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The Social Network, the alter-globalization movement and counter-forums

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An attentive analysis of the ways in which the alter-globalization galaxy enacts its antagonism to the system, especially in regard to national and transnational political, economic and military institutions,

reveals both how the alter-globalization movement implements its antagonistic demands above all through social networks and counter-forums and the extent to which it is capable of mobilizing non-homogeneous groups, often by exerting substantial influence on the choices made by political decision-makers on one hand, and capable of implementing vast and widespread disinformation campaigns on the other. Like all technological instruments, also social networks can cut both ways: like two-faced Janus, they can incite terrorist violence or contribute to the consolidation of antagonist ideologies by catalyzing discontent or just as equally consolidate consensus around national and super-national political and/or military institutions. Attempts at censure in today’s democracy would be destined to fail because the web offers such a wide variety of technological solutions that any type of shutdown imposed could be bypassed. Even if the manipulation of information is not only possible but desirable in a context of information warfare between institutions and movements or between national institutions themselves, in fact, the web offers the possibly to provide counter-information also through film footage and photos taken by cell phones and transmitted via Youtube. As regards the role played by information in the contexts of both sociology and social psychology, the domination of a particular piece of information and the ability to spread it can have such profound effect on civil society that Gen. Sullivan, ex-Chief of General Staff of the US Army, once claimed that information is the equivalent of a victory on the battlefield. On the other hand, as aptly noted by Luther Blisset, theoretician of anti-establishment media warfare, it is necessary to act within the mass media communication system and fight the power structure using its own arms. In light of these considerations, the definition of war as “…a struggle of opposing wills between organizations that use any violent or coercive means (armed conflict, cold war, evident and occult coercion) available to impose their own best interests or point of view” provided by Gen. Fabio Mini appears more appropriate than ever. The relevance of this definition depends on the absence of the adjective “military” and the presence of the expression “any struggle” between organizations. This means that the previous limit on the participants in traditional war – opposing nations – disappears and gives way to an opposition between nations and economic or social groups and/or political and other types of organization. In this light, also the definition provided of netwar by Arquilla and Ronfeldt is extremely interesting because it amounts to the aggregate of activities conducted for the purpose of disturbing, damaging or modifying what a determined population knows or thinks it knows about itself and its surroundings. In other words, what the antagonists have promoted and continue to promote through the social network may be considered warfare strategy in the Minian sense of the term, and more exactly, in information warfare, and therefore in propaganda and deception or altered, deceitful and/or misleading information. As correctly observed by Capt. Alfonso Montagnese, the Social Media are instruments of mass communication and relation whose utilization takes place in cyberspace using hardware (Internet, cell phones, pc, etc.) and software (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.). Compared to traditional media channels, social media users can interact and overcome geographic limits in real-time. Yet when social networks are used in an asymmetric context of conflict (with a governmental institution or a national or multinational industry one on side with a group of alter-globalization activists on the other, for example), the opposition takes form alternately in psychological warfare (through disinformation and propaganda) and antagonistic mobilization with the expenditure of reduced resources. The political and cultural subjects that have enacted asymmetric-type oppositions can largely be grouped as national subversive groups (Marxist-Leninist groups, anarchical-insurrectionist groups); antagonist movements/extra-parliamentary powers (anti-global, environmental protection, anti-nuclear power groups, xenophobe groups, organized sports hooligans, right-wing extremist groups); non-profit associations/foundations; religious groups, and trade union/political party groups. Appropriately, Capt. Montagnese mentions the comments of Gen. Francesco Lombardi, Ce.Mi.S.S. Military Sociology Department vice-Director and Head, who emphasizes how the protest movements of the future will still manifest themselves through physical conflict, the illegal occupation of public space, demonstrations, and rioting, and as in the past will still have antagonistic ends, but will differ from those of the past in the interaction between the demonstrators themselves, between the demonstrators and the power against them, and between the demonstrators and the world at large.
Strategic warning must certainly be included among the counter-measures to be enacted, and horizon scanning is extremely important because as noted by Montagnese it permits threat trends to be monitored in the mid- and long-term, the orientation of opponent force to be identified, and their evolution to be predicted. Specifically, national security institutes must draft a Social Media Strategy capable of alternating offensive activity through influence, deception, and propaganda with defensive activities like counter-propaganda, counter-interference, and the early warning conducted through the direct or indirect use of Social Media.

