• Perspective: Defense of the homeland

    On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on the evolving threats facing the United States. In their written and opening remarks, the witnesses outlined a dizzyingly broad array of threats—from domestic and international terrorism to transnational organized crime, cyber and economic espionage, election interference, data insecurity, and potential chemical and biological attacks on the homeland. As the hearing wore on, senators’ questions and witness testimony narrowed in scope, focusing primarily on three aspects of America’s security challenges: how to optimize information sharing to combat domestic terrorism; how to counter Chinese cyber and counterintelligence operations; and how to address the growing problems posed by new technologies, namely, ransomware, cryptocurrency and unmanned aerial systems (UASs).

  • Perspective: The Troubles

    In a recent decision, a court in Northern Ireland ruled that evidence from an oral history project could not be considered in a 1972 murder case, clearing 82-year-old Ivor Bell of soliciting the killing of Jean McConville. Evidence from the Belfast Project, an oral history of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, indicated Bell and other members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) kidnapped and murdered McConville because they incorrectly believed she had provided information to the British Army about IRA activity in Belfast. This evidence played an important role in Bell’s indictment and trial in the McConville case. This ordeal strained the relationship between legal justice and historical truth, Donald M. Beaudette and Laura Weinstein write. “Though in court, lawyers, judges and juries assess the guilt of alleged offenders according to well-honed rules of evidence and interpretations of the law, assessing historical truth is more complex,” they write. They argue that scholars “can and must write and speak more broadly about how historical interpretation works, so citizens are better equipped to understand that the dominant interpretation of history is not the only one, nor is it necessarily the correct one.”

  • Iran

    A new, detailed study says that over the past forty years Iran has built a network of nonstate alliances which has allowed it to turn the balance of “effective” power in the region “in its favor.” In a report released today (7 November), the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) says the United States and its regional allies retain superiority in conventional forces over Iran, but that Iran has been able to counter both the U.S. military superiority and the ever-more-severe economic sanctions imposed on Iran by building “networks of influence” with proxies which allow Tehran to have a major influence over the affairs of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.

  • Bioterrorism

    I teach food and drug law at Saint Louis University’s Center for Health Law Studies. While monitoring pathogens likely to pose severe threats to public health, my colleagues and I spend a lot of time studying viruses and bacteria that are very hard to obtain, like anthrax or the plague. One less-known facet of bioterrorism, however, is that simpler pathogens like salmonella, a bacterium found in many types of food, can also be used to deliberately harm people. In fact, the largest bioterrorism attack in American history started at the salad bars of a handful of restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Arguments

    Trump’s 6 October peremptory decision to pull back about 100 U.S. soldiers from their positions embedded with Kurdish forces in northern Syria was met with scathing criticism across the political spectrum – with one notable exception: Qualified words of praise for Trump’s Syria policy came from one corner of the U.S. foreign-policy discourse: academics who embrace an approach to U.S. foreign policy variously called restraint, offshore balancing, neorealism, or defensive realism.

  • Perspective: Islamic State

    As its so-called caliphate expanded across Syria and Iraq, Islamic State (IS) promised its followers an apocalyptic battle to come. Eager jihadist propagandists predicted that a final victory over the “crusader armies” would usher in the day of judgment and give birth to a new world. The man who was to lead that battle, the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, instead blew himself up in a tunnel in Syria on October 26th, murdering two of his own children as he died. The Economist writes that “His suicide, to avoid capture by American forces, marks the end of an era for IS,” “Yet this does not mark the end of IS.”

