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Exploring Nigeria’s Vulnerability in cyber warfare

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In August 2012 Boko Haram reportedly hacked the personnel records databases of Nigeria’s secret service.  The individual who successfully compromised the covert-personnel data system indicated the breach was executed in the name of Boko Haram and as a response to Nigeria’s handling of interactions with the group

.[1]   The retaliatory attack revealed the names, addresses, bank information and family members of current and former personnel assigned to the country’s spy agency. The attack would not have tremendous significance in and of itself.  However, it represents a substantial shift in tactics for a group whose name connotes an anti-Western stance. Until recently Boko Haram attack strategy was far from technological.  However, since its association with Al Qaeda, Boko Haram has demonstrated a vastly changed approach to executing its attacks.  Attacks are now more violent and reflect the markings of training by al Qaeda personnel.  Given that cyber space has been part of the terrorists’ warfare tool kit since 1998 when the Tamil Tigers executed a distributed denial of service attack, [2] and al Qaeda has used the Internet as a vital communication vehicle since 1996, Boko Haram’s incorporation of cyber into its arsenal is almost inevitable.  More importantly though, Boko Haram’s access to an individual who can execute such a successful attack is indicative of the cyber arsenal workforce capability available to any group or nation that wants to employ it.  Boko Haram’s tactic advancement clearly demonstrates that Nigeria and its neighboring Sahel region neighbors are ripe for exploitation as a cyber warfare hub.

Cyber warfare is experiencing a boon.  The success of activities like Ghostnet, Stuxnet, Byzantine Hades, and Titan Rain has shown that the demand for such products will not slow anytime soon. Nation-states have begun to incorporate cyber warfare against opponents’ cyber space attacks into their national security strategy.[3] However, the reality is that nations executing these attacks do not always want to be identified as the perpetrators.  Case in point- after a student from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China executed a vast nation-state intrusion called “Ghostnet,” several media accounts of the attack wondered if China was involved.  China denied any knowledge of the attacks and the sensitive information retrievals from 103 invaded national security databases remained unclaimed.   The Chinese continued their public stance of denying culpability when a report on corporate intrusions specifically named the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army’s Unit 61398.  According to the report investigators traced several intrusions into United States (U.S.) corporate and government secure information technology systems to the PLA unit.

Just as China prefers a public stance of denial, so might other nations. Public response to Ghostnet and Stuxnet made it apparent nations would not always want it known that they were perpetrators of an attack.  It was clear that for nation-states to continue to incorporate this new weapon, they had to accommodate the sensitive diplomatic nature of such attacks by finding an alternate approach.  But we have to acknowledge that their appetites for these attacks will not diminish.  If anything, they will grow. What could this mean? If we use Boko Haram as an example, we can suggest an alternate approach that leverages the chaotic political situation and burgeoning supply of talented cyber personnel within Nigeria and the Sahel.  Executing attacks from this third-party cyber location, offers attack perpetrators and the cyber arms industry the ability to outsource, just as manufacturing does.[4]

If we use the impact of improvised explosive devices on Afghanistan and and Iraq as an example, Nigeria and the Sahel can offer resources for “niggling” attacks that target nation-states with “improvised explosive device” level attacks.  These attacks would cause damage that is cumulatively significant, but individually not.[5] The costs could remain low, as the readily available workforce functions in a region with an average annual income of $1180 (U.S. dollars). The nation-states employing this workforce will have a great cost-benefit ratio and the workforce itself will achieve success in their chosen field.[6] While the Vice Chancellor of Osun State University is not pleased that the stated goal of computer science students was “making money in cyber crime”[7] the reality is perpetrators of cyber warfare can use the demographic of Nigeria and the Sahel to train recruits and execute attacks without impunity.  The Sahel has an economic environment that is conducive to cyber crime activities, an exploitable sophisticated cyber highway, and an area where officials are more focused on political distractors than enforcing information communication technology regulations.