The Social Network and alter-globalization

In the context of the antagonism of the alter-globalization movements, the independent networks developed by civil society in the wake of Seattle (such as Indymedia, for example) have proven to be fundamentally important in globalizing the antagonism and making it more widespread and efficacious; these activists have made use of independent networks to convey clearly defined ideological content: ecologist, pacifist, anti-militarist, anti-capitalistic. In such regard, the promoters of these networks, whether consciously or unconsciously, have adopted as reference at the levels of both topic and mobilization technique the protest movements of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s in their implementation of both virtual and operative activism. The structure of these networks is naturally horizontal and this affords a greater degree of freedom in the flow of information while precluding every form of hierarchy similar to those of traditional political organizations. At the base of these networks lies the conviction of the existence of a universal right to knowledge and networking and that this right is an essential component in the exercise of the rights of citizenship in the context of participative democracy. It is enough to consider in this regard the networks of hacker movements that trace their roots to the social movements of ‘70s, the cyberpunk/artistic avant-garde, internationalism, and the self-managed social centers in general. Specifically, during an encounter in Naples in March 2001 against the Global forum, the Italian hacker movement implemented a technique known as netstrike designed to jam institutional internet sites. Again in 2001, but this time in Genoa, the independent networks were able to create a media center capable of efficacious counter-information for the purpose of de-legitimizing the work of the law enforcement system. In Italy, the Isola nella rete – the most significant entity inside the independent network is undoubtedly important. Founded as an association in the mid-‘90s with the purpose of placing communication and mobilization tools at the disposal of social movements, through an extensive network of links, the association has constructed an authentic virtual community of the antagonists. It is enough to consider that a dossier entitled “Under Accusation” that documents the violations of individual rights during the Genoa demonstration has been created in the Isole nella rete and that the new media sociologists use the expression controversial political communication to define this new communication vehicle, intending the combination of techniques or repertory of communication actions adopted to de-legitimize national, transnational and/or determined representatives of the same as an expansion of democracy. This new approach in communication has opened representative democracy to alternating direct and indirect criticism of increasingly wider scope. Another expression employed by mass-media sociologists is “counter-democracy”, which is used to emphasize the increasingly important role played by alter-globalization movements in monitoring and criticizing the institutions that hold political and economy power in blogs, forums, on-line campaigns, and mailing lists as tools that coordinate the activities of different groups. In this sense, Facebook becomes a fundamentally important instrument of counter-information because when it is used in an antagonist context, it can transform the consumption of news articles into a participative and antagonist process at both virtual and physical level. In this regard, the experience of the Popolo viola bears much significance. Using Facebook, it has proven capable of organizing at national level a campaign such as the one entitled No Berlusconi day with great visibility. Another example of political aggregation with antagonist ends in mind is provided by Beppe Grillo’s blog, which has now become a new place of meeting, encounter, and political interaction among citizens. This blog succeeds in attracting fairly constantly a considerable participation of around 200,000 visits a day and over 1000 comments on every single posted entry; beyond that, the blog has led to the birth of around 400 local groups in over 200 cities under the name Amici di Beppe Grillo (Friends of Beppe Grillo). The blog’s operative efficacy is demonstrated by the fact that between 2007 and 2008 it proved capable of collecting from a minimum of 350,000 to a maximum of 1,350,000 signatures for a law proposal made at popular demand. At international level, another successful example of popular mobilization is certainly the American movement known as MoveOn.org, which even if it cannot be considered unequivocally a part of the alter-globalization movement has, in any case, dealt with similar questions and adopts similar operating methods. In the context of new media sociology, this organization is known as a meta organization, meaning that it is radically decentralized and possesses a number of specific characteristics, including that of consisting of an organizational core of limited dimensions that serves as both facilitator and producer of organizational processes. First of all, it has smaller size than traditional organizations because its nucleus oscillates between 20-30 people; secondly this organization does not have a physical office ands therefore has ho administration costs. In other words, in legal terms, MoveOn.org resembles a cross-linked non-profit organization. This organization has a mailing list of 5 million members and is currently the most authoritative pressure group on the US political scene at network level. Its significance is demonstrated by its role in a promotional campaign for Obama that raised 88 million dollars in 2008 and provided the future president with 933,000 volunteers. Back on the Italian scene, much of the alter-globalization movement has used freeware software to create its own websites on the basis of precise assumptions: a common struggle against multinationals and their influence, and the establishment of an alternative society to the current one based on the freedom of information and spontaneous self-organization. Above and beyond the purely idealistic motivation, it is evident that the use of freeware gives anti-global movements an undeniable economic advantage. It is no coincidence that during the 2005 World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre, Brazilian President Lula committed his nation to both freeware and open-source software. One of the most important characteristics of the anti-global organizations that use the telematic network is certainly the promotion of alternative information that lets the public participate firsthand in the management of certain aspects of communication, provides additional documentation to sympathizers of determined movements like the peace movement or the antagonistic left. Another extremely important aspect is the need to integrate information with widespread work in the territory by creating, for example, local branches that collect all the most pertinent information on the issues under consideration. Another alternative communication tool is certainly TeleStreet, or in other words, “street television” that is closely linked to the local dimension. In purely technical terms, street television is born in a neighborhood or some other small center of inhabitation. Historically speaking, street tv was born with the 1977 movement and more precisely in the free radio movement. One particularly important event regarding street tv occurred in 2003, the year when numerous Italian tv activists promoted the widespread flying of rainbow-colored peace flags in their towns. The public addressed by Italian anti-global movements – prevalently the people who use Internet through websites and mailing lists – is a global and therefore heterogeneous one. The websites Indymedia, ControllArmi and Peacelink are undoubtedly particularly significant in the context of alter-globalization movements. ControllArmi, for example, is nothing but a website that runs by the Rete Italiana per il Disarmo (Italian Disarmament Network) set up in March 2004. This network has proven capable of mobilizing its resources to report the amendments made to Law No. 185 regulating arms exports; in particular, ControllArmi was born precisely to defend Law No. 185 and obtained an impressive and significant success after applying pressure to certain influential representatives of parliamentary institutions. The establishment of ControllArmi arose from the need to exert short-term control over arms sales on one hand and general disarmament in the long-term on the other. The presence of a number of important alter-global movements such as Rete Lilluput, Attac, Arci, Acli, Fiom-Cgil, Fiom-Cisl, Pax Christi, Un ponte per…, and Emergency in the organization is significant. The study of arms and the general disarmament desired in the future can be seen in the organization’s detailed analysis of every aspect of the world of arms, starting from small arms and covering international arms brokers, nuclear arms, depleted uranium, and the economic and political problems linked to the legal and otherwise exportation of arms. Also extremely interesting are the organization’s bonds with Iansa – the global small arms control movement founded in England – and with Safer World set up to monitor and study armaments; equally significant is the pressure exerted on the European Parliament – together with Safer World – in the defense of Law No. 185.

