Category: Security (Page 1 of 3)

Exclusive paper: Is fear of ISIS rational? A statistical analysis

Summary
In the context of ongoing discussion over whether or not publics in the world are rational in their views on terrorism, this analytical commentary uses data about fatalities from terrorist attacks and results of a Pew Research Center global survey on public attitudes to assess whether concern about ISIS tracks with the threat ISIS has posed to countries. This analysis found that concern about ISIS in most regions of the world tracked with both fatalities caused by all terrorism and fatalities caused by ISIS specifically. Globally, concern about ISIS in a country showed the strongest correlation with fatalities caused by ISIS. The publics of particular countries that faced divergent threat levels from ISIS-affiliated terrorists and non-ISIS-affiliated terrorists also showed the ability to distinguish between the different threats. The results indicate that publics are not, in general, extremely irrational.

My commentary on public opinion and ISIS has been published at the Central European Journal of International and Security Studies. Read my CEJISS commentary here.

Introduction
Are public fears about ISIS rational? A detailed global survey released by the Pew Research Center found ISIS is the issue the world’s people are most concerned about in a plurality of countries surveyed. Across 38 countries, 62 percent of the world is concerned about ISIS, narrowly surpassing climate change as the top issue[1].

This has caused some to suggest that the public’s fear of ISIS is irrational. Michael Cruickshank wrote, “Crazy how irrationally afraid people are off ISIS. Shows how effective their propaganda is”[2]. It’s true that everyday risks like car crashes and murders by common criminals are bigger threats for ordinary people[3][4], but the impact of intentional, targeted attacks on civilizational values causes a bigger fear impact in many people’s minds[5]. Whether or not that is “rational” per se is a question for psychologists and philosophers and others to debate some other day. Instead I shall undertake to assess whether, within the confines of human psychology, the relative risk assessments of various countries are in line with the threat posed to those countries by ISIS.

This analysis focuses on concern about ISIS, as registered in the survey; fatalities caused by terrorism within each country, as tracked by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s (START, at the University of Maryland) Global Terrorism Database; and fatalities caused by ISIS, also tracked by START’s database. The results were predictable: there were generally positive correlations between a country’s exposure to fatalities caused by terrorism and that country’s concern about ISIS. There were also some notable departures from correlation, which showed many publics are attuned to specific regional dynamics.

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Add Barcelona to the ever growing list of Euro cities facing insurgency

The tide of ISIS’s terrorism in Europe broke on January 7, 2015 at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket. That attack heralded the start of waves of ISIS directed or inspired attacks that have washed over Europe in the years since. On Thursday, August 17, 2017, terror came to Barcelona. We’ve seen this before. A van rammed into crowds on the busiest street in the city, Las Ramblas at 5 pm. It drove through the crowds, apparently swerving and weaving for maximum impact. The driver of the van is responsible for the deaths of 14 people, and of wounding over 100, 14 of whom are in a critical condition. The driver fled the scene on foot and is, at the time of writing, still at large.

Five suspects were then shot dead in Cambrils, a coastal town 75 miles from Barcelona. The working assumption is that they’re part of the same network as the driver. Meanwhile, early on Thursday morning, there was an explosion at a house in Alcanar Platja, where another member of the network blew himself up with his own bomb.

Islamic State has claimed the attack, saying “Terror is filling the crusaders’ hearts in the Land of Andalusia.” Whether they’re really responsible for this, whether they had some sort of control or role as a guiding hand is not yet known. Time will tell, but the effect is the same even if the attackers were only inspired; another vehicular missile driven by a jihadist mowing down innocent bystanders, guilty of heresy in the eyes of those who murdered them.

We can expect many more of these. Britain has 23,000 suspected jihadists. Belgium has 18,884. France has between 1517,000. Germany has 24,400. Spain has 1000. This totals around 82-84,677 potential jihadists in 5 European countries. While we must not give in to fear-mongering and the temptation to paint with too broad a brush when describing diverse communities, we cannot pretend that these numbers represent anything other than a jihadist insurgency in the heart of Europe. This has destroyed the state’s monopoly over the use of military force, which as Max Weber argued, is the crucial element that gives the state legitimacy.

These vehicle attacks are now a trend in Europe that have become worryingly frequent. Instead of the tragedy of the commons, we now have the tragedy of the common place. ISIS is not the first to call for trucks and other forms of vehicular terrorism; Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular, in their magazine Inspire, gave detailed instructions on how to carry out a vehicular attack. Dabiq, ISIS’s now defunct English language magazine, also gave instructions on vehicular terrorism. Advice included attaching spikes or shards of glass to the front of trucks that were of a certain height and weight in order that they would have maximum physical and psychological impact. From 2010 to 2014, there were attempted car and truck attacks that were either small scale or foiled in the attempt. Nice 2016 saw the first mass casualty attack with over 80 dead. There was then the Berlin Christmas market attack in 2016, and then there have been 6 Islamist attacks using vehicles and one far-right attack so far this year in Europe.

