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Why isn’t assassination/sabotage more common?

by Rudi C1 min read4th Jun 202024 comments

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  1. People can short stocks of companies and then sabotage or assassinate important people to make the stocks drop.
  2. Political goals seem ripe for assassination. For example, the US recently killed Iran’s general Soleimani. Couldn’t they do this without taking responsibility (i.e. with plausible deniability)? If so, aren’t further assassinations beneficial?
  3. Political goals also seem ripe for sabotage. Currently, sometimes nations do this with cyberattacks. But I haven’t heard of physical sabotage attempts. For example, poisoning the water supply of enemy cities, burning their government buildings, cutting their electric cables, etc.
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https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_and_Kill_First at least one group of people appear to have accepted at least some of your argument.

Furthermore, assassinations fall into three categories:

Where the assassin takes credit afterwards (for intimidation, bragging to supporters, etc), where a third party is blamed (to prevent reprisals being directed at the source), and where it is unclear that an assassination was performed (wow IBM got screwed hard by that plane crash).

From the perspective in the OP, it is clear that there is a detection challenge. The most useful categories (to an assassin) are the third and the second, the least useful is the first. An external observer will see only the first category, and a potential subset of the second category, but is unlikely to see many members of the third category.

Maybe they're very common, and you're just not seeing the obvious.

4quanticle6moEven the Israelis, though, will concede that assassinations are tactic, not a strategy. The fact that they call their assassination campaign "mowing the grass [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263727829_%27Mowing_the_Grass%27_Israel%27s_Strategy_for_Protracted_Intractable_Conflict] " indicates the level of confidence they have in assassinations as a means of bringing a decisive end to a conflict. At best, assassinations buy time until the conflict can be ended through other means.
1Rudi C6moI agree, but shouldn't the unattributed assassinations be somewhat detectable? I think it's somewhat hard to mask a sabotage as an accident. (I guess I am trying to say that there should be a big class of assassinations that there is nobody to blame for.)
1RedMan6moUsing the suggested framework, those would be class 2 not class 3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/susantardanico/2012/03/28/entire-management-team-killed-a-ceos-turnaround-story/ [https://www.forbes.com/sites/susantardanico/2012/03/28/entire-management-team-killed-a-ceos-turnaround-story/] accident or successful class 3 assassination? As I understand it, analysis of these situations can be aided by wearing the correct headgear: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TinfoilHat [https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TinfoilHat]

The intersection of people with the skills to succeed at (and get away with) such a murder, the skills to predict whether it will lead to their preferred financial or political outcome, and the psycopathy to think that it's worth it, is vanishingly rare.

All of these things are easy to underestimate:

  • Those who are at risk of such, are generally aware of it. They take layered precautions that you may or may not be aware of.
  • It's not as easy to get away with it as you seem to think. For an impactful result, technology and data science be used to find the perpetrator. And they'll work backwards from the result, too - unusual trades in the stock, or political groups that benefit, will be very heavily scrutinized.
  • Reactions will be COMPLICATED. The stock may rise rather than fall, if it concentrates attention in such a way as to support the company, or if they have the succession narrative ready to go about how it makes them stronger.
  • There are near-universal social norms against it. Even if you don't get caught by the authorities, you still have to hide it from your acquaintances.
  • There are near-universal individual installments of those social norms. Most people can't or won't seriously pursue this in the first place.
  • Most people with the resources to profitably pull this off _ALSO_ benefit greatly from the norms that protect them. Violating those norms weakens them and makes the profiteer more of a future target.

Off the top of my head:

  1. People willing to commit murder are typically those with little to lose. In order to make a significant amount of money from shorting, you have to have a significant amount of money already. Yes, rich people often want more money, but they’re unlikely to tolerate the high risk of committing a murder when there are many less risky ways of making money.

  2. If the USA assassinates foreigners, foreigners can fight back. It’s in everyone’s best interest to maintain a low-assassination equilibrium instead of a high-assassination one.

  3. Some of this is done in war. Why not outside of war? See 2.

4G Gordon Worley III6moThis is the standard, game-theoretic reason I've always heard. Assassination and sabotage are effective and can be carried out with enough secrecy that no one could necessarily prove you did it, but engaging in them creates a world where you have to defend against them because they are normalized, so it's a tool that gets reserved for only those cases where it is deemed to be worth the risk.
1remizidae6moI'm not so sure it's feasible to carry out an assassination with enough secrecy that no one could know you did it. It's hard to keep a secret if the world's best intelligence agencies are all highly motivated to figure it out! Now, your word choice was "no one could necessarily _prove_ you did it," but even if it could not be proven in say an international tribunal, if other countries knew that my country did it, they could retaliate.
1Rudi C6mo* Murder/sabotage can be outsourced. A wealthy capitalist can pay to have people murdered. * I agree that a low-assassination equilibrium is probably better for all parties involved, but it is not a nash equilibrium. Parties have incentives to defect, especially if they can do so somewhat anonymously. (I.e., this hypothesis does not explain why cyberattacks do occur semi-regularly.) * I have not heard of, e.g., water poisoning even in war. It has probably happened, true, but it seems it is not at all common even in war.
3ChristianKl6moIf a person outsources murder they can still be charged with murder.