Counter-forums and the alter-globalization movement

According to the alter-globalization movements, only diplomats or government representatives who were never publicly elected usually take part in the world’s decision-making summits, but this, on the contrary, reflects a balance of power between nations. In other words, the alter-globalization movements lay claim to a logic of direct democracy that would enable civil society movements to become key players on the international scene. The counter-forums are characterized as unofficial meetings that deal with the same problems as traditional forums but with a deeply critical stance in regard to the choices made by governments and even those of neo-liberal companies on one hand, and on the other, the counter-forums utilize operative methods far different from those used by traditional ones (including counter-information, civil disobedience, etc.). From the historical point of view, counter-forums first came into existence in the ‘60s with the Tribunal against war crimes in Vietnam created in 1967 and then in the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal founded in Algiers in 1976 and instituted in definitive form in 1979. Naturally enough the composition of these tribunals – far from being impartial and unbiased – reflects world views with a strong ideological slant: in favor of the under-developed world, anti-capitalist and anti-militarist. Another historical root of the counter-forums that Mario Pianta identifies lies in the Peace movements that developed during the ‘80s. Experts on alter-global movements explicitly acknowledge the extent to which experiences in the leftist and ecologist movements of the ‘70s and ‘80s were fundamentally important because a large part of the activists on these fronts continued their activities in alter-globalization movements. As regards the risk posed to national and transnational military institutes, it must be remembered that some of these counter-forums have questioned the need for the existence of NATO and demanded the democratization of the UN, intending by such term the widespread presence of alter-globalization organizations in UN decision-making processes. From the historical point of view, the first counter-forum undoubtedly took place in Seattle (1999) and was organized alternately by structured and unstructured groups and an articulated organization that succeeded in bringing 60,000 people to the city. The media impact created by the counter-forum was such to raise hopes of a grass-roots globalization to be achieved precisely through such counter-forums. The Davos counter-forum of 2000, the counter-forum held in April in Washington, the one held in May, 2000 in New York called the Millennium Forum with 1200 participants must also be remembered in this sense. The apogee of such counter-forums was certainly the one held in Porto Alegre in January 2000, the fruit of an alliance between the Brazilian Workers’ Party, the trade unions, and the Sem Terra and Attac movements. This event with worldwide media coverage featured the participation of 20,000 activists from every continent and was the launching pad for the counter-forum to the G8 meeting in Genoa held in July, 2001. Naturally enough, one of the reasons for which these counter-forums developed is to pose a challenge to the nation-state system and the neo-Liberalist economy on the political and economic levels. The strategy pursued by the exponents of these counter-forums was – to use Mario Pianta’s expression – alternately reformist (this approach centers its attention on procedural change and specific political choices and is a strategy developed by the NGOs for the purpose of implementing integration with inter-governmental organizations wherever possible), radical alternative (an approach that places existing concentrations of power in serious doubt and indicates new models of collective actions such as new democratic structures as alternatives to neo-Liberalist structures), and lastly the strategy of resistance, which has been particularly developed in the undeveloped world for the purpose of implementing coordinated antagonistic action at national and international level. The strategy pursued so far by institutions – above and beyond the legitimate repression of manifestations of violence – has consisted in enacting surface level modifications in their political plans on one hand and in integration through co-opting whenever possible, on the other. The UN has chosen to accept some of the demands made by civil society and to acknowledge the validity of certain anti-Liberalist choices made by numerous NGOs, permitting these latter in this way to increase the gap between transnational institutions and intensify – for example – the contrast between decisions made by NATO and those made by the UN. At any rate, it is clear that the long-term strategy pursued by the counter-forums is to implement real and therefore structural change in the system. In this sense, it is well worth analyzing certain aspects of the document issued by the Assembly of Young People’s UN in Perugia, Italy, in September 1995. Firstly, it is clear that the alter-global movement wishes to convey all transnational institutions into the United Nations system, and that member nations must abandon thinking in terms of national security as the first step towards real disarmament (and the conversion of national military institutions in an international police force under the authority or command of the United Nations). It also emerges that nations must create an unarmed, non-violent force in replacement of today’s military, and lastly, that education in peace and human rights must be initiated in public schools and training institutes. The considerations made in the Tavola della pace (The Peace Table) in the Documents of the Assembly of the People’s UN drafted in Perugia between 1995 and 1999 are particularly interesting. First of all, the authors of this document express the need to bring institutions like the World Monetary Fund and the World Bank under the control of the United Nations; they also expound the concept that member nations must abandon thinking in terms of national security once and for all; thirdly – and consequently – the pacifism theorized in the document implies disarmament, the cessation of the international arms trade, the conversion of national military institutions in an international police force under the authority or command of the United Nations, and above all the creation of an unarmed, non-violent force in gradual replacement of today’s military. In light of these proposals, the refusal of the document’s authors to legitimize rightful warfare or interference on humanitarian grounds is clearly evident; on the other hand, the authors express the need to internationalize penal law through international courts, to condemn neo-Liberalism, and above all, emphasize the determinant role that must be played by organizations coming from civil society if a positive change is to be made, organizations that play – and can play – a determinant role in the establishment of world peace, a fair economy enhanced by solidarity, the promotion of human rights and democracy. Equally significant is the idea of education that emerges clearly from the document: the authors of the Tavola della pace also emphasize the need to promote education in the principles of world peace, human rights, and non-violence in the curricula of public schools. These proposals formulated at the Tavola della pace are democratic in nature but a more careful reading – especially one capable of identifying the operative implications of these proposals – clearly reveals their substantially antagonistic nature, and therefore one of radical rupture with the existing order. The proposals that the Tavola della Pace intends to achieve are as follows: first of all the dismantling of international trade organizations and the gaining of access to the nerve centers of transnational power by first gaining credit at the institutional level at UN level, the substitution of existing institutions for the purpose of planning an international policy and economics completely opposed to the one in existence. Secondly, the Tavola della pace aims at the elimination of the existing national and transnational military institutions and their substitution with non-violent armed force. The unswerving and radical rejection of neo-Liberalism – the third aspect – induces the document’s authors to identify in fair trade and solidarity organizations – such as alternative banks such as the ethical or sustainable banks – the only feasible alternatives capable of dismantling the current commercial organizations founded on the principle of mere capitalistic profit. Lastly, the fourth aspect, the emphasis posed on educating young people in the principles of peace at school and university level, really aims at systematic psychological warfare through widespread disinformation to induce them to reject the legitimacy of military institutions, which are portrayed only as illegitimate and immoral institutions. In short, the program formulated by the Tavola della pace is to every effect a political program – and one wide in scope, to be sure – that aims at taking power – even with the use of non-violent instruments (and therefore rejecting the traditional techniques or military overthrow, terrorism or guerilla warfare) and replacing the existing military and economic institutions with others controlled by delegates from lay and religious organizations of pacifist and alter-globalization origin.

