The new targets of terrorists are no longer exclusively economic or government institutions. Attacks now extend to nightclubs, concert venues, churches, and gatherings of celebration, all of which are at the core of Western culture. Recruitment and training of these terrorists is no longer subject to training camps in the Middle East. Rather, many terrorists are recruited and radicalized within their own communities, making it hard to track or predict attacks, as their lack of travel and direct affiliation with a terrorist organization or cell is sometimes unclear until after an attack. The large increase in attacks in Europe is a product of mass migration from the Middle East, met with anti-immigrant sentiment, the ability of terrorist organizations to successfully radicalize through social media and the internet, and an inability—due to a lack of manpower and sufficient intelligence, specifically in Europe—to effectively stop attacks before they occur. Europe and the United States continue to put pressure on terrorist organizations, such as ISIL, increase their intelligence capabilities and sharing, specifically in Europe, and devise new counter-violent extremism (CVE) strategies to stop future attacks. Applying pressure on terrorist organizations and increasing intelligence capabilities are incredibly important means to stop the spread of terrorism and ensure that terrorist organizations, such as ISIL, do not have territory to operate freely. In addition, the private sector is beginning to join in CVE campaigns.
In order to hinder future attacks, the U.S. and Europe must keep pressure on ISIL, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations. This comes in the form of active military action, such as continued air strikes, special operations, and advisory roles to those fighting ISIL. Those radicalized to the point of becoming an active militant of ISIL or al-Qaeda are not likely to be de-radicalized unless captured. Making sure that ISIL and other terrorist groups do not have territory is crucial to the war on terror. With territory to operate freely within, terrorist groups are able to gain valuable resources, expertise, training, and time to plan larger scale attacks, while Western intelligence and law enforcement are busy with lower scale attacks. 9/11 is an example of what happens when a terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, holds territory, as the group was able to operate freely in Afghanistan, and able to plan and execute 9/11. Obviously, counterterrorism prior to 9/11 dwarfed in comparison to operations today; however, ISIL and al-Qaeda share the same end goals. The main difference between the two groups is ISIL members do not want to follow the current leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri (1). Preventing the spread of groups such as ISIL not only limits them from committing heinous acts on the population that they control, but helps stop attacks in the West by preventing a safe-haven for terrorist planning and training.
With the amount of attacks in Europe, the value of intelligence is greatly increasing. Historically, many European states were against data storage and increased surveillance, as privacy has always been very important to Europeans. The response to the Edward Snowden leaks indicated how much of the European population feared data storage by governments, especially ones other than their own. Foreign companies became worried that American companies were infiltrated by the NSA and would be able to access their information, causing U.S. tech companies to lose business and credibility around the world. In addition, European politicians became outraged at the potential loss in privacy and began investigations into the abilities of the NSA (2). For example, in October 2015, the EU struck down the Safe Harbor Agreement with the U.S., which allowed companies to send European consumer data to the U.S. This nullification of this agreement weakened over 5,000 American companies attempting to utilize European consumer data (3).
Since the increase in terror attacks in Europe, much of the rhetoric and disapproval of surveillance has changed, due to the need for increased security at the price of a loss of privacy. For instance, the U.K.’s House of Commons recently passed the Investigatory Powers Bill, allowing new surveillance activities and requiring companies to help decrypt information in some instances (2). The growing number of attacks in Europe signals that many European states tend to adopt similar policies and integrate intelligence sharing and grow their intelligence organizations. This may come in the form of an EU counterterrorism agency, or an agency in which intelligence can be shared regarding potential extremists, similar to the United States’ National Counterterrorism Center (4).
The recent attacks in France and Germany started reviews within European intelligence in order to expand and make their intelligence communities more efficient. Currently, French intelligence is highly bureaucratic, and the separate agencies are not streamlined well to efficiently cooperate with one another. This was a problem that the United States faced with its intelligence agencies before 9/11. Currently, French intelligence is spread into six agencies that report to different ministries, such as economic, defense, and the interior (4). This creates the problem of suspicious individuals falling through the bureaucratic fault lines between agencies. The problem isn’t just at the state level in Europe. Due to the EU open border policies, potential extremists can easily travel between multiple European states, continuing the issue of intelligence sharing. For example, terrorists linked to the attacks at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November were later arrested in Brussels, demonstrating the travel capabilities of EU open border policies (5). This shows the need for more intelligence sharing throughout Europe to ensure that surveillance on terror subjects continues, regardless of whether they travel to another European country.