  • Perspective: Middle East

    Israel is girding for the worst and acting on the assumption that fighting between Israel and Iran, or between Israel and Iran’s regional proxies, could break out at any time. Michael Oren writes that it’s not hard to imagine how it might arrive. “The conflagration, like so many in the Middle East, could be ignited by a single spark. Israeli fighter jets have already conducted hundreds of bombing raids against Iranian targets in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Preferring to deter rather than embarrass Tehran, Israel never comments on such actions. But perhaps Israel miscalculates, hitting a particularly sensitive target; or perhaps politicians cannot resist taking credit. The result could be a counterstrike by Iran, using cruise missiles that penetrate Israel’s air defenses and smash into targets like the Kiryah, Tel Aviv’s equivalent of the Pentagon. Israel would retaliate massively against Hezbollah’s headquarters in Beirut as well as dozens of its emplacements along the Lebanese border. And then, after a day of large-scale exchanges, the real war would begin.”

  • Terrorism

    The FBI says it is investigating more than 2,000 cases tied to groups designated by the United States as foreign terrorist organizations, a figure that reflects the persistent threat posed by outfits such as al-Qaida and Hezbollah. There are currently 68 individual groups on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

  • Arguments

    The Islamic State indulged in some of the most ostentatious brutality and sadism of recent decades. If any extremist group deserves the adjective evil, this would be it. But it is precisely our disgust, which ISIS has well earned, that makes it difficult to talk about what the group was and what it meant—and what it may still mean. Shadi Hamid writes that it is understandable that some fear that talking about ISIS in terms of how it governed rather than how many it killed might provide it with a sheen of legitimacy after the fall of the group’s so-called caliphate. “The notion that we should call ISIS the worst names we can muster and leave it at that is to set ourselves up for future failure. And that is worth worrying about, since there will be attempts to replicate ISIS’s governance model in the coming decades,” Hamid writers.

  • Extremism

    Facing a growing far-right extremist violence, the German government today (Wednesday) unveiled a series of new measures giving intelligence and law enforcement services more power to combat the threat. Among the new measures: Tightening gun laws; more protection for political figures at all levels; a requirement for social media companies to report online criminal content; and reducing privacy protection for social media posters disseminating hate and incitement.

  • Arguments

    For nearly two decades, American leaders have stressed the need to address the root causes of terrorism. More often, though, they focus on something else: killing terrorists. Much like the end of the territorial caliphate, Baghdadi’s death won’t end the group as a whole, or the threat it poses. The so-called kingpin strategy of pursuing terrorist leaders to defeat the groups they lead has had mixed results historically. So why does the United States pour so many resources and risk so many lives in pursuit of such dubiously effective ends? “The kingpin strategy provides instant gratification, and of course [addressing] root causes is something … that takes years if not decades,” Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, said.

  • Perspective

    In 2018, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tracked 50 extremist-related murders, 49 of which were committed by far-right extremists and the majority specifically perpetrated by white supremacists. In the past decade, far-right extremists were responsible for 73 percent of extremist-related murders in the U.S. The Aug. 3 shooting in El Paso took the lives of 22 people, making it the most violent white supremacist attack in 50 years. Jonathan Greenblatt and George Selim write that white supremacist violence is on the rise—but it is not new. Not unlike groups such as the Islamic State that are attempting to push back on modernity, white supremacists rage against trends like demographic change and globalization. Their anger toward outsiders typically is racial in nature, as they rail against “brown” or “black” people, and they perceive the Jewish people as their ultimate enemies, responsible for a global conspiracy that includes “open borders,” “multiculturalism” and “globalism” as strategies to engineer “white genocide.”

  • Perspective: ISIS

    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the hirsute rapist whom hundreds of thousands of Islamic State supporters considered their absolute leader, died Saturday during a U.S. military raid in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province. His death will definitively end an era that had already, in a sense, ended, if not with a whimper then with an inglorious bleating of complaints from his own flock. For years now, the hardest thing for outsiders to understand about the Islamic State has been its ability to inspire—to get some Muslims to leave comfortable circumstances to fight and die. For the past year, even as the world has diverted its attention from ISIS, the group’s ability to inspire has been severely diminished, and almost no one is leaving home to die for ISIS, or choosing to die in suicide attacks for ISIS at home. The inspiration is gone, and the party is over, for now. And although Baghdadi has obtained the martyrdom he sought, he got it in the end not as a caliph but as just another bloody hairball in a pile of rubble.

