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Terrorism, counterterrorism andintelligence studies: A new industry?Ambassador Dr Jacques Pitteloud aa Centre for International Security PolicyPublished online: 03 Aug 2011.
To cite this article: Ambassador Dr Jacques Pitteloud (2007) Terrorism, counterterrorism andintelligence studies: A new industry?, Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism,2:2, 5-6, DOI: 10.1080/18335300.2007.9686892
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Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism. Vol 2.2 October 2007. 5
TERRORISM, COUNTER-TERRORISM AND INTELLIGENCE STUDIES:A NEW INDUSTRY?
Since September 11, 2001, security services all over the world havebeen frantically trying to adapt to the new threat. But it is a long wayfrom recognizing new developments to adapting cumbersome structures.The new threat calls for a very new type of intelligence collection andprocessing. An intelligence analyst who used to go systematicallythrough the structures of a Warsaw Pact Tank Division is not ready tounderstand the inner working of Al Qaeda. Its that simple. We need torethink much of what has been done in the past 50 years.
At the same time, government agencies with no record whatsoever insecurity matters have been entering the fray. Everybody is now part of avast and, if I may say so, mostly uncoordinated counter-terrorism effort.Consider, as an example, the epic fight between the US Treasury and theUS intelligence agencies to get the biggest possible piece of the counter-terrorism pie. This is not the place to go into details, but lets say that thefutile attempts to crush terrorist networks by going after their financialstructures have cost a lot of resources, which might have been used muchmore efficiently elsewhere.
But the new counter-terrorism market does not stop at the gates ofstate agencies. In the academic world as well as in the private industry,self-styled counter-terrorism experts are popping up and starting tofollow, quite literally, the scent of blood.
Does it make us more efficient? There is no telling, as there is nometric of success.
Does it contribute to creating in the public a sense of imminentdisaster? Very likely, yes.
It really seems that the Western World is on the verge of beingatomized out of existence by hyper-terrorists equipped with the latestWMD and information warfare technology. The wildest dreams of thedoomsday prophets are now the next thing to an accepted wisdom.
Shall we just say farewell to each other and walk down to our bunkersto await our fate, or are those dark predictions just part of a self-servingmarketing operation by security experts? On this subject, the jury is stillout.
This is one of the reasons why it does make sense to gather such adistinguished group of experts for this special issue of the Journal ofPolicing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism to discuss one of the manypossible interlinked aspects of the terrorist threat, namely its relationshipwith intelligence.
6 Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism. Vol 2.2 October 2007
One of the many questions that remains extant, and unanswered by theintelligence analysts of today, is the issue of our real vulnerability, theassessment of our own resilience in the face of terrorism. Thus, forexample, to what extent is economic terrorism a real threat?
Just for the sake of the argument and in aid of what I am sure will be avery interesting discussion in the individual articles, let me make a coupleof provocative assumptions about the economic impact of terrorism onour societies.
First question: Are terrorists able to hit that hard? Sooner or later, aterrorist group will be able to again hit one of the economic centres ofgravity of the Western World. Will it be a crude nuclear device in theport of Rotterdam, a chemical attack against the New York Cityunderground, or a poisoning of the water supply system in Singapore, or,much more likely, a string of classical attacks the like of which we have,alas, witnessed frequently in the past? Of course, part of the problem isthat we simply do not know.
But since Islamist radicals feel they are at war with an aggressiveWestern world, they will keep trying and they will keep getting moreproficient at what they do. Some of them will evade the increasinglyefficient surveillance of our security services.
Second question: Are modern societies as vulnerable, as they aremade out to be in the prevailing public discourse? Conventional wisdomhas it that modern societies have become increasingly vulnerable and thatthe very nature of a globalised world has made them an easy target forlong-lasting disruption operations. Is that so?
One assumption ought to be that we really tend to underestimate theresilience of our societies. The truth is that our network-centric societiesare extremely difficult to strike efficiently. We have just forgotten what itmeans to be at war and tend to overestimate the psychological impact ofsuccessful attacks.
What can be done? One commonsense assumption is that counteringthe terrorist threat can most efficiently be achieved at what can beunderstood as both ends of a terrorist operation: stopping as manyoperations as possible before they even happen and learning how to dealwith the consequences of a terrorist attack. Everything in between is anillusion. The range of possible targets is such that hardening them all isout of the question. It would mean creating a North Korea-type policestate which is economically not sustainable in the long run. Betterintelligence, better law enforcement and better reaction capabilities arethe answer. And, above all, personal resilience.
Ambassador Dr Jacques PitteloudCentre for International Security PolicyFormer Intelligence Coordinator for the Swiss Confederation