In order to combat terrorism, new CVE strategies are being devised to stop the potential for new extremists to be radicalized. Although targeting terrorist leaders of ISIL and other terrorist organizations is vital to dismantling these organizations, killing or capturing will not be an end-all solution to combating terrorism. It is essential to kill or capture key leaders; however, there are often mid level members ready to take the place of displaced leaders, due to the hierarchical nature of many well-known terrorist groups. Preventing radicalization is becoming a highly ingrained component of counterterrorism, as the emergence of ISIL has shown that terrorist capabilities in radicalizing new members is growing through social media. New strategies and policies are being implemented in order to stop younger people from being radicalized through the internet and joining the ranks of these organizations; however, there is still a long path ahead to finding effective strategies to preventing radicalization.
The private sector is beginning to develop new strategies to combat propaganda from terrorist organizations and decrease radicalization. Alphabet Inc., Facebook, and Twitter launched an online campaign last fall to target individuals who posted content or messages with terms such as “sharia” or “mujahideen” on social media. Not long ago, a cartoon video depicting Muslims condemning ISIL was loaded onto individuals’ newsfeeds; this is one of three experiments to determine what messages are successful at reaching out towards potential extremists. 456,113 people saw the cartoon experiment on Facebook, and 10,810 shared or liked the content. The total advertising cost was around $4,200 (6). This demonstrates that the private sector has an increasingly important role to play in counterterrorism, specifically in regards to stopping radicalization, as companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter can gain data regarding individuals at risk and launch counter-propaganda. The private sector’s role fighting radicalization and the spread of terrorist propaganda is vital moving forward, as counter-propaganda released by Western governments is discredited. In addition, a large amount of messages and propaganda is sent through the internet and social media to those most vulnerable to radicalization, especially those in Europe. Due to the mass migration from the Middle East, economic opportunity is becoming harder for immigrants to gain access, not to mention there are those who left Europe to join ISIL, and may be looking to come back in the future.
NGOs and civil society will also have a role in counter-extremism, but unfortunately part of the problem is getting funds and allocating them appropriately. In 2015, the White House held a counter-violent extremism summit in order to develop plans with other countries to get to the root of terrorism—radicalization. In addition, the State Department and USAID released the first Joint Strategy for International CVE, which outlines and encourages international cooperation with governments, NGOs, and the private sector to develop CVE strategies (7). Much of the difficulty within counter extremism lies in funding, access, and devising effective strategies. For example, The State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism spent less than 10% of its budget on community CVE projects. However, this is considered high compared to other countries (7). The total allocation is understandable, as countering terrorists who pose an immediate threat will always take precedent. Intelligence and some military action will always be needed to maintain security of immediate threats, but stopping the influx of fighters to join ISIL ultimately comes down to new intelligence and CVE strategies. It is estimated that over 20,000 foreign fighters moved to join ISIL, including a large portion from Western countries (8). Intelligence sharing and targeting those who influence potential fighters and terrorists will be highly important strategies for the United States and Europe to stop the influx of jihadists.
The strategy moving forward to stop future terror attacks is not a quick or consistent one. Adjustments and new strategies will have to be devised along the way. Europe will need to keep pressure on ISIL and other terrorist organizations, reform their intelligence agencies to make them more effective, and rethink radicalization prevention strategies. The United States is ahead of Europe in the strength of their intelligence, and is beginning to devise CVE strategies; the U.S. has extensive counterterrorism and intelligence experience due to 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, counterterrorism is no longer limited to killing or capturing terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of the Middle East. The West as a whole will need to cooperate and get on the same page when it comes to what it is going to take to significantly decrease the prospects of future attacks. Unfortunately, terror attacks are not likely to stop, as, although it is becoming cliché, ‘terrorists only have to be right once’. However, Europe and the United States can become more effective at seeing attacks coming, stopping the accumulation of terror suspects through working with the private sector, and cooperating with NGOs and governments beyond Europe and the United States to gain access to what influences these jihadist fighters and terrorists. Countering terrorist organizations and preventing radicalization will not be an easy task, as finding effective strategies will be a system of trial and error.