Bibliography

Cap. CC Alfonso Montagnese, Impatto dei Social media sulla sicurezza nazionale, OSN, 2011

Lorenzo Mosca e Christian Vaccari, Nuovi media, nuova politica? Partecipazione e mobilitazione on-line da MoveOn al movimento 5 stelle, Franco Angeli, 2011

Mario Pianta, Globalizzazione dal basso. Economia mondiale e movimenti sociali, Il Manifesto Libri, 2001

Donatella della Porta e Lorenzo Mosca, Globalizzazione e movimenti sociali, Il Manifesto Libri, 2003

Umberto Rapetto-Roberto Di Nunzio, Le nuove guerre, Bur, 2001

Francesca Veltri, La rete in movimento. Telematica e protesta globale, Rubbettino, 2005

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Intelligence

An Underdeveloped Discipline: Open-Source Intelligence and How It Can Better Assist the U.S. Intelligence Community

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Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) is defined by noted intelligence specialists Mark Lowenthal and Robert M. Clark as being, “information that is publicly available to anyone through legal means, including request, observation, or purchase, that is subsequently acquired, vetted, and analyzed in order to fulfill an intelligence requirement”. The U.S. Naval War College further defines OSINT as coming from, “print or electronic form including radio, television, newspapers, journals, the internet, and videos, graphics, and drawings”. Basically, OSINT is the collection of information from a variety of public sources, including social media profiles and accounts, television broadcasts, and internet searches.

Historically, OSINT has been utilized by the U.S. since the 1940s, when the United States created the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) which had the sole goal (until the 1990s) of, “primarily monitoring and translating foreign-press sources,” and contributing significantly during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was also during this time that the FBIS transformed itself from a purely interpretation agency into one that could adequately utilize the advances made by, “personal computing, large-capacity digital storage, capable search engines, and broadband communication networks”. In 2005, the FBIS was placed under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and renamed the Open Source Center, with control being given to the CIA.

OSINT compliments the other intelligence disciplines very well. Due to OSINT’s ability to be more in touch with public data (as opposed to information that is more gleaned from interrogations, interviews with defectors or captured enemies or from clandestine wiretaps and electronic intrusions), it allows policymakers and intelligence analysts the ability to see the wider picture of the information gleaned. In Lowenthal’s own book, he mentions how policymakers (including the Assistant Secretary of Defense and one of the former Directors of National Intelligence (DNI)) enjoyed looking at OSINT first and using it as a “starting point… [to fill] the outer edges of the jigsaw puzzle”.

Given the 21stcentury and the public’s increased reliance upon technology, there are also times when information can only be gleaned from open source intelligence methods. Because “Terrorist movements rely essentially on the use of open sources… to recruit and provide virtual training and conduct their operations using encryption techniques… OSINT can be valuable [in] providing fast coordination among officials at all levels without clearances”. Intelligence agencies could be able to outright avoid or, at a minimum, be able to prepare a defense or place forces and units on high alert for an imminent attack.

In a King’s College-London research paper discussing OSINT’s potential for the 21stcentury, the author notes, “OSINT sharing among intelligence services, non-government organizations and international organizations could shape timely and comprehensive responses [to international crises or regime changes in rogue states like Darfur or Burma],” as well as providing further information on a country’s new government or personnel in power. This has been exemplified best during the rise of Kim Jong-Un in North Korea and during the 2011 Arab Spring and 2010 earthquake that rocked Haiti. However, this does not mean that OSINT is a superior discipline than other forms such as SIGINT and HUMINT, as they are subject to limitations as well. According to the Federation of American Scientists, “Open source intelligence does have limitations. Often articles in military or scientific journals represent a theoretical or desired capability rather than an actual capability. Censorship may also limit the publication of key data needed to arrive at a full understanding of an adversary’s actions, or the press may be used as part of a conscious deception effort”.

