Sri Lanka’s terrorist attacks and intelligence failure? What intelligence failure?

Imagine the following scenario. The weather outside is awful. It has been snowing for three days now and a lot of the white stuff has accumulated on the ground. In addition, the temperatures have hovered around zero (Celsius or 32 Fahrenheit) so there is a real risk of ice on the roads.

Every TV station, online news site and weather expert is saying it is not a good idea to go out under these conditions. Taking that chance could lead to a very bad ending. Stay inside, put the coffee on and watch Netflix is what everyone seems to be saying.

Except that there is this one guy – we’ll call him Bob – ignores all this. Bob decides that the information is bogus or that the warnings are fake (fake news!) or exaggerated. Bob elects to go out anyway in his car. Bob ends up in a ditch. Bob is dead.

So whose fault is this tragedy?

The TV’s? The Internet? Your local weather specialist? All of the above? Was this a ‘weather warning failure’? No, this is solely Bob’s fault. Bob had all the necessary data to assess the situation and determine risk. Bob elected to pooh-pooh it and take his own chances Bob is now dead.

“Intelligence failure” vs “failure to communicate”

Do you see where this is going? I am reading a lot about the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka as an ‘intelligence failure’. Except it was nothing of the sort. This was actually an intelligence success. What we have here is a ‘failure to communicate’ (and to act).

It is becoming quite clear that officials in Sri Lanka had ample data and ample warning about the attacks thanks to intelligence collection. Here is an excerpt from The Economist:

National intelligence agencies had issued their warnings as early as April 4th. In a letter on April 9th the chief of national intelligence had even named suspects—a level of detail that is very rare for such warnings. And shortly before the attacks, the spy agencies’ foreign counterparts had again alerted Sri Lankan authorities that places of religious worship, especially of Catholics, and areas with high concentrations of tourists “may be targeted”.

But here is where things went badly wrong. The Prime Minister was not aware of this intelligence because he had not even been invited to meetings of the national security council, which are chaired by the president, since October last year. Because the PM and the President don’t get along, the latter favouring another person for the job. This has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with politics. In addition, those who had seen the intelligence could have taken action to put security in place. This is a failure on their parts as well.

The Prime Minister was not aware of this intelligence because he had not even been invited to meetings of the national security council

I may be a little sensitive to these claims given my 32 years in Canadian intelligence but it seems crystal clear to me that the spy agencies did exactly what they are paid to do: collect data, assess it for accuracy, analyse it and pass it on. That it was not done so in Colombo cannot be laid at the feet of the intel bodies.

There are indeed many occasions on which intelligence is poor, lacking or non-existent. Yes, we do miss things and yes we do get it wrong sometimes. But we get it right more often and hence we do provide a needed service. The level of detail available to Sri Lankan officials from their own spies and foreign ones before Sunday seems to me (I of course have not seen it) to be remarkably detailed: this is very, very rare.

So the next time you see the phrase ‘intelligence failure’ stop and ask yourself: whose failure?

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Episode 8 – On the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka

The terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday were horrific in scale, killing more than 350 people. What happened and why? What do we know and what don’t we?

In this podcast, former Canadian intelligence analyst Phil Gurski analyses what happened in Sri Lanka.

Opinion: It would be nice if we could agree on a definition of terrorism

If I were to ask ten people chosen at random what ‘terrorism’ means, I’d likely get some combinations of the following:

  • it involves killing or trying to kill civilians;
  • it is inspired by an idea – religious, political, ideological or something along that line;
  • it is usually carried out by non-state actors;
  • terrorists want to leave a message;
  • terrorists want to cause fear; and
  • terrorists want governments to cave to their demands and change something (a law, a policy, an occupation, etc.)

What I think is less probable is that I would receive an answer such as “a rise in the price of vegetables”.

Well, that is exactly what Turkish President Recep Erdogan recently said: “They’ve (NB speaking of wholesalers whom he accused of hoarding) made aubergine, tomato, potato and cucumber prices increase. They are spreading terror.”

