My book with Mustafa Hamid is now available! Unfortunately, I didn’t get enough notice of the release date to organise the launch that I’d hoped to do, which was very disappointing, but at least it is out. You can get it via the below links
Terror threat for all police in Australia raised to high, in line with national alert level – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
See the below article link for more detail. The UK also raised its threat level a few days ago if memory serves.
FWIW, this is entirely unsurprising, as those I was chatting with in Europe and elsewhere in recent times while on conference junket would remember as the topic came up on more than one occasion. The rising threat to LEA and first responders more generally has been there for a while. The arrests in Belgium may have heightened the sense of immediacy in terms of active plotting but we’ve already had police officers stabbed in Australia. And let’s also not forget that direct operational guidance has been released by ISIS instructing that LEA and others be specifically targeted. The guidance didn’t directly specify other first responders but when I read it at the timeI did wonder if this might mean we’d also see an uptick in attacks / hostage takings etc against other first responders, not only ambulance and fire, but also media arriving at the scene.
Obviously the threat is not only in relation to Australia, but is a broader trend. What is interesting to me is that in the western context it is something that’s clearly come in large part from an interplay of ISIS operational guidance, demographics, and of course on the ground radicalisation dynamics. But in other non-western contexts other dynamics and groups are at play. I’ll try to update this post a little later with some more on why ISIS has chosen to focus on LEA as a target as well as some thoughts on another group I think are going to be increasingly targeted, and that’s the media.
There’s no corresponding ‘threat’ level for other sectors but I have often wondered if media fully appreciate how and why they could be targeted. There’s an awful lot of reporting on how things have changed in the terror landscape but very little introspection on the part of media as to what it means for them.
There is certainly a limited appreciation of how media reporting influences threat and outcome. You could try saying it until you turned blue in the face, (and I should clarify here that many do understand) but I think the only way that lesson is going to get learned in the broader industry context is when media is directly targeted — not for cartoons or anything to do with free speech but just because terrorists see media as a good target. I wonder how many think their TV studio for example is something that could be targeted and for what reasons and by whom. That came up in an Australian context recently with some reporting relating to the Sydney siege, and it got me thinking about the broader implications and targeting patterns we might see in the future.
Anyway, this is just a think out loud post that I might update some more tonight once I finish my teaching prep work I had slated to do and if my supply of snacks doesn’t run out (-:
So, I’m a bit late in ploughing through all the reading I’ve stashed away, but the announcement a little while back that the Treasurer has declared the siege at Martin Place as a terrorist event for insurance purposes has me interested. For those outside of Australia, the background to this stems from the Terrorism Insurance Act of 2003. The Treasurer’s announcement was as follows:
Following the tragic events at the Martin Place Lindt Café in December 2014, I have today declared the siege a “terrorist incident” for the purposes of the Terrorism Insurance Act. Prior to making this decision, appropriate consultation was undertaken with the Attorney-General and a number of stakeholders, including the Insurance Council of Australia. The Government has taken this action to ensure businesses that suffered damages from the incident will not be denied claims due to terrorism exclusions in their insurance policies. The effect of this ministerial declaration is that insurers will be prevented from refusing claims from affected businesses on the basis that their policies exclude losses from acts of terrorism.
There is a really interesting article going into this from the insurance perspective, which you can find here. Anyway, I’m no lawyer, but this decision got me thinking about the precedent it sets, and the forthcoming government reviews about the incident, and potential liabilities or issues with precedent moving forward — because unfortunately the incident is not likely to be the last Australia faces. I was curious because (and I could be wrong here) it did not seem as if the full CT apparatus was stood up or activated in response to the siege, presumably with very good reason. But yet, there’s this designation/declaration for insurance purposes. That got me thinking about what might happen if there is fault found at some point in the reviews etc, relating to either preventability or response.