Nation-state with Sufficient Political Distractors

Nigeria and its Sahel neighbors have many cultural influences, particularly from a tribal perspective.  In addition, there are many natural resources available for state use to contribute to the country’s gross national product. But while this should be a positive, they are heavily affected by the corruption and direct disregard demonstrated by government leaders.  As a result, unemployment is high, there is minimal foreign investment, and the black market runs the shadow economy with money laundering, bank fraud and identify theft running rampant.  These factors contribute significantly to many of the nations in the region ranking high on the Failed State Index, from a total perspective and reflecting a high economic decline total.[8], [9]

Modern Fiber-Optic Information Communication Infrastructure

In the year 2000 only 4.5 million of Africa’s one billion people were categorized as Internet users.  That was a little more than .42%. However, as the continent, its resources, and potential 2050 workforce were combined to become opportunities for investors, it became apparent to these investors, and the African nations where this workforce lives, that tremendous improvements to the continent’s information highway were imperative.

Those improvements started with the Eastern Africa Submarine System (EASS) fiber-optic cable proposal in 2003.[10]   Other improvements were the 2009 fiber-optic submarine cable system Seacom, the 2010 Western Africa cable system, and the 2014 projected finish “connectivity” project. The continent now boasts over 15% Internet users, with some individual states experiencing much higher usage.[11] World bank nations that recognized this need and invested in the highway’s improvements include Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). South Africa joined the effort when it became a part of BRIC in 2010.

With these state of the art advancements, countries like Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and the Sudan enjoy connectivity via mobile telephone technology to almost anywhere in the world.  The continent is now seen as an attractive foreign investment destination pursued by more than the initial chance takers. Residents of almost any state can access mobile technology, changing the definition of “remote Africa” and the number of marginalized populations.

But these same potential economy-boosting continental links also serve as the tool for cyber criminals to advance their entrepreneurial skills.

Cyber Warfare Attacks

The attacks executed by the perpetrators of Stuxnet, Ghostnet, and even Flame, were initially conceived and deployed incognito.  Flame functioned for almost two years before discovery; and when found, the United States did not initially acknowledge its role.  The negative international response to Flame and Ghostnet was enough for nation-states to realize that today’s military strategy-international diplomacy equilibrium demands a more discreet employment of this new weapon.  One that does not jeopardize current diplomatic relations or upset conventional weapons partners. The nations left vulnerable after each of these attacks also recognized that they would be at a disadvantage if they did not begin to include strategic cyber offensive and defensive operations into their national defense blueprint.  While the Flame attack was directly attributed to the United States, the Ghostnet attack was never conclusively identified as China directed. The young researcher identified as Ghostnet’s perpetrator was a well-known hacker who never implicated any other person or entity in the effort.

What if a nation-state employed the tactic and this type of workforce on a future attack?  That is: if a nation-state employed a third-party entity that is willing to NOT implicate the nation-state, could that nation-state successfully execute such a cyber warfare attack and not have to face the wrath of its international partners?

Rafal Rohozinksi, one of the investigators of Ghostnet and cofounder of Information Warfare Monitor, has suggested that such outsourcing could become a wave of the future.  Rohozinksi cites the factors that could contribute to the trend.  Nations need an alternative that offers anonymity, preserves current diplomatic balances and employs resources that are outside the nation’s jurisdiction.  To ensure anonymity remains throughout the event and its investigation, local resources from a jurisdiction that not prone to enforcing International Communications Technology (ICT) rules and regulations.[12]

According to a 2011 Harvard School of Public Health assessment Africa is expected to contribute 49% of the world’s 2050 population growth.[13] Rohozinski insists this 2050 workforce will have a demographic that is conducive to cyber crime: young, talented, from a developing nation, possessing a value system that has previously, and would in the future, support participation in or instigation of acts of cyber crime.[14]

If Rohozinski is correct, then we have to recognize that developing nations without strong ICT rules and regulation enforcement, nations with civil unrest or nations that lack services could serve as third party locations and perpetrator source.