Political goals seem ripe for assassination

That is a huge misconception. Can you name a single US assassination of a foreign head-of-state, in the last 50 years, that didn't blow back on us? In every case I can think of, where the US has assassinated a head-of-state, the state has either ended up collapsing into instability or has eventually replaced the leader with a leader that was even more hostile to the United States.

Also, depending on your model of history, assassinations may be completely ineffective. If historical events are the result of large historical trends converging, then assassinating any particular politician might shift things around by a few years, but may not actually stop events from occurring.

Political goals also seem ripe for sabotage.

Also incorrect. This was tried in the 1970s by a number of far-left revolutionary terror groups, both in the United States and Europe. Weatherman, Symbionese Liberation Army, Red Army Faction, the Italian Red Brigades, all tried overthrow their respective states via a campaign of terror bombing and sabotage. They all failed. The book Days of Rage, by Burrough, chronicles many of the American revolutionary groups, and how they were all eventually either hunted down or scattered by state pressure. (If you don't have time to read the book, David Hines has an excellent summary on the blog Status 451).

As it turns out, nation-states are pretty resilient, and can remain functioning even in the face of enormous pressure, and a guerilla campaign of sabotage and assassinations hardly constitutes any pressure at all, much less enormous pressure.

Even psychopaths are risk-averse. Why take on the physical risk of performing assassination or sabotage when you can take on a much lower risk (for similar reward) via white-collar crime.

1Rudi C6mo* Murder/sabotage can be outsourced. A wealthy capitalist can pay to have people murdered.

I sense it is mostly because people naturally refrain from murder unless it is seen as a last resort measure, or has hugely positive consequences.

4Viliam6moA certain fraction of population is psychopaths. On global scale there are literally millions of them. They can get the starting capital e.g. by theft. Why don't they use this strategy?
2remizidae6moIf you’re assuming people can get starting capital by theft at an acceptable risk level, why wouldn’t they just continue with that strategy instead of escalating to the risk of murder?
5Daniel Kokotajlo6moTheft doesn't scale. Investing does. The plan of theft followed by assassination-aided investment will get you more money in the long run, for less risk, than the plan of repeated theft. At least, so it seems. Probably this is not true otherwise we'd see drug cartels doing it.

Because if you have the kind of intelligence and common sense to clearly see and care about the wrongdoings of politicians, this same intelligence would suggest the idea, that ending the life of one or several of the endless supply political miscreants, would be fruitless. The reward would not balance out the risk. Killing a person is possible but killing stupidity and/or evil is impossible because it is a scale.

The only hope seems to be to continue to permit these self-centered, ego-inflated, ignorant (or often intentionally evil) politicians to publicly broadcast their stupidity, and cruelty so all people can easily see their true colors and promptly dismiss anything they say or do as incoherent babble and self-aggrandizing actions.

While i dont have a definitive answer, i will say one of the reasons that left wing political movements nowadays (Occupy wall st, BLM, the environmental movement) dont have the same pronounced leaders that the left wing movements of the 1960's did, is due to the targeted arrest, harassment and assassination of those leaders by authorties.

3Dustin6moWas that actually the plan or just a post facto explanation? My prior would be that this happened because of the organizing mechanisms of the day (internet vs in-person meeting of the past).
1J C6moEven with the organizing technology, there are no outspoken people who have decided to act as leaders of these movements. No martin luther kings, Malcom Xs, or huey newtons, or fred hamptons. My suggestion is no one wants to be those guys because they all got assassinated. thus these movements sadly remain unorganized and leaderless.
1Dustin6moIt seems more likely to me that modern technology has made it harder for someone to become a leader even if there are people who have decided to act as such. It does not seem likely to me that there are no outspoken people who want to be leaders or that they are, in general, afraid of assassination. Take the realm of elected political leaders. By the very nature of this realm there is just one person of focus for each campaign and I'm not under the impression that there are a dwindling number of campaigns for political office...a position that has been under threat of assassination over history.
0ChristianKl6moAnybody who's very outspoken doesn't survive in today's highly political correct enviroment of the left. If you take a person like Sarah Wagenknecht who's outspoken and an leader on the left she enough thought that was independent from left wing orthodoxy to not ally effectively.