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Two pathbreaking studies you need to know

First, the US and Western Counter insurgency operations are failure, because frankly, in simple words, we are too good and pussyfooted. We are not brutal enough.

I have previously written why Western strategies fail, and stated that in the last 20 years, only two Counter Insurgency operations succeeded, and that’s in Sri Lanka, and Chechnya. It was brutal, but it brought on stability.

US and Indian officers in a joint COIN training briefing.

Latest research proves, the only way to succeed in a COIN op, is to be insanely heavyhanded.

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The Bear in the neighbourhood: Comments from experts on Russia policy

Is Russia an existential threat to the West? Is it just another geopolitical adversary? The answer to this question can determine Western action and Western goals. If we consider the Second World War definition of the West, which is limited to Western Europe and North America, policy prescription will be radically different than when one compares an ever expanding NATO and EU. This is important, and has been a major factor in punditry’s analysis of US President Donald Trump’s meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Hamburg G20, at a time of extreme global turmoil.

What we know so far is that there has been external interference in the US presidential election, by cyber attacks, originating from Russian mainland. That’s the US joint Intel assessment. Although the assessment claims that the cyber attack was ordered by Vladimir Putin, no public evidence was forwarded to corroborate that claim, and it is all classified. Nor is there any evidence of any active collusion between Russian intelligence and Trump campaign, yet, nor any clear indication of whether Russian interference decisively tilted the vote count.

Reporting continues to attempt to flesh out details, as investigations continue. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported last week that a Republican operative, Peter Smith, who claimed to have had communications with former Trump official advisor Michael Flynn, was actively seeking Clinton emails from hackers. Matt Tait, a cybersecurity professional who was a source for the Journal‘s reporting, wrote that he was contacted by Smith, who represented himself as working with the Trump campaign, to verify emails he said he had received on the dark web.

Whatever else turns out, Russia is still a geopolitical adversary of the United States and Europe. It is imperative for countries to have a clear coherent grand strategy and one based on a clear understanding of the issues. In light of that, we asked three International Relations experts, two from US, one from UK, on how should the West deal with Russia.

Here’s what they said.

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Careful of labels: The Tommy Robinson vs Quilliam story

On May 2, the Quilliam anti-extremist organisation in London was the site of an altercation between Quilliam members and Tommy Robinson, formerly of the English Defence League, and a cameraman. Tommy now works for the British branch of Ezra Levant’s right-wing Canadian news network, Rebel Media.

Tommy had gone to the offices of Quilliam to complain about an article in The Guardian newspaper by Quilliam’s researcher named Julia Ebner, about the rise in right-wing extremism in the UK, and how it and Islamist extremism feed off each other. This broad point is often well made and cogently put by Quilliam members like Maajid Nawaz, Adam Deen and Haras Rafiq who is Quilliams’ CEO. It is a convincing case for how extremism on all ideological fringes breeds a mirror image reaction on the opposite fringe.

The issue Tommy had with the article was with this specific paragraph, with the most contentious section highlighted:
That the far right has moved from the fringe into the mainstream demonstrates the massive support that white supremacist movements have attracted from digital natives. Their online followership often exceeds that of mainstream political parties: with over 200,000 followers, Tommy Robinson’s Twitter account has almost the same number of followers as Theresa May’s.

Tommy decided to confront the article’s author by going to see her at Quilliam’s London headquarters. As seen in the video uploaded to Rebel Media’s Youtube channel, Tommy tried to gain access to the building, was asked by Adam Deen if he had an invitation, and when he said he didn’t was asked to leave. Tommy then proceeded to interrogate Deen about whether he thought he was a white supremacist.

Once he was on his own, he re-entered the ground floor lobby, and given no-one was around, decided to go downstairs to see who he could find. Having done this, he ran into the various staff members and researchers who make up the Quilliam team, found Julia in a small conference room with other members, and proceeded to shove his microphone in their faces, while his cameraman filmed them all. A scuffle ensued when Deen tried to stop the incident by apparently grabbing Tommy’s microphone and recording equipment attempting to stop the cameraman filming. Tommy spoke to Haras Rafiq, and the police who were called then escorted Tommy and his cameraman off the premises.