There is also a limit to the effectiveness of OSINT within the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), not because it is technically limited, but limited by the desire of the IC to see OSINT as a full-fledged discipline. Robert Ashley and Neil Wiley, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and a former Principal Executive within the ODNI respectively, covered this in a July article for DefenseOne, stating “…the production of OSINT is not regarded as a unique intelligence discipline but as research incident to all-source analysis or as a media production service… OSINT, on the other hand, remains a distributed activity that functions more like a collection of cottage industries. While OSINT has pockets of excellence, intelligence community OSINT production is largely initiative based, minimally integrated, and has little in the way of common guidance, standards, and tradecraft… The intelligence community must make OSINT a true intelligence discipline on par with the traditional functional disciplines, replete with leadership and authority that enables the OSINT enterprise to govern itself and establish a brand that instills faith and trust in open source information”. This apprehensiveness by the IC to OSINT capabilities has been well documented by other journalists.

Some contributors, including one writing for The Hill, has commented that “the use of artificial intelligence and rapid data analytics can mitigate these risks by tipping expert analysts on changes in key information, enabling the rapid identification of apparent “outliers” and pattern anomalies. Such human-machine teaming exploits the strengths of both and offers a path to understanding and even protocols for how trusted open-source intelligence can be created by employing traditional tradecraft of verifying and validating sourcing prior to making the intelligence insights available for broad consumption”. Many knowledgeable and experienced persons within the Intelligence Community, either coming from the uniformed intelligence services or civilian foreign intelligence agencies, recognize the need for better OSINT capabilities as a whole and have also suggested ways in which potential security risks or flaws can be avoided in making this discipline an even more effective piece of the intelligence gathering framework.

OSINT is incredibly beneficial for gathering information that cannot always be gathered through more commonly thought of espionage methods (e.g., HUMINT, SIGINT). The discipline allows for information on previously unknown players or new and developing events to become known and allows policymakers to be briefed more competently on a topic as well as providing analysts and operators a preliminary understanding of the region, the culture, the politics, and current nature of a developing or changing state. However, the greatest hurdle in making use of OSINT is in changing the culture and the way in which the discipline is currently seen by the U.S. Intelligence Community. This remains the biggest struggle in effectively coordinating and utilizing the intelligence discipline within various national security organizations.

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Online Radicalization in India

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Radicalization, is a gradual process of developing extremist beliefs, emotions, and behaviours at individual, group or mass public levels. Besides varied groups, it enjoys patronization, covertly and even overtly from some states. To elicit change in behavior, beliefs, ideology, and willingness, from the target-group, even employment of violent means is justified. Despite recording a declination in terror casualties, the 2019 edition of the Global Terrorism Index claims an increase in the number of terrorism-affected countries. With internet assuming a pivotal role in simplifying and revolutionizing the communication network and process, the change in peoples’ lives is evident. Notably, out of EU’s 84 %, daily internet using population, 81%, access it from home (Eurostat, 2012, RAND Paper pg xi). It signifies important changes in society and extremists elements, being its integral part, internet’ role, as a tool of radicalization, cannot be gainsaid. Following disruption of physical and geographical barriers, the radicalized groups are using the advancement in digital technology:  to propagate their ideologies; solicit funding; collecting informations; planning/coordinating terror attacks; establishing inter/intra-group communication-networks; recruitment, training and media propaganda to attain global attention.  

               Indian Context

In recent times, India has witnessed an exponential growth in radicalization-linked Incidents, which apparently belies the official figures of approximate 80-100 cases. The radicalization threat to India is not only from homegrown groups but from cross-border groups of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as global groups like IS. Significantly, Indian radicalized groups are exploiting domestic grievances and their success to an extent, can mainly be attributed to support from Pakistani state, Jihadist groups from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Gulf-employment boom for Indian Muslims has also facilitated radicalization, including online, of Indian Muslims. A close look at the modus operandi of these attacks reveals the involvement of local or ‘homegrown’ terrorists. AQIS formed (2016) ‘Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind’ in Kashmir with a media wing ‘al-Hurr’.

IS announced its foray into Kashmir in 2016 as part of its Khorasan branch. In December 2017 IS in its Telegram channel used hashtag ‘Wilayat Kashmir’ wherein Kashmiri militants stated their allegiance with IS. IS’ online English Magazine ‘Dabiq’ (Jan. 2016) claimed training of fighters in Bangladesh and Pakistan for attacks from western and Eastern borders into India.Though there are isolated cases of ISIS influence in India, the trend is on the rise. Presently, ISIS and its offshoots through online process are engaged in spreading bases in 12 Indian states. Apart from southern states like Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu — where the Iran and Syria-based terrorist outfit penetrated years ago — investigating agencies have found their links in states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir as well. The Sunni jihadists’ group is now “most active” in these states across the country.

               Undermining Indian Threat

Significantly, undermining the radicalization issue, a section of intelligentsia citing lesser number of Indian Muslims joining al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, Syria and Middle East, argue that Indian Muslim community does not support radicalism-linked violence unlike regional/Muslim countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Maldives. They underscore the negligible number of Indian Muslims, outside J&K, who supports separatist movements. Additionally, al- Qaeda and IS who follows the ‘Salafi-Wahabi’ ideological movement, vehemently oppose ‘Hanafi school’ of Sunni Islam, followed by Indian Muslims. Moreover, Indian Muslims follows a moderate version even being followers of the Sunni Ahle-Hadeeth (the broader ideology from which Salafi-Wahhabi movement emanates). This doctrinal difference led to the failure of Wahhabi groups online propaganda.  

               Radicalisation Strategies/methods: Indian vs global players

India is already confronting the online jihadist radicalization of global jihadist organisations, including al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), formed in September 2014 and Islamic State (IS). However, several indigenous and regional groups such as Indian Mujahideen (IM), JeM, LeT, the Taliban and other online vernacular publications, including Pakistan’s Urdu newspaper ‘Al-Qalam’, also play their role in online radicalisation.

