EXPERT PERSPECTIVE — MI5 Director Common, Ken McCallum’s, joint address on 6th July with the FBI Chief noticed a welcome rebalancing of the Safety Service’s focus in direction of nation-state threats. Counter Terrorism is a crucial perform however it was allowed to dominate for 20 years whereas Russia, China and another belligerent states had been insufficiently monitored.

The 9/11 assault was so big that it blew Western international coverage off beam for 20 years. 9/11’s affect didn’t merely derive from the big variety of deaths (virtually ten instances the subsequent largest terrorist incident) but additionally as a result of it was seen as a brand new type of notably harmful Islamist terrorism. The extraordinary tv footage, each enthralling and horrifying, along with the long-lasting targets produced a imaginative and prescient of terror in a league of its personal.

Till 9/11, the world had regarded terrorism like crime or poverty, as one thing we might want to eradicate however may need to endure and handle without end. The primary components which distinguish terrorism from crime are the political motive, the intention to kill and maim, and, usually, the covert hand of international international locations behind the terrorists. That’s the reason safety companies around the globe take the lead on counter-terrorism (CT) with police forces in assist.

We are inclined to overlook that spectacular terrorist assaults didn’t start with 9/11. Earlier than 2001, there have been two extraordinary a long time from the early Nineteen Seventies onwards which noticed a number of major attacks annually. For instance, the blowing up in September 1970, of 4 airliners in Jordan by Palestinian terrorists, the kidnapping in December 1975, of 60 officers at an OPEC convention in Vienna by the terrorist often called Carlos the Jackal and the downing of an Air India Boeing 747 over the Atlantic in June 1985, by Sikh extremists that killed 329 folks.

Among the most high-profile assaults had been carried out by the Abu Nidhal Organisation (ANO) and different Palestinian teams. There have been additionally Sikh and Latin American organisations, the Provisional Irish Republican Military (PIRA), the German Baader Meinhof gang, and the Japanese Pink Military. Assaults within the Nineteen Seventies and 80s obtained front-page and prime-time protection however just for a couple of days every. The exception was the destruction of a Pan Am plane over Lockerbie in December 1988, which broke by way of an invisible barrier to develop into a repeated information merchandise for a number of years.


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Behind these organisations we often caught glimpses of nation states. In lots of circumstances it was Iran, Syria or Libya however there have been different much less seen actors. The French deal with the ANO (revealed in 2019) was notably cynical however there was additionally Irish-American (NORAID) assistance to the PIRA and all these different international locations which paid ransoms for the discharge of their residents. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the extent of East Germany’s systematic involvement in anti-Western terrorism was laid naked.

Sometimes, there could be successes for safety companies. Within the UK alone there have been operations which uncovered Libyan arming of PIRA and the meticulous work which attributed the Lockerbie bombing to Libya.  On the time, CT work was all the time secondary to operations in opposition to nation-state threats; primarily the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. In 1970, 105 Soviet intelligence officers had been expelled from London, the fruit of hundreds of hours of scrutiny and from that second onwards, a coordinated effort was maintained to expel Soviet bloc spies thereby disrupting their operations.

It was the top of the Chilly Battle in 1989/90, which ushered within the unipolar world of only one superpower. In April 2001, the Hainan Island incident involving a US spy airplane off the Chinese language coast, raised a question-mark in regards to the potential future threat from a extra assertive China.  However a mere 4 months later, the 9/11 assault happened and China was all-but-forgotten.

Allies in South East Asia would repeatedly warn Western counterparts of the risks of ignoring the rise of China and of focussing too closely on CT basically and Iraq and Afghanistan particularly; however to no avail. Understandably, the destruction of Al Qa’ida and the seize of its chief, Osama Bin Laden, turned a US strategic goal involving huge intelligence assets. Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama each put strain on their companies to stop any future assaults on US soil. When 30 British vacationers had been killed at a Tunisian seashore resort, then Prime Minister David Cameron described terrorism as “an existential menace”.

For some international locations with weak governments, akin to Somalia and Mali, terrorism can certainly be existential. Terrorism can be deeply corrosive to civil society. Nonetheless, for Western democracies, the one circumstance through which terrorism might develop into an existential menace is that if a gaggle succeeded in acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

There have been a number of moments of concern. The Japanese cult Aun Shinrikyo tried to make use of the nerve agent Sarin on the Tokyo subway in March 1995. Al Qa’ida tried a number of instances to acquire WMD. There have lengthy been considerations that the collapse of a rustic akin to Pakistan or North Korea might end in terrorists getting their arms on chemical; organic, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons.

The alteration of the planning for 9/11 after the British first bought wind of the plot turned a traditional hijacking of an airliner to acquire the discharge of a prisoner, right into a novel idea which used fully-fuelled plane as flying bombs. In essence, 9/11 turned a borderline case between standard and WMD terrorism.


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Because of this, CT will stay a significant concern of safety companies around the globe. Moreover, for so long as nation states proceed to assist terrorist organisations, we might want to dedicate the energies of our intelligence companies to find the plans of terrorist teams and their sponsors.

The statistics present that terrorism is a small menace in comparison with crime and illness, even within the UK, which has been one of many hardest hit international locations. Between 1970 and 2019, the UK misplaced a complete of three,416 lives to terrorism however 84% of these had been linked to Northern Eire and 271 to the Lockerbie incident. Between 2005 and 2022, 93 folks have died from terrorism, a median of below 6 folks per annum. This compares to 695 homicides in 2020, about 1,500 deaths annually from site visitors accidents and a few 25,000 from influenza and pneumonia.

The terrorism figures are low partly due to the successes of MI5. Operation Overt in 2006, alone prevented as much as ten passenger aircraft being destroyed over the Atlantic. On the identical time, the worldwide (notably US) successes in opposition to Islamic State (IS) and Al Qa’ida terrorists have lowered the flexibility of these organisations to mount large-scale assaults within the West.

More and more, CT has develop into focussed on the ‘Lone Wolf’ phenomenon; younger males who develop into radicalised on-line and are persuaded to construct a primary bomb or simply take a knife from the kitchen drawer. For safety companies to handle this menace, it requires a disproportionate use of their restricted assets. Coping with this menace must contain psychological well being provision, social companies, training and police.

One results of the years since 9/11, is that safety companies have shouldered an excessive amount of of the CT burden. Generally they’ve been tempted to bid for beneficiant CT funding whereas the caring companies have remained uncomfortable taking part in a CT position. Nonetheless, the Lone Wolf phenomenon (whether or not Islamist or right-wing) ought to be addressed as a ‘entire of presidency’ effort as envisaged within the authentic British CONTEST plan. The dear assets of safety companies should be focussed on probably the most strategic threats; which not solely threaten our way-of-life however our very existence.

This piece was first printed by our buddies at RUSI.

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