How intelligence agencies should respond to an evolving terror threat (and an update)

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The past few months have been busy on a number of fronts; as a result, my blog updates have been rather infrequent. I live in hope that this is about to change, but in the meantime, here’s an overview of what I’ve been up to since May:

Firstly, as has become tragically apparent in the last 3 months, the terrorist threat has evolved.

As I wrote back in January, things were always likely to get worse before they got better. Not just because of a shift in Islamic State’s focus as their state-building project becomes unstuck. But more fundamentally because the world, and Europe in particular, are paying the price for the counter-terrorism mistakes that allowed Islamic State and others to exploit the permissive operating environment in Syria and Iraq.

As a result, the focus of my research and writing has been on how intelligence agencies have responded to the evolving terrorist threat, and what this means for counter-terrorism in the short to medium-term.

  • Back in May, I looked at the potential implications of a Brexit vote on the UK’s counter-terrorism capabilities. Three months on, we’re still not sure what Brexit means; unsurprisingly, the future of the UK-EU CT relationship remains similarly uncertain.
  • In June, I looked at the dangers of retrospectively criticising intelligence agencies for dropping investigations or missing clues that in hindsight seem so obvious..
  • Finally, post-Nice attack, I looked at the limits of counter-terrorism in the face of low-capability/high impact attacks from individuals with no or limited interaction with known terrorists.

I discussed all of these issues in detail on an excellent new Australian podcast Sub Rosa, released in early August.

What’s next?

I’m just about to finish a longer piece for the Lowy Institute for International Policy on resilience and reducing the perceived terror threat. I’m hopeful that this will be published in late 2016.

Back in late June, I presented at an excellent NATO-sponsored conference, ‘Terrorist use of the internet’ in Dublin. My paper ‘Beyond big data – surveillance, metadata, and technology-enabled intelligence opportunities’ is due for publication in early 2017.

The conference coincided with me relocating to Europe (specifically London) rather more permanently.

The move shouldn’t have too great an impact on the focus of my writing and research; I’ll continue to keep a close eye on developments in Australian counter-terrorism from afar, and write for the Lowy Institute. But it will allow me to have a greater focus on counter-terrorism in the UK and Europe, and in particular, on the ongoing attempts to update the powers available to the UK intelligence agencies.

Watch this space.

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