WASHINGTON – Engineers, especially petroleum engineers, may want to double-check who a prospective employer may be – it could be the Islamic State.
The Islamic State, or ISIS, is now doing headhunting of a different kind, looking for engineers to help run the oilfields they’ve taken over in their conquests, especially in Syria and Iraq, according to former U.S. intelligence officer James Powell.
An expert on the Middle East with experience in the nuclear security industry, Powell said that ISIS’ recent capture of Syria’s oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor has resulted in “help wanted” ads for petroleum engineers who could make as much as $225,000 a year with such added benefits as a car, weapons and other sweeteners.
Candidates, however, must be “ideologically suitable” and display an “ethos based on being administratively competent,” according to Firas Abi Ali, who heads Middle East and North Africa forecasting at IHS Country Risk in London.
As ISIS has taken over new territory, professional staffs tend to disappear. At first, ISIS threatened to kill the families of staff if they didn’t stay, but now are resorting to offering the carrot of a salary and benefits to keep them.
While the U.S. and its Arab allies bomb various ISIS-held locations in Iraq and Syria that include oil fields it has taken over, ISIS still manages to make some $3 million a day from oil sales.
Despite international sanctions on the sale of that oil, ISIS sells it at less than half the market value, enticing customers, especially from Turkey, which consumes a good portion but also sells it at a profit.
And it isn’t only petroleum engineers ISIS is seeking.
Besides engineers and fighters, ISIS also is recruiting doctors, accountants – and wives – many of whom are young women, including teenagers, a development which has perplexed Western governments.
ISIS is “issuing a bit of a siren song through social media, trying to attract people to their so-called caliphate,” according to FBI Director James Comey. “And among the people they’re trying to attract are young women to be brides for these jihadis.”
While preaching violence ISIS will “do the warm and fuzzy (of) the gun in one hand and the kitten in the other,” said Assistant Attorney Gen. John Carlin, who heads the Justice Department’s national security division.
“They’re seducing them with promises about how wonderful it will be,” said Mia Bloom, a professor of security studies at the University of Massachusetts. “They promise a sense of adventure, that their worries will be addressed.”
Various websites also have the group advertising for qualified hackers, programmers, 3D max artists, auto engineers and media “tweeeps,” which Powell admits is a term he doesn’t understand.
“It is evident that the group is putting some serious thought into bringing some structure to its plans for their so-called (caliphate) state, with stories of nationals from a host of countries, from India to Sudan, being recruited,” Powell said.
They also want to fill such positions as the director of emergency services, judges, lawyers, sanitation, sewer experts and health-care professionals.
“The U.S. and other countries in ISIS’ crosshairs have been working to counter their efforts, making arrests of individuals providing material support to the group and ensuring that the aerial bombing campaign and other military support to allies is front and center in the media, just in case potential candidates have forgotten what could await them should they sign up,” he said.
Powell was quick to add, however, that if ISIS was serious about projecting an image of a “legitimate” state, it would need to do more than “post videos of beheadings and black flags.”
As terrible a reality as ISIS is, he said, the extremist Sunni group has taken some major cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosel in Iraq and al-Raqqa and surrounding territories in Syria and must take the responsibility that comes with such conquests.
“If they want to be successful,” Powell said, “ISIS will have to either entice the talent it needs to run the day-to-day operations, or convince, or coerce, the engineers, city planners, media specialists and others already in place to stay.”
Aaron Zelin, who specializes in jihadi groups for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said ISIS is attracting foreign experts in key areas including the power industry and the media from Sudan, Tunisia and India.
“They are definitely interested in having skilled professionals help out with their state-building project,” Zelin said, since ISIS now is experiencing considerable problems in running the cities and industries it has taken over.
“At this stage,” said Torbjorn Soltvedt of Verisk Maplecroft, a British risk consultancy firm, ISIS has gone from governance “doing fairly easy tasks like providing rule of law to this second stage of really trying to run a city, and they’re facing a lot of problems.”
Soltvedt echoed Zelin’s observation that ISIS is trying to recruit foreign experts to fill gaps.
“They will try to reach out to people with the necessary skills to run these operations in order to not lose control of these areas and assets,” he said.
F. Michael Maloof, senior staff writer for WND/ G2Bulletin, is a former security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Maloof is author of “A Nation Forsaken – EMP: The Escalating Threat of an American Catastrophe,” and the e-book, “ISIS Rising: Prelude to a neo-Ottoman Caliphate.” He can be contacted at [email protected].