• Perspective: Extremism

    The drive to tackle extremism in the United Kingdom is failing because the government’s response is “inadequate” and “unfocused,” according to an official report published Monday. Extremist activity is contributing to a climate of censorship and fear, limiting expression, religion and belief while those countering it receive little support. The report warns that hateful, hostile and supremacist beliefs are increasingly visible in the U.K. today. “The Far Right’s narratives of a racial or cultural threat to “natives” from “aliens” have been making their way into the mainstream. “As are Islamists’ ideas for defending a single politicized and communal Muslim identity against the West’s corrupting influence. And the Far Left’s conflation of anti-imperialist and antisemitism”, it said.

  • Perspective

    Later this year, a U.S. service member is likely to be deployed to Afghanistan who was not yet born on September 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists launched the most devastating terrorist attack in history and killed almost 3,000 people, mostly Americans. The years in between have seen wars in Iraq and Syria justified in the name of counterterrorism as well as more limited U.S. interventions against jihadi groups in Libya, Somalia, and other countries. “Hundreds of thousands have died in these conflicts—some from terrorism, but most from combat and the associated ravages of war,” Daniel Byman writes. “Yet even as this body count soared, neither al-Qaeda nor other jihadi groups have proven able to conduct a repeat of 9/11 or even anything close to it.” He notes that judging the threat that jihadi terrorism currently poses to the United States and, more broadly, the success of the U.S.-led struggle against various jihadi groups in the post-9/11 era depends on what interests are prioritized and which perspective one takes. “Before Americans celebrate or despair, however, it is useful to take stock of the problems facing the main jihadi organizations themselves.”

  • Domestic terrorism

    Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan unveiled on September 20 the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence.” For the first time, a formal Trump administration departmental strategy explicitly calls out white supremacism as “one of the most potent forces driving domestic terrorism.” In most other respects, the strategic framework did not break new ground. DHS’s real challenge will be whether its new counterterrorism (CT) framework will get the resources and political support DHS needs from the White House and the Congress.

  • Perspective

    In the past, incidents of white nationalist violence haven’t garnered the attention they deserve from Congress or federal law enforcement. But after the August 2019 El Paso shooting by a young white supremacist, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Randy K. Weber Sr. (R-TX) introduced two separate bills that would create a new crime of domestic terrorism, citing lethal white nationalist crimes as the justification. Faiza Patel writes for the Brennan Center that while it’s reassuring, and long overdue, for members of Congress to take the threat of white nationalist violence seriously, such legislation is both unnecessary and creates serious risks of abuse.

  • Perspective

    The United States has historically been wary of punching back in cyberspace, fearing that a digital conflict could rapidly escalate to rockets and bombs. But those concerns may be overblown. Two recent studies have found it’s extremely rare for nations to ratchet up a cyber conflict, let alone escalate it to a conventional military exchange, and that the U.S. public may put extra pressure on leaders not to let a cyber conflict get out of hand. But one of the studies did not find much evidence that hacking back does anything to make adversaries stop hacking you in the first place.

  • Perspective

    In December 2018, US President Donald Trump declared victory over the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, tweeting that ‘ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!’ And in the first three months of this year, Trump said or tweeted 16 times that IS was either completely defeated or soon would be. But the United States government appears to disagree. In August, the three lead inspectors general from the Department of Defense, the Department of State and the US Agency for International Development submitted a joint report to Congress reviewing Operation Inherent Resolve, the US campaign to defeat IS, over the period from 1 April through 30 June of this year. They concluded that, ‘Despite the loss of physical territory, thousands of ISIS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria and are carrying out attacks and working to rebuild their capabilities.’

  • Extremism

    The Soufan Center released a new report which closely examines the transnational nature and operational dynamics of a wide range of white supremacy extremist (WSE) groups across the world. The report also draws on lessons learned from disrupting and combatting Salafi-jihadist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the tactics of which in some cases are being utilized by WSE groups.

