ICYMI: Offing the boss: Does killing terrorist leaders make us safer?

Another interesting piece by Doug Saunders:

But does it work?

One reason why Mr. Obama’s Taliban-termination received hardly more attention than his other acts on Monday is because people increasingly feel like it doesn’t. The Taliban appointed another leader, its third. Al-Qaeda has sprung back to life. Some have likened decapitation policies to Whac-a-Mole games: Bash a bad guy, and another one springs up.

Boss-offing is not a mysterious topic: In recent years, an entire science of decapitation analysis has sprung up.

The most influential number-crunching was conducted in 2009 by Jenna Jordan, a researcher at the University of Chicago (she is now at Georgia Tech). She analyzed 298 incidents of “leadership targeting” over six decades and looked at their impact on the organizations whose leaders were the recipients of these abrupt terminations.

Her results were far from encouraging. Her data showed that decapitation, on average, “does not increase the likelihood of organizational collapse beyond a baseline rate of collapse for groups over time.”

In fact, the extremist groups most likely to fall apart (that is, to stop being able to commit attacks and wage war) are actually those whose leaders have not been killed: Hitting the head honcho actually seems to help groups keep fighting longer – perhaps because it rather literally injects some fresh blood into the organization.

More recent analyses have questioned these findings. Certain groups have indeed self-imploded following the untimely demise of their figurehead: Peru’s Shining Path faded into irrelevance after its leader Abimael Guzman was captured; Italy’s Red Brigades did not outlast its founding leaders; the capture of Abdullah Ocalan disempowered Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party for a decade.

In a big-data study last year, Bryan Price of the U.S. Military Academy analyzed 207 terrorist groups from 1970 to 2008, but instead of looking at their effectiveness, he examined their longevity.

He found that taking out the executives “significantly increases the mortality rate of terrorist groups, even after controlling for other factors” – but it often takes longer than we’d like. Counterterrorism, he concluded, is a long game. He also found that the groups most likely to implode after things blow up in the head office are nationalists. Groups that see themselves as religious, he found, are more tolerant of bloodbaths at the top. Of 53 religious groups, only 19 have ended – 16 of them after their boss was wiped out. But of the 34 such terrorist groups still in existence (including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State), 20 have endured a decapitation strike.

There are other good reasons to knock off the kingpins: Inspiring morale in your troops, hurting jihadi recruitment by looking all-powerful, sowing moments of chaos that can be exploited. But there’s no reason to think they’ll make the fight any easier, or the world less bloody.

Source: Offing the boss: Does killing terrorist leaders make us safer? – The Globe and Mail

Where should we put Canada’s counter-radicalisation programme? Gurski

Phil Gurski is right on this one. Better to have this outside of Public Safety. Canadian Heritage, now that the Multiculturalism Program is back, is likely the better home (Economic and Social Development, while another alternative, is simply too large a department to provide effective oversight).

However, that being said, given that it is in Minister Goodale’s mandate letter rather than Mme. Joly’s, I don’t see this happening.

And Public Safety has funded a number of good research projects under the Kanishka Project (named after the Air India coming of 1985):

This move represents a significant shift in Canada’s CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) approach from the purely hardline emphasis of the Harper government to a more inclusive and more comprehensive one under the new regime (note that the previous government did have a soft CVE aspect, and one in which I worked, but did not fund it adequately and actually undermined it with stupid comments by public officials).  As I have said before, we will always need the hardline tool, but we need to do more in early intervention and counter radicalisation.

One question remains: where should this new office reside?  When I still worked for the federal government it was housed within Public Safety Canada, split between the National Security Policy branch and Citizen Engagement.  In some ways, it should stay there if for no other reason that that department has experienced and capable staff who were part of the amazing success of the shortened efforts under Harper.

But in other, more important ways, it should be moved to another department.  Let me try to explain why.

Aside from getting a brand new start and being able to put the unfortunate mistakes of the previous government behind us, the biggest drawback to leaving Canada’s CVE strategy with Public Safety lies with the very nature of that ministry.  Public Safety Canada is the umbrella department for CSIS, the RCMP, Correctional Services Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency.  All of these are staffed by dedicated and professional people but they have one underlying commonality: they are all enforcement/punitive agencies.  CVE needs to be seen as an opportunity to occur before people engage in activities that are the remit of CSIS and the RCMP in order to work.

We have seen in other places like the UK with its PREVENT programme that communities associate CVE with intelligence gathering and enforcement, whether or not that is what is happening.  Having a ministry responsible for the national spy and law enforcement agencies run CVE creates a stigma that can hamper even the best efforts.  If communities do not feel comfortable and have issues of trust with certain partners, they will not want to participate.

What if the government put the new office under the Heritage portfolio?  CVE is all about providing communities with the tools to foster Canadian citizenship and reject the empty and violent promises of groups like Islamic State. It is about being or becoming Canadian.  Another aspect is the debate over narratives.   I have long argued that we need to move away from “counter narratives” to “alternative narratives”.  Alternative narratives are an important part of CVE – what better place to locate them than within Heritage, the department that helps foster the Canadian narrative?  Our narrative is so superior to that of IS that if this were a boxing match the referee would have called the fight years ago.

Of course, those with lots of experience in CVE, especially the RCMP which has a longstanding and robust outreach programme, would be asked to lend its assistance and best practices.  Other partners could also contribute.  Canada is – or rather was – a world leader in CVE and many countries look to us for models on what to do.  We don’t need to reinvent it, we just need to tweak it to make it better.