Vegetables as perpetrators of terrorism

Forsooth! Vegetables as perpetrators of terrorism (ok, ok, more accurately vegetable wholesalers as perpetrators of terrorism)! Whoda thunk? Is this perhaps not one of the stupidest things you have heard come out of a politician’s mouth – if you discount just about everything US boy president Donald Trump has ever said?

It cheapens the true meaning of the word terrorism and insults those who have suffered its consequences

Here is the problem when a leader says something along these lines. It cheapens the true meaning of the word terrorism and insults those who have suffered its consequences (unless shoppers who can no longer afford cucumbers are to be treated the same as Yazidi girls raped by Islamic State terrorists). And it allows governments to label anything as terrorism, which allows them to get away with a lot.

Sticking with Turkey, several governments have called their Kurdish minority terrorists, thus justifying a whole slew of human rights violations. Turkey’s Kurds have long been denied their basic rights, even to include their ethnicity (for years many Turkish politicians called the Kurds ‘mountain Turks’). Yes, there are Kurdish terrorist groups and yes they have carried out heinous acts of violence but no, not all Kurds are terrorists. Many have been campaigning for an independent homeland for decades – which would problematically cover a third of Turkey and large swathes of Syria, Iraq and Iran, all of which makes its likelihood very unlikely – and not all advocate violence to gain that status.

Similarly, when we refer to some acts by far right extremists such as yelling at minorities or spitting at them or trying to yank off hijabs or yarmulkes or spraypainting swastikas on synagogues and mosques using the word terrorism we are doing ourselves a disservice. I am not dismissing or minimising the trauma that these acts cause to those subjected to them. They are certainly hateful and disgusting – but they are not terrorism.

Terrorism is complicated

Terrorism is complicated, driven by a multitude of push and pull factors and varying from place to place, cause to cause. Despite this complexity, however, we need to agree on some fundamental principles. Here I humbly suggest two (there may be more and I’d love to hear from you on this – which I am sure I will!):

  • it has to be a serious act of violence with the intent to kill or severely maim, and;
  • it has to be motivated primarily by an ideology, as woolly as some may be.

Neither you nor I will stop politicians saying stupid things for reasons only they know. We can, however, try to be consistent as commentators, op-ed contributors and even ex-spies on how we use the words we do. After all if those of us who have spent decades trying to understand terrorism cannot agree on basic parametres, who can?

The terrorist attack that wasn’t – and one that may have been

In my case, I read almost everything via a terrorism lens – except maybe the comics – since I write about terrorism every day. When I read news from around the world I seek out those stories that have something to do with violent extremism, which I then share via Twitter or turn into a blog or podcast. There is indeed a sad angle to this as there are lots of positive things I could – and probably should – focus on.

It is within this framework, then, that I listened to a news story on my car radio on Wednesday that had just unfolded in, of all places, Ottawa, where I live. A man who hijacked a University of Ottawa van drove recklessly around and through campus, hitting cars and bollards before crashing. Thankfully no one was hurt.

So, where did I go with this?

You don’t have to be a specialist to know that terrorists have driven cars and trucks through crowded pedestrian areas with the aim of killing as many as possible.

Why, straight to terrorism of course! Was that initial reaction a reasonable one? Absolutely! You don’t have to be a terrorism specialist or amateur aficionado to know that over the past couple of years terrorists, largely but not exclusively Islamist extremists, have driven cars, vans and trucks through crowded pedestrian areas (Edmonton, London, Barcelona, Nice, Berlin, Barcelona…) with the aim of killing and maiming as many as possible.

And if you are a little more informed about terrorist groups you know that Islamic State and others have been encouraging this kind of ‘do it yourself’ terrorism.

Except that the Ottawa incident had nothing to do with terrorism.

The alleged culprit may have been drunk and screamed at arresting officers to kill him, suggesting some personal crisis or mental health issue

Meanwhile in the Netherlands

Now let’s move on to the Netherlands city of Utrecht where a man shot and killed three people on a tram on Monday and fled the scene, leading to a city-wide shutdown and manhunt. When it was announced that the suspect was Turkish, many leaped to the terrorism motivation I bet. As it turned out, the man was known to police for petty crimes and rape and was later arrested. We then learned that police were indeed pursuing a possible terrorism angle (I wonder if my friends at the AIVD – the Dutch version of CSIS – had something on him?).

