The Anatomy of Treason

  • Posted on: 20 June 2014

Collaboration & the Execution for Treason


Groups that adopt political violence as the means to achieve their goals do not often survive for more than a few years. Even those that do survive face constant threats to their survival, such as the discovery of their activities, personnel, and plans by government law enforcement and intelligence agencies (Mobley, 2008). This paper intends to examine the phenomena of modern political collaboration of individuals in occupied societies with the occupying security forces.

According to the Oxford dictionary, a collaborator is a person who cooperates traitorously with an enemy . This work utilizing the examples of the relationship between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the United Kingdom (UK), and the Palestinian groups vis a vie Israel, will examine how insurgent groups deter collaboration. Whilst the two scenarios have great similarities, there are, of course, significant differences. In Northern Ireland the population comprises of two elements, one essentially Republican, Catholic and anti-British, and one that is Unionist, Protestant and pro-British. Within each community there are also minorities that do not support the majority view of their group. For example, within the Catholic community there those who remain Royalist, have strong links with family in Britain and remain pro-Unionist. Within the Protestant community, there is a long tradition of those who, for ideological reasons, have supported a Republican Ireland. This is why, in fact, the tricolor is green, white and orange, because the original independence movement was led by Irish Protestants.

Notwithstanding, this two-case scenario has been adopted because in both these cases the occupying security forces developed an effective strategy for recruiting collaborators from essentially homogenous populations. However, in the Irish case, the IRA was able to create a much more effective counter intelligence strategy, decreasing the number of collaborators more dramatically than the Palestinian groups achieved. The difference between the two cases raises the issue of why this occurred, and an answer to this question will provide a greater understanding of the phenomena. The working hypothesis is that the use of execution for revealed traitors by the insurgent groups is the key factor in reducing the number of collaborators.

From 1969 to 1972, the organizational structure of the IRA could be considered to be relatively loose and the British government counter terrorism strategy was unsophisticated. However, from 1972 to 1976 British counterterrorism capabilities seem to have improved significantly. Security forces were steadily dismantling the IRA, and British interrogators were collecting confessions from detainees that led to the capture of senior IRA leaders. The British forces relied, in the first instance, on HUMINT resources. Efforts were made towards the recruitment of informers and agents and their recruitment techniques demonstrated a degree of efficiency. British units achieved successes at infiltrating all levels throughout the IRA and, at the peak of the recruitment campaign between 1976 and 1987, it is estimated that 1 in every 30 active IRA members were informers. The high number of suspected informer-executions conducted by the IRA during this period lends weight to this view (Mobley, 2008).

In response to the British intelligence capabilities, the IRA adopted an organizational structure that became tight and compartmentalized. According to Mobley (2008) from 1978 the numbers of arrests across all strata of the IRA dropped dramatically, and those who were captured revealed less or no information to their interrogators. It became clear that the IRA’s counterintelligence strategy became a dominant part of its operational doctrine.

The counterintelligence doctrine of the IRA reinforced rationality in the decision making process of the organization. Choices were made on the basis of the expected outcomes. Adopting a rational choice approach as to whether an action, military or otherwise, should be progressed. The concept being that of securing a defensive position before undertaking offensive military or political actions.
One of the most important operational measures was the creation of an Internal Security Unit, known as the “the nutting squad” (Nugent 2005, p113). Gaining a reputation for absolute ruthlessness, the Unit became the main pillar of the IRA secrecy strategy. The Unit evolved from its initial primary role as the principal disciplinary body, investigating internal breaches, to the one which was also responsible for meting out punishment. The Unit was able to spread fear among volunteers, maintain rigid internal control and deter informers.

Similar to the British Intelligence, Sherwood (2011) stated that Israeli military intelligence relies heavily on collaborators and informers, who are usually recruited through blackmail or financial inducements. In Palestine the dependency of the occupied people on the Israelis is the key factor in recruitment. Israeli officials can provide all manner of permits for work, travel, study, as well as import licenses and facilitate family reunification. Not surprisingly, then, Palestinian collaboration is as old as the occupation itself.

According to Sherwood (2011) it is estimated that 6000 Palestinian collaborators and their families have moved to Israel, seeking a new way of life and protection. This exodus is understandable to anyone who witnessed the second Palestinian Intifada. At that time Palestinian collaborators were often taken to the centre of Palestinian cities and executed in public by un-identified men, who would leave an explanation for the execution in their pockets. Based on the Palestinian Human Rights Monitor study (2001), 22 collaborators were executed in this way in the first 2 years of the second Intifada, while 9 were sentenced to death by the Palestinian Authority and others were executed while being held in Palestinian custody, in police stations or on their way to court. Human rights organizations believe that these people were executed without the benefit of a fair trial (The Palestinian Human Rights Monitor, 2001). Similarly, in Northern Ireland, IRA executions of suspected collaborators were often carried out by anonymous men following the decisions of the IRA supreme command without the benefit of a trial.

