• Perspective

    For many U.S. intelligence officials, memories of that 9/11 terrorist attacks remain fresh, searing, and personal. Still hanging over the entrance to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center is a sign that reads, “Today is September 12, 2001.” It’s a daily reminder of the agency’s determination to prevent future attacks—but also of the horrifying costs when intelligence agencies adapt too slowly to emerging threats. For a decade after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the CIA and the FBI were mired in Cold War structures, priorities, processes, and cultures even as the danger of terrorism grew. The shock of 9/11 finally forced a reckoning—one that led to a string of counterterrorism successes, from foiled plots to the operation against Osama bin Laden. But now, nearly two decades later, America’s 17 intelligence agencies need to reinvent themselves once more, this time in response to an unprecedented number of breakthrough technologies that are transforming societies, politics, commerce, and the very nature of international conflict.

  • Syria decision

    The United States says diplomatic efforts are on “high gear” to press for a cease-fire after Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, as Washington tries to get the situation under control, according to a senior State Department official. Trump’s hasty decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria was met with a bipartisan chorus of criticism. “Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS,” the Senate majority leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said. “And such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States’ strategic interests.”

  • Syria decision

    For more than a year, European powers have dallied over the question of what to do with the tens of thousands of Islamic State (IS) fighters and adherents captured following the fall of the so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Now the U.S. decision to withdraw troops and Turkey’s subsequent invasion of northern Syria on 9 October means the West has lost the luxury of inaction.

  • Extremism

    Anti-Semitic hate speech, harassment, and fear of being recognized as Jewish — these are some of the realities of being Jewish in the EU today. It appears to be getting worse, finds a major repeat survey of Jews from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the largest ever of its kind worldwide.

  • Perspective

    The far right is beginning to dominate the terrorism stage in the Western world. It was responsible for every single extremism-related killing in the United States in 2018—including six mass-casualty incidents. Last year was the most violent in terms of U.S. terrorism since 1982. These networked adversaries, operating within a loose, leaderless ideological framework, are a different kind of terrorist. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence highlights this, noting the proliferation of perpetrators writing manifestos rather than being motivated by radicalizers or taking orders from commanders. Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware write for the Council of Foreign Relations that the Yom Kippur shooting in Halle, like Christchurch, represents the confluence of three significant trends in terrorism: a rising far right, the targeting of places of worship, and the use of social media and livestreams.

  • Perspective

    With the surprise withdrawal of US forces in Syria and the subsequent — and immediate — commencement of Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces, chaos has ensued. Kurdish forces are claiming that hundreds of ISIS prisoners have escaped at the Ain Issa detention facility while fighting raged nearby, while two officials told the New York Times that the U.S. military had failed to secure 60 or so high-value detainees before its forces departed. President Donald Trump, however, has assured Americans that his new approach would not prove a threat to the US homeland, saying, “They’re going to be escaping to Europe.” Daniel Byman writes that Europeans, to be sure, will not find this reassuring.

  • Perspective

    Most of the discussions that take place around the concept of disinformation–false information spread deliberately to deceive–typically focus on the role of nation-states like Russia and China. But violent non-state actors, including terrorist groups, rely on disinformation as well, and some groups have developed fairly sophisticated disinformation capabilities. The objectives of these non-state actors can vary but are almost always some combination of spreading fear and terror, recruiting new followers to the cause, radicalizing individuals, and confusing and distracting public safety officials in order to sap finite resources.

  • Perspective: ISIS resurgence

    The Islamic State (ISIS) has not made a comeback in Iraq or Syria – yet. A new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) says that “Conflict between Turkey and the SDF along the Syrian-Turkish border almost certainly will relieve pressure on ISIS, which lost its last territorial foothold in eastern Syria in May 2019 but persists as a deadly insurgency. Since May, the SDF has continued to pursue ISIS remnants across the north east and to hold thousands of ISIS detainees and ISIS-affiliated family members. Yet the SDF has warned that it will be forced to redirect its forces toward Syria’s northern border should Turkey attack. The consequences may be disastrous for areas farther south, where ISIS is most active, and for prisons and camps that hold ISIS militants and were already vulnerable to attack before the latest events.” The ICG notes that “Turkey’s intervention in north-eastern Syria, following President Trump’s 6 October decision, has put ISIS’s near defeat in Syria in question.”