And here is one more. A driver hijacked a schoolbus outside Milan on Wednesday and threatened to kill more than 50 children on board before setting fire to the vehicle claiming revenge for migrant deaths at sea. No one was hurt thanks to the actions of the Carabinieri.

We must reserve judgment and withhold ‘conclusions’ until we learn more.

What does this leave us with? Three events, two of which were most definitely, at least based on what we know so far, not terrorism and one that might have been (stay tuned to Dutch news for more on this). And what is the lesson? Just because it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck does not always mean it is a (terrorist) duck. We must reserve judgment and withhold ‘conclusions’ until we learn more. Quick decisions are often not just wrong – the case of the Danforth shooter in Toronto is a very good example of an assumed terrorist (probably because he was Muslim) that was incorrect – but sometimes lethal: an American Sikh was murdered on September 15, 2001 by a man who thought he was Muslim and wanted to seek revenge for 9/11.

More information is always better than less. We who try to put context into what is happening, whether it is terrorism or not, should always remember that.

Episode 7 – The conundrum of foreign fighters

We know that terrorist groups like IS attracted thousands of fighters from 100 countries. With the demise of IS the survivors want to come home. Should we let them?

In this podcast, former Canadian intelligence analyst Phil Gurski analyses the conundrum of foreign fighters.

This podcast is now available on iTunes and Google Podcast!

Find us on your favorite app and make sure to subscribe and follow to make sure to never miss a new episode!

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Follow Phil Gurski On

Twitter: https://bit.ly/2Ck7ffw
LinkedIn: https://bit.ly/2srwkQZ
Email: borealisrisk@gmail.com
Check out Phil Gurski’s latest bookshttps://amzn.to/2ALdpoG

Edited by Jean-Baptiste Pelland-Goulet
Produced by Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting, ContinuityLink
Writing/Research: Phil Gurski
Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting: https://borealisthreatandrisk.com/
The Resilience Post: https://resiliencepost.com/
ContinuityLink: https://www.continuitylink.com/

We can talk about terrorists without glorifying them or their acts

We want to know more, not less, and we want to know it NOW. We want as many details as possible so we can develop an understanding of the event and figure out what is important and what is not.

When the event in question is an act of terrorism, as we saw last week in Christchurch, New Zealand, we want to know even more. We live in a post 9/11 world where we have been inundated with terrorist act after terrorist act after terrorist act: we could almost call the current period the ‘Age of Terrorism’ based on the frequency of such incidents and the media coverage they receive.

When the event in question is an act of terrorism, as we saw last week in Christchurch, New Zealand, we want to know even more.

News articles, op-eds, books, specialised journals, blogs and podcasts (including my own blogs and podcasts – An Intelligent Look at Terrorism) have sprung up to dissect this phenomenon, all with the purpose at getting a better handle on it (and perhaps helping to decide what to do about it).

In this search for more details about the who, where, what, why, how and when, however, there has been some push back of late. Some have called for a suppression of information on terrorist attacks. This way of thinking states that naming terrorists or showing footage of their attacks (the New Zealand livestreamed his massacre) only serves to glorify them and promotes their acts for others to follow. There is ample evidence that likeminded individuals cite previous attackers as part of a justification for their own actions (the New Zealand terrorist cited both Anders Breivik, the 2011 Norwegian shooter, as well as Canada’s Alexandre Bissonnette, the shooter of the Quebec City mosque in 2017). There are also some who say publishing the names of the perpetrators compounds the grief of the families of the dead.

In light of this what should we do?

No one wants to give fodder to future terrorists and no one wants to prolong the agony of the loved ones of the victims. But is the reporting of a name doing this? I cannot speak for the feelings of those who lost family members or friends to terrorists but it strikes me that there is a tension between reporting facts and being sensitive. Where is the line between the public’s right to know and the bereaved’s right to not suffer?