Maybe I’m totally off the mark here but declaring an event as terrorism, before the reviews are out, does seem to set a little bit of a precedent, and given the changes in the types of threats authorities are dealing with, I just wonder if all the future implications of this have been thought through. Anyway, this is more a think out loud post in which I may be eating a lot of humble pie for being wrong but I’m curious and so anyone who does have insight into this I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
Meanwhile, I had been planning a post on legacy networks and reviews, inspired in part by an email exchange with Tim Holman @atgm2010. It is still coming but I have accidentally ended up on a somewhat distracting but ultimately very useful tangent–I’ve been re-reading the inquest witness statements from intel services in relation to the 7/7 attacks in the UK. If nothing else they’ll provide some useful real work declass examples I can draw upon to better explain what I’m blathering on about in terms of groups, networks and methods of analysis framed in the Paris context and looking forward more generally. That’s keeping me occupied and what I’ll be posting on in relation to Paris. I have no interest in adding to the mound of stuff about ISIS and AQ in relation to this and as I’ve chatted about with several other people whose work I deeply respect, anyone who makes any definitive claim in respect to this is basically talking out of their behind. It means only what people make of it, and nothing of what actually is or might be, because simply put we just don’t know. Anyway, I might plough through that in time to post on Friday, which would make it my first cynical Friday post in a really long time. A happy week to you all.
I thought I might start the new year of with a post of a few things I’ve done over the past year or so, since I’ve been updating my records of what I’ve been up to (which is called avoiding the stack of reading I promised myself I’d get done over the holidays, and which has remained untouched).
First up I went to some amazing conferences and workshops.
I kicked off with Alliance 21 in Canberra in July, where I got to indulge my not so secret often confused inner realist with lots of good conversation and talks about the Asia Pacific region. The full videos are here
I stopped off on the way home to do a quick interview in Sydney with the 7:30 Report, which I’ll post later if I can find it.
Then in early August, it was back to Sydney for a visit to SBS studios to participate in an Insight episode on young men wanting to join the fight in Syria and Iraq.
The full video is available here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2L7G7YAYYOg
For those of you overseas who might have seen the news of recent CT arrests… one of the main participants in this program (the young man on the bottom right) was one of those arrested. I think his comments on the program gave good insight into how young people can be so easily swayed but overall the program really didn’t do justice to the views of others on the show including but not limited to the wonderful efforts of the Australian Muslim Youth, members of whom were on the show and who do such valuable work in community outreach in what must at times be very trying circumstances It was good to see them have a voice, but I’d like to see mainstream media in Australia focus more on their efforts instead of giving political oxygen to those radicalised to extreme views.
After that it was a mad rush to get sorted to go to the inaugural VoxPol conference on Violent Online Political Extremism, at which I gave a presentation, but more importantly got to finally meet a host of awesome folks whose work I deeply admire starting with the lady of the moment responsible for it all, the rather awesome Maura Conway. I also managed to meet Thomas Hegghammer, Alex Hitchens, Peter Neuman, Shiraz Maher, Aaron Zelin and a host of others, talked an amazing amount of shop, accidentally consumed a few drinks also known as capacity building with these folks and otherwise had a great time.
Then I moved on to do my field research and enjoy a little time out in Europe.
In November I was fortunate enough to attend the United States Studies Centre and Griffith University’s International Dialogue on Women in Leadership, which was an amazing and very inspiring event attending by some truly incredible women including our former Governor General, and the head of Oxfam Winnie Byanyima. I pestered as many people as I could for advice and came away with some great insights. It was a very welcome respite to be in a room almost solely filled by accomplished and successful women and I realised I have to get out more to events like this. I was also thrilled to get to finally meet Yassmin Abdel-Magied who I have long followed on twitter though sadly we didn’t get too much time for a chat.