(1) Morell, Michael J., and Bill Harlow. "The Long War Ahead." The Great War of Our Time: The CIA's Fight Against Terrorism--From Al Qa'ida to ISIS. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 307. Print.
(2) Flournoy, Michelle, and Adam Klein. "What Europe Got Wrong About the NSA." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 02 Aug. 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/germany/2016-08-02/what-europe-got-wrong-about-nsa>.
(3) Clark, Kelli. "The EU Safe Harbor Agreement Is Dead, Here's What To Do About It." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 27 Oct. 2015. Web. 02 Aug. 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/riskmap/2015/10/27/the-eu-safe-harbor-agreement-is-dead-heres-what-to-do-about-it/#7083a7107171>.
(4) Simcox, Robin. "French Intelligence Reform." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 17 July 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/france/2016-07-17/french-intelligence-reform>.
(5) Cruickshank, Paul, and Steve Almasy. "Paris Terror Suspect Mohamed Abrini Arrested in Belgium." CNN. Cable News Network, 9 Apr. 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/08/europe/brussels-attack-arrests/>.
(6) Schechner, Sam. "Tech Giants Target Terrorist Propaganda." WSJ. N.p., 31 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/tech-giants-target-terrorist-propaganda-1470001314>.
(7) Koser, Khalid, and Eric Rosand. "A Better Way to Counter Violent Extremism." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 27 July 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-07-27/better-way-counter-violent-extremism>.
(8) Olidort, Jacob. "The Game Theory of Terrorism." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 13 June 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2015-12-10/game-theory-terrorism>.
Image: © Hrlumanog | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/editorial-photography-syria-al-qaeda-aleppo-members-covered-face-different-nationalities-area-called-air-force-image49250122#res14972580">Syria : Al-Qaeda in Aleppo</a>
The recent payslip scandal in Iran reveals the disconnect between the Iranian middle class and the political elites that hold high office within the government and state owned enterprises. Recent headlines in Iran were flooded with news of high-level civil servants being paid huge illegal sums of money. In addition, President Rouhani has emerged as a target of these corruption allegations due to his promises during his election in 2013. Throughout his campaign, the so-called ‘moderate’ Rouhani promised a resolution to Iran’s foreign nuclear issues and a crackdown on corruption. He delivered on the nuclear issues regarding sanctions with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which lifted nuclear related sanctions on Iran in exchange for a drawdown of Iran’s nuclear program (1). However, a new scandal confirms that corruption is still a problem in Iran.
In May, payslips of top government and bank officials were leaked to the media causing uproar within Iran, as the pay slips revealed extraordinarily large and illegal salaries paid to high-level officials in state owned companies (2).
The scandal first started when payslips of high government employees who were paid 50 times higher than the lowest government salary were released to the media anonymously. This infuriated the Iranian middle class because Iranian law dictates that the most a government official can be paid is 10 times the lowest possible salary (3). A government owned insurance company was one the main targets of the leaks, and its head regulator, Mohammad Ebrahim Amin, was forced to resign as a result (4). Allegations also surfaced accusing top executives of receiving further bonuses and staying in lavish 5-star hotels (2).