The question of whether to show the video is a different matter however

Besides I think it is not a good idea to equate reporting with glorification or giving undue attention to a terrorist seeking either. Facts are facts and should be objective and not emotion-laden. In addition, in a world of instant news and multiple platforms we cannot suppress information anyway: that horse has left the barn. The New Zealand shooter’s video and manifesto were already being praised by those who shared his warped views seconds after they appeared online. Whether or not the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail or The Hill Times opts to not publish the terrorist’s name makes no difference in the reach of his message.

The question of whether to show the video is a different matter however. That piece of information is nothing more than violence porn. We should not share that any more than we should share footage of snuff videos or violent rapes. There is simply some material that should not be posted out of a sense of basic human decency.

We can learn about terrorism and its motivations by sharing more information, not less. We can be both true to our need to acquire details and our need to be sensitive to others. It is something that has to be done carefully, but it can be done.

Readin’, ‘Ritin’ and Radicalisin’: schools and the links to terrorism

One of the many beauties of living in a liberal, secular democratic society is the freedom to disagree and debate. There are always many sides to an issue and we have the liberty to express our opinions without the fear of being arrested. Many citizens in many countries do not have this right.

But what if there are those who disagree fundamentally with the very nature of our system of government? Must we tolerate those who seek to overthrow the democratically-elected order?

Nothing magical about democracy

“Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”
– Winston Churchill, 1947

There is, of course, nothing magical about democracy. In the words of UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Parliament in 1947 “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

Even so, it is pretty good in my eyes. It is, of course, a work in progress as is evident through the multiple changes over time. For instance, as women were not given universal suffrage in Canada until 1918 (1940 in Quebec) it would be hard to argue that our democratic system was ‘perfect’ in 1867.

How far can critics go however?

Is it ok to advocate a complete overhaul of our democratic system, much more than going from first-past-the-post to proportional representation? What if there are those maintaining that democracy is incompatible with certain religions? What if those advocating such change are ok with achieving their goals through violent means?

A recent report in Dutch media has brought this issue to the fore. The Netherlands’ education minister has threatened to withdraw state funding from an Amsterdam Islamic secondary school accused of having terrorist links and added that “the children’s safe and democratic development cannot be guaranteed because the school is operating in parallel to society”. In other words, there are those at the school who are probably teaching the kids that democracy is irreconcilable with Islam.

We in Canada are not immune from this wonky belief

During his terrorism trial, VIA Rail plotter Chiheb Esseghaier stated often that he did not think highly of democracy and demanded in his leave for appeal that he should have been judged based on the Quran and not on the tenets of the Canadian Criminal Code. Islamist extremists reject democracy since that system of government allows humans to make and amend laws: they believe that only God has that right and will kill to make sure it happens.

I hope we are on the same page on this one. Warts and all, our democratic systems are the best we can do and must be safeguarded. We certainly cannot stand by as extremists and terrorists seek to undermine our societies under the aberrant conviction that we have it all wrong and they are going to show us how it should be done.

Interestingly, the AIVD – the Netherlands’ equivalent to CSIS – as early as 2004 wrote convincingly of the ‘threat to the democratic legal order’ from both violent and non-violent Islamist extremists. In the spirit of full disclosure, I had many exchanges with my Dutch counterparts in the mid-2000s and have them to thank for much of my own thinking on the dangers of violent and non-violent Islamist extremism to our country.

We have had our fair share of Islamist terrorist plots over the past few decades and most were foiled.

Just like in the Netherlands, this kind of threat is exactly what we have CSIS for. It states quite clearly in Section 2d) of the CSIS Act that threats to the security of Canada include “activities directed toward undermining by covert unlawful acts, or directed toward or intended ultimately to lead to the destruction or overthrow by violence of, the constitutionally established system of government in Canada”. We have had our fair share of Islamist terrorist plots over the past few decades and it is thanks to CSIS and its partners that most were foiled.

There is, however, a bigger picture here

Are there some among us who are ok with having their children taught that democracy is evil and must be cast aside? Should this not be a line that must not be crossed? If so, are parents who become aware of the influence of extremist ideologues – either in schools or in religious institutions – brave enough to denounce these efforts and seek outside assistance where necessary? I do hope so.