At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter where the government decides to put CVE.  The important thing is that it cultivate good relations with the communities it hopes to work with, for the best answers to violent radicalisation and extremism are to be found there, not in a government policy brief.

Source: Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting

RCMP counter-terrorism outreach efforts are ‘piecemeal and disjointed’: U.K. report

A bit surprising, given all the work and thinking by Public Safety, the RCMP and CSIS, and the lessons learned by the various iterations of the British PREVENT program and those of other countries:

Knowing that it can’t fight terrorism alone, the RCMP has reached out to Canada’s diverse communities — participated in Muslim youth forums, attended cultural events and dinners, even held yoga classes for women of different cultural backgrounds.

But is any of this feel-good community outreach working?

A report released Tuesday at a public safety conference in Ottawa suggests while the Mounties have made inroads, its outreach initiatives are “piecemeal and disjointed” and suffer from a “lack of a clear overall strategy.”

Some community members remain suspicious when police show up at gatherings, according to the report by researchers at the Royal United Services Institute, a British defence and security think tank.

Even Mounties are confused as to what the overall aims of community outreach are: is it to project a smiling face and inform people what the RCMP does or is it to collect hard intelligence? Should success be measured by the number of cultural events attended or the number of leads generated?

What’s not helping, one Mountie told the authors, is that some CSIS intelligence agents are using the RCMP “brand” to gain access to community members, further hindering trust-building efforts.

Lead author Charlie Edwards said the allegation has not been substantiated but was included in the report to reflect the fear among some RCMP members that the “firewall” between community outreach and intelligence gathering may be “difficult to maintain.”

A CSIS spokeswoman said agents do not pass themselves off as RCMP.

“I see no value,” added Ray Boisvert, a former CSIS assistant director. “CSIS officers have developed their own unique narrative to approach and engage people.”

An RCMP spokesman said the force was still reviewing the report’s findings and unable to comment.

The study, which received funding from the Canadian government, wasn’t all bad news. The RCMP’s outreach to the Muslim community around the time of the arrests of two men for allegedly plotting to derail a Via passenger train in Ontario was “universally hailed” as a great success, the study reported.

Comment about ‘firewall’ between RCMP and CSIS, and how this can weaken outreach and engagement efforts, interesting in light of proposed new powers for CSIS.

RCMP counter-terrorism outreach efforts are ‘piecemeal and disjointed’: U.K. report

U.S. Is Trying to Counter ISIS’ Efforts to Lure Alienated Young Muslims – NYTimes.com

Good piece in the NY Times about US Government efforts to engage American Muslims in countering extremism, with some of the same issues that likely arise in Canada. The last line captures the conundrum:

American officials have been able to identify Americans fighting for the Islamic State or other Syrian rebel groups based on intelligence gathered from travel records, family members, intercepted electronic communications, social media postings and surveillance of Americans overseas who had expressed interest in going to Syria, counterterrorism officials said.

But efforts at countering violent extremism, especially at home, “have lagged badly behind other counterterrorism pillars,” said Michael Leiter, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “It is heartening to see the administration attempt to invigorate those efforts, but it is unfortunate that it has, despite the efforts of many, been so long in coming.”

Government supporters question whether funds will be available to sustain these programs. “The administration has the right framework for doing this, but long-term success will depend on sustainable resourcing to help local government, communities and law enforcement build initiatives that can have impact,” said Quintan Wiktorowicz, a former senior White House aide who was one of the principal architects of the current strategy.

That strategy here at home, called countering violent extremism, has proved much more difficult for American officials to master than the ability of the Pentagon and spy agencies to identify, track, capture and, if necessary, kill terrorists overseas.

Among its efforts, the Department of Homeland Security provides training to help state and local law enforcement officials in identifying and countering the threat, including indicators of violent extremism and “lone wolf” attacks.

The department awarded the International Association of Chiefs of Police a $700,000 grant last year to develop training on how to prevent, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism.

The department has also sponsored exercises in seven cities, including Houston, Seattle, and Durham, N.C., to improve communication between local law enforcement and communities and to share ideas on how best to build community resilience against violent extremism. “We’re raising awareness,” said David Gersten, who was recently named the department’s coordinator for the overall effort.

Carter M. Stewart, the United States attorney in the Columbus area, said he and his staff meet regularly with Somali-American and other community leaders.

But Muslim advocates say there is deep suspicion that, despite all the meetings and the talk of outreach, the government’s main goal is to recruit informants to root out suspected terrorists.

“I don’t know how we can have a partnership with the same government that spies on you,” said Linda Sarsour, advocacy director for the National Network for Arab American Communities.

Indeed, those who met with Mr. Johnson were conflicted, some saying they were pleasantly surprised he had traveled here to put a face on the federal effort, but clearly embittered by their past experiences with the government.

Dr. Iyad Azrak, 37, a Syrian-American ophthalmologist, recounted how he and his family had been forced on numerous trips to Canada to wait for hours at border crossings while inspectors reviewed his records.

“Not once when we’re coming home do they say to me, ‘Welcome home,’ ” said Dr. Azrak, who said he has been a naturalized citizen for six years.

U.S. Is Trying to Counter ISIS’ Efforts to Lure Alienated Young Muslims – NYTimes.com.