Indian jihadist groups use a variety of social media apps, best suited for their goals. Separatists and extremists in Kashmir, for coordination and communication, simply create WhatsApp groups and communicate the date, time and place for carrying out mass protests or stone pelting. Pakistan-based terror groups instead of online learning of Islam consider it mandatory that a Muslim radical follows a revered religious cleric. They select people manually to verify their background instead of online correspondence. Only after their induction, they communicate online with him. However, the IS, in the backdrop of recent defeats, unlike Kashmiri separatist groups and Pak-based jihadist mercenaries, runs its global movement entirely online through magazines and pamphlets. The al-Qaeda’s you tube channels ‘Ansar AQIS’ and ‘Al Firdaws’, once having over 25,000 subscriptions, are now banned. Its online magazines are Nawai Afghan and Statements are in Urdu, English, Arabic, Bangla and Tamil. Its blocked Twitter accounts, ‘Ansarul Islam’ and ‘Abna_ul_Islam_media’, had a following of over 1,300 while its Telegram accounts are believed to have over 500 members.

               Adoption of online platforms and technology

Initially, Kashmir based ‘Jaish-E-Mohammad’ (JeM) distributed audio cassettes of Masood Azhar’s speeches across India but it joined Internet platform during the year 2003–04 and started circulating downloadable materials through anonymous links and emails. Subsequently, it started its weekly e-newspaper, Al-Qalam, followed by a chat group on Yahoo. Importantly, following enhanced international pressure on Pak government after 26/11, to act against terrorist groups, JeM gradually shifted from mainstream online platform to social media sites, blogs and forums.   

 Indian Mujahideen’s splinter group ‘Ansar-ul-Tawhid’ the first officially affiliated terror group to the ISIS tried to maintain its presence on ‘Skype’, ‘WeChat’ and ‘JustPaste’. IS and its affiliates emerged as the most tech-savvy jihadist group. They took several measures to generate new accounts after repeated suspension of their accounts by governments.  An account called as ‘Baqiya Shoutout’ was one such measure. It stressed upon efforts to re-establish their network of followers through ‘reverse shout-out’ instead of opening a new account easily.

Pakistan-backed terrorist groups in India are increasingly becoming  technology savvy. For instance, LeT before carrying out terrorist attacks in 2008 in Mumbai, used Google Earth to understand the targeted locations.

IS members have been following strict security measures like keeping off their Global Positioning System (GPS) locations and use virtual private network (VPN),  to maintain anonymity. Earlier they were downloading Hola VPN or a similar programme from a mobile device or Web browser to select an Internet Protocol (IP) address for a country outside the US, and bypass email or phone verification.

Rise of radicalization in southern India

Southern states of India have witnessed a rise in  radicalization activities during the past 1-2 years. A substantial number of Diaspora in the Gulf countries belongs to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Several Indian Muslims in Gulf countries have fallen prey to radicalization due to the ultra-conservative forms of Islam or their remittances have been misused to spread radical thoughts. One Shafi Armar@ Yusuf-al-Hindi from Karnataka emerged as the main online IS recruiter for India.  It is evident in the number of raids and arrests made in the region particularly after the Easter bomb attacks (April, 21, 2019) in Sri Lanka. The perpetrators were suspected to have been indoctrinated, radicalised and trained in the Tamil Nadu. Further probe revealed that the mastermind of the attacks, Zahran Hashim had travelled to India and maintained virtual links with radicalised youth in South India. Importantly, IS, while claiming responsibility for the attacks, issued statements not only in English and Arabic but also in South Indian languages viz. Malayalam and Tamil. It proved the existence of individuals fluent in South Indian languages in IS linked groups in the region. Similarly, AQIS’ affiliate in South India ‘Base Movement’ issued several threatening letters to media publications for insulting Islam.

IS is trying to recruit people from rural India by circulating the online material in vernacular languages. It is distributing material in numerous languages, including Malayalam and Tamil, which Al Qaeda were previously ignoring in favour of Urdu. IS-linked Keralite followers in their propaganda, cited radical pro-Hindutva, organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) and other right-wing Hindu organisations to motivate youth for joining the IS.  Similarly, Anti-Muslim incidents such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 are still being used to fuel their propaganda. IS sympathisers also support the need to oppose Hindu Deities to gather support.

               Radicalization: Similarities/Distinctions in North and South

Despite few similarities, the radicalisation process in J&K is somewhat different from the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Gujarat. Both the regions have witnessed a planned radicalization process through Internet/social media for propagating extremist ideologies and subverting the vulnerable youth. Both the areas faced the hard-line Salafi/Wahhabi ideology, propagated by the extremist Islamic clerics and madrasas indulged in manipulating the religion of Islam. Hence, in this context it can be aptly claimed that terror activities in India have cooperation of elements from both the regions, despite their distinct means and objectives. Elements from both regions to an extent sympathise to the cause of bringing India under the Sharia Law. Hence, the possibility of cooperation in such elements cannot be ruled out particularly in facilitation of logistics, ammunitions and other requisite equipment.

It is pertinent to note that while radicalisation in Jammu and Kashmir is directly linked to the proxy-war, sponsored by the Pakistan state, the growth of radicalisation in West and South India owes its roots to the spread of IS ideology, promotion of Sharia rule and establishment of Caliphate. Precisely for this reason, while radicalised local Kashmiris unite to join Pakistan-backed terror groups to fight for ‘Azadi’ or other fabricated local issues, the locals in south rather remain isolated cases.

