Recently in Research in Counterterrorism & Security Category


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From a note to strategic foresight senior lecturer Dr. Joseph Voros:

I have Tom Barnett's first book The Pentagon's New Map. He has spoken with Don Beck and the Integral Politics people. I haven't yet read his second book or later work, which may have changed.

Conceptually, Pentagon's New Map appeared after a mid-'90s debate between neo-Kantian cosmopolitanism and the classicist school of strategic history and tragic realism. The former resonates in programs at Columbia, Cornell or RMIT, through people like Mary Kaldor, Alexander Wendt and Saskia Sassen. The latter prevails more in the military colleges and realist-oriented political science departments, as exemplified in the work of Colin S. Gray, Michael Handel, John Mearsheimer, Ralph Peters, Stephen M. Walt, and Robert Kaplan's reportage. So, Pentagon's New Map appeared at the end of the Clinton Administration and the start of George W. Bush's presidential first term.

Barnett rapidly found an audience amongst US foreign policy people that were either outside the process or looking for new ideas. To me, the strength of his first book lies in an awareness of dynamics, compared with other popular books at the time which had one or two-factor explanatory models. From a 'history of ideas' perspective, whether he was aware of it or not, Barnett synthesized ideas from Kenneth Waltz's Theory of International Politics (1979) on the neo-realist importance of structural variables, from Immanuel Wallerstein's centre-periphery model, and from Carter era strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose Grand Chessboard of envisioned Eurasian geopolitical integration recently inspired Muse's prog-rock album The Resistance. Thus, part of the appeal of Pentagon's New Map may have been that it was a 'half-step' along from the thinking of the time, and that there was an earlier theoretical base.

Whilst co-writing an academic paper on Twitter and Iran, last year, I revisited Barnett's first book as part of the background research. I was surprised to find that, in the case of Iran at least, whilst the conceptual frameworks and language were different, Barnett's solutions were similar to the prevailing 'neoconservative' school of thought. For example, he felt that Iraq regime change would alter the Middle East, and that US strategic information operations to support Iranian protesters would also facilitate regime change, a worldview traceable to Samuel P. Huntington's Political Order in Changing Societies (1968) and also made in Robert Kagan and William Kristol's edited volume Present Dangers (2000), which outlined the 'neoconservative' approach to salient foreign policy issues. Again, this may help to explain why his first book found an appreciative audience: Barnett's solutions resonated with other advisers, and with the popular works of Tom Friedman and Benjamin Barber. As discussed, the same issues apply to any theorist or analytical framework, and reflect artifacts of a thinking process rather than the person.

This raises various issues for foresight students and practitioners who may want to work in a 'worldviews'-type area like foreign affairs or trade. The trans-disciplinary focus of foresight and futures work can mean that practitioners gravitate to 'meta'-frameworks which may lack rigorous theory-building, theory-testing and evaluation. To minimize this, it helps to have some background in the history of ideas and culture, and political philosophy, particularly as Peter Katzenstein, Alaistair Iain Johnston and Patrick Porter demonstrate in the 'strategic culture' literature. Foreign policy frameworks that differentiate between diplomacy, informational, military, economic and other levers are useful, such as Terry Deibel's Foreign Affairs Strategy (2007). Finally, the varied work of these scholars illustrates this rigour and cycle of theory-building, theory-testing and evaluation: Stephen G. Brooks on global security and trans-national corporations, Jon Sumida on Clausewitz and other classical military theorists, Stephen Biddle's multi-method analysis of military power projection, and Dexter Filkins' multi-perspectival conflict reportage.
Morning meeting: get people face-to-face on sensitive issues, avoid escalation by email, and remove roadblocks. Some interesting anecdotes on what really happens on an overseas consultancy.

Late afternoon meeting over tea and donuts with collaborator Ben Eltham in Melbourne's Nicholas Building. Discussion: EMI's troubles; how ERA will affect two articles we are working on; Australian academic and zine maven Anna Poletti; why journal workshops have bad percolator coffee; sick buildings; and the psychological impact of glass desks in offices.

Evening: PhD 'background research' viewing the first episode of Gwynne Dyer's mid-1980s series 'War': archival footage of World War I nationalist mania, the Western Front trenches, machine guns, German zeppelin raids, and World War II aerial bombings, ending in the Trinity nuclear test and Hiroshima. The nationalist mania, and generals' decision that led to the sacrifice of 60,000 English in one day to German machine guns and no-man's land, are examples of George Gurdjieff's 'terror of the situation'.