According to Rigby (1997) there is no one definition for “collaborators” adopted by the Palestinian groups. Neither is there one for the IRA. Both groups consider those involved in direct economic activity with the occupying forces as collaborators. For example, , Palestinians consider those who sell land for Jews to be collaborators in the same way as Irish Republicans considered those who supplied the British army with food and supplies. Similarly, both consider those involved in illegal activities, such as drug-dealing, pornography or prostitution, as collaborators as well. 
In this paper, however, the concentration in on one specific kind of collaborator, the informant, who Jawwad, (1994) defined as someone who provides intelligence regarding the activities, locations, connections and movements of activists as well as general information about political activity in a given area. The specific question this paper seeks to answer is how or whether the policy of execution for treason influences the decision taken by ‘the collaborator’ to act in the way he does.

The working hypothesis is that the execution of collaborators is instrumental in defeating the phenomena of collaboration. On the other hand, the execution of collaborators affects the legitimacy of the executing groups, and thus could be argued legitimizes collaboration and possibly enables further recruitment.

In order to understand how execution for treason influences the decision taken to collaborate with the occupying entity, two main theories are used in analyzing the cases. The first theory is that of Rational Choice. The Rational Choice theory is used to provide the basis of a unified and comprehensive theory of social behavior, and assists in understanding the motives of “collaborators” in both the Palestinian and Irish contexts... Since an action, collaboration, and its consequences, execution, is being considered, a cost-benefit analysis provides an effective analytical tool when investigating the individual collaborator’s decision making process.

The second theory utilized is Marx’s concept of opportunism. Marx (1981) postulated that people have to cooperate economically to survive and referred to their cooperation and to the individualistic competitive nature of businesses. This competiveness impacts on social classes and determines those on have money, power and prestige, and those who do not. Collaborators, as a group, can be looked at from a social and/or economic viewpoint, and their motives can be considered collectively as well as individually.



Rational Choice

The Rational Choice approach to politics provides a concept that can be applied in the case of collaboration. Collaboration is criminalized by the society of the collaborator. Rational Choice Theory states: “…that individuals choose to commit a crime, looking at the opportunities before them, weighing the benefit versus the punishment, and deciding whether to proceed or not” (“Understanding Criminology Theories”, 2014). Rational Choice argues that free will is behind every decision taken by people, who are motivated by elements such as greed, veniality, lust and jealousy. In other words, criminals are accountable for their actions. If the group determines that collaboration is a crime, and that execution is the appropriate punishment, there is no dilemma for the executor since the collaborator has made a rational choice to put his own interests above that of the group. The group is perfectly entitled to make its own rational choice to protect its interest by removing the threat to its existence. The fact that the collaborator’s betrayal can lead to others in the group being killed or losing their freedom further rationalizes the decision. Fundamentally, the root of the rationalization is that the collaborator has exercised free will.

Even though, the free will concept is not that simple as it has many implications such as religious, philosophical, ethical and legal. Free will does not refer to freedom itself, but it refers to the “observable behavior of "reflecting" or "deliberating" upon the consequences of a choice” (O'Connor, 2012).

The choice the collaborator makes is based on free will that can be affected by different elements, because individuals calculate the potential benefits and costs, in our case, fear of the punishment, which might be execution. It can be argued that most people are deterred by the fear of punishment, and do not choose to advance their own aims by committing a crime, or what is considered by the majority of their society to be treason, if they judge there is a strong possibility of being caught and the punishment is severe. Rational Choice suggests that severe punishment is more likely to limit criminal activities, especially if the punishment is justified by the majority. The punishment, therefore, is considered to be fair, and even in the case of extremely severe punishments, such as the public executions in the West Bank, when people emotions were overwhelmed with the surrounding violence, the public could be heard to cheer. This public support and demonstration of public acceptance legitimized the executions.
However, it is not straight forward as both empirical and theoretical literature show different results regarding criminal acts (Siegel, 2006; O'Connor, 2012), and the contention that severe punishment will always deter individuals from undertaking criminal acts is contentious. On the other hand, most Choice theorists consider rehabilitation of hard criminals as a waste of time and money. Others such as James Q. Wilson (1975) states that "Wicked people exist, and nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people." He continues by stating that tolerating minor criminal infractions leads to more serious crime.

Conservatives in the US (O'Connor; 2012. circa, 1980), since Reagan’s presidency, have embraced Rational Choice Theory as a rationalization for the death penalty.

Taking into consideration that since the classical school of rational choice was against it, several contradictory positions regarding free will occurred such as the conservative position against abortion and in favor of the death penalty (Cook, 1998).