A few days later I headed off to a foreign fighters workshop in Melbourne where I got to meet up with Thomas and Aaron again, meet Magnus Ranstorp, whose work was so important in influencing me to get into this field of study a long time ago, the rather awesome Tim Holman, Clint Watts whose company we all really enjoyed, Dan Mori for whom I have nothing but admiration, Andrew Zammit whose work if you are not following you should and who I was so pleased to hear is going to pursue doctoral studies in this area, and the man of the moment who brought it all together David Malet. Here too I got to talk a ridiculous amount of shop and had a great time hanging out with the guys, in between juggling some other stuff I had to do whilst in town, having an accidental shopping bender and of course sneaking in a few not so accidental this time drinks with the guys.
So that was a fun filled, always informative group of conferences and workshops with some great people.
I’ve also done a little bit of media of late, mostly radio because I hate TV with a passion (you can’t do an interview in your PJ’s for TV, and with the time differences they’re almost always impossible to arrange anyway.) That said I did get talked into appearing on CNN, which will probably be my first and last appearance since I was tired and cranky owing to repeated efforts to link the Sydney siege to ISIS.
Lastly I didn’t get much research pushed out this year because I was tied up with book processes that felt like they would never end but we got there and I’m told the book is now in print and due to hit stores in the United Kingdom and United States soon.
I’m not sure about an Australian publisher yet, or elsewhere. That’s on my list of things to do but with amazon it doesn’t really matter anyway. http://www.amazon.com/The-Arabs-at-War-Afghanistan/dp/1849044201 I’m so grateful to Greg, Jason, Alex and Barnett Rubin for their wonderful endorsements. I’m also very grateful to Yassin Musharbash for his wonderful considered piece translated here from German that included an interview with Mustafa and I in Alexandria.
I did however manage to put out one substantive piece of research, working alongside Felix Keuhn and Alex Strick Van Linschoten. We produced an Expert Report for the Talha Ahsan case in the US which focussed on the groups and training that took place in Afghanistan, and radicalisation and recruitment trajectories during that time frame. You have to scroll through quite a bit to get to our report. Most of it was my research that fell out of my PhD and other research endeavours, or drew from Alex and Felix’s books or my forthcoming book. I was really grateful for the opportunity to work with the guys and it went a long way to killing off some of the issues with writing blocks I’d had.
Anyway, that’s about it for this past year. For the rest of it I’ve been busy teaching security studies, which has been a welcome respite from terrorism and insurgency all of the time. Over the break I sat down and planned out my research and teaching objectives for the next little while and so I’ll be posting some more about them soon and hopefully getting my new blog Securified ready to go live next month and figuring out a better way to manage multiple twitter accounts and a truly scary looking RSS feed.
For those of you interested…my first book, co-authored with Mustafa Hamid, is finally edging towards its release in the US and UK!!!
What is it about you ask? Well this is the book’s description on the publisher’s website:
A former senior mujahidin figure and an ex-counter-terrorism analyst cooperating to write a book on the history and legacy of Arab-Afghan fighters in Afghanistan is a remarkable and improbable undertaking. Yet this is what Mustafa Hamid, aka Abu Walid al-Masri, and Leah Farrall have achieved with the publication of their ground-breaking work.
The result of thousands of hours of discussions over several years, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan offers significant new insights into the history of many of today’s militant Salafi groups and movements. By revealing the real origins of the Taliban and al-Qaeda and the jostling among the various jihadi groups, this account not only challenges conventional wisdom, but also raises uncomfortable questions as to how events from this important period have been so badly misconstrued.
It’s been an amazing few years and if someone had ever told either of us when we started our online debate nearly five years ago we’d end up co-authoring a book together, we would have probably had a rare moment of agreement when reaching the conclusion they were crazy. Yet, here we are. The book is done and the first pre-publication reviews are out.
You can find them over at the Hurst Website. The book is being published by Hurst in the UK and Oxford University Press in the US.
If you are interested in getting a review copy please send me an email or contact Hurst directly at the contact details on their website.
For those interested in an Arabic summary of the book, you can find one written by Mustafa here (on the book’s website, which we still need to update a little once I finish my teaching admin next week).
