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Countering the Threat from Terrorism

March 14, 2018

In this blog, and in the one following, Tony Diggle looks at two recent publications relating to the work of the Millennium Project, a voluntary think tank of futurists, scholars, scientists, business planners and policymakers worldwide. 

This first blog looks at the proceedings of an Advanced Research Workshop on the “Identification of Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning” held in Washington DC.

In July, 2016, under the auspices of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme, an Advanced Research Workshop on “Identification of Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning – Emerging Technologies and New Counter-Terror Strategies” was held in Washington DC. It was organised by the Millennium Project USA and the FIRST2T group, Israel, and the updated proceedings were published last year. They make sombre reading.

Introducing the volume, Jamie Shea, a NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General, pointed out that twenty years ago terrorism was problem for a limited number of countries and followed a predictable pattern. Nationalist groups such as the IRA had well-known political agendas. Now terrorism had become a universal challenge, with many more groups, increasingly networked, and some of which like ISIS had acquired a global outreach and appeal. Whereas the old terrorists focussed on state institutions or representatives, the new brand was more focussed on the liberal way of life and all its manifestations, in other words the ordinary man in the street – everywhere.

In a presentation from the two organising groups on potential counter-measures made by Ted Gordon and others, attention was drawn to a worrying vulnerability: the proposed approaches for monitoring, detection, trend analysis and archival resourcing currently under consideration by the counter-terrorism community all depended on the continuous availability of electricity. This made them vulnerable in toto to hostile cyber attacks. Gary Kessler reminded the workshop that shortly before it was held, NATO had officially recognised cyberspace as an operational domain, adding this dimension of warfare to air, sea and land.

Paul Werbos, former Program Director, National Science Foundation, USA, underscored this further in addressing the consequences of “cyberblitzkrieg” on electricity and other critical infrastructure. Recent releases of information widely reported in the media had revealed among other things detailed information about how the Stuxnet type of cyberattack could be used to destroy large electric power generators. The potential damage of such an attack on a number of big generators in the U.S. simultaneously could be comparable to that of a major Electromagnetic Pulse Event (EMP). Mr Werbos quoted Trent Franks, a Congressman with access to classified information, as saying in discussing EMP:

“Your folks are only worried because you do not have all the facts. If you had all the facts, you would be terrified out of your minds.”

Fortunately technological solutions were available, but required tougher compliance and regulation to be implemented.

In short, technology by itself might cause as many problems as it solved when it came to trying to prevent terrorism in the future. A wider sweep at the problem was required.

But what was the problem? Philippe Destatte, Foresight Associate Professor at Paris-Diderot University, pointed out that terror was inherent to violence and war. In Julius Caesar’s “Commentaries on the Gallic Wars”, he told of how his brilliant and brutal attacks both retained his friends in their loyalty, and by fear, obliged the wavering to accept offers of peace. Although terrorism might seem an immoral form of war, the profound collapse that the moral code of behaviour underwent in almost all wars on the part of all parties in the 20th century, including the targeting of civilians, showed that the difference between terrorism and other forms of war was one of interpretation. Professor Destatte referred to Guy Standing, a professor at the University of London, who had described a large part of the adult population (at least a quarter) as alienated, anomic, anxious and prone to anger, in political disengagement: the precariat. Professor Standing had written:

“A group that sees no future of security or identity will feel fear and frustration that could lead to its lashing out at identifiable or imagined causes of its lots.”1

The context was explored further by Adrian Pop, Director of the Centre for Regional and Global Studies, Bucharest, Romania in a presentation focussing on the security challenges on the south-eastern flank of the Euro-Atlantic border. In a period of economic recession and high unemployment, increasing numbers of European citizens were disillusioned by what they viewed as mainstream government’s inability to protect them from foreigners who threatened their values and undermined their economic development (irrespective of whether there was any justification for such a position). Yet in 2014, the countries with some of the highest levels of internally displaced peoples had the highest numbers of deaths from terrorism: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria. These four countries were all accessible to Europe by land via its south Eastern flank, and this had become a transit corridor for millions of refugees. More than anecdotal evidence suggested that refugee camps could serve as breeding grounds for terrorism.

Recommendations made by the report to deal with the threat included engaging sources of potential terrorism in the political process and inter-religious dialogue. Countering social media terrorist propaganda remained of key importance, and the efforts of a UN Working Group focussed on this area needed to be developed further. Initiatives aimed at educating people (including people with a “Western” mindset) to “see the world as others see it” needed to be increased not scaled back as was too often the case. An “all-of-society” approach was needed, and the need to develop a system of values such as individual liberty, equality, social coherence and solidarity crucial for the future development of counter-terrorist measures.

All this is complex, and far easier said than done. In this brief review, I have only been able to scratch the surface of an extremely dense and probing publication that contained fifteen papers in all. The report underlined the seriousness of the problem. The proceedings are available in hard copy and in electronic format. Full bibliographic details are given below.

“Identification of Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning – Emerging Technologies and New Counter-Terror Strategies” ed. by Theodore J GORDON and others. Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop, Washington DC, 24th-27th July, 2016. IOS Press, Amsterdam, 2017. ISBN 978-1-61499-747-4 (print), 978-1-61499-748-1 (online).

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  1. STANDING, Guy, “The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class”, Bloomsbury Academic, London, 2011, pp. 24-25.

Written by Tony Diggle, SAMI Associate and member of the UK Node of the Millennium Project. He writes in a personal capacity.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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