The Greedy Terrorist: Inefficiencies and Vulneralbilities in Terrorist Organizations



Date and Time

April 28, 2005 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


Reuben W. Hills Conference Room, East 207, Encina Hall

FSI Contact

Laura C. Page

Shapiro presents research he conducted with David A. Siegel, a student in Stanford's Graduate School of Business:

A review of international terrorist activity reveals a recurring pattern of financially strapped operatives working for terrorist organizations that seem to have plenty of money. This observation is hard to square with traditional accounts of terrorist financial and logistical systems, accounts that stress the efficiency with which terrorist financial networks distribute funds while operating through a variety of covert channels. In order to explain the observed inefficiencies, we present a hierarchical model of terror organizations in which leaders must delegate financial and logistical tasks to middlemen for security reasons; however, these middlemen do not always share their leaders' interests. In particular, the temptation always exists to skim funds from any financial transaction. To counteract this problem, leaders can threaten to punish the middlemen. Because logisticians in international terrorist organizations are often geographically separated from leaders, and because they can defect to the government if threatened, violence is rarely the effective threat it is for localized groups such as the IRA. Therefore leaders must rely on more prosaic strategies to solve this agency problem; we focus on leaders' ability to remove middlemen from the network, denying them the rewards of future participation. We find that when the middlemen are sufficiently greedy, and when the organization suffers from a sufficiently strong budget constraint, that leaders will choose not to fund attacks in equilibrium because the costs of skimming are too great. Further, we show there can be important non-linearities in terrorists' response to government counter-terrorism. Specifically, we find that given constrained funding for terrorists, government efforts will yield few results until they reach a certain threshold, at which point cooperation between leaders and middlemen in terrorist groups breaks down leading to a dramatic drop in the probability of terrorist success.