It’s been so long since I’ve blogged I spent the better part of a few hours tonight remembering how to use this site. Hence my grand plans to finish a longer return post discussing the issue of generational change in the militant milieu and targeted killing of terrorist leaders went a little pear shaped. I will get to it this week, however, alongside a longer update as to what I’ve been doing over the past few years, my book (which I still don’t have a confirmed release date for sorry to those of you who are asking; I’m asking too!) and my roamings around the world. It’s been an amazing and in many respects life changing journey. And it’s been deeply humbling. I got to meet a few tweeps I have interacted with over the years, which was a fantastic experience and I’m hoping to meet more in my travels later this year. I also totally lost control of my inbox so my sincere apologies to those of you who contacted me but who may not have received a reply. Several computers and email archives died in the course of my wanderings…Anyway, I digress.
The point of this little update is more about my indecisiveness about whether to continue this blog. As you can tell I all but stopped some time ago. I was very burned out and disenchanted after a dreadful PhD experience with Monash, who even managed to be rude to my examiners. And beyond that I started to get disenchanted with the increasing competitiveness within the field. More specifically with the p*ssing contests and general huffy puffy going on (and while I was away I took a good hard look back at my own behaviour too). I must say I’m not quite past either of these things. But withdrawing and staying silent on the latter issue doesn’t seem to me to be the answer either.
I’ve recently returned to teaching after a long break and I was disenchanted by the reluctance of some of my students to speak up, their lack of confidence in expressing their thoughts and ideas, and in particular how women, who are still so outnumbered in this field of study, often get marginalised. So, I figure I should get over myself and at least try to set a better example for my students and get back into the fray instead of withdrawing back when the huffy puffy begins, and to do so with a humility I feel that in my earlier years on the internets I was often lacking. Sometimes you have to fight so hard to get your voice heard or get equal footing that you don’t realise you are being equally aggressive. It’s a lesson I’ve learned over recent years and with the help and advice of some amazing colleagues and mentors I’ve learned other ways of dealing with these issues. In part a reason I am returning to blogging and writing is that I often feel like I let down those who went out of their way to support and encourage me, from thesis examiners through to tweeps I’ve engaged with over the years and the many people who have mentored me on my journey so far. Anyway, I’m hoping now having nearly climbed over the mountain of backlogged things I accumulated that I can push out some of my research in the coming months and do some writing, both here and in other publications.
Speaking of writing, I’m also setting up another blog which will go live soon. It’s on security issues more generally and is called Securified, a bit of a tongue in cheek reference to how everything is a scary existential threat and how we also invent such a wide array of fancy words in academia to describe and conceptualise security issues. The twitter account @Securified is already live, although I’m still tweaking how I will work that as it will be a more high volume feed of links. The primary purpose of both the blog and the twitter account is for my students but I figure a few other people might be interested. Anyway, there’ll be more about that and the other things I’ve got on the boil or have been up to recently in my longer update post which is next up to finish this week.
In the meantime, below is a link to a translated article written by Yassin Musharbash (@abususu) on his thoughts about covering terrorism related issues. It stemmed in part from an interview Yassin did with Mustafa Hamid and I in Alexandria last year. The article originally featured in Zeit Magazin.
Wishing you all a lovely weekend.
I found this guidance note on the ABC’s website; it’s about differentiating analysis from opinion. Although it’s predominantly for a TV medium, it struck home a little, particularly in the last two points…
Typically, ‘analysis’ —• carries the name of the author• is made by a person with professional expertise orspecialist knowledge aboutthe subject matter being analysed• is grounded in reporting work, usually done by theperson making the analysis• refers to the information on which it is based• is based on information that can be verified• is not purely speculative or based only on faith or belief• is not partisan or ideological• will often discuss options and their pros and cons• refrains from public advocacy• aims to inform and explain more than to rouse or persuade• does not prescribe what should be done nor urge what the audience should conclude.