The perpetrator source could easily begin with the University students who have professed a desire to work in the cyber crime industry.  These University students have already participated in attacks that focus necessary to execute such missions, one potential source of such attacks could very well be outside the borders of the

Taken together these factors make Africa attractive to almost any investor, especially any who inhabit the shadowy world of cyber crime. To hacking investors the limited resources needed to establish a presence is particularly inviting.  There is already an experienced cyber crime workforce, a reduced enforcement of ICT rules and regulations, a strong malware history and an economic environment that makes the potential very attractive.  As a business venture, there are few negatives.

Which Cyber Crimes?

Criminal use of the region’s Information highway already include electronic mail scams, scam letters that range from purchase of real estate, disbursement of money from wills, to sale of crude oil at below market prices. Communication usually occurs through electronic message via fax, e-mail or cell phone. Verification is difficult so victims ultimately pay the fees without evidence to validate the claim of the perpetrator.

While these types of cyber crime are perpetrated on a large scale in countries like Nigeria, the crimes themselves are not target specific.  The perpetrators initiate several scams at a time so that the perpetrator financially benefits, on average, from some, if not all, of the scams.  No one victim is regarded as the single important prey.

 Given the ideal conditions the region offers for third party cyber warfare attacks, several questions must be answered for national security strategists to understand the threat they could potentially face: would these same Nigerian or Sahel region cyber crime perpetrators initiate their perfected scams for another entity? Are they willing to expand their skill set and advance into target specific entities?  Finally, if they were willing to initiate target specific entities, would they execute an attack on infrastructure?  If they initiate the crime, is there a limit to the type of crimes they will launch?

There is already a perception/acceptance of students who “steal trade secrets, research documents or supplier’s agreements.  A cyber warfare or cyber espionage Internet malware, its indicators and its codes are available on the web, but are the already cyber crime literate workforce members motivated to execute these types of attacks? If the Boko Haram attack is an indication, they very well may be.  An almost unencumbered access to high quality information communication technology, combined with the computer literate young of 2050, make it wise for potential target nations to understand the threat this region could represent for them.  They must accept the reality that the opportunity this new industry offers the Sahel’s employment-opportunity-constrained workforce, and the potential to earn a living far above the current $1180 (U.S dollars) annual income, make the Sahel’s attractiveness as a cyber warfare third-party haven almost irresistible. [15]

Conclusion

The Sahel is already home to a variety of illicit activities, and adding cyber warfare to that list is not far fetched. Nation-states could benefit from expanding their repertoire of weapons, terrorist actors could include it in this arsenal against the West, and both would achieve their goals and objectives without significant infrastructure modifications. This could redefine cyber crime if both the nation-state and the terrorist actors, reconcile their value system with incorporating this approach to expanding their warfare arsenal.

These perpetrators of ill intent (whether nation-state or terrorist actor) recognize that, in today’s world, their victims do not have the option of “no presence on the web.” They can, therefore, inflict damage, pinpoint attacks, and execute attacks without significant cost. Their potential victims must therefore learn how to counter this attack approach while minimizing negative impact on the already fragile economies of the Sahel and, even, Nigeria.

The nations in the region, themselves, have to also include this consideration as they develop their law enforcement approach to information communication technology regulation enforcement.  Each nation already has shadow economies from the illicit crime and that economy feeds, houses, and clothes many of its citizens.  The governments of the area have to form a coalition with investing countries and identify alternates for these potential “failed state mercenaries and their robust cyber warfare attack tools.  We underestimated Boko Haram in the past.  We should not underestimate the bellwether Boko Haram’s cyber attack may represent.

