I asked James Biesterfield for his expertise in understanding the impact Michael Collins had on the world of terrorism/insurgency. Mr. Biesterfield is a retired Special Agent for Counterintelligence from the US Army. He is currently a counter-terrorism consultant, author and trainer based in Riverside County, California. James and I co-authored this piece.
St. Michael, the Archangel, is considered to be the Patron Saint of Warriors. In some circles, Michael "Mick" Collins is almost considered a saint. There are truths, falsehoods and legends that surround this iconic man. To some, he was one of the fathers of the Irish Republic – an honored hero. In the counter-terrorism field he is viewed as the father of modern day terrorist tactics. So, how should we view Collins?
By all accounts, this youngest of 8 children, was exceptionally bright and his father, also named Michael, stated that his young son would do great things for his country in the future. This pronouncement made on the deathbed of the elder Collins. He would not be wrong.
In the world of violent groups, the old adage is, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. This could not have been truer in the case of Michael Collins. From a purely analytic viewpoint, Michael Collins was absolutely critical in the advancement of modern terrorist & insurgency organizations.
In the year 1909, the 19-year-old Collins joined The Irish Brotherhood. He rose quickly in the ranks, obtaining a solid reputation and being given a great deal of responsibility with their Finance Ministry and leadership with the Irish Republican Army. Collins made some significant contributions in logistics and organization for the IRA and the Republican government. As President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, under the bylaws of the Brotherhood, he was President of the Irish Republic. Collins was shot and killed in August 1922, during the Irish Civil War.
After the Easter Rising of April 1916, Collins was arrested after surviving the attack on the Dublin Post Office. Almost given the death penalty, he was instead sent to Frongoch Prison in Wales. He was released in a Christmas Amnesty in December 1916 and allowed to return to Ireland. While in prison, he had time to consider how IRA operations were being conducted.
For the most part, IRA fighters were loosely organized in their particular home areas and locally commanded and directed. This allowed no continuity of action between the various fighting groups. Collins played a prominent part, in re-organizing IRA fighters into what he called Flying Columns. He also centralized Logistics and Training allowing continuity among all of the Flying columns. Thus, if one guy got “too hot” in one area, he could be transferred to another area without appreciable changes in his training base.
This was incredibly innovative for the time. Previously, terrorist/insurgent groups operated independently, or in loose cooperative efforts. (Did you notice the variety of weapons among the Libyan Freedom Fighters? A logistical nightmare! A lack of training dragged that fight out for 6 months, even WITH NATO support.)
In following the timeline through the 20th Century terrorist groups, it appears that virtually ALL groups have and are following the IRA Model. The PLO used and improved upon this model in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This led to a vast number of terrorist fighters from all over the world attending training at PLO camps located in Libya during this period. Following this, we began to see cooperative efforts on the part of terrorist groups (i.e. Lod Airport, Rome Airport, Mogadishu, etc).
Even today, Islamist groups follow a similar model that allows interoperability between disparate groups throughout the world.
However one might view Michael Collins – saint or sinner – his contribution to insurgent/terrorist groups cannot be discounted. The important thing for law enforcement, special operations and intelligence organizations is to understand that impact, its relationship to groups in present day and begin to analyze future changes to the logistical and training capabilities on the part of such groups.
Mr. Biesterfield can be reached: On Twitter @xspook2 as well as Face book and Linkedin.
For other points of view visit Carroll Standard: www.carrollstandard.com