Monday, July 09, 2007

Former MI5 Head: Jihadist Radicalization Process Speeds Up

In The Daily Telegraph, the former head of Britain's internal intelligence agency, the MI5, says that the radicalization process of jihadists in the UK is speeding up.

Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former director-general of MI5, said the radicalisation of teenage Muslims "from first exposure, to extremism, to active participation in terrorist plotting" was now worryingly rapid.

It was vital that the Government rose to the challenge of trying to change the attitudes that "lead some of our young people to become terrorists".
How to do this? Manningham-Buller advises:
She warned of the "pressing demand" for the police to create a secret network of Muslim spies capable of improving intelligence gathering.

[S]he called on both the police and MI5 to develop their relationship, which she said had created a counter-terrorist organisation "unmatched anywhere in the world".
In creating a network of Muslim spies, is the goal to infiltrate and disrupt potential jihadist groups, or is it to identify and address the root causes of the quickening pace of jihadism? The former is a necessary-but-insufficient short-term solution. The latter is ultimately the key to addressing the threat.

And yet...
The former spy chief also warned that "it is inevitable that some terrorist plots will escape our combined attention," adding: "Even if we have the numbers of personnel engaged in looking at our own citizens as, say, the KGB or the Stasi did during the Cold War, and with the same authoritarian powers, some things would slip under the radar."
Manningham-Buller's warning regarding the inevitability of terrorist attacks is well-founded and appropriate. The idea that the U.S. can eliminate the risk of further terrorist attacks - or even that we already have eliminated it - is a false notion. We run the risk of being lulled into a false sense of security.

Such misperceptions are ultimately dangerous, as they disrupt our ability to respond in a manner consistent with the threat.

Update 2007-07-09: A tip of the cap to Jonah Czerwinski at Homeland Security Watch, who also addresses the radicalization process. Jonah links to a pair of related documents which I'll briefly cover here. First is the recent congressional testimony of Frank Cilluffo, who directs the Homeland Security Policy Institute and George Washington U.

Cilluffo contextualizes the problem:
Radicalization is not a well understood phenomenon, hence greater study of the life cycle of a terrorist – specifically, the process by which an individual becomes motivated to listen to radical ideas, read about them, self-enlist or respond to terrorist recruiting efforts, and ultimately, undertake terrorist activity – is needed in part to identify trigger points and possible points of intervention.
There is agreement that there is no single terrorist profile; however, there are some more general indicators that may indicate whether a young person is susceptible to the siren song of jihadism, such as a desire to join a group, to do something meaningful, to strike back against perceived forces of oppression, etc. (See this post.)

Cilluffo addresses the differences between "homegrown terrorism" in Europe and the U.S.:
[I]t is something of a misnomer to speak of “homegrown terrorism” for the term is suggestive of watertight compartments that do not in fact exist. To the contrary, we live in a borderless world and the threats that we face are similarly transnational. That said, the United States remains in some respects reasonably well situated. Other countries are currently experiencing a more full-blown manifestation of certain dimensions of the problem such as the United Kingdom. In a sense therefore, we have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and deal proactively with these elements before they have the chance to flourish more vigorously in this country.
It is true that real differences exist between the U.S. and Europe, in terms of the risk of jihadism (See this post as well as this analysis of European jihadism from Foreign Affairs.) But Cilluffo is correct in his assertion that we are becoming borderless.
Internet chat rooms are now supplementing and replacing mosques, community centers and coffee shops as venues for recruitment and radicalization by terrorist groups like al Qaeda. The real time, two-way dialogue of chat rooms has enabled extremist ideas to be shared, take root, be reaffirmed and spread exponentially. By incorporating and manipulating local political grievances – some of which are legitimate – extremists have woven an effective tale of an imaginary “clash of civilizations.” The extremists’ compelling “call to action” based partly on myths and falsehoods begs for the development of an effective counter-narrative that forcefully refutes and responds to the extremists’ own.
[I]t is clear that the U.S. needs to catch up in this cyber-battle of words and ideas. However, unless elements of the counter-narrative emanate from within the Muslim community and are conveyed by voices that are trusted and credible within those communities, the opportunity to achieve impact will be limited at best.
So far it seems that online recruits have not been able to develop robust operational capabilities. The intent is there, but the skills are lacking.

The larger point here is the creation of the counter-narrative. I couldn't agree more.

Cilluffo extends his argument, echoing my sentiments above - that infiltration and disruption are only short-term fixes to the radicalization problem, and that a real solution must address the root causes:
Granted, where appropriate we should seek to deny or disrupt extremist access to and extremist efforts through the Internet via legal and technical means and covert action. At the same time however, it is crucial that we bear in mind wider and deeper goals and themes such as the need to offer an alternative to those who feel alienated and marginalized. Another example is the importance of intelligence work to inform counterterrorism. These underlying or foundational elements merit special consideration as they are critical components of our efforts concerning radicalization writ large.
Importantly for local first preventers, Cilluffo emphasizes the importance of local action to solve the radicalization problem:
[T]he solution sets for the problem under discussion must emanate principally from the grassroots, from local communities, their leaders and the citizens that reside there. Governments at the federal, state, local and tribal levels certainly have a contribution to make however, and there is also a measure of interplay between the public and private sectors that is and will continue to be crucial to combating radicalization at home and elsewhere.