(*)Exploring Nigeria’s Vulnerability in cyber warfare

By Denise N. Baken and Ioannis Mantzikos

Speech prepared for Society for the Study of Terrorism Conference 27-28 June 2013, University of East London

Bibliography

Adedayo, Olugbenga. “Secondary School Students’ Perceptions of Incidences of Internet Crimes Among School Age Children in Oyo and Ondo States, Nigeria (dissertation).” University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 2008. http://www.kaspersky.com/images/secondary_school_students_perceptions_of_incidences_of_internet_crimes_among_school_age_children_in_oyo_and_on-10-75860.pdf.

Adeniran, Adebusuyi. “The Internet and Emergence of Yahoo boys sub-Culture in Nigeria.” International Journal of Cyber Criminology 2, no. 2 (December 2008): 368–381.

Adigun, Bashir. “AP Exclusive: Nigeria Secret Police Details Leaked.” Salon, August 30, 2012. http://www.salon.com/2012/08/30/ap_exclusive_nigeria_secret_police_details_leaked/.

“Africa Internet Usage, Facebook and Population Statistics.” Internet World Stats: Usage and Population Statistics, June 30, 2012. http://internetworldstats.com/stats1.htm.

Baken, Denise, and Ioannis Mantzikos. “Cyberspace Improvised Explosive Device and the Failed State Catapult-The Strategic Symbiotic Relationship Failed State Status Offers Nation-State Cyberwarfare Arsenals.” In New-Old Salafi/Al Qaeda Threats.
Washington, DC: Association fro the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 2012.

Denning, Dorothy. “Cyberterrorism – Testimony Before the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism Committee on Armed Services U.S. House of Representatives.” Georgetown University, May 23, 2000. http://www.cs.georgetown.edu/~denning/infosec/cyberterror.html.

Li, Hao. “World Population to Top 9 Billion by 2050, 49% Growth from Africa.” International Business Times, July 29, 2011. http://www.ibtimes.com/world-population-top-9-billion-2050-49-growth-africa-820105.

Mills, Elinor. “Report: Countries Prepping for Cyberwar.” CNN, November 17, 2009. http://articles.cnn.com/2009-11-17/tech/cnet.cyberwar.internet_1_south-korea-cyberwarfare-cyberattack?_s=PM:TECH.

Osman, Osman Dahir. “Submarine Fiber Optic Route to Somalia.” Hiiraan Online. September 27, 2007. http://www.hiiraan.com/news2/2007/sept/submarine_fiber_optic_route_to_somalia.aspx.

Panel on Cyber Crime. 41st St Gallen Symposium. University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpRYXRNWka0&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Shuaib, Shuaib. “allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Cyber Crime, Our Biggest Problem – VC.” News. allAfrica.com, September 1, 2010. http://allafrica.com/stories/201009010416.html.

“The Failed States Index 2012 Interactive Grid.” FFP The Fund for Peace, June 18, 2012. http://www.fundforpeace.org/global/?q=fsi-grid2012.

“UNICEF – At a Glance: Nigeria – Statistics.” UNICEF. Accessed February 20, 2013. http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/nigeria_statistics.html.

[1] Bashir Adigun, “AP Exclusive: Nigeria Secret Police Details Leaked,” Salon, August 30, 2012, http://www.salon.com/2012/08/30/ap_exclusive_nigeria_secret_police_details_leaked/.

[2] Dorothy Denning, “Cyberterrorism – Testimony Before the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism Committee on Armed Services U.S. House of Representatives,” Georgetown University, May 23, 2000,
http://www.cs.georgetown.edu/~denning/infosec/cyberterror.html.

[3] Elinor Mills, “Report: Countries Prepping for Cyberwar,” CNN, November 17, 2009, http://articles.cnn.com/2009-11-17/tech/cnet.cyberwar.internet_1_south-korea-cyberwarfare-cyberattack?_s=PM:TECH.

