Symposium Summary By Nolan Peterson
Nearly 100 Chicago-area law enforcement personnel from multiple agencies, including FBI, Chicago Police Department, Cook County Dept. of Homeland Security, local municipal police departments, and the Illinois State Police participated in a symposium on emerging terrorist threat scenarios on March 26, 2012, in Chicago.
The conference was organized by the National Strategy Forum, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Consulate of Israel to the Midwest, and featured three distinguished speakers from the International Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT).
The speakers focused on three strategic issues: global terrorism trends, the interconnectivity of Hezbollah with international crime and radicalization techniques on the web.
The speakers provided valuable strategic insights for law-enforcement personnel.
Session 1: Global Terrorism Trends and Resulting Challenges to Counter-terrorism Efforts
Speaker: Dr. Boaz Ganor, Founder and Executive Director of ICT
The terrorism formula
The terrorist threat manifests when motivations and operational capabilities coalesce. The objective of counter-terrorism is to simultaneously reduce both the operational capability of terrorists and the motivation for radicalization. Counter-terrorism is inherently problematic due to the likelihood of increasing the motivations for radicalization through efforts to identify, arrest, and kill terrorists.
The counter-terrorism strategy of the U.S. addresses both components of the formula for terrorism with a tendency to periodically focus on one element more than another. The initial focus of U.S. strategy immediately following September 11, 2001 was the disruption of the
operational capability of Al-Qaeda. Operational disruption was a logical response to a catastrophic attack and represented the popular sentiment of a liberal democracy under attack.
U.S. counter terrorism strategy has since shifted. President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo outlined a new focus on attenuating the motivation for terrorism while simultaneously continuing efforts to disrupt operational capability. This shift in perspective disturbed Israel.
The terrorist threat from Islamist radicalization is a distortion of Islamic thought. The Islamic community has the greatest potential to counter this misinterpretation. Israel and the United States can diminish the operational capability of terrorist groups, but cooperation from the Islamic community is necessary to diminish the motivational component of the terrorist formula. The primary task in countering motivation is to engage the Muslim community against extremism.
Implications of the Arab Spring
The Arab Spring was not a Western creation but an outcome of repressive and corrupt leadership in Arab countries. The phenomenon is ongoing and will likely continue beyond the current conflict in Syria. The long-term implications for U.S. and Israeli security are uncertain.
The U.S. reaction to the Arab Spring represents a bipartisan naiveté of U.S. foreign policy based on two misconceptions: that democracy is a solution for radicalization, and that the implementation of fair elections equate to a democratic system.
Short-term, the emergence of failed states is a possible outcome of the Arab Spring. The danger is that failed states and ungoverned territories provide an opportunity for terrorist infrastructure to regionally entrench and enhance their capabilities. For example, in Libya large quantities of sophisticated weaponry disappeared and reappeared in other regional conflicts. The Arab Spring may provide a serious opportunity for terrorist groups to establish a geographic presence and to acquire weapons.
Long-term, the electoral success of Jihadists, Salafists and extremists in the recent Egyptian and Tunisian elections indicate political outcomes that may ultimately increase the terrorist threat. Groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood share the same ideology and long-term goals as terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. It is speculative that the electoral victories of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood will result in state-sponsored terrorism, but new splinter groups will likely form as a result of state power being harnessed to promote radical ideology.
Implications of Toulouse
The recent shootings in Toulouse, France by a radicalized second-generation Islamic immigrant is an outcome of exported radicalization. Many second-generation Islamic immigrants, particularly in Europe, feel increasingly disenfranchised from their adoptive countries and are vulnerable to the seduction of radicalization.
French authorities were aware of the shooter’s extremist views and monitored his activities. The outcome of this surveillance highlights the difficult balancing of democratic values with tactical
counter terrorism considerations – one component will inevitably be degraded for the preservation of the other.
The event in Toulouse also illustrates the tactical dilemma of hostage negotiations with a a terrorist committed to a suicide operation. The ultimate task of counter-terrorism operators is to protect hostages from harm. Guaranteeing the safety of a hostage-takers life is an established technique for hostage crisis resolution that is ineffective when dealing with a hostage-taker with suicidal intent.
The notion of a suicide operation is difficult for Western values to rationalize and presents unique challenges for hostage negotiations. An understanding of the process and inspiration for radicalization is therefore an essential element to anticipate the terrorist threat and effectively respond to an attack as it unfolds.
“A terrorist loves death more than life.”
Session 2: Terrorism and International Crime – Hezbollah as a Case Study
Speaker: Dr. Eitan Azani, Deputy Director of ICT
The thwarted plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by Hezbollah operatives indicates the willingness of Iranian proxies to effect attacks on U.S. soil, as well as the broad reach of the criminal infrastructure established by Hezbollah in the United States and Latin America.
Hezbollah is currently the strongest political actor in Lebanon with social, political, and military components.
The military component is a terrorist organization with an international criminal network at its disposal. Military operations are not directly controlled by Iran, but they are subject to Iranian influence and funding.
The social and political components of Hezbollah have effectively taken control of the Lebanese state. The social sector leverages political support by bolstering the social infrastructure of Lebanon and establishing mechanisms for welfare, health care, education and construction. The political sector has adopted a “walking on the edge strategy” to use crises to develop political power. The social and political sectors of Hezbollah are powerful tools of recruitment and fundraising for the military component.