  • Perspective: Nuclear terrorism

    A commando raid on a nuclear power plant seems the stuff of Hollywood. So why are nuclear security experts so worried? It ranks among the worst-case scenarios for a nuclear power plant: an all-out assault or stealth infiltration by well-trained, heavily armed attackers bent on triggering a nuclear blast, sparking a nuclear meltdown or stealing radioactive material. Under pressure from a cash-strapped nuclear energy industry increasingly eager to slash costs, the commission in a little-noticed vote in October 2018 halved the number of force-on-force exercises conducted at each plant every cycle. Four months later, it announced it would overhaul how the exercises are evaluated to ensure that no plant would ever receive more than the mildest rebuke from regulators – even when the commandos set off a simulated nuclear disaster that, if real, would render vast swaths of the U.S. uninhabitable. Nuclear security experts, consultants, law enforcement veterans and former NRC commissioners are nothing short of alarmed. “You can’t afford to be wrong once,” says one expert.

  • Perspective: Exaggerations

    Our collective response to terrorism seems to swing on a pendulum between rank complacency and terrified myth-making. In January 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama dismissed the Islamic State as al Qaeda’s “JV team.” But by September of that year, after the group had captured Mosul in Iraq and launched a genocidal campaign of slaughter against the Yazidis, he started bombing it. A similar dynamic can be observed in the case of white supremacy today. This is not “to suggest that the threat of white supremacy is not real or that we should be complacent about it,” Simon Cottee writes. “Of course it is real, and of course we need to indict and seriously punish those who have committed or are plotting to commit terrorist atrocities in the name of white supremacy.” But we should resist the urge to treat white supremacy as “a mythical monster against which to signal our moral virtue”: “White supremacy is not a monolith endangering our children and societies, but we might just make it into one by overinflating it into precisely this.”

  • Homegrown terrorism

    To counter the rise of violent far-right terrorism in the U.S., the federal government should strengthen its partnerships with civilian researchers and embrace a public health approach for at-risk individuals, terrorism expert told a congressional committee.

  • Perspective

    For the past six months, there has been plenty of reason to believe that Iran has primarily been motivated by fear, even desperation, in its confrontation with the United States. Lately, however, there are signs that Tehran has shifted to a strategy driven instead by a sense of opportunity and advantage. Kenneth M. Pollack writes in Foreign Policy that the trigger for this shift has been the Trump administration, whose misguided approach to Iran is on the cusp of splitting the United States from its Sunni Arab allies—a monumental geostrategic victory that Tehran has sought for 40 years.

  • Extremism

    Europol, the European police agency, issued a “Strategic Report” earlier Tuesday, saying that right-wing violence is on the rise in many EU states. The confidential report, cited by German media, says that the extremist groups seek to boost their “combat skills” by recruiting military and police members. The report noted that extremist groups are getting “increasingly popular among younger and better educated demographics.”

  • Perspective

    White supremacist terrorism around the globe is being manipulated by Russia for political ends, senior U.S. national security officials have warned. Such white supremacist groups are “emulating” jihadists like Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant by forging a “transnational” community of followers, using social media and encrypted communications platforms, the experts said. Joshua Geltzer, former U.S. senior director of counter terrorism, said: “The Russian government adds violent energy to the emerging transnational network of white supremacists, spreading its cause in part through disinformation aggressively disseminated online.” Ali Soufan, a former FBI supervisory special agent, told lawmakers that the “emerging epicenter” of white supremacist extremism is Russia and Ukraine. “There are extensive ties between the Russian government and far-right groups in Europe.”

  • Perspective

    On 18 August 2008—after almost seven years, nearly 10,000 interviews, and millions of dollars spent developing a whole new form of microbial forensics—some of the FBI announced that it had concluded that Army biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins was the person responsible for the fall 2001 anthrax letter attacks. “It’s been 10 years since the deadliest biological terror attack in U.S. history launched a manhunt that ruined one scientist’s reputation and saw a second driven to suicide, yet nagging problems remain,” Noah Shachtman writes. “Problems that add up to an unsettling reality: Despite the FBI’s assurances, it’s not at all certain that the government could have ever convicted Ivins of a crime.”