[4] Denise Baken and Ioannis Mantzikos, “Cyberspace Improvised Explosive Device and the Failed State Catapult-The Strategic Symbiotic Relationship Failed State Status Offers Nation-State Cyberwarfare Arsenals,”
in New-Old Salafi/Al Qaeda Threats (presented at the 5th Annual ASMEA Conference-History and the “New” Middle East and Africa, Washington, DC: Association fro the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 2012).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Shuaib Shuaib, “allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Cyber Crime, Our Biggest Problem – VC,” news, allAfrica.com, September 1, 2010, http://allafrica.com/stories/201009010416.html.

[7] Baken and Mantzikos, “Cyberspace Improvised Explosive Device and the Failed State Catapult-The Strategic Symbiotic Relationship Failed State Status Offers Nation-State Cyberwarfare Arsenals.”

[8] The Failed State Index rates several indicators, one of which is economic decline.  The maximum number a country receive for any indicator is 10.

[9] “The Failed States Index 2012 Interactive Grid,” FFP The Fund for Peace, June 18, 2012, http://www.fundforpeace.org/global/?q=fsi-grid2012.

[10] Osman Dahir Osman, “Submarine Fiber Optic Route to Somalia,” Hiiraan Online, September 27, 2007, http://www.hiiraan.com/news2/2007/sept/submarine_fiber_optic_route_to_somalia.aspx.

[11] “Africa Internet Usage, Facebook and Population Statistics.”

[12] Panel on Cyber Crime, 41st St Gallen Symposium (University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, 2011), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpRYXRNWka0&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

[13] Hao Li, “World Population to Top 9 Billion by 2050, 49% Growth from Africa,” International Business Times, July 29, 2011, http://www.ibtimes.com/world-population-top-9-billion-2050-49-growth-africa-820105.

[14] Panel on Cyber Crime.

[15] “UNICEF – At a Glance: Nigeria – Statistics,” UNICEF, accessed February 20, 2013, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/nigeria_statistics.html.

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Terrorism

‘Unprecedented terrorist violence’ in West Africa, Sahel region

MD Staff

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The top UN official in West Africa and the Sahel updated the Security Council on Wednesday, describing an “unprecedented” rise in terrorist violence across the region.

“The region has experienced a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets,” Mohamed Ibn Chambas, UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), told the Council in its first formal meeting of the year.

“The humanitarian consequences are alarming”, he spelled out.

In presenting his latest report, Mr. Chambas painted a picture of relentless attacks on civilian and military targets that he said, have “shaken public confidence”. 

A surge in casualties

The UNOWAS chief elaborated on terrorist-attack casualties in Burkina Faso Mali and Niger, which have leapt five-fold since 2016 – with more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 alone as compared to some 770 three years earlier.

“Most significantly,” he said, “the geographic focus of terrorist attacks has shifted eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso and is increasingly threatening West African coastal States”.

He also flagged that the number of deaths in Burkina Faso jumped from about 80 in 2016 to over 1,800 last year.

And displacement has grown ten-fold to about half a million, on top of some 25,000 who have sought refuge in other countries. 

Mr. Chambas explained that “terrorist attacks are often deliberate efforts by violent extremists” to engage in illicit activities that include capturing weapons and illegal artisanal mining.

Intertwined challenges

Terrorism, organized crime and intercommunal violence are often intertwined, especially in peripheral areas where the State’s presence is weak.

“In those places, extremists provide safety and protection to populations, as well as social services in exchanged for loyalty”, he informed the Council, echoing the Secretary-General in saying that for these reasons, “counter-terrorism responses must focus on gaining the trust and support of local populations”. 

The Special Representative outlined that governments, local actors, regional organizations and the international community are mobilizing across the region to respond to these challenges.

On 21 December, the ECOWAS Heads of State summit “adopted a 2020-2024 action plan to eradicate terrorism in the sub-region”, he said.

Calling “now” the time for action, Mr. Chambas drew attention to the importance of supporting regional Governments by prioritizing “a cross-pillar approach at all levels and across all sectors”.