An insight whilst viewing Dyer's series: the Napoleonic innovation of national conscripts and total war, and German air-raids, broke the taboo on targeting civilians. Prior to this, 19th century Russian anarchists usually targeted police and political leaders. After this, many groups acted on the taboo, for different reasons: anti-colonialist and nationalist revolutions, radicalisation in the shadow of the Vietnam War and other conflicts, strategic tactics such as during hijack negotiations, and religiously motivated violence. This hypothesis appears to be a close fit to David Rapoport's waves thesis and to Mark Juergensmeyer's research program. Is this testable using the Correlates of War data-sets?
During a 2006 Monash postgraduate class on intelligence analysis our adviser made several observations on how the Australian Security Intelligence Agency (ASIO) is misrepresented and misunderstood. The 'S' stood for domestic security not secrecy. ASIO had an accountability and audit regime at multiple levels: legislative limits, the Treasury budget process, appeals processes, external audits and supply contract review, and reporting to the public and to bipartisan government committees. Australia's intelligence resources were mo stly deployed in military agencies for signals intelligence. Finally, media coverage of ASIO rarely evolves to the sophistication seen in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Bernard Keane's Crikey article 'The Answer is ASIO' (24th February 2010) risks continuing this trend in media coverage of intelligence issues. I want to illustrate below how Keane's own arguments can be interpreted as having their own "deeply-flawed logic" in his accusations of Labor's "security propaganda."

Fast & Fearful

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Australia's current affairs program 4 Corners ran a story this week on Internet hackers which has backfired.

4 Corners reporter Andrew Fowler contends in the report that cybercrime is one rise, and may explode when Australia's long-delayed National Broadband Network (NBN) launches sometime before December 21, 2012 or Skynet takes over the world's computer networks. Fowler's report is a mix of commentaries from victims of denial-of-service attacks and identity fraud; ethical hackers who are employed by companies to test their information systems security; vendors who provide virus protection software; and a jount investigation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Victorian Police into a warez site for hackers.

Detective Superintendent Brian Hay of Queensland Police's Fraud and Corporate Crime Squad sums up the report's mood: "I expect to see at some stage in the future there will be a real debate on the future of the internet, should we turn it off?"

Over four years ago I looked at this area, as part of a research team on internet futures see the report's section 'Chaos Rules'. The experts the tean interviewed had sometimes expressed similar thoughts to Hay. Despite the mention of NBN this was the same kind of report which could have been filmed in 2004 or 1999, as PBS Frontline did in 2003 in its Cyber War! report. The journalistic genre extends to the choice of edits, music and images to portray the vulnerability of the technologies.

Several other things struck me about Fowler's 4 Corners report. Many of the sources had an interest in raising the threat levels of identity theft and denial-of-service attacks. The program's case studies raised other potential sources --- banks, customer service teams in financial intermediaries, and telecommunications infrastructure providers --- which Fowler did not pursue. High-profile experts who might have a more informed and critical viewpoint, such as hacker Kevin Mitnick and security maven Bruce Schneier, were missing. Perhaps Fowler's researchers did not have the leads or production budget. For me, the result was that whilst Fowler raised important issues about internet security, he also went for the low-hanging fruit and with a cliched editorial format.

Hackers retaliated and broke into AFP computers only 24 hours after Fowler's report screened. The incident raises some further questions. Under what conditions is the short-term 'publicity dividend' of police cooperation in a journalist story worth the risk of a retaliatory tit-for-tat attack? To prevent unauthorised and external access, will police intelligence on the investigation (continue to) be kept on a secure computer with no online or network connections? Should a police team maintain a low-key, covert presence to monitor underground hacking sites, or instead alert site members as a deterrent? And, given this latest development, will Fowler's team file a follow-up report?
Nuclear proliferation expert Fred Kaplan and other analysts are writing about North Korea's third missile test launch and Kim Jong-il. Here's the Masters research thesis I wrote in 2006 on Jong-il's nuclear program viewed through Herman Kahn's early work on game theory, threat scenarios and Cold War era nuclear warfare. I finished it just as North Korea made its second missile test launch on 4th July 2006.
Slate's Jacob Weisberg recently surveyed a range of sociopolitical issues from nuclear proliferation to the China Century where the expert consensus might be wrong.

Weisberg's survey sample includes macroeconomic aggregates (home ownership, asset investment classes, international competition), geostrategic stability (China, nuclear proliferation), and longrun environmental issues (climate change, fossil fuels). In each, Weisberg contrasts a prevailing view, hypothesis or expert with a challenger.