Let me be plain. This was absolutely unacceptable conduct on Tommy Robinson’s part. He violated Quilliam’s security, and the organisation has now had an emergency relocation to new secure premises. He trespassed without permission, and intimidated members of their staff. This, despite all his protestations, made him look like the aggressor rather than the victim, the opposite of his aim. Also, he lost credibility in insisting he’s not an extremist when he copied tactics used by Islamist and other far-right organisations like Al-Muhajiron and Britain First. Added to this, the reaction of members of Quilliam’s staff, who understandably felt surprised and threatened was non-conducive to de-escalating the potential for physical conflict, as their snatching of the microphone and other film equipment only made the situation worse.IMG_0139

That said, let’s consider why Tommy was there, while in no way offering it as an excuse for his actions. Maajid Nawaz and Haras Rafiq have gone on record and repeatedly stated that they do not believe Tommy is a white supremacist, and that the article, which they had no editorial oversight over, was not intentionally worded to portray him as such. That’s all very well, but as Andrew Neill said on the BBC’s Daily Politics, the sentence structure and its chronology strongly implies that Tommy is a white supremacist. Despite Maajid Nawaz’s protestations to the contrary, there is no getting around this. Apparently English is Julia Ebner’s 3rd language, so it is perhaps understandable that her wording could be considered a little awkward in places. However, this is also little comfort as it shows the laxness of the editorial process both within Quilliam up to this point and at The Guardian. 

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No, British National Anthem is not promoting any far-right ideology

Back in October, a Student Union leader of King’s College London wrote a Facebook post, saying he thought the National Anthem should be banned because it promoted far-right ideology, white supremacy and xenophobia. He also said that nation states are a really bad idea.

First, why does this trivial issue occupy someone in a position like the vice president for welfare and community at the KCL SU? Surely this post requires a lot of time? Doesn’t he also have some studying to do?

Anyway, I disagree entirely with Mr Abdullahi’s premise and argument. As such, in response to his use of his right to free speech to criticise what he sees as an out-dated institution, I’ll use my right to free speech to rebut him.

His entire position seems to revolve around the fact that he finds the anthem racist and a remnant of the British Empire. It also apparently empowers far-right nationalists who glory in the old and timeworn idea of the nation state.

First of all, if Mr Abdullahi had actually looked into the history of the national anthem, he might find that it was written during the Jacobite rebellion in the 1740’s. If anything it is an anti-Scottish anthem more than anything else, as it was penned in reaction to Bonnie Prince Charlie storming south to retake the English throne for the Stuart dynasty.

Incidentally, if he wants to see examples of national anthems with less than savoury lyrics maybe he should look at the Chinese, the Mexican, the Algerian, the Turkish and the Vietnamese national anthems. These have some blood curdling lyrics that make Britain’s look meek in comparison.

The second issue with Mr Abdullahi’s misguided comments concern his “f*** the nation state” statement. By this comment, I guess Mr Abdullahi is against all forms of national sovereignty and identity. In other words, he seems to want to live in the world of John Lennon where there are no countries and we are all just one big happyfamily.

I’ve got bad news for him: the nation state is arguably the single biggest protection against external and inter-tribal violence in the history of humanity.

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Bombs + Dollars’ analysis of the House Intel report on Snowden

Edward Snowden was a portrayed as a frustrated worker who clashed with colleagues, failed workplace training, and exaggerated his credentials in a report by the United States House of Representative Intelligence Committee. Most damningly, it alleges that he has passed on classified information to the Russian government. In the words of Bombs + Dollars editor Sumantra Maitra, “This is rough.”

The House Intel Committee began investigating in 2014 in order to analyze the damage Snowden’s leaks did to U.S. national security and how to minimize the risk of it happening again. It is worth noting that the Intel Committee has their own point of view. The 4 page report available to the public is but a small summary of the classified 36-page report, with information selected to best make their case. The committee’s investigation avoided interviewing individuals who may be witnesses as a possible trial of Snowden and in some cases interviewed second- or third-hand sources who had reviewed reports of interviews with Snowden’s colleagues, rather than the colleagues themselves. Nonetheless, much of the information is in-line with what has been reported in journalistic and non-governmental sources about Snowden, though some of the House’s claims are worded in a sensationalistic manner.

First, the report states that Snowden caused “tremendous damage to national security.” The information he revealed that Glenn Greenwald and other journalists published about U.S. intelligence programs both domestic and abroad is, of course, available to anyone with an Internet connection. That is a necessary consequence of a journalistic expose, and journalists can only control the degree to which they minimize the most damaging information, but it is sometimes justified for public knowledge.