Turning to farmer-herder clashes, which he maintained are “some of the most violent local conflicts in the region”, the UNOWAS chief highlighted that 70 per cent of West Africa’s population depend on agriculture and livestock-rearing for a living, underscoring the importance of peaceful coexistence.

The Special Representative also pointed to climate change, among other factors, as increasingly exacerbating farmer-herder conflicts.

“The impact of climate change on security also spawns a negative relationship between climate change, social cohesion, irregular migration and criminality in some places”, he upheld.

Stemming negative security trends

The UNOWAS chief noted that in the months ahead, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Niger would be democratically electing their leaders and maintained that “all-too-worrying” security trends must not distract from political developments.

“Unresolved grievance, incomplete national reconciliation processes and sentiments of manipulation of institutions and processes carry risks of tensions and manifestations of political violence”, he warned.

In the months ahead, Mr. Chambas stressed that UNOWAS would continue to work with partners on the national and regional levels to promote consensus and inclusiveness in the elections. 

“As UNOWAS’ mandate is renewed, we count on the Council’s continued full support”, concluded the Special Representative.

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Terrorism

New Report Proposes Global DNA Synthesis Screening System to Counter Biotech Terror

MD Staff

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Rapid advancements in commercially available DNA synthesis technologies – used for example to artificially create gene sequences for clinical diagnosis and treatment – pose growing risks, with the potential to cause a catastrophic biological security threat if accidentally or deliberately misused.

A new World Economic Forum and Nuclear Threat Initiative report, “Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction: A global Framework for Accessible, Safe and Secure DNA Synthesis,” gathers opinion from a group of global public- and private-sector experts who propose standardized screening practices to counter the threat.

Since scientists demonstrated the means to create a full viral genome in 2002, DNA synthesis technologies have become increasingly available and frequently used by scientists and engineers around the world. These technologies support myriad advancements in synthetic biology, enhancing the efficiency and sustainability of industries including energy, food, agriculture, health and manufacturing. Further advances in technology hold great promise for sustainable development and a safer and more secure society.

At the same time, new approaches to DNA editing and synthesis have made it easier to manipulate biological agents and systems, increasing the risk of a catastrophic accidental or deliberate biological event. These technologies make it possible to create pathogen or toxin DNA that could be misused. For example, in 2018 researchers published work detailing the synthesis of horsepox virus, an extinct virus related to smallpox, using synthetic DNA fragments purchased from a commercial provider. This demonstrated the potential for creating other viruses via commercially available technologies.

Although many DNA providers practice screening procedures, this approach is voluntary and is becoming increasingly expensive. As access expands and the cost of DNA synthesis declines, more DNA is likely to reach the market via additional providers, significantly expanding the user base. In the next two to three years, a new generation of benchtop DNA synthesis machines, enabled by enzymatic DNA synthesis methods, could become available without guidance or norms to prevent misuse.

This report, endorsed by an international expert Working Group, recommends a global system for synthetic DNA screening practices by developing an international, cost-effective, and sustainable mechanism to prevent illicit practices and misuse. The new framework improves the existing voluntary guidelines because it standardizes screening processes, is accessible to new players in the market, and provides valuable feedback data to evaluate the screening – all at lower cost.

“Biotechnology is at the centre of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To deliver on the promise of the biotechnology revolution, we must seize opportunities to develop and deliver life-advancing innovations while simultaneously and urgently addressing potential risks associated with a growing and democratized bio-economy,” said Arnaud Bernaert, Head of Shaping the Future of Health and Health Care at the World Economic Forum.

The report also proposes that companies, international organizations and governments should explore options for the sustainable oversight and the maintenance of this proposed DNA sequence screening mechanism. DNA synthesis capabilities, in addition to other emerging technologies, can benefit from a larger system of common global life-science norms overseen by a globally recognized entity.

