When I think terrorist recruitment, what pops to mind is a secretive oath made in a dingy bar or a dusty cave. “I will be your only contact with the organization,” the old hand tells the new hire. “Beyond that we are all a mystery to each other, for security!”
But apparently the Islamic State has a human resources procedure more in line with a Fortune 500 company than the traditional murderous thugs united for an overthrow. A trove of information on as many as 22,000 recruits surfaced last week when a disgruntled former jihadist turned over a computer memory stick to Germany’s intelligence agency and some news outlets.
The data include addresses and other personal information, as well as queries about background and experience. In all, 23 questions are posed. My favorite is, “Who recommended you?”
Is a referral bonus scaled to the level of evil the recruit eventually achieves? Does he or she have to survive for six months, or die within six months, for the referrer to get the bonus?
In addition to asking for names, the form asks for assumed names. Instinct suggests putting your real name and terrorist code name on the same form defeats the purpose, plus it’s confusing. “Wait, are you saying your assumed name is ‘Ashval, the Inordinately Senseless and Bloodthirsty?’ ”
“No, that’s my legal name. Mom was a dreamer. My assumed name is Bernard.”
Then there is the line for “previous job.” Imagine the selection committee going over those before deciding on a big hire.
“This one says she worked the returns desk at a retailer in Levittown. I just think she’d be too shellshocked and battle-hardened for this kind of work. I mean, we can’t have her terrifying the rest of the unit.”
What we can’t tell about the application process is what qualifies as positive and what excludes candidates from consideration. The job requires that you be a murderous, paranoid whackdoodle with a complete misunderstanding of who is victimizing you, the nature of a just God and the likely effect of your actions.
So for education level, which is asked on the form, I assume that the more you have, the less likely you are to catch on with ISIS. I guess the group needs a few sharp tacks in accounting and IT, but for the run-of-the-mill fighting and killing, a deep grounding in the classics, or even a reasonable understanding of the Quran, is only going to be an impediment.
And what about “Sharia/religious level”? What is the exact right amount of piety for the prospective terrorist?
It’s easy to make fun of this because we do not think of ISIS as it thinks of itself. To us, it is a ragtag collection of terrorists and killers bent on killing. To its leaders, members and supporters, it’s an army expelling invaders from the homeland. That ISIS kills innocent Christian, Muslim and Jewish civilians and children around the world, along with enemy military personnel, invalidates its self-image, but it doesn’t erase it.
The surreal parts are dwarfed by the scary ones. There is a question about how far recruits are willing to go in service of the cause, whether they’re willing to die. And there is a spot on the 22,000 forms for a follow-up fact: “Date and location of death.”
Ideally, ISIS fighters would defect, would realize they’re killing the wrong people in the service of the wrong cause, and get out. Because now they’re leaving us no options.
With another massacre or two in the West, even those who oppose U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria will agree we need to help ISIS members answer that final question on the form.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.