To summarize, Rational Choice Theory postulates that collaborators make a choice as to whether to undertake their roles based on whether it is in their own self interest, whether that is for economic reward, or to gain some other personal advantage. Of their own free will, they make a conscious decision even knowing it is to the detriment of those with whom they live and work. Therefore, for the group it is entirely fair, having been betrayed, for the group to punish collaborators in whichever way they decide. Since the collaborator is motivated by self-interest, the more severe punishment makes it more likely for the potential collaborator to choose not to engage in such activity.


Marxist theory

The main concept that Marxist theorists utilize when examining any social, political or economic phenomena is class conflict or what is referred to as class struggle. Marx argues that as an outcome of the existence of social classes, a socioeconomic competition exists which creates tension or antagonism within society . When looking at collaboration, especially in the Palestinian arena, we find that collaborators come from a variety of social classes. The collaborators themselves come in different forms, such as political collaborators and economic collaborators, while all collaborators undertake the tasks of an informer at different levels (Jawwad, 1994). The action of collaboration, in itself, cannot be labeled as a class struggle. However, Marx’s concept of opportunism provides a different basis on which to analyze the phenomenon of collaboration. In Marx’s work opportunism is described as a way in which an individual or groups can put specific special interests ahead of the interests of the working class (Çağlı, 2006).

Marx postulated that exploitation of labor and unequal exchange are the basis of capitalism which was enabled by the ownership or control of assets and money that investors used to extract unearned income from the work of others who have to sell their labor capacity to survive (Marx, 1976). It is within the nature of capitalists to play on the cooperative nature of human beings, motivate them to produce things that are not needed, and to buy things that are not needed, in order that the individual capitalist makes a profit (Marx, 1981). The direct result of this process is that workers are alienated from what they are doing and leads to individuals putting their own personal benefit above that of the community in which they live. This is the basis upon which security services can then attract individuals to become collaborators, even though this undermines their own community. While it may undermine their own community, it enhances their own individual economic position. In other words, capitalist society itself engenders self-centered individuals who have the capacity to put themselves before others.’ (Marx, 1964).

However, humans are social animals. Cooperation is vital for survival. Since the element of competition is constantly present among individuals in capitalist societies, when it comes to money, power and social position, people hold what Marx described as "character masks" (Marx, 1981). People take advantage of others in order to maintain their interests, an informer is naturally motivated to take advantage of others in his own society if the right incentives are offered, and the assurance of secrecy, and guarantee against punishment is sufficiently strong.

In order for the capitalist system to work it enforces a regulatory legal system. This system splits not only moral and economic values, it also separates between private and public ownership. It is declared that people are equal yet people are unequal in their opportunities due to varying levels of wealth power, social status and knowledge (Gerstenberger, 2009). In the context of this analysis, unequal levels of knowledge allows for some to capitalize on the lack of knowledge of others (Bowles, 2005).

Marx contended that people in capitalist societies can be seen to be aimless and amorphous, when it comes to collective ethics and the value of human life, (in as much when not related to the accumulation of capita). Therefore a capitalist would be concerned with the health and safety of his employees only in so much as it maximized the extraction of their labor. Hence, a collective ethic, like religion, is only as relevant as its power to enforce itself, even though it is seen that ‘believers’ are constantly contradicting their religion in practice. As capitalism is based on the process of enriching the capitalist, according to Marx, this “individuality” creates selfishness and egotism and, therefore, people will naturally privatize gains on the losses of the “social” (Gegenstandpunkt, 2003). This explains the failure of religious and political groups, to maintain loyalty among their individuals, based on ideological or religious beliefs and values.

In summary, Marxist theory, basically provides the explanation of why individuals put their own self-interest above that of the group. Capitalist society itself produces within it individuals who have a tendency to seek the best for themselves in any given situation.



A consideration of the organizations, the IRA and Palestinian groups, provides proof, in the case of the IRA, that it is possible to contain the phenomenon of collaboration. The Palestinian groups have significantly failed to find an effective method of deterring such activity. Given that the existence, effectiveness and continuity of political movements and groups that adopt armed resistance to achieve objectives, this failure is of enormous significance.

The IRA’s experience with collaboration began in the mid 1960s and led to a weakening of its effectiveness. From 1978 onwards the situation changed following the measures taken to deal with the issue of collaboration. In the Palestinian case, the despite the fact that the problem had been ongoing since the earliest years of the conflict, groups were relatively unsuccessful dealing with the problem.