“Global DNA synthesis screening can be a critical tool to reduce the risk that life-science technologies could be deliberately misused to carry out biological attacks or accidentally result in a high-consequence or catastrophic biological event. The time is now,” said Ernest J. Moniz, Co-Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

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Terrorism

Pensacola Rampage, Counter-Terrorism and Power Over Death

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“’I believe’ is the great word against metaphysical fear, and at the same time it is a promising avowal of love.”-Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West

On December 6, 2019, Mohammed Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force deployed at a US Naval air station in Pensacola, Florida, opened fire with a 9-millimeter handgun, killing three service members, and injuring eight others. Although the shooter’s precise motive and ideology have not yet been fully established, there is tangible evidence that only hours before his murderous rampage, Alshamrani had railed against the United States for its support of Israel and also for stationing troops in Saudi Arabia. Also plausible is that he fully expected to be killed during the shooting melee, a welcome expectation that suggests a sought-after status of “martyrdom.”

More than likely, recalling certain earlier insights of Oswald Spengler, “I believe” was integral to the shooter’s core Jihadist ideology, a presumed avowal of God’s anticipated grant of immortality or power over death.  Hence, Alshamrani’s slaughter of certain “others” was actually an “avowal of love.”

Going forward, what matters most in this violent episode is what can be learned from the standpoint of improved US counter-terrorism practice. Above all, the lesson is as follows: There can be no greater form of power in world politics than a divinely promised power of immortality. Until now, this always preeminent form of power has remained essentially unrecognized by both scholars and policy-makers. In effectively all Jihadist terrorism-vulnerable countries, counter-terrorist strategies remain tangibly detached from what is most important.

There will be various pertinent concepts and theories to be systematically pondered. For Jihadist terrorists, the ultimate rationale of every operation must concern a presumed power over death.  Without such a core presumption, prima facie, there could be no rational purpose in ever launching “martyrdom” operations. This means, inter alia, that any government interested in more effective counter-terrorism must first learn how to suitably obstruct such a far-reaching terrorist presumption.

Whatever particular answers may be reached in these complex matters, the task involved must always be approached as an intellectual one. Or, as the ancient Greeks and Macedonians wrote about the art of war, it is always, necessarily, a multilayered task of “mind over mind” rather than just “mind over matter.”

Here, too, there will be certain corollary and convergent considerations of legality. Without exception, those Jihadist insurgents who would seek to justify willful injury and execution of noncombatants (e.g., American, European, Israeli, etc.) in the name of “martyrdom” are defiling authoritative international law. Even if the murderous terrorist calls were somehow grounded in jurisprudence –  that is, they would have recognizable elements of “just cause” – these criminals would still be guilty of wrongdoings.

Absolutely egregious and unjustifiable wrongdoings.

To wit, under binding law, insurgents, even those with a more-or-less defensible “just cause,” must nonetheless satisfy assorted jurisprudential limits on permissible targets and permissible levels of violence.

In all such law-based matters, the ends can never justify the means.

Never.

There is more. Under international law, even the most presumptively “sacred” rights of insurgency exclude the intentional targeting of civilians and/or a use of force designed to inflict gratuitous suffering. Whatever else might be said of any particular insurgent resort to force, it is always an impermissible insurgency (i.e., terrorism) when fighters choose to murder individuals in their homes or automobiles by stabbing and shooting. It is also always terrorism when such “martyrs” more systematically deposit nail-filled bombs in hotels, airports, buses or school playgrounds, or when they choose to heighten their odds of achieving immortality by opening fire at allied soldiers “on base.”

Sometimes, more or less explicitly, Jihadist insurgents have advanced a long discredited legal argument known as tu quoque. This formal argument maintains that because the other side (e.g., “infidels,” “apostates,” “blasphemers”) is allegedly guilty of an equivalent or greater criminality, the Jihadist side is free ipso facto of any consequent legal wrongdoing. Such a disingenuous argument is always more-or-less inventive, but it is also always invalid.