To my knowledge this is not a huge problem in Canada and I do not want to leave the impression that there is a ‘fifth column’ of anti-democratic terrorists poised to strike. No, the threat is not zero but neither is there evidence I am aware of that it is significant or on a national scale.

At the same time we need to call out those who want to take down our democracy. For better or worse, it is our system of government and it warrants protection.

Episode 6 – The terrorist attack in New Zealand and the threat of far right extremism

The mid-March massacre in Christchurch is still resonating around the world. What does this mean for the far right threat to Canada and other nations?

In this podcast, former Canadian intelligence analyst Phil Gurski analyses the terrorist attack in New Zealand and the threat of far right extremism.

This podcast is now available on iTunes and Google Podcast!

Find us on your favorite app and make sure to subscribe and follow to make sure to never miss a new episode!

listen on apple podcastlisten on google podcast


Follow Phil Gurski On

Twitter: https://bit.ly/2Ck7ffw
LinkedIn: https://bit.ly/2srwkQZ
Email: borealisrisk@gmail.com
Check out Phil Gurski’s latest bookshttps://amzn.to/2ALdpoG

Edited by Jean-Baptiste Pelland-Goulet
Produced by Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting, ContinuityLink
Writing/Research: Phil Gurski
Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting: https://borealisthreatandrisk.com/
The Resilience Post: https://resiliencepost.com/
ContinuityLink: https://www.continuitylink.com/

The links between genocide and terrorism

If there is one activity that humans engage in that is worse than genocide I’d like to know what it is. Genocide is the deliberate intent to wipe an entire people off the face of the earth.

The UN defines it as: “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part ; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

There have been far too many instances of genocide, or attempted genocide, in human history.

There have been far too many instances of genocide, or attempted genocide, in human history. The Holocaust – the Nazi plan to kill all the world’s Jews – is perhaps the best known not only for the sheer scale of the slaughter but thanks to the efforts of many to keep the memory of this heinous program alive (especially important in the face of ‘Holocaust deniers’: morons who pretend nothing happened).

It is not the only one alas: the 1915-1917 Armenian genocide, the 1994 massacres in Rwanda and Islamic State’s recent campaign against the Yazidis are all representative as well of this scourge.

Is genocide terrorism?

A dear friend of mine put the following question to me yesterday: is genocide terrorism? It gave me pause. My immediate reaction was ‘no’ but upon further reflection I am not so sure. Using only the four examples above (I probably could have added China’s treatment of the Uyghurs) here is an inadequate analysis of the relationship between genocide and terrorism:

  • The Nazi-driven Holocaust was definitely an ideologically-motivated campaign of mass violence. As terrorism needs some kind of underlying ideology to qualify as such it would meet the definition. It is hard, however, at least for me to picture a multi-year program as an ‘act of terrorism’
  • The Ottoman Empire’s attempt to eliminate its Armenian population through murder, starvation and forced marches through the desert killed at least 1.5 million people. It too had some ideological basis as well as a religious one (the Ottomans were Muslim while the Armenians were largely Christian). Nevertheless it is difficult to see starvation as an ‘act of terror’
  • The Rwandan massacre of the Tutsis in 1994 was the outgrowth of that country’s civil war and was catapulted to the level of genocide following a plane crash in which the Hutu president died. This was an ethnic slaughter in which propaganda played a key role and there was talk of a ‘final solution’ (echoes of the Jewish Holocaust).
  • Islamic State is a terrorist group that is Islamist in nature and hence believes that anyone who does not practice its hateful strand of Islam must be killed. The Yazidis in northern Iraq were subject to genocide by IS starting in 2014: the men were killed and the women raped and forced to marry IS ‘fighters’.

Where does this leave us?

I am not sure. There is little doubt that each of these crimes against humanity were driven by those full of intense hatred and convinced that they had the right to erase an entire people from the face of the planet. But as I have argued in the past, hatred is not necessarily ideological. In some cases there appears to have been a well-developed ideological framework: in others, nothing more or less than bloodlust. The case of IS is complicated as the entire band is one of terrorists.

We can label an act terrorism and then assign it to a category: Islamist, far right, religious, etc.