  • Perspective: ISIS resurgence

    President Trump’s precipitous decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria has already had dramatic consequences. One of the questions Trump’s hasty Twitter announcement raises involves the fate of the thousands of ISIS fighters no in detention in Syria. The Kurdish SDF is currently holding more than 10,000 Islamic State fighters—including at least 8,000 Iraqis and Syrians and 2,000 foreign fighters—in overflowing temporary detention centers in northeastern Syria. The biggest camp, al-Hol, houses around 70,000 people related to ISIS fighters, including about 10,000 foreigners and 30,000 Islamic State loyalists. The SDF has already said that it was withdrawing its guards from the Islamic State detention centers and camps in order to deal with the Turkish invasion. On Sunday, nearly 900 ISIS followers have escaped from one of the camps. Emma Broches writes that as Turkey’s offensive continues, it’s useful to review what the future might hold for these prisoners. “If the security surrounding the detainees deteriorates, the Islamic State will likely exploit the situation and create a further opportunity for its ongoing resurgence.”

  • Perspective: Extremism

    Raising teenagers can be terrifying. Squishy little babies become awkward hormonal creatures who question their parents’ authority at every turn. Joanna Schroeder writes that she expected that. “What I didn’t predict was that my sons’ adolescence would include being drawn to the kind of online content that right-wing extremists use to recruit so many young men,” she writes. “Unfortunately, extremists know how to find new recruits in the very place our sons spend so much of their time: online. And too often, they’re more aware than we are of how vulnerable young white men are to radicalization.”

  • Perspective: Extremism

    Nearly 40 victims of IRA violence have called on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to apologize for his support for Irish republicanism, accusing him of “giving succor” to terrorists. In an open letter to mark the 35th anniversary of the Brighton bombing, the families of the dead demand that he condemn the terrorist campaign waged by the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s. A report from Mainstream, a new campaign group against extremism in politics, also reveals evidence of Corbyn’s closeness to London Labour Briefing, which ran an infamous editorial after the Brighton attack claiming that “the British only sit up and take notice when they are bombed into it.” The 1984 bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, during the Conservative Party conference, killed five people and injured thirty-one.

  • Printed guns

    Experts say that the fact that the neo-Nazi who on Wednesday attacked a synagogue in Germany used a 3D-printed gun should serve as a warning to security services, experts have said. The 27-year old suspect had been experimenting with 3D-printed guns for two years, and along with racist and anti-Semitic tracts, he posted instructions on plastic gun making which, he noted, would take no more than $50 for the materials and one weekend worth of time.

  • Perspective

    If he wants to upstage his predecessor, Donald Trump should take the necessary steps to close down the detention facility at Guantanamo. In the meantime, as long as the proceedings in the 9/11 case continue under [the newly appointed judge in the case, Air Force Col. Shane] Cohen, it’s clear he takes his responsibilities seriously. He opened the September 11 hearing by stating: “In this particular case, not only have I been asked to [ensure] a fair trial, but to sit in judgment in many instances of my own country and its actions. I get the weight of that decision. I get the weight of the impact of the decision that I’m making. Never underestimate the weight that I feel each and every day with the decisions that I make that impact the lives of people all over the world.”

  • Extremism

    The U.K. government’s independent advisor on extremism is calling for a complete overhaul of the government’s strategy – recommending a new taskforce led by the Home Secretary. The U.K. Commission for Countering Extremism on Monday, 7 October, published its findings and recommendations in a new report, Challenging Hateful Extremism.

  • Extremism

    The U.K. government’s independent advisor on extremism is calling for a complete overhaul of the government’s strategy – recommending a new taskforce led by the Home Secretary. The U.K. Commission for Countering Extremism on Monday, 7 October, published its findings and recommendations in a new report, Challenging Hateful Extremism.

  • Considered opinion: The Syria withdrawal

    The hasty decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria “is a disturbing move that threatens to turn Kurdish forces, who have borne the brunt of containing Islamic State, towards the ambit of the despotic regime of President Assad. The U.S. decision will dismay allies, embolden ISIS, and give satisfaction to autocrats, not only Mr. Erdogan but also the regimes in Russia and Iran. Mr. Trump should think again. There is no substitute in foreign policy for giving a clear message to allies and adversaries. Mr. Trump’s precipitate withdrawal demoralizes the first and rewards the second,” says the London Times.

