Risk Aversion in Counter-Terrorism – How our quest for perfect security makes us more vulnerable to terrorism
Australia’s intelligence agencies are busier than ever. Twenty-three people have been charged with terrorist offences since September 2014, 288 people have been prevented from leaving Australia to fight in the Middle East, and in the last three months 18 Australians have had their passports cancelled.
For Australia’s intelligence agencies, preventing current or future travel doesn’t free up resources. Investigation of those individuals will continue and potentially increase. And as investigations generate multiple intelligence leads, they can quickly mushroom. For agencies attempting to balance existing operations against new leads, there’s a danger that even despite recent funding increases, they will reach information overload.
The public wants to be reassured that the intelligence agencies are doing everything they can to prevent an attack. But it’s possible that external pressure is increasing the likelihood of an attack by increasing the risk aversion of intelligence and law enforcement organisations.
Why is risk aversion important? read more
An article in today’s Guardian – based on a series of interviews with AQ ‘spiritual leaders’ – concludes that the rise of ISIS has “pushed AQ to the margins” and that as a result, AQ lacks the resources to properly function as an organisation.
Interviews designed to influence, not inform
To examine the validity of this claim, it is worth asking why these interviews have taken place, and why now? Why have individuals variously described as “the intellectual godfather of AQ”, an “individual at the centre of terrorist activities associated with AQ” and “a veteran of the jihad in Afghanistan” agreed to share opinions that on the face of it, appear to hinder AQ’s mission further.
It seems to me that while their insights, as with the recent interview with al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani, contain grains of truth, they are a conscious attempt by a beleaguered organisation to buy time with a hasty corporate re-branding. Given the recruitment and funding issues highlighted in the article, this is undoubtedly high risk. read more
The importance of terminology
Is it ISIS, ISIL, IS or Da’esh? Are they an apocalyptic death cult or an Islamist extremist group? And on what basis is Australia currently involved in the Middle East – the war on terror or to prevent genocide?
This is not semantics. The language and tone used by politicians, the media, and the wider community has and will impact upon the success of counter-terrorism policy, particularly in relation to the radicalisation process.
Radicalisation – victims or offenders?
If the political and media classes are to be believed, radicalisation is a simple and ever-shortening process. Vulnerable teens, permanently connected to social media, are targeted by ‘wicked’ ISIS ‘predators’ and in a matter of weeks, they are brainwashed ‘zombies’.
This terminology appears to serve two (contradictory) purposes. read more
So in the words of our Prime Minister, “a crime is a crime is a crime” and should foreign fighters return home, they will be “arrested, prosecuted and jailed”, given the risk of them conducting terrorist attacks here in Australia.
I can only hope that despite Tony Abbott’s bluster, discussions around the possible return of three suspected Australian foreign fighters will continue. While the threat they pose must and will be assessed by the AFP and intelligence agencies, their return presents two significant opportunities. keep reading
Peter Hartcher had an interesting perspective on ISIS recruitment in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald , concluding that “India’s success in denying volunteers for ISIS is still a mystery. It’s a mystery worthy of closer attention. Because it seems to be working.”
If a country really is succeeding in preventing ISIS from recruiting its Muslim youth, the rest of the world should absolutely pay attention.
But the piece draws a comparison between India, and countries with a smaller Muslim population but larger numbers of ISIS recruits, without discussing the key differences between them keep reading
Assessing the current threat – why we should be more worried about the ‘known knowns’ than the ‘known unknowns’
The known knowns
It’s becoming an all too familiar story. A small-scale and relatively unsophisticated (but high-profile) terrorist attack; a scramble to identify the individual(s) responsible; and finally, a drip feed of information confirming that they were well-known to the relevant authorities.
This pattern has repeated itself over the past 2-3 years, from the murder of Lee Rigby in London, the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and most recently, last week’s attempted attack in Texas.
That individuals radicalised to the point of committing a terrorist attack are on the radar of intelligence agencies should not in itself be surprising; were the opposite true, we would be more concerned.
But these aren’t instances of intelligence agencies having too many leads to pursue, or making legitimate priority calls based on the available intelligence. The perpetrators of the attacks above – and indeed Jihadi John – were known entities, comprehensively investigated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. And in each case, keep reading
As pretty much all ‘how to be a blogger articles’ will tell you, late adopters of the medium (such as myself) are typically confronted by a crowded market place. The world of security analysis appears to be no exception. So do I have a niche/USP, and if so, what is it?
Well… I’ve spent the best part of ten years working for intelligence agencies in the UK and Australia, specialising in counter-terrorism. My Top Secret clearances allowed me to witness the modus operandi of numerous terrorist groups and networks at first hand. find out more