  • Perspective

    Big online platforms tend to brag about their ability to filter out violent and extremist content at scale, but those same platforms refuse to provide even basic information about the substance of those removals. How do these platforms define terrorist content? What safeguards do they put in place to ensure that they don’t over-censor innocent people in the process? Again and again, social media companies are unable or unwilling to answer the questions. Facebook Head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert claimed that more than 99 percent of terrorist content posted on Facebook is deleted by the platform’s automated tools, but the company has consistently failed to say how it determines what constitutes a terrorist⁠—or what types of speech constitute terrorist speech.

  • Perspective: Domestic terrorism

    Domestic terrorism and mass attacks are as great a threat to the United States today as foreign terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security said in a new strategy report unveiled Friday. The strategy recognizes that foreign terrorist groups continue to plot against the United States but notes there has been a disturbing rise in attacks motivated by domestic terrorist ideologies — and that white supremacy is one of the most potent drivers. “In our modern age, the continuation of racially based violent extremism, particularly violent white supremacy, is an abhorrent affront to the nation,” acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a speech Friday in Washington, saying the trend “has no place in the United States of America, and it never will.”

  • Perspective: Exaggerations

    A recent article in the Guardian by Sindre Bangstad, a Norwegian social anthropologist describes Norway as being in the grip of pervasive, far-right nationalism, with violence simmering just below the surface. “Norway is in denial about the threat of far-right violence,” reads the bombastic headline. Kathrine Jebsen Moore, a fellow Norwegian, writes that Bangstad misrepresents and misleads: she motes that the Norwegian Police Security Service still regards Islamist terror threats as the most serious threat to Norway, even if it has upgraded the threat of far-right extremism from “unlikely” to “possible” after an attempted mosque attack in August. But “to see in the upgrading of the terrorist threat posed by far-right groups a general mood of irrational hatred for immigrants and Muslims, and portray Norway as a hotbed for racism, is just wrong,” Moore writes, adding: “Norway, like other European countries, is faced with a new set of challenges as it changes from a homogenous nation to a country with a growing immigrant population” – and that “Norway is coping with this influx a lot better than Sweden. So, is Norway in denial about its far-right problem? Don’t believe it.”

  • Extremism

    Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was dismissed from the board of directors of the Women’s March on Wednesday, only two days after she was appointed to the board on Monday. “We found some of her public statements incompatible with the values and mission of the organization,” the board said. Billoo has called herself a “proud anti-Zionist” and said that she does not believe Israel has a right to exist. She also has accused Israel of committing war crimes “as a hobby,” and wrote: “the Israeli Defense Forces, or the IDF, are no better than ISIS. They are both genocidal terrorist organizations,” and that “racist Zionists who support Apartheid Israel” scares her more than “the mentally ill young people the #FBI recruits to join ISIS.”

  • Surveillance state

    The Uighurs, a Muslim minority ethnic group of around 12 million in northwest China, are required by the police to carry their smartphones and IDs listing their ethnicity. As they pass through one of the thousands of newly built digital media and face surveillance checkpoints located at jurisdictional boundaries, entrances to religious spaces and transportation hubs, the image on their ID is matched to their face. If they try to pass without these items, a digital device scanner alerts the police. The Chinese state authorities described the intrusive surveillance as a necessary tool against the “extremification” of the Uighur population. Through this surveillance process, around 1.5 million Uighurs and other Muslims were determined “untrustworthy” and have forcibly been sent to detention and reeducation in a massive internment camp system. Since more than 10 percent of the adult population has been removed to these camps, hundreds of thousands of children have been separated from their parents. Many children throughout the region are now held in boarding schools or orphanages which are run by non-Muslim state workers.

  • Counterterrorism

    A lack of evaluation of the impact of countering violent extremism (CVE) and counter-terrorism (CT) efforts may actually be increasing the threat and risk of terrorism, a new study points out. Researchers say that national and international agencies’ efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism have lacked two key ingredients - a clear and coherent theory of how individuals change and consistent evaluation of evidence of their changing attitudes.