               Impact of Radicalisation

The impact of global jihad on radicalization is quite visible in West and South India. Majority of the radicalised people, arrested in West and South India, were in fact proceeding to to join IS in Syria and Iraq. It included the group of 22 people from a Kerala’s family, who travelled (June 2016) to Afghanistan via Iran. There obvious motivation was to migrate from Dar-ul-Harb (house of war) to Dar-ul-Islam (house of peace/Islam/Deen).

While comparing the ground impact of radicalization in terms of number of cases of local militants in J&K as well as IS sympathisers in West and South India, it becomes clear that radicalisation was spread more in J&K, owing to Pak-sponsored logistical and financial support. Significantly, despite hosting the third largest Muslim population, the number of Indian sympathisers to terror outfits, particularly in West and South India is very small as compared to the western countries. Main reasons attributed to this, include – religious and cultural pluralism; traditionally practice of moderate Islamic belief-systems; progressive educational and economic standards; and equal socio-economic and political safeguards for the Indian Muslims in the Indian Constitution.

               Challenges Ahead

Apart from varied challenges, including Pak-sponsored anti-India activities, regional, local and political challenges, media wings of global jihadi outfits continue to pose further challenges to Indian security agencies. While IS through its media wing, ‘Al Isabah’ has been circulating (through social media sites) Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s speeches and videos after translating them into Urdu, Hindi, and Tamil for Indian youth (Rajkumar 2015), AQIS too have been using its media wing for the very purpose through its offshoots in India.  Some of the challenges, inter alia include –

Islam/Cleric Factor Clerics continue to play a crucial role in influencing the minds of Muslim youth by exploiting the religion of Islam. A majority of 127 arrested IS sympathizers from across India recently revealed that they were following speeches of controversial Indian preacher Zakir Naik of Islamic Research Foundation (IRF). Zakir has taken refuge in Malaysia because of warrants against him by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for alleged money laundering and inciting extremism through hate speeches. A Perpetrator of Dhaka bomb blasts in July 2016 that killed several people confessed that he was influenced by Naik’s messages. Earlier, IRF had organised ‘peace conferences’ in Mumbai between 2007 and 2011 in which Zakir attempted to convert people and incite terrorist acts. Thus, clerics and preachers who sbverts the Muslim minds towards extremism, remain a challenge for India.

Propaganda Machinery – The online uploading of young militant photographs, flaunting Kalashnikov rifles became the popular means of declaration of youth intent against government forces. Their narrative of “us versus them” narrative is clearly communicated, creating groundswell of support for terrorism.In its second edition (March 2020) of its propaganda magazine ‘Sawt al-Hind’ (Voice of Hind/India) IS, citing an old propaganda message from a deceased (2018) Kashmiri IS terrorist, Abu Hamza al-Kashmiri @ Abdul Rehman, called upon Taliban apostates and fighters to defect to IS.  In the first edition (Feb. 2020) the magazine, eulogized Huzaifa al-Bakistani (killed in 2019), asking Indian Muslims to rally to IS in the name of Islam in the aftermath of the 2020 Delhi riots. Meanwhile, a Muslim couple arrested by Delhi Police for inciting anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment) Bill protests, were found very active on social media. They would call Indian Muslims to unite against the Indian government against the CAA legislation. During 2017 Kashmir unrest, National Investigation Agency (NIA) identified 79 WhatsApp groups (with administrators based in Pakistan), having 6,386 phone numbers, to crowd source boys for stone pelting. Of these, around 1,000 numbers were found active in Pakistan and Gulf nations and the remaining 5,386 numbers were found active in Kashmir Valley.

Deep fakes/Fake news – Another challenge for India is spread of misinformation and disinformation through deep fakes by Pakistan. Usage of deepfakes, in manipulating the speeches of local political leaders to spread hate among the youth and society was done to large extent.

India’s Counter Measures

To prevent youth straying towards extremism, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has established a Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Radicalisation Division (CT-CR) to help states, security agencies and communities.

Various states, including Kerala, Maharashtra and Telangana have set up their own de-radicalisation programmes.  While in Maharashtra family and community plays an important role, in Kerala clerics cleanse the poisoned  minds of youth with a new narrative. A holistic programme for community outreach including healthcare, clergies and financial stability is being employed by the Indian armed forces. An operation in Kerala named Kerala state police’ ‘Operation Pigeon’ succeeded in thwarting radicalization of 350 youths to the propaganda of organizations such as Islamic State, Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) via social media monitoring. In Telangana, outreach programs have been developed by local officers like Rema Rajeshwari to fight the menace of fake news in around 400 villages of the state.

In Kashmir the government resorts to internet curfews to control the e-jihad. While state-owned BNSL network, used by the administration and security forces, remains operational 3G and 4G networks and social media apps remain suspended during internet curfews.

Prognosis

India certainly needs a strong national counter- Radicalisation policy which would factor in a range of factors than jobs, poverty or education because radicalization in fact has affected even well educated, rich and prosperous families. Instead of focusing on IS returnees from abroad, the policy must take care of those who never travelled abroad but still remain a potential threat due to their vulnerability to radicalization.

Of course, India would be better served if deep fakes/fake news and online propaganda is effectively countered digitally as well as through social awakening measures and on ground action by the government agencies. It is imperative that the major stakeholders i.e. government, educational institutions, civil society organisations, media and intellectuals play a pro-active role in pushing their narrative amongst youth and society. The focus should apparently be on prevention rather than controlling the radicalisation narrative of the vested interests.

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Intelligence

Is Deterrence in Cyberspace Possible?