  • Perspective: Syria withdrawal

    The Syria Study Group (SSG) is a bipartisan commission charged by Congress with “examining and making recommendations on the military and diplomatic strategy of the United States with respect to the conflict in Syria.” It published its report on 24 September. The report details five serious threats the conflict within Syria holds for U.S. national security: First, the self-declared Islamic State remains potent, well resourced, and ideologically committed to achieving its goals despite the pounding it has taken over the last five years. Second, Iran’s presence in Syria threatens a wider regional war, given the shadow war between the Israelis and Iranians in the seams of the conflict. Third, if U.S. foreign policy is destined to be shaped by great-power competition, then Russia is using Syria to build influence at the expense of the United States. Fourth, the violence that Bashar al-Assad and his supporters have unleashed on Syria has had far-reaching effects, including the political destabilization of Europe. The members of the study group recommend that the United States should reverse its plans for a military withdrawal in northeastern Syria and focus on stabilization efforts in that area – but Steven Cook writes that “At a level of abstraction, what the authors recommend is eminently reasonable. But given the political context in which they have been offered, most of them were dead before the report was published.” “America should not stand idly by,” the report’s authors urge, but as “they readily acknowledge, America will almost certainly do just that, perfectly reflecting the transition underway in U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East,” Cook writes.

  • Perspective: Syria withdrawal

    In a series of tweets Monday morning, President Donald Trump, following a phone call with Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, announced the United States would withdraw its remaining forces from northern Syria, and that he had given a green light to Turkey to enter Syria to deal with Kurdish forces there. These forces had been instrumental in helping the United States defeat the Islamist State in Syria, and are now holding about 11,000 ISIS fighters – about 2,000 of them foreign fighters – in thirty detention centers. The Kurdish forces are regarded as terrorists by Turkey. Robert Chesney writes that the White House statement, issued after Trump’s tweets, “treats [the problem of the ISIS detainees] in a way that is far more alarming than comforting”: “It is possible that all this hand-wringing will prove unwarranted. Perhaps Turkey’s military incursion will be limited, leaving the Kurds capable and willing to continue detaining Islamic State fighters. Perhaps vast numbers of the detainees will be dispatched to Iraq for prosecution after all (a much-touted plan a year ago, about which little has surfaced since). Perhaps Turkey will somehow gain control of and maintain detention operations. Anything is possible. But none of that seems likely. More likely, the biggest beneficiary of all this will be the Islamic State.”

  • Perspective: War on terror

    Less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, on Oct. 7, 2001, the course of U.S. military operations changed for years to come when Operation Enduring Freedom officially launched, with then-President George W. Bush announcing the action during an address from the White House Treaty Room. That operation ballooned into a multi-front war on terror that has lasted nearly two decades and sparked criticism for its duration and questions about its mission. Since then, the terrorism threat landscape has evolved, with ISIS and homegrown extremists emerging as dangers. Experts say that in thinking about terrorism and terrorist threats, Americans should be aware of two factors. One factor in fighting the war on terror, on experts says, is that “we’re demanding decisive military victories in situations where decisive military victories are not possible.” The second factor is that while the efforts in Afghanistan have worked, the threat and the source of danger to the U.S. has evolved over time. “Over the last 18 years the U.S. has dramatically improved its ability to prevent attacks by foreign terrorist groups,” another expert said. “Unfortunately, however, those same counter-terrorism capabilities are ill-suited to address the current threat facing the United States” – threats which are mostly posed by domestic violent extremists. Most of whom inspired by White Power ideology.

  • Perspective: Lethal speech

    There has never been a bright line between word and deed. Yet, for years, the founders of Facebook and Twitter and 4chan and Reddit tried to pretend that the noxious speech prevalent on those platforms wouldn’t metastasize into physical violence. Andrew Marantz writes in the New York Times that in the early years of this decade, back when people associated social media with Barack Obama or the Arab Spring, Twitter executives referred to their company as “the free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” “No one believes that anymore,” Marantz writes. Marantz says that after spending the past few years embedded as a reporter with the trolls and bigots and propagandists who are experts at converting fanatical memes into national policy, “I no longer have any doubt that the brutality that germinates on the internet can leap into the world of flesh and blood.” He adds: “The question is where this leaves us. Noxious speech is causing tangible harm. Yet this fact implies a question so uncomfortable that many of us go to great lengths to avoid asking it. Namely, what should we — the government, private companies or individual citizens — be doing about it?”