Yet a large amount of the information published had nothing to do with spying on American citizens–or even foreign citizens. The U.S. tapped the phones of foreign leaders, for example, and conducted espionage on its rivals during diplomatic and trade negotiations, it was reported, based on Snowden’s leaks. “[T]he vast majority of the documents he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests,” the report says. Snowden has already admitted that he didn’t even read all the documents he leaked.

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Trump ally Gingrich says maybe U.S. shouldn’t even defend NATO allies that hit military spending target

Former Republican Speaker of the House and shortlist finalist for Donald Trump’s VP selection Newt Gingrich said on CBS News this week that NATO allies “ought to worry about our [U.S.] commitment.”

This came after Trump said he would consider only defending a NATO ally from Russian incursion “if they fulfill their obligations to us.” Trump has often accused American allies of not paying their fair share. In many cases, he has used made-up numbers to make his argument. For example, he said of South Korea, “They don’t pay us.”

In this case, Trump didn’t set out specifics about NATO, but many NATO countries have come under criticism for spending well below the target of 2% of GDP on defense. Only five of the 28 members meet the goal. Those countries are the U.S., Greece, the UK, Estonia and (since 2015) Poland.

Asked specifically about whether the U.S. would defend Estonia, which borders Russia, from an attack, Gingrich said,

“Estonia is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg. The Russians aren’t gonna necessarily come across the border militarily. The Russians are gonna do what they did in Ukraine. I’m not sure I would risk a nuclear war over some place which is the suburbs of St. Petersburg. I think we have to think about what does this stuff mean.”

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Secrecy, privacy, security, transparency

End-to-end encryption for civilian messaging services is a dearly-held dream of many outside the intelligence and security communities. It certainly isn’t something that I myself disagree with; I’d like to think that the messages I send to my loved ones are, in fact, being read only by my loved ones. However, every time that somebody uses an app with E2EE to send a message or make a call, members of the worldwide intelligence communities cradle their heads in their hands and cry.

Allo-app-img_6663-640x427Yesterday, Google jumped on the ‘encryption-for-all!’ bandwagon, announcing their new messaging service Allo, messages sent through which not even Google itself will be able to decrypt (theoretically, and for now) when the app is operating in Incognito mode. After all, to the average citizen it is perfectly reasonable to take steps to ensure one’s privacy, especially when you know good and well that there are those out there with the capacity to intercept and read your unencrypted (and therefore insecure) messages should they choose to.

In fact, Google is actually late to the game on this one. As Wired pointed out earlier today, Facebook (with Messaging and Whatsapp) as well as Apple (iMessage, Facetime) have been quietly encrypting your communications for some time now. More people are aware of this now, due both to the consequences of the Snowden revelations and the extremely public throw down between Apple and the FBI over getting into the iPhone of the San Bernadino shooter. And that’s the real rub. For all that we are entitled to privacy (and so we should be, not disagreeing with that!), our intelligence services and security organizations have the duty to protect against threats to the security of the State and the citizens therein (that would be us). Of course, the problem with that is privacy for everyone means privacy for everyone….including criminals and terrorists. Apple cannot build the FBI a backdoor into an iPhone, because that sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Not to mention, once that capacity exists it can’t be taken back, and absolutely nobody can guarantee that it won’t eventually trickle down to some who will use it negatively. This is an ethical as well as legal dilemma, and there really is no simple (or, so far, complex) solution.

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When it rains, it pours

The greater question is…why are there such repeated security leaks?

2016 has not been a banner year for large international corporations. It would seem that increasing globalization in combination with a higher level of technological savvy (and a healthy dose of employee discontent) is causing corporate corruption schemes to unravel. Between the Unaoil bribery debacle and the Panama Papers offshore funds scandal, some of the best-known global companies and personalities have been brought under the miscroscope by investigative journalism.

In recent years, a lot of scrutiny has been given to whistleblowers and leaks, particularly as they pertain to governments (Edward Snowden and PRISM, anyone?). However, what we have seen in the first few months of 2016 is the strength of journalistic investigtion bought to bear on multinational companies and global corruption on an increasing scale. And, more and more, current or former members of staff for these companies are the source for massive amounts of information that can and have resulted in arrests, ruined careers, and spectacular losses of reputation.

And another thing; current technology and Big Data being what it is, nearly unfathomable amounts of information are being released into the wild by these whistleblowers, and with every leak that volume of information is increasing. Wikileaks accounted for approximately 1.2 million documents (so far, anyway). Snowden made off with roughly 1.7 million documents. The Panama Papers, on the other hand, have been estimated at 11.5 million documents.

Eleven point five million documents. Consider that for a moment. 

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