  • Perspective: ISIS

    President Trump’s abrupt order three weeks ago to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria disrupted the meticulous, patient planning which was underway for killing al-Baghdadi, and forced Pentagon officials to speed up the plan for the risky night raid before their ability to control troops, spies, and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared with the pullout, senior officials said. Al-Baghdadi’s death in the raid on Saturday, they said, occurred largely in spite of, and not because of, Trump’s actions. Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said on Sunday that “The irony of the successful operation against al-Baghdadi is that it could not have happened without U.S. forces on the ground that have been pulled out, help from Syrian Kurds who have been betrayed, and support of a U.S. intelligence community that has so often been disparaged.” He added: “While the raid was obviously a welcome success, the conditions that made the operation possible may not exist in the future.”

  • Perspective: Swedish strife

    “Normalization” is a term that we have come to associate with domestic violence: the victim begins to think of abuse as a part of everyday life. Paulina Neuding writes that explosions have become so normalized in Sweden that SVT, Sweden’s equivalent of the BBC, did not even mention the three explosions in the country’s capital on its national news program that evening. The explosions were left to the local news. Wilhelm Agrell, professor of intelligence analysis at Lund University, has warned that the situation has become so dire that the integrity of the Swedish state is in jeopardy. “The state’s monopoly on violence, the actual token of a sovereign government, has been hollowed out bit by bit and no longer exists,” he wrote a few weeks ago. “The armed criminal violence is having effects that are increasingly similar to those of terrorism.”

  • Perspective: Extremism

    Keeping track of all the attacks against American Jews these days is just about impossible unless it’s your full-time job. Jamie Levine Daniel, Jodi Benenson, and Rachel Fyall, all professors of public administration, write that “As we work to train government and nonprofit leaders to address issues like anti-Semitism, we also have identified four simple steps that anyone can take to counter it.”

  • Perspective: Extremism

    Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, recently gave a highly promoted speech about the importance of protecting freedom of expression online—which was immediately criticized as taking too binary a view of the issues and presenting a false choice between free expression and Chinese censorship. Evelyn Douek writes that by contrast, David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the freedom of opinion and expression, in a 9 October report, offered a very real reckoning with the trade-offs involved in protecting free speech while dealing with the real harm caused by some forms of expression, and is an attempt to find guiding, consistent standards. “There is still a lot of work to be done, not least by the companies themselves, to make this a reality,” Douek writes. “But this latest report will be a useful and influential guide in that process.”

  • ISIS

    Fears that Turkey’s offensive in northeastern Syria allowed untold numbers of captured Islamic State terror group fighters to escape may be overblown, according to U.S. officials. Since Turkish-backed forces crossed the border and began clashing with Kurdish fighters aligned with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), there have been reports of SDF-run prisons coming under attack and of IS fighters running free. But Wednesday, the U.S. insisted almost all of the estimated 12,000 captured IS fighters, including about 2,000 fighters from outside Syria and Iraq, were still behind bars.

  • Patriot movement

    The so-called patriot movement is grabbing headlines once again, as its members pledge to protect Trump supporters at the president’s campaign rallies across the country. The patriot movement is a fragmented and fractious coalition of groups that distrust the federal government. Members believe the government is impeding their rights and liberties – but the movement is not monolithic, and it less black and white. Despite public perceptions, few members of the various appeared to be mentally ill or outwardly racist. Instead, their grievances and principles stem from a range of motivations, personal circumstances and political philosophies.

  • Extremism on-line

    Social media platform design enables online harassment, as trolls often carry out coordinated attacks on a target by leveraging key platform features, according to a new report. Such features include the ability to be anonymous online, to create multiple accounts by one person, the fact that there is no limit to the number of messages one user can send to another, and the use of personal networks as weaponized audiences.