Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Had enough of the Australian Prime Minister’s counter terrorism huffy puffy? I have.

06/21/2015 Leave a comment

Had enough of the Australian Prime Minister’s counter terrorism huffy puffy? I have. I’ve seen Post-it Notes containing more useful insight and strategy than what is being offered up by our PM and by extension his government. So in the spirit of that comment, and as a late substitute for a Cynical Friday post, I offer you a Sunday night Post-it Note summary of National Security and CT by Captain Tony.


image (12)

image (13)image (12)

Now before anyone goes and concludes from this that I don’t like him or the coalition, don’t bother.  I don’t like politicians full stop–especially when they politicise CT and make it harder for the  folks out there in CT arenas to do their work.

The politicisation of counter terrorism in Australia is not only infuriating, it is counter productive and the hubris with which politicians of all stripes are approaching the issue is truly disgusting.

In fairness, it’s not a politician’s job to be a specialist on terrorism. It is, however, their job to take advice from agencies that do have expertise in this area. Right now, I see very little of evidence of that happening. If the PM didn’t even consult the relevant ministers on some of the citizenship initiatives presented for ‘discussion’, it’s fairly reasonable to assume the agencies they oversee didn’t get a say.

Even if they did, they would be unlikely to be heard over the din of all of the fear mongering rhetoric that is dished out on an almost daily basis and that serves to do much of the propaganda dirty work for these groups (in direct contravention, I might add, to some of the National Security Public Information Guidelines that stress to government officials to minimise terrorist propaganda but which clearly don’t apply to politicians).

Basically we’re getting a lot of rhetoric and very little in the way of substance. Where is the progress on the new national counter terrorism strategy recommended by the DPMC Review? Where do all of these new initiatives fit into the old strategy or the new one? Has work even started on a new strategy? And where the hell is a white paper on all of this? I’d like the government to put its money where its mouth is and explain the state of play to the Australian public. It should provide a document that outlines how all these measures it is enacting will make for more effective counter terrorism and keep people safe and to do so in a way that shows this is the view shared by people who actually know about and do CT instead of a group of politicians. It’s a not an unreasonable ask.

With so much talk of its national security credentials and wanting to keep Australia safe and have national conversations on counter terrorism issues, it is remarkable that this government hasn’t even managed to author a white paper that would and should do all of this. The DPMC document was excellent, but it is not a white paper, or a strategy.  I’d like to know why this government feels that document was sufficient. But we don’t even get an explanation or update. We get nothing that reflects a whole of government consensus on counter terrorism at the strategic level, presents a balanced assessment from our agencies and explains to the public why all of this is necessary. Instead all we get is Post-it Note politics and an opposition that can’t even get its act together enough to ask some of these questions. It is shameful, and Australians deserve better.


Categories: Commentary

Hostage taking events, media coverage and government broadcast regulation: striking the right balance

06/10/2015 Leave a comment

I have just created a new page to house an extended series my colleague and I authored and from which we’ve drawn for a range of works. With my colleague Nick’s permission I’ve put a copy up here because this really is an important issue that just hasn’t had the traction that it should in Australia — although its relevance extends out to all those countries facing an increasingly complex threat environment. It is not an anti-media piece or an anti-government piece; it attempts to highlight the risks and to spur a discussion on what more can be done to ensure the safety of all those involved in such incidents is protected. A brief abstract follows the longer series of posts, placed here together for ease of reading.

Survivors of the hostage crisis that rocked Paris in January this year recently filed an unprecedented complaint against French media for endangerment and called for a new legal framework to police live coverage of events. The Paris Prosecutor’s Office is now investigating, while French Broadcast authorities are considering further regulatory action. In the aftermath of the Sydney siege, Australia’s media was heavily lauded for its responsible coverage. But it was not without incident or problems, many of which could have resulted in harm to hostages and adversely affected the outcome of the incident. Because they did not, they are unlikely to come to further attention in Australia, but are nonetheless important to consider. Had events unfolded differently in Sydney, legal action similar to that now underway in Paris could be before Australian courts. This should be cause for concern for Australian media and government. It should also stimulate a discussion between them on whether it is time to codify what type of responsible media practices are required when covering such an event and how these might best be regulated. To date, it has not. In this series of posts we outline the risks of such coverage and look at how other countries have attempted to deal with balancing press freedoms with protecting public safety and order before turning to consider what might be an appropriate response for Australia.

