enemy (Kelshall, 2015). However, ISIS has capitalized on the benefits of a more globalized world through an elaborate media campaign, and can arguably be using the world as its “edge”, in turn subjecting the world to a type of NCW (Kelshall, 2015). If the intelligence community were to view the actions of ISIS in the same lens they view state-sponsored terrorism and genocide, arguably the intelligence community would recognize this form of terrorism and provide recommendations to the military community. Even if this cultural shift were to take place, the ability for the intelligence community to fully understand, analyze, and provide such recommendations could not be accomplished without a procedural shift.

Barger (2005) indicates that the procedural element in an RMI involves mechanisms of “acquisition, evaluation, and implementation” (p. 4). Utilizing mechanisms, such as NCW, that empower soldiers and intelligence officials on the edge to be part of the acquisition, evaluation, and implementation processes foster an environment that promotes the questioning of the status quo. Alberts & Hayes (2003) describe the relationship between NWC and power to the edge as:

The ability of a force to conduct network-centric operations and to self-synchronize is closely related both to mission effectives and to force agility. Force agility includes robustness, the ability to maintain effectiveness over a range of conditions and circumstances. Thus, when power to the edge is fully realized, the very nature of an organization will have been transformed, as well as that organization’s capabilities. (p. 6)

Currently, there are two United States of America (USA)-led coalitions to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, respectively. Yet, in the situation of the Yazidi genocide, the soldiers are not briefed on the issue, and therefore cannot acquire and evaluate information they may come across. If the soldiers in this coalition are empowered through a NCW mechanism, the force agility would become more effective because the military would be aware and briefed on the nature of this complex contemporary threat. Therefore, officials across the intelligence cycle would be involved in acquiring, evaluating, and implementing objectives in real-time.

Although it is possible for military intelligence mechanisms to “evolve” in order to fit a particular situation, this is not the favorable outcome because there would still be a continuous desire to maintain the status quo (Betz, 2006; Barger, 2005). Furthermore, in the USA, there are 17 intelligence agencies, all with different mandates and different intelligence cycles (Agrawal, 2017). Without an RMI that redefines the structures, organizational capabilities, and mandates of the intelligence community as a whole, these independent agencies may view the threat of terrorism as genocide, for example, differently (Ferris, 2009; Barger, 2005; Owens, 1994). Therefore, this may result in different cultural and procedural outcomes that will not lead to full synchronization and the continuous ability to adapt to evolving threats.


The concept of RMA can be applied to intelligence in order for the intelligence community to remain a relevant actor when combatting contemporary threats. Although there is a debate regarding whether the transformation should be revolutionary or evolutionary in nature, in order to effectively acquire, evaluate, and implement military intelligence, a revolution of the structures, organization, and mandate across all intelligence agencies will ensure the most effective outcome. The case study of ISIS utilizing the unconventional form of warfare of terrorism as genocide demonstrates how current intelligence structures are not recognizing and responding to this threat as a result of the desire to maintain the status quo. If an RMI were to take place, the intelligence community can utilize information technology mechanisms, such as NCW, and realize the possibility that ISIS is using the world as its “edge”.


FEATURED IMAGE: https://www.rt.com/news/248877-france-ukraine-russian-military/

Tyler Goudal is a honours candidate studying international security and conflict at Simon Fraser University. Tyler’s main research interests are in international law, human rights, and security studies. This piece was first submitted to Simon Fraser University. 


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