Below are some thoughts on Weisberg's analyses and observations on research methods in journalism
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· Selection and Framing of Experts: Weisberg mentions the late realist Samuel P. Huntington's thesis on political order in changing societies, to raise concerns about China's near-future macroeconomic growth. He also refers to neorealist Kenneth Waltz's views that nuclear proliferation is inevitable. Huntington and Waltz both represent dominant traditions within international relations theory, and neither are as new or radical as Weisberg seems to portray. The selection and framing of experts is crucial: it would be even more interesting to compare their views with other schools of thought, such as liberal democratic, critical or constructivist theories, which have different deductive premises and levels of analysis. After all, neoconservative fears about Iraq were not just that nuclear weapons acquisition was a defensive action, but also the security orientation of 'Axis of Evil' regimes and their potential connections to non-state actors. Perhaps Weisberg could have checked with a nuclear proliferation specialist such as Graham Allison or Jessica Stern. Equally, a China specialist might convincingly show that Hu Jintao's Chinese government is aware of Huntington's thesis and has plotted a different future trajectory

· Heretics & Mavericks: Weisberg cites Freeman Dyson as a heretic of climate change models, although Dyson's scientific expertise is primarily as a physicist and cosmologist. Other mavericks such as the late Federal Bureau of Investigation counterterrorism expert John O'Neill and United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter were ostracised in organisational politics, whilst economist Nouriel Roubini strengthened his reputation by foreseeing the global financial crisis. Perhaps it's also a matter of luck, timing, and having an effective image makeover.

· Incomplete Deductive Arguments: Weisberg observes that market analysts are re-evaluating house ownership, stock investments and the global competitiveness of car manufacturers. Yet the common assumptions that Weisberg mentions are really incomplete deductive arguments with hidden premises. First, home ownership does not necessarily lead to greater community involvement, and the negative factors mentioned (financial risk, labour market mobility, commute time) are weighted during the purchase decision or emerge later in decision regret. Second, evaluating and comparing the risk premia of bonds versus stocks requires further details on the time horizon, sampling frame, weightings and volatility. Shocks such as the 1973 OPEC oil crisis, the 1995-2000 dotcom bubble, the 1997 Asian currency crisis and the current global financial crisis may affect the comparison of bond and stock returns. Third, although the Detroit Three have cut costs and launched several international joint ventures, their debts and liabilities are partly the result of earlier decisions. Weisberg's argument that these balance sheet issues are the Detroit Three's main barrier is not really new: asset management and private equity firms have targeted them for over two decades in their acquisition, reengineering and turnaround attempts. Perhaps that's why the Obama administration has hired media banker Stephen Rattner.

· Inferences from Small Samples: In his sections on long-run stocks, climate change and fossil fuels Weisberg quotes from a single academic study. Whilst this establishes a challenger hypothesis it also probably means that the sample is too small for inferences that would establish a definitive Kuhnian paradigm shift in a knowledge field. Weisberg would have a more robust argument if he referenced meta-analyses which evaluated a group of studies for their sample size and other effects.
Fiasco author Thomas E. Ricks is gaining positive media reviews for his new book The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (Penguin Press, New York, 2009). The Washington Post has published excerpts; NYT and LA Times have reviews here and here. Ricks joins my list of journalists and open source intelligence researchers who are exem

The reviews suggest Ricks has uncovered lots of rich insights from his reportage on how Petraeus changed US counterinsurgency doctrines in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its policy framework in the Bush administration. Petraeus was informed about Vietnam's counterinsurgency lessons through his PhD studies at Princeton, completed in 1987. He also chose several foreign-born advisors with subject matter expertise such as Australian Lt. Col. David Kilcullen. Finally, Petraeus cultivated several allies in military and policy circles who led a counter-response to convince the Bush administration to re-evaluate its policies. American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Frederick W. Kagan was a prominent warrior-scholar in the successful counter-response. So, timing, an institutional track record, a team of advisor-experts and coordination with co-journeyers was vital to Petraeus's successful case for policy and doctrine change.
The debate about the Obama administration's nomination of Leon Panetta as the Central Intelligence Agency's next director highlights the greater visibility of the United States intelligence community.

Media pundits diverge in their opinions about Panetta's suitability for the role.  In doing so, they reveal how each makes assumptions about the CIA's institutional function, the CIA's relationship to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the budget process, and the experience of political outsiders in assessing the quality of analytical product.

In the sample I looked at The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss reflects the consensus view that Panetta is a "doomed" appointee as a political outsider.  Dreyfuss makes four key arguments:

(1) Dreyfuss is a political appointee to a non-political organisation.

(2) As a "consumer of intelligence" Panetta is passive and unable to spearhead the operational transformation that the CIA needs.