For instance, law enforcement at the local level should develop new relationships and deepen existing ones within Muslim communities as local figures are best placed to identify radicalization at its earliest stages. Cultivated mutual respect and understanding between officials and communities, founded on a solid education about Muslim cultures and Islam, is critical. Notably, in the Fort Dix case, the mosque attended by three of the plotters quickly called an “emergency town hall meeting” to invite law enforcement, other officials, and members of the public “to ask anything they want about the mosque or about Islam, and to publicize a ringing denunciation of terrorism and violence of any sort…”.
Also see this post regarding the relationship between local law enforcement and Muslim communities.

Next, Jonah links to this report from the Future of Terrorism Task Force. Published in January and attributed to 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton and the aforementioned Frank Cilluffo, it comes to a similar conclusion as
Like crime or disease, terrorism should be conceived as a chronic problem requiring a sustained and patient strategy, with ever evolving tactics.
Hamilton and Cilluffo also find that radicalization is spreading:
While difficult to measure with precision, it is known that al Qaeda’s ideology is spreading. Per the National Intelligence Estimate, “Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.”
One problem that limits the West's ability to prevent the spread of jihadism is limited knowledge of Islam. As a result, we have a difficult time driving a wedge between the violent jihadists and the broad Muslim community:
Muslim culture, and in particular the Islamic faith, are not widely understood within the Western world. This lack of understanding, coupled with fear of extremist adversaries, taints our ability to relate with the larger and overwhelmingly peaceful and moderate Muslim population, reinforcing misconceptions of and dividing us from those susceptible to radicalization.
But the effort to drive this wedge is best placed at the local level:
The potential rise of self radicalized, unaffiliated terrorists domestically cannot be easily prevented through traditional federal intelligence efforts, and requires the incorporation of state and local solutions. Similarly, the protection of critical assets, as well as the initial response to an attack, are primarily state, local and private sector responsibilities, with federal assets and resources provided as a supplement.
As we carry out our counterterrorism efforts, we can learn important lessons from other nations:
Australian officials, for example, have concluded that protective security measures over the next five years must not become rigid, and both variability and unpredictability must be consciously injected into flexible prevention measures.

Israeli officials highlighted the need for public participation, rather than just awareness, and emphasized that resilience must be built from the bottom up in addition to the top down.

In Britain, officials have worked to inculcate in the public an understanding that there is no such thing as zero risk, and that sometimes even the best efforts of the authorities will not be good enough.
As I see it, the underlying philosophical stance of Hamilton and Cilluffo's argument is best expressed by this passage:

To change hearts and minds – and encourage moderation – we must challenge ideas with ideas. Trust is the most valuable currency we have in this battle because trust underpins all counterterrorism tools (e.g., military, diplomatic/policy, legal, economic and covert action).

1 comment:

Jonah Czerwinski said...

Thanks for picking up on the post from regarding radicalization issues and the recent cases in London and Glasgow. Today's post begins a series highlighting sections of the conference bill enacting a number of the 9/11 Commission recommendations (HR1). There is a Sense of the Senate inserted in HR1 that hits on these issues. I'll paste it here.

Jonah Czerwinski


(a) Findings.—The Senate finds the following:

(1) The United States is engaged in a struggle against a transnational terrorist movement of radical extremists seeking to exploit the religion of Islam through violent means to achieve ideological ends.

(2) The radical jihadist movement transcends borders and has been identified as a potential threat within the United States.

(3) Radicalization has been identified as a precursor to terrorism.

(4) Countering the threat of violent extremists domestically, as well as internationally, is a critical element of the plan of the United States for success in the war on terror.

(5) United States law enforcement agencies have identified radicalization as an emerging threat and have in recent years identified cases of “homegrown” extremists operating inside the United States with the intent to provide support for, or directly commit, a terrorist attack.

(6) The alienation of Muslim populations in the Western world has been identified as a factor in the spread of radicalization.

(7) Radicalization cannot be prevented solely through law enforcement and intelligence measures.

(b) Sense of Senate.—It is the sense of the Senate that the Secretary, in consultation with other relevant Federal agencies, should make a priority of countering domestic radicalization and extremism by—

(1) using intelligence analysts and other experts to better understand the process of radicalization from sympathizer to activist to terrorist;

(2) recruiting employees with diverse worldviews, skills, languages, and cultural backgrounds and expertise;

(3) consulting with experts to ensure that the lexicon used within public statements is precise and appropriate and does not aid extremists by offending the American Muslim community;

(4) developing and implementing, in concert with the Attorney General and State and local corrections officials, a program to address prisoner radicalization and post-sentence reintegration;

(5) pursuing broader avenues of dialogue with the Muslim community to foster mutual respect, understanding, and trust; and

(6) working directly with State, local, and community leaders to—

(A) educate these leaders on the threat of radicalization and the necessity of taking preventative action at the local level; and

(B) facilitate the sharing of best practices from other countries and communities to encourage outreach to the American Muslim community and develop partnerships between all faiths, including Islam.