Dr Nicholas Gilmour is a Teaching Fellow at Massey University in Wellington teaching Intelligence, Crime and Security and Crime Science. Nicholas is a former British and New Zealand Police Officer and hostage negotiator. Dr Leah Farrall is a Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s USSC, and a Senior Lecturer in Security Studies at Massey University. She was formerly a Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police.

Categories: Commentary

Differentiating analysis

03/13/2013 1 comment

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 or
specialist knowledge aboutthe subject matter being analysed
• is grounded in reporting work, usually done by the
person 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.
It’s very easy to slide into arguing for a solution at the expense of explanation. Take a look at most terrorism studies writing and you’ll notice it’s nearly all prescriptive, and solution based.   There are lots of reasons for this, but one worth noting is that it is  exceptionally hard to get work published that is not prescriptive.  In my view, this needs to change.
These guidelines are not perfect but it’s nice to see that at least there is an awareness of this problem on the part of the ABC.  Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be common place among media, or in the terrorism studies area of academia for that matter (and International Relations more broadly).
I’m putting this up now as I’ll be referring to it in a forthcoming post or two, if I ever get my workspace sorted and internet back on before I leave on my next adventure.  As thankful as I am to my friend for her hospitality in letting me come over, commandeer the couch and use her internet, I don’t want to subject the household to my blog writing rituals, or efforts to rediscover how to format blog posts, which as this mangled post shows,  I’ve managed to forget.

Some quick thoughts on reports Abu Yahya al-Libi has been killed

06/06/2012 20 comments


First, I’ll believe it when al Qaeda acknowledges it.

This of course won’t stop the chest beating celebrating his killing.

And if he has in fact been killed, I wonder if those who think this is a victory (and those supporting the strategy of extrajudicial killings more generally)  have given ample thought to the fact that he along with others who have been assassinated were actually a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu. And yes, given his teachings I do note a certain irony in this, but sadly, it’s true.

What is coming next is a generation whose ideological positions are more virulent and who owing to the removal of older figures with clout, are less likely to be amenable to restraining their actions. And contrary to popular belief, actions have been restrained. Attacks  have thus far been used strategically rather than indiscriminately. Just take a look at AQ’s history and its documents and this is blatantly clear.

In the years to come, owing to this generation being killed off, this type of restraint will disappear; in fact it is clearly already heading in this direction. A significant part of this change  is directly attributable to the counter terrorism strategies being employed today. I’m working on a more detailed, research driven piece on this. But in the meantime, the best way of summing up the consequences of a strategy of killing off leadership instead of using a criminal justice approach lies with what happened in a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa many years ago.

A culling program was implemented to kill off all the older generation elephants owing to overcrowding. Juveniles were spared. However, without the presence of the older elephants they then proceeded to go on rampages, killing other animals and causing such havoc that the rangers thought they’d have to cull them too. Until that is, someone chanced upon the idea of bringing in older elephants from another wildlife park, who ended up bringing the juveniles into line and enforcing discipline, something that had been missing since the cull of the older generation.

Right now you’re probably scoffing at this. Scoff away, because this example has come up time and time again in conversations I’ve had with folks who know this milieu very well because they’ve lived in it. Along with it has been concern expressed for the future, for what will happen when authoritative voices who can restrain the actions of those left and, importantly, those newer folks still seeking to join the cause, no longer exist.  When indiscriminate becomes the norm.

So before anyone goes off celebrating another “number” in the death count, it is worthwhile remembering there will be consequences from this short sighted and reactionary path chosen to deal with threat.  These consequences will not play out in areas where extrajudicial killings take place, but in indiscriminate attacks in capital cities in the west.  I wonder then how those who advocate the current policy plan to deal with this and the implications it will pose for the social contract.  But hey, they’re “winning” right????

More on this later.

Official: Al Qaeda leader killed by drone strike in Pakistan – This Just In – Blogs.

Categories: AQ General, Commentary

New article on What the Al Qaeda al Shabab merger means for Australia

03/05/2012 1 comment

Hi folks, I have a new article out at The Conversation focusing on what the recent merger between al Qaeda and al Shabab means for Australia.

Comments as always are welcome. Cheers.

A new article I wrote on al Qaeda’s operational resilience

03/02/2012 1 comment

Hello folks, well it’s a been a while since I’ve ventured onto the blog. A little bit of burn out coupled with a plate full of other exciting projects means I’ve let it slide. I’ll be getting back into it, but you may find a change of direction coming because  I find myself increasingly disenchanted with the current state of play. In particular,  I have an issue with the increasingly unaccountable nature of counter terrorism and the militarisation of CT more generally–as well reactions to acts of terror (or fear of them) that belie the values of democratic nations and human rights, not to mention being outright counter productive. And don’t even get me started on disengagement and CVE. But for now, I’m finishing up book research, juggling some other writing, and job hunting, which is keeping me busy. But hopefully that begins to subside soon.