(3) Panetta opposed the Bush administration's interrogation techniques yet a CIA insider would have been a better choice.

(4) As "a relentless centrist and a conciliator" Panetta will be outwitted by the Pentagon, the DNI and private military contractors, even though Dreyfuss opines, "the very office of the DNI is a useless post, and the entire office ought to be abolished by Obama on day one. Who needs it?"

Dreyfuss writes great, sarcastic op-ed commentary but the limitations of his arguments becomes clear when you compare his analysis with two columnists who actually know about the intelligence bureaucracy and its function: Slate's Fred Kaplan and The New Yorker's Steve Coll.  Each show for different reasons why Dreyfuss's arguments are interwoven.

Political appointees to the CIA have a poor track record, Kaplan and Coll agree.  Coll finds Panetta's nomination "unconvincing".  Kaplan suggests that Obama's priority was to distance his incoming administration from Bush's perceived politicisation, and in the absence of other candidates, Panetta was the best choice.

This priority also discounts Dreyfuss's third argument on why a CIA insider would be inappropriate.  "He seems to have been selected as a kind of political auditor and consensus builder," Coll suggests, in agreement with one premise of Dreyfuss's fourth argument.  Coll however does not write-off DNI and suggests Panetta's limitations: his lack of foreign policy experience, and his lack of direct experience in managing the CIA's operations and relationships "with other spy chiefs, friendly and unfriendly."

Dreyfuss believes that Panetta would therefore be under the control of Admiral Dennis Blair, who is Obama's DNI appointee, and thus undermine the CIA's civilian status.  Kaplan has a more nuanced view of the DNI-CIA relationship and Panetta's leadership style.  He suggests Panetta could retain the CIA's deputy director Steven Kappes, a move that would please insiders and consolidate his position.

Kaplan also reveals that Panchetta knew more about the CIA's intelligence programs than Dreyfuss's write-off suggests.  As the Clinton administration's Office of Budget and Management "director and White House chief of staff, he was not just passively exposed to intelligence issue," Kaplan counters.  He then quotes an email from former counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke which reveals that Panchetta "knew about all of the covert and special-access programs."  This experience gives Panchetta the budget skills, special knowledge, and high-level overview of CIA activities that few insiders would have, and that is a close fit with operational transformation methodologies.

If Panchetta's nomination doesn't work out I have a Team B that could probably do the job of cleaning up the CIA's black budget programs, or at least make an Open Source Intelligence attempt.  It would include award-winning journalist James Bamford whose book The Puzzle Palace (1982) features revelations about the National Security Agency; anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom whose book Shadows of War (2005) revealed the new contours of global conflicts; and Economic Gangsters (2008) authors Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel, who use publicly available information such as diplomats' parking tickets to uncover potential corruption.  Add Kaplan, Coll and their New Yorker colleague Lawrence Wright, and that's a pretty substantial investigative team with foreign policy and intelligence community experience.

Calling All Nations

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Several weeks ago I noticed new graffiti on street signs in the Melbourne suburb Northcote from an unknown group: the Saracen Soldiers.  A block away from the most prominent graffiti two houses displayed nationalist flags in their front windows.  It could have been coincidence or maybe a signalling game to establish psychological turf.

At the time I thought of the ominous graffiti in Philip K. Dick's posthumously published novel Radio Free Albemuth (1985).  The grafiti also reminded me of the wanna-be teenage mercenaries in Leo Berkeley's film Holidays on the River Yarra (1990), who are recruited by a racialist organisation to engage in graffiti, brawls and other low-level politically motivated violence.

Two nights ago police fatally shot 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy during a confrontation in Northcote's All Nations park.  Earlier that evening, Cassidy left home after a family argument then stole two knives from Northcote's Kmart store.  Four police were called to arrest Cassidy and Victoria Police will now investigate what happened next.  As Rosie X observes, several media outlets speculated about Cassidys membership in the nationalist group Southern Cross Soldiers (SCS) and posed a 'suicide by cop' explanation for Cassidy's death.

There are a couple of interesting things to note about blogosphere and media coverage.

Journalists described Cassidy's online life as "subterreanean" - a mix of Sherry Turkle's theories about online identity fused with cyberterrorist fears - yet did not link to Cassidy's MySpace page or mention the SCS sites above.  In contrast, Richard Metzger observed to me in 1998 that Disinformation had a different strategy: it would link to white supremacist groups such as Aryan Nations so that readers would understand their ideological worldview.  This got Metzger into trouble with several anti-racialist organisations who confused him with Tom Metzger of White Aryan Resistance.