To give perspective to the corruption and the difference between the Iranian middle class and the political elites, many of Iran’s citizens struggle to make ends meet due to the economic conditions in Iran in the past decade, making this corruption scandal particularly offensive. The economic sanctions imposed by the West crippled Iran’s economy. Most Iranians face rising prices, high inflation rates, and low wages. After the EU sanctions in 2012—which banned purchase of Iranian crude oil—the Iranian economy descended into a recession. With EU and US sanctions, Iran’s oil revenue declined from $95 billion in 2011 to $69 billion in 2012. More importantly, the cost of living for Iranians increased dramatically. The price of beef increased by almost 500% from 2007 to 2013, while the price for a kilo of rice increased from around 5 cents in 2007 to over $2 in 2013 (5). All of this demonstrates how much the middle class of Iran struggled in the last few years as a result of their country’s political decisions to pursue nuclear weapons, and the payslip scandal indicates that the ruling elite class were largely immune to effects of the sanctions.
The scandal caused great strife amongst the middle class in Iran due to the lack of transparency. Iran’s nuclear ambitions were aimed at gaining power within in the Gulf region and a bargaining chip to bring to the table in order to negotiate reducing sanctions. The JCPOA brought about sanction relief and unfroze billions of dollars in Iranian assets around the world. However, the nuclear agreement did not lift sanctions regarding Iran’s funding of terrorist organizations or human rights abuses. In addition, American companies are still banned from doing business with Iranian companies.
Due to economic problems and sanctions, Iran has been plagued with high inflation in the past decade, evidenced by a Congressional Research Service report indicating that the Iranian economy is 15 to 20 percent smaller due to the 2010 sanctions (6). The decisions of the Iranian political elite class have been particularly harmful to the middle class, thus adding a level of corruption in the form of illegal excessive pay is politically harmful all the way up to President Rouhani.
All of the corruption exposed in the payslip scandal indicates that Iran still struggles with a disconnect between the political elites and the middle class. The scandal comes at an important time politically, as the next Presidential election is set for 2017. Some media outlets in Iran are attempting to make a connection between Ali Sedghi—a chairman of state run bank that had a pay slip released—and Hussein Fereydoun, the brother of President Rouhani (7). Whatever the connection between the President and the scandal may be, it is clear that the release of these pay slips was a political move against the Rouhani administration, and opponents are taking aim at Rouhani in the aftermath.
In the coming presidential election, opponents will have plenty to show in the form of corruption allegations; however, Rouhani will be able to boast the nuclear deal and an overall improvement of the Iranian economy. In 2014, the Iranian economy grew 3 percent after 2 years of economic contraction. Plus, Iran is hoping to reduce inflation to single digits by March 2017, which would be the lowest since 1990 (6). However, the most important issue for Rouhani will be showing that the improved economy did not strictly benefit the political elite class and that the decisions to pursue a nuclear program and then agree to the JCPOA will prove to improve Iran in the long-run.
Overall, when political elites in Iran choose to continue their actions that further sanctions, they often do not feel the consequences. Instead, the hardships fall on the middle class. This scandal indicates that President Rouhani may have a difficult re-election year ahead of him, and he will have to crack down on corruption in his administration in order to not lose the middle class vote.
(1) "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action." U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2016. <http://www.state.gov/e/eb/tfs/spi/iran/jcpoa/>.
(2) Azimi, Amir. "Iran's Payslip Scandal Spells Trouble for Rouhani." BBC News. N.p., 28 July 2016. Web. 14 Aug. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36912006>.
(3) Dehghan, Saeed Kamali. "Fury Erupts in Iran over Vast Salaries Paid to Government Officials." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 17 June 2016. Web. 13 Aug. 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/17/fury-iran-salaries-government-officials>.
(5) "Iran in Numbers: How Cost of Living Has Soared under Sanctions."BBC News. N.p., 7 June 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22765716>.
(6) Nas, Ladane, and Golnar Motevalli. "Iran Targets 25-Year Inflation Low by 2017 as Sanctions Removed." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 14 June 2015. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.
(7) Sadeghi, Fereshteh. "Will Leaked Payslips Scandal Bring down Rouhani?" Al-Monitor. N.p., 04 July 2016. Web. 14 Aug. 2016. <http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/07/iran-payslip-leaks-rouhani-administration-criticism-ndf.html>.
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Chadd Dunn is a senior at the University of Southern California double majoring in business administration and international relations. He focuses mainly on international economics,