Anyway, for those interested, here are links to two pieces I wrote recently.

One is on al Qaeda’s operational resilience, which I wrote last November, but was only published last month.  This article originally appeared in “Al-Qaeda’s Senior Leadership”, a publication of IHS Defense, Security and Risk Consulting, in January 2012. Reproduced with permission © IHS (Global) Limited. All rights reserved.

The second is an op-ed I wrote on the AQ-al Shabab merger.

Happy reading, and feedback is as always, welcome.


Some thoughts on the 9/11 Decade

07/06/2011 1 comment

For those of you interested, the United States Study Centre has put up all of the audio and video from the summit it hosted last month: The 9/11 Decade. I plan to make some time to listen to some of the speeches I missed but in the meantime wanted to write a few notes about a couple of things that really stood out for me. Had been planning on doing so for a while but real life has intervened. So here it is, better late than never and consisting of my attempts to turn scrawled notes into coherent sentences in a 2am blog post.

One thing that stood out for me (at least in the sessions I saw) was the focus on China, which one could consider quite interesting given the summit was titled the 9/11 decade. But in some respects, it’s not so curious.

For those who remember back to 2000/2001, and particularly for those who were in an International Relations stream at the time, it’s all too easy to recall that before 9/11 came along and re-ordered everything, the next great big threat was China. And boy was it being hyped.  It’s forgotten now because of what came along after, but at the time there was lots of talk about the new Cold War, and then we had the Hainan Island spy plane incident in early 2001  and it was all doom and gloom forecasts from some quarters, and from others, arguments that there was not a new cold war but instead we’d all have to contend with a  multi-polar system, and a number of regional hegemons, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.

What fascinated me was to hear these things repeated again—almost word for word, a decade later, and after virtual silence on many of these topics (outside of those who specialize in the area). Of course there are a few different things now. Back in 01 the US was strong, and so the discussion was not so much centred on questions like whether the US is in terminal decline, which was an ongoing theme at the summit. So this is a new addition to the discourse and gives rather obvious pause for thought as to how the strategic consequences of the detour into using counter terrorism as an organizational pillar of International Security are going to be viewed by historians over the longer term—particularly in relation to its impact on US power & capabilities across a number of indices.  But, I digress.

Anyway, it was interesting because even those at the summit who were optimistic for America’s capacity for replenishment did seem to grudgingly accept that a change towards multipolarity is coming. I was, however, struck by those who thought that China needs containing. Not by the argument itself but rather the lack of evidence behind it—although in fairness this may be more symptomatic of limited time in sessions. What struck me even more though was the firm belief held by some (again with little behind them in terms of supporting evidence) that the United States could actually contain China.

It seems to me that as things currently stand the best anyone can realistically talk about is power balancing, rather than containment, particularly given the geopolitical realities of the region and also of other regions in which the US sees itself as having vital interests.

Speaking of China and containment, I managed to catch the last of Robert Kaplan’s session, where he was talking about blue water naval capabilities and regional dynamics in the Asia-Pacific, particularly in relation to territorial disputes and SLOC’s.  I found it interesting, although a little alarmist, but that’s just because I woke up the next morning and literally the very first thing I thought about was China, blue water navy capacity, regional instability,  and things going boom. So clearly it stuck in my mind. But I digress.

Another continuity I noticed at the summit was in relation to the complaint/argument that the International Institutions we currently have are (already) insufficient and nowhere near robust and expansive enough to deal with the range and types of situations we will face in the future.  Again, this is nothing new. But it was interesting to see this theme emerge, particularly alongside the theme of the US in a potentially terminal decline–as the last lone superpower. This tied in with another theme: the need for a greater focus on international institutions, cooperation and soft power, diplomacy etc etc. Again, none of this is new. But it has been long drowned out by the absolute militarization of counter terrorism and elevation of counter terrorism to an organizing pillar of international security.

It seemed to me that if the summit with its wide variety of speakers and attendees was any indication, then the pendulum may have finally swung back.  Maybe, just maybe, we can now move beyond the exceptionalism that has characterized the treatment of terrorism as a security threat. I only hope we do not go from one extreme to another and end up with another new cold War/China threat scenario.


Categories: Commentary