Rational Choice Theory conjectures that essentially collaborators make a choice to collaborate based on an internal cost benefit analysis. The benefits of collaboration in any occupied area have similarities. In most such situations the security forces enforce special emergency laws and have, by far, the greater degree of coercive power. With that power comes control over a large number of aspects of normal life from food and education, to housing and movement. The power of occupier to directly and significantly affect the lives those under its authority cannot be underestimated in examining the issue of collaboration. When additional factors, such as the ability of the security forces, in the Palestinian case, to break up or re-unite families, or to release or imprison family members, the impetus to collaborate can be understood. Nor can simple blackmail, as a control method, be overlooked, although give its nature, it is

difficult to quantify. 
From a Marxist perspective, the actions of collaborators can be seen as an almost inevitable outcome of a society that promotes the concept of the individual over that of the community, personal needs rather than group needs, and rationalizes self-promotion at the expense of others.

Both Rational Choice and Marxism emphasize that since self-interest is at the root of a collaborators decision, then a viable guarantee against punishment is absolutely essential before the collaborator will proceed to action (Mackay, n.d.). The perception, of the power of the security forces to protect him, is important. In the case of the IRA, following reorganization, a clear perception emerged amongst IRA members that the British forces could no longer offer a guarantee of protection it once had. The IRA itself was recognized as having developed its own powerful methods for discovering collaborators and ruthlessly punishing offenders.

In the Palestinian case the authority, and capabilities, in the eyes of members, never developed to the same extent. The Israeli authorities continued to be seen as having enough power to protect the lives of individuals even if discovered. For example, moving families of collaborators within Israel showed that the Israeli authorities could still protect them.

Sherwood (2011) suggests that severe punishment is more likely to limit criminal activities, especially when approved by the majority. In both the IRA and Palestinian cases severe for punishment for collaboration, including torture and death, is the norm (Mackay, n.d.). In both cases, highly negative impacts follow for the families of the collaborator. At the very least, the family would suffer humiliation, social alienation and often physical retaliation. The collaborator, in making his rational choice, spurred on by personal interest, would have to take this into consideration when weighing up the benefits and costs of his actions. In addition, the collaborator would have to consider the more intangible costs such as the personal trauma resulting from breaking the codes of his society. No matter the beliefs of an individual, committing treason will, inevitably, impact negatively. Islam has its own point of view and punishment for treason according to Abed- AlQader (1998). The crimes of treason in Islam are “the crimes that an individual or a group of people intentionally commits against the security and safety of society.” Collaboration, therefore, within Islam is clearly a sin.

Rational Choice Theory underlined the point that legitimization of punishment through acceptance by the majority of the community is an important ingredient in controlling crime. If the majority of the society felt the punishments meted out were unfair then, the theory suggests, there would not be the same deterrent effect on the thinking of an individual collaborator.

In order to maintain legitimacy and resilience among the Nationalist community, and IRA personnel, the Unit acted according to strict procedures that prevented uncontrolled violence. Ilardi (2009) stated that informers that were denounced by any IRA members would not be regarded as guilty unless there was clear evidence that proved cooperation with the British forces. If evidence existed, the informer would be executed, and the evidence would be submitted to the informer’s family and the broader Nationalist community. This protocol intimidated without alienating. Such process also adopted by Palestinian groups assisted them in gaining public acceptance of the execution of collaborators. In both cases the point that the collaborator was acting of his own free will is actively articulated.

For the group it is entirely fair to carry out the punishment, which is legitimized by the acceptance of the community, in order to deter others from undertaking such actions. Since both groups applied the same strategy of zero tolerance regarding collaboration, and both of them executed individuals who came into this category, the question remains why the IRA achieved their goal and the Palestinian groups did not?

It is clear that the IRA had a much more sophisticated internal organization, which was more tightly controlled at every level than the Palestinian groups. The Palestinian groups were less cohesive and less structured at every level, and based their counterintelligence on much simpler and less sophisticated tactics than those of the IRA. Within the IRA internal propaganda crated a collective sense of confidence among its personnel and minimized distrust. Such changes allowed the IRA to enhance internal control. This reflected a very sharp change in its external image, showing the IRA to be an organization with equal power to its British adversaries if not even superior to them. Potential collaborators lost confidence in the British power to guarantee protection from punishment. The perception of the Palestinian population of its groups, however, has been that it has been declining and Israeli security agencies are perceived as superior and still able to protect potential collaborators.

Execution for treason is undoubtedly a powerful deterrent to collaboration. However, the collaborator is still likely to operate if he feels that his own group is unlikely to discover his activities, and even if discovered, the security forces for whom he works have the power to safeguard him. If the collaborator judges that his organization is sufficiently robust as to be likely to find him out, and is sufficiently determined to carry out ultimate punishment, with the approval of his community, he is unlikely to risk his own, and his families welfare.

In conclusion, through this paper it has been clear that Rational Choice Theory is a more practical analysis tool when it comes to understanding the phenomena of collaboration. Whilst Marxist theory demonstrates how the individualistic personality as an outcome of the capitalist society, and how this can assist in understanding the motives of collaborators as opportunists, still the Rational Choice Theory provides us with more flexible tools to examine these phenomena from several dimensions, on both an individual and collective level.


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