The regional and international political objectives of Hezbollah are congruent with those of Iran. Hezbollah’s regional intent is the preservation of its alliance with Syria and Iran, support for the Palestinian cause and the destruction of Israel. Internationally, Hezbollah intends to moderate the impact of globalization on Islamic identity, wage a war against U.S. hegemony and entrench connections to Latin America.
Hezbollah’s international presence is also linked to crime. Hezbollah is involved in the Latin American drug trade at all levels from cultivation to money laundering. The connection to the
drug trade has given Hezbollah an international network that penetrates into the United States, and can be used for a myriad of illegal activities and as a base for attacks.
The legitimate political component of Hezbollah has made many countries unwilling to label the entire organization as a terrorist entity. Hezbollah is consequently only on the terror lists of four states. Most states only consider the military arm of Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization and allow political and social components of Hezbollah to operate freely. Hezbollah is thereby able to maintain an international network that can be exploited for terrorist activity.
The probable severity of Hezbollah’s retaliation following an Israeli attack on Iran has been moderated by Hezbollah’s increased political power in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah is essentially the government of Lebanon and represents the interests of the entire nation, not the narrow interests of only one organization. Hezbollah’s political accountability to the Lebanese population is a deterrent to a full-scale military exchange with Israel.
The terrorist threat of Hezbollah depends on exploiting its legitimate international political and social network and international criminal connections. The covert gathering of intelligence on Islamic communities is essential to counter the terrorist threat of Hezbollah. The community infrastructure is the launching pad of the Hezbollah threat, and the threat must be identified and eliminated before an individual is compelled to act.
Session 3: Islamic Radical Terrorist Organization Fundraising & the Seduction of the Web
Speaker: Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Fighel, Senior Researcher at ICT
Open sources of information on the internet are valuable resources for collecting intelligence. It is essential to educate operators on the context of the Islamic threat to effectively contextualize and analyze the information openly available.
The internet is an effective platform for the seduction and radicalization of individuals into the Islamic extremist mindset. Al-Qaeda in particular has evolved into a decentralized organization dependent on “do-it-yourself” terrorism. Self-radicalized actors are cultivated through extensive online communities.
Web sites are a cost-effective means for extremist groups to enable radicalization through the proliferation of the jihadist’s mindset and ideology. Individuals are targeted who may feel disenfranchised from society and looking for a new group identity. Internet communication is uniquely effective because it provides an anonymous meeting forum for individuals desiring direct access to radical ideology.
The rational component of jihadists’ web sites is to provide information. The web sites are a platform to advertise the teachings and radical ideologies held by an organization’s leaders and a sounding-board for terrorist scenarios, inspiration for action, and a medium to boast and make threats.
The web sites exploit the use of visual motives to appeal to base, emotional components of the potential jihadist’s mindset. The visual motives use traditional symbols from Islamic culture and history to evoke the goals of global domination and restoration of the Caliphate.
Law-enforcement operators must be aware of the commonly evoked symbols of jihadist ideology to properly identify internet-based threats. An effective counter-terrorism strategy depends on understanding the rationality of the intentions of radical Islam. Properly understanding the rationality standards upheld by radicalized actors allows for accurate prediction and anticipation of the threat as well as focused tactics to respond to terrorist attacks.
Conference Conclusion: Tactical take-aways for Counter-Terrorism Operator
There is a need among counter-terrorism operators to link strategic considerations with the tactical response. Ten key take-aways can be derived from the March 26 symposium:
1. Terrorism is global: The modern world is interconnected and events in political “black- holes” (ungoverned spaces) will have ripple-effects at home and abroad.
2. Sensitivity to the rationality of adversaries: Terrorism is not a static threat. Terrorists are innovative and enterprising in pursuit of what they perceive are rational goals – counter- terrorism must stay ahead of the power curve.
3. Prevention is key: The Islamic community is not the enemy, but must be considered a partner in identifying potential threats. We must not be daunted by the difficulties in penetrating that community and gaining their trust.
4. Be proactive: Counter-terrorism has adopted a reactive mindset. Effectively combating the terrorist threat necessitates imagination and an ability to anticipate threats and weaknesses before they are exploited by our adversaries.
5. Communication: We have been successful in interrupting the operational command and control capabilities of terrorist groups.
6. The “lone-wolf” threat: Terrorists do not operate in a self-contained vacuum. The lone- wolf actor is not part of a traditional hierarchical structure, but he or she depends on being fed motivation from an external source.
7. Complimentary strategy: Joint training such as red team exercises improve collective knowledge on enemy capabilities and tactics, and promote strategic thinking.
8. Fusion of strategic and tactical mindsets: Tactical operations are greatly enhanced by strategic knowledge of the terrorist threat.
9. The young generation: The Arab Spring was achieved by a young generation that is technologically savvy and globally aware. The future of the Arab Spring is uncertain, but a proper analysis of the new generation emerging in the Arab world is essential to understand their motivations and predict outcomes.
10. Life is precious: The greatest challenge in countering the terrorist threat is to understand terrorist’s point of view – particularly the notion that to the radicalized terrorist, death is more precious than life.