Apropos of this unchanging invalidity, one need only be reminded of the postwar judgments rendered by the Nuremberg and Far East (Japan) international tribunals. Both landmark tribunals refused to accept any defense of tu quoque.

There is more. Regarding conventional armies and insurgent forces, the residual right to use armed force can never supplant the peremptory rules of humanitarian international law. Such utterly primary or jus cogens rules are correctly referenced as the law of armed conflict orthe law of war.

Today, especially in parts of Asia and the Middle East, supporters of terror-violence against selected noncombatants insist wrongly that the ends somehow justify the means. Leaving aside the ordinary ethical standards by which any such specious argument must be regarded as indecent, the ends can neverjustify the means under binding international law. Appropriately, for more than two thousand years, conspicuous legal principles have specified that intentional violence against the innocent is prohibited.

Always.

In law, such violence is malum in se, or “evil in itself.”

Always.

In law, one man’s (or woman’s) terrorist, can never be another man’s (or woman’s) “freedom-fighter.” Although it is true that certain insurgencies can sometimes be judged lawful or law-enforcing, even such presumptively allowable resorts to force must still conform to the longstanding laws of war.

Always.

Jurisprudentially, it comes down to this: Whenever an insurgent or insurgent group resorts to unjust means, these actions constitute terrorism. For example, even if now ritualistic Palestinian claims of a hostile “occupation” were to be accepted as reasonable and lawful, any corollary claims of entitlement to “any means necessary” would nonetheless remain false.

International law always displays variously specific and determinable forms. Accordingly, it cannot be casually invented and reinvented by individual terrorists, terror groups or their state patrons in order to justify selective interests. This is especially true where terror violence intentionally targets a designated victim state’s most fragile and vulnerable civilian populations.

National liberation movements that fail to meet the test of just means are never correctly described as lawful or legitimate. Even if authoritative law were to accept the questionable argument that PA, Hamas and assorted sister groups had fulfilled the accepted criteria of “national liberation,” they could still not satisfy the equally relevant legal standards of discrimination, proportionality, and military necessity. More precisely, these critical standards were applied to insurgent or sub-state organizations by the common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, and (additionally) by the two 1977 Protocols to these Conventions.

Standards of “humanity” are also binding upon all combatants by virtue of certain broader customary and conventional international law, including Article 1 of the Preamble to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907. This rule, commonly called the “Martens Clause,” makes all persons responsible for the “laws of humanity,” and for the associated “dictates of public conscience.”

There is more. Under international law, going back to the “classical” writings of Hugo Grotius and Emmerich de Vattel (legal scholars embraced by the American Founding Fathers in writing both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution), terrorist crimes always mandate universal cooperation in apprehension and punishment. As punishers of “grave breaches” under international law, all states are expected to search out and prosecute or extradite individual terrorists. In no conceivable circumstances are governments ever permitted to treat terrorist “martyrs” as legitimate “freedom fighters.”

This is emphatically true for the United States, which incorporates international law as the “supreme law of the land” at Article 6 of the Constitution, and which was formed by its Founding Fathers according to timeless principles of Natural Law. Although generally unrecognized, even by US lawyers, core legal authority for the American republic was derived from Blackstone’s Commentaries.

There is more. In law, rights can never stem from wrongs. Even if American or Israeli Jihadist adversaries continue to insist on identifying themselves as “martyrs,” such treatment can have no exculpatory or mitigating effect on subsequent terrorist crimes.

 Ultimately, Jihadist insurgents are in search of the most plainly supreme form of power on earth – power over death. Derivatively, counter-terrorism policy-makers in the United States, Israel, or Europe ought never lose sight of immortality as a prime driver of terrorist crimes. Though not usually apparent or self-evident, it is the incomparable promise of power over death that could soon drive Jihadist operatives to certain “higher-order” or WMD forms of destruction.

At that point, which could become nuclear and/or biological, the key counter-terrorism struggle of “mind over mind” will already have been conclusively and irretrievably lost.

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