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Soon after the Internet was founded, half of the world’s population (16 million) in 1996 had been connected to Internet data traffic. Gradually, the Internet began to grow and with more users, it contributed to the 4 trillion global economies in 2016 (Nye, 2016). Today, high-speed Internet, cutting-edge technologies and gadgets, and increasing cross-border Internet data traffic are considered an element of globalization. Deterrence seems traditional and obsolete strategy, but the developed countries rely on cyberspace domains to remain in the global digitization. No matter how advanced they are, there still exist vulnerabilities. There are modern problems in the modern world. Such reliance on the Internet also threatens to blow up the dynamics of international insecurity. To understand and explore the topic it is a must for one to understand what cyberspace and deterrence are? According to Oxford dictionary;

 “Cyberspace is the internet considered as an imaginary space without a physical location in which communication over computer networks takes place (OXFORD University Press)”

For readers to understand the term ‘deterrence’; Collins dictionary has best explained it as;

“Deterrence is the prevention of something, especially war or crime, by having something such as weapons or punishment to use as a threat e.g. Nuclear Weapons (Deterrence Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary).

The purpose of referring to the definition is to make it easy to discern and distinguish between deterrence in International Relations (IR) and International Cyber Security (ICS). Deterrence in cyberspace is different and difficult than that of during the Cold War. The topic of deterrence was important during Cold Wat for both politicians and academia. The context in both dimensions (IR and ICS) is similar and aims to prevent from happening something. Cyberspace deterrence refers to preventing crime and I completely agree with the fact that deterrence is possible in Cyberspace. Fischer (2019) quotes the study of (Quinlan, 2004) that there is no state that can be undeterrable.

To begin with, cyber threats are looming in different sectors inclusive of espionage, disruption of the democratic process and sabotaging the political arena, and war. Whereas international law is still unclear about these sectors as to which category they fall in. I would validate my affirmation (that deterrence is possible in Cyberspace) with the given network attacks listed by Pentagon (Fung, 2013). Millions of cyber-attacks are reported on a daily basis. The Pentagon reported 10 million cyberspace intrusions, most of which are disruptive, costly, and annoying. The level of severity rises to such a critical level that it is considered a threat to national security, so professional strategic assistance is needed to deal with it[1]. The past events show a perpetual threat that has the ability to interrupt societies, economies, and government functioning.

The cyberspace attacks were administered and portrayal of deterrence had been publicized as follows (Fung, 2013);

  1. The internet service was in a continuous disruption for several weeks after a dispute with Russia in 2007.
  2. Georgian defense communications were interrupted in 2008 after the Russian invasion of Georgia.   
  3. More than 1000 centrifuges in Iran were destroyed via the STUXNET virus in 2010. The attacks were attributed to Israel and the United States of America.
  4. In response to STUXNET virus attacks, Iran also launched a retaliatory attack on U.S financial institutions in 2012 and 2013.
  5. Similarly in 2012, some 30,000 computers had been destroyed with a virus called SHAMOON in Saudi Aramco Corporation. Iran was held responsible for these attacks.
  6. North Korea was accused of penetrating South Korean data and machines in 2014, thus interrupting their networks in 2014.
  7. A hybrid war was reported between Russia and Ukraine in 2015 that left Ukraine without electricity for almost six hours.
  8. Most critical scandal, which is still in the limelight call WikiLeaks released distressing and humiliating emails by Russian Intelligence at the time of the U.S presidential campaigns in 2016.

While such incidents may be considered a failure of deterrence, this does not mean that deterrence is impossible. Every system has some flaws that are exposed at some point. At this point, in some cases a relatively low level of deterrence was used to threaten national security, however, the attacks were quite minor in fulfilling the theme affecting national security. Nye (2016:51) in his study talks about the audience whose attribution could facilitate deterrence. (I). intelligence agencies should make sure highest safeguarding against escalation by third parties, and governments can also be certain and count on intelligence agencies’ sources. (II). the deterring party should not be taken easy, as I stated (above) about the lingering loopholes and flaws in the systems, hence, governments shall not perceive the intelligence forsaken.  (III). lastly, it is a political matter whether international and domestic audiences need to be persuaded or not, and what chunk of information should be disclosed.

The mechanisms which are used and helpful against cyberspace adversary actions are as follows (Fischer, 2019);

  1. Deterrence by denial means, the actions by the adversary are denied that they failed to succeed in their goals and objectives. It is more like retaliating a cyberattack.
  2. Threat of punishment offers severe outcomes in form of penalties and inflicting high costs on the attacker that would outweigh the anticipated benefits if the attack takes place.
  3. Deterrence by Entanglement has the features and works on a principle of shared, interconnected, and dependent vulnerabilities. The purpose of entanglement is to embolden and reassure the behavior as a responsible state with mutual interests.
  4. Normative taboos function with strong values and norms, wherein the reputation of an aggressor is at stake besides having a soft image in the eyes of the international community (this phenomenon includes rational factors because hard power is used against the weaker state). The deterrence of the international system works even without having any credible resilience.

Apparently, the mechanisms of deterrence are also effective in cyber realms. These realms are self-explaining the comprehensive understanding and the possibility of deterrence in cyberspace. The four mechanisms (denial, punishment, entanglement, and normative taboos) are also feasible to apply deterrence in the cyber world. Factually, of many security strategies, cyber deterrence by using four domains could be a versatile possibility. Conclusively, as far as the world is advancing in technological innovations, cyberspace intrusions would not stop alike the topic of deterrence in the digital world.


[1] An updated list of cyberspace intrusions from 2003 till 2021 is available at (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2021).

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