Anarchist and anti-racialist bloggers knew SCS for months before Cassidy's death as a white supremacist gang or youth network. The SCS band has copied Rahowa's white separatist music as a recruitment strategy.  The social network Bebo has pages for SCS recruitment and the SCS bandJacques Ellul would be proud: SCS (and perhaps Cassidy unwittingly) use a blend of Australian historical imagery for in-group identity and integration propaganda ("Aussie pride", the Southern Cross flag, conflation of national identity with ethnicity) with agitation propaganda that is aimed at specific out-group enemies (Italians, Lebanese, anyone who does not meet SCS's criteria for being Australian).

Several questions: How many other pages are there?  Who has been monitoring them?  What if any threat assessments were made?  Will anyone get an opportunity to conduct a sociometry analysis of SCS's online social network before the pages are pulled (Marc Sageman established a benchmark with his study of Salafist cells that may have had weak ties to Al Qaeda).

Bloggers and journalists alike noted that police might have de-escalated the incident if they were armed with a Taser electroshock weapon.  The incident captures why there is a tactical role under specific circumstances for law enforcement personnel to use non-lethal or less-lethal weapons that could have saved Cassidy's life.  The four police will likely receive critical incident debriefs and stress counselling.

A few days after Cassidy's death Northcote remains largely subdued apart from occasional police sirens in the distance.  In contrast. Greece has faced a week of riots after the shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos which may spread to Europe.  As a 'paired study' - SCS's street gang violence, the shootings of Grigoropoulos and Cassidy, and the divergent reactions - illustrate the late sociologist Charles Tilly's distinction between individual aggression (Cassidy), brawls (SCS) and scattered attacks (Greece) as different types of collective violence.

Tilly's urban sociology in the 1960s foresaw how today's social network sites may be used to coordinate street violence.  Perhaps police intelligence analysts would benefit from a few hours with Tilly's masterful study The Politics of Collective Violence (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003) to pre-empt any SCS revenge attacks for Cassidy's death.  SCS might then remain the purveyers of bad hip-hop/rock/metal hybrids (not exactly Australian), poorly designed web sites and street graffiti: the opportunist yet ineffectual extremists that Dick and Berkeley tried to warn us of . . . and that Greece and Europe may face again.
Counterterrorism analysts search for answers as the official death toll from Mumbai's siege rises to 183 people.  We now enter Susan Moeller's second stage of post-terrorist attacks: the hunt for the perpetrators and seeking justice.  See my October 2001 analysis here on the September 11 aftermath and Henry Rollins' reaction in New York City.

Slate's Anne Applebaum observes that we don't yet know much about the group that carried out the attacks.  Applebaum's analysis echoes Walter Laqueur's 'new terrorism' thesis in the mid-to-late 1990s: attempts at mass casualty attacks, tactics from the guerrilla and insurgency playbook, an ideological mix, and groups that either do not claim credit or who are not on the radar of counterterrorism analysts.  Applebaum captures Gregory Treverton's distinction between solvable 'puzzles' and potentially unsolvable 'mysteries' in intelligence analysis.

"The particulars of the attacking group are unknown; the political-military equation from which the group has almost certainly arisen is not," notes The New Yorker's Steve Coll.  The most plausible hypotheses for Coll and other counterterrorism experts are: (1) Pakistan's intelligence services may have funded the group in a clandestine/proxy war with India; or (2) the group emerged as an autonomous cell that was ideologically motivated by the clandestine/proxy war.  Coll explains why at this early stage the Mumbai siege is closer to Treverton's 'mysteries':

If past investigations into such groups prove to be any guide, it may be difficult to find clear-cut evidence of direct involvement by Pakistani intelligence or army personnel. This is because Pakistan, knowing the stakes of getting caught red-handed, has increasingly pursued its clandestine proxy war against India in Kashmir and on the Indian mainland through layers and layers of self-managing and non-state groups. The Pakistani government and its domestic Islamist proxies, including nominally peaceful charities based in Pakistan but with operations in Kashmir, almost certainly pass through money and weapons on a large scale. They do so, however, in such a way that is very difficult to trace these supplies back to the government.

Applebaum highlights the epistemological challenges that counterterrorism analysts face; Coll offers some guidance on how to conduct an investigation on the basis of 'contingent' beliefs and alternative hypotheses.

Pakistan's government denies any role in the Mumbai attacks.  Perhaps forensic analysis of crime scene evidence will provide answers and shift the current speculation from Treverton's 'mystery' to 'puzzle'.  Or maybe not.

The next day Coll analyses India's claim that the group Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the Mumbai attack.

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