I think perhaps we are used to seeing terrorism as a series of one-off events, even if there is a theme that joins them. We can label an act terrorism and then assign it to a category: Islamist, far right, religious, etc. We can even see a whole bunch of analogous events as examples of a terrorist phenomenon defined by the particular ideology its adherents propound. What we do with a systematic effort to remove all traces of a nation falls somewhere else maybe. I don’t know – what do you think?

What all of this shows is that we are sadly capable of enormous acts of the cruelest violence carried out because some of us don’t like the skin colour or faith of someone else. Whether this is genocide, terrorism or simply hate on a grand scale may not really matter. What is perhaps more important is that we do what we can to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Please make sure to share your thoughts about this topics in the comment section below!

Throwing out the baby with the bath water when it comes to online hate and terrorism

An interesting thing happened last week. Google, that behemoth that gives us so much of our information these days, has decided not to run advertising in the lead up to this year’s Canadian federal election because it does not want to develop a registry of ads and advertisers (although it apparently did so for the US midterms and the EU, so it is technically feasible). I imagine that Google is afraid – or at least aware – of accusations that its platform is – and has been – used for fake accounts and disinformation campaigns as we have seen in other elections worldwide.

The use of social media to spread not only disinformation but also hate and violent messaging

Google’s decision fits into a larger problem: the use of social media to spread not only disinformation but also hate and violent messaging. We know, for instance, that jihadi groups and others mastered the arrival of the Internet and messaging apps to get their material to a vast audience, such that it appears possible for wannabe terrorists to learn as much as they need to make the leap towards becoming violent extremists themselves (and even learn to make bombs and related weapons).

The reaction to this phenomenon has been mixed. It took FaceBook, Twitter, Google and other providers a long time to realise just what their platforms were being exploited for, and as a result they have put in place algorithms to identify and remove objectionable content (or in some cases humans, although their experiences in reading and eliminating this garbage has had its cost – as this article in The Verge illustrates). The algorithms may be working a little too well: I think my podcasts (An intelligent look at terrorism) on YouTube may be filtered out because I use the words ‘terrorism’, ‘Al Qaeda’, ‘Islamic State’ and the like, and I am AGAINST terrorism!

The algorithms may be working a little too well: I think my podcasts on YouTube may be filtered out because I use the words ‘terrorism’, ‘Al Qaeda’, ‘Islamic State’ and the like, and I am AGAINST terrorism!

Then there is the background debate on what exactly constitutes terrorism or hate online, as this article from The Economist explains. An EU plan to impose heavy penalties on companies that allow this material to be posted may not work either, as this piece points out. The UK is considering a law that would call for up to a 15-year prison sentence for clicking on a piece of terrorist propaganda – ONE TIME!

In some countries more draconian ideas are being considered. When I was in Central Asia in January I learned that some regional governments had decided just to ban platforms like FaceBook in their entirety under the belief, I suppose, that no access means no violent or terrorist propaganda whatsoever. India is trying to force WhatsApp “to allow authorities access to any messages they request, as well as make those messages traceable to their original sender”, a big problem for a company that prides itself on its end-to-end encryption and privacy for its users.

Wow! I think it is time to step back and take a deep breath. It may very well be, in the words of The Economist, that “social media have made it easier than ever to propagate prejudice and target scapegoats. Ideas and insinuations that would find no place in the respectable media or political discourse can cascade all too easily from phone to phone“(referring to anti-Semitism), but are total bans and increased government snooping the answer? Is the problem that big, that dangerous and that irresolvable so that these drastic measures are required? We need to figure this out first before going there.

social media have made it easier than ever to propagate prejudice and target scapegoats
Social media have made it easier than ever to propagate prejudice and target scapegoats

In many ways this line of reasoning is flawed and could be applied in increasingly ridiculous ways. If we take down social media because terrorists, who represent an infinitesimally small proportion of humans, use, it why not go further:

  • Some terrorists have used cars and vans to run people over: ban cars and vans!
  • Some terrorists have used knives to stab people: ban knives!
  • Some terrorists have used golf clubs (see Rehab Dughmosh): ban golf!

See where this can end up?

