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>.
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