I do not have all the answers to these challenges. I do think companies can do better at policing their platforms, both through better algorithms and having human eyes on violent material (although the latter needs to be managed better). I think that we need more knowledge on how this material affects people and how to mitigate the worst effects. I think we need to keep all this in perspective.

We cannot go back to a pre-Internet or pre-social media world, or rather we should not (if we do I am out of a job as a post-intelligence career blogger!). Humans are smart – we can figure out a better way to not give room for the jihadis and other terrorists and hatemongers without throwing out the digital baby with the online bathwater.

Episode 5 – China is getting terrorism all wrong

Despite a real threat of terrorism from Uyghur extremists, China has chosen to label an entire people terrorists and the creation of concentration camps will only make the danger worse.

In this podcast, Former Canadian intelligence analyst Phil Gurski analyses why China is getting terrorism all wrong.

Check out Phil Gurski’s latest books https://amzn.to/2ALdpoG
ContinuityLink complete training schedule https://bit.ly/2RMO8UX

Follow Phil Gurski On

Twitter: https://bit.ly/2Ck7ffw
LinkedIn: https://bit.ly/2srwkQZ
Email: borealisrisk@gmail.com

Edited by: Jean-Baptiste Pelland-Goulet
Produced by: Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting, ContinuityLink
Writing/Research: Phil Gurski
Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting https://borealisthreatandrisk.com/
The Resilience Post https://resiliencepost.com/
ContinuityLink https://www.continuitylink.com/

Here’s hoping the recent decline in terrorism continues

There is a phrase I love and which I would like to share with you today as it has a lot to with the theme I want to briefly develop. It’s “past performance is no guarantee of future results”.

You may have seen this before, on prospectuses for mutual funds or investments for instance. In essence it means that just because something has happened in the past, especially the recent past, you shouldn’t bet the mortgage – or your savings accounts – that similar patterns will repeat.

I suppose a lot of us have this mistaken idea about how events should turn out (for instance when given a puck to steer through a curved tube many think that the puck will continue on a curved path once it leaves the stick: the correct strategy is to set it on a path that is a tangent to the curve). Then again some of this may be intellectual laziness. In any event, making decisions based solely on your analysis of past events is not a very good idea.

Over the past few years terrorist attacks worldwide have actually been declining – in some areas substantially

This idea came to me as I read a piece by Gary LaFree of the START Consortium on Terrorism at the University of Maryland. In a recent article on The Conversation Web site Mr. LaFree wrote that “over the past few years terrorist attacks worldwide have actually been declining – in some areas substantially”. He uses impressive statistical analysis to back up his beliefs and it is fairly clear that he is correct. At the same time he does concede that there are a few ‘terrorism hotspots’ where the opposite is happening.

Is it thus time to celebrate and end the ill-advisedly named ‘War on Terror’? Not quite. Aside from the ongoing hotspots there are some areas where I would submit that more terrorism – not less – is more likely in the immediate future: Somalia, Nigeria and the Sahel region of Africa come to mind immediately. In addition there are situations in a number of countries which could escalate terrorist activity: Myanmar, Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia are at the top of my list, as well as India-Pakistan especially in the wake of current tensions over Kashmir.

Added to all this is the prediction by some that the world will see a spike in far right/nationalist terrorism in the years to come (if it is not already here). One more thing: the ‘end’ of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, as inaccurate as that statement is, will not necessarily lead to an absence of future terrorism by the group.

At the same time it is important to keep reminding people that terrorism does not represent an existential threat to anyone. The level of menace will vary from place to place but we cannot allow a disproportionate and unsupportable fear-based perception of terrorism to dictate our response to it. We have done so in many ways since 9/11 and look where that has gotten us.

We cannot allow a disproportionate and unsupportable fear-based perception of terrorism to dictate our response to it

Although a continued slide in terrorism would put me out of a job as a terrorism commentator, I would welcome that development. Besides I really need to ‘retire’ someday as my kids and everyone else seems to remind me with annoying regularity! Here’s hoping Mr. LaFree’s predictions are bang on, although he does end his piece on a cautionary note: “at the same time, we must humbly admit that prediction is the most precarious task of the social sciences”.

We would be smart to bear that in mind.