After “extensively” analysing and assessing global nation’s counter terrorism response towards lone wolf terror attacks along with the challenges faced by domestic and external security and intelligence agencies, numerous “viable” pragmatic counter-terror strategies were drafted by military and strategic experts throughout the world. Actions carried by “Lone-Wolf” terrorists are “virtually invisible” to “identify and separate”, hindering domestic and intelligence agencies to formulate an “accurate response”. The traditional “profiling” in law enforcement is no longer a viable strategy, particularly towards identifying the “lone-wolf” actor, however, the actor’s “operational mechanism” in the form of an “individualistic response” leaves numerous clues which law enforcement departments particularly hailing from domestic and intelligence groups can use to formulate an effective and efficient strategy.
Moreover, roughly every lone wolf attacker has showcased his/her commitment towards a cause, an alignment or a connection with active“terrorist factions”, pointing towards “increasing presence of radicalised youth” separating them from “potential sympathetic individuals and supporters”. In the light of “aggravating attacks” from “lone wolf terrorists”followed by the rise of “aggressive right-wing factions” (such as A.B. Breivik), law enforcement officers continue to face enormous challenges, especially when it comes to formulating a “viable” applicable strategyto identify lone wolf attackers, who continues to “hide in plain sight”, fearlessly.
After the aggressive violence induced by radical Islamic terrorists against Charlie Hebdo on January 7th, 2015, the threat induced by lone wolf attackers have become a “top” priority for law enforcement officers particularly those hailing from domestic and external intelligence agencies. The law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Parisfaced with two prominent questions:
- Was there any intelligence input prior to the attack?
- Was there any way to prevent tragic loss of lives?
- What should be the strategy to identify perpetrators and their plots?
- Can we prevent future attacks from happening?
All the aforementioned questions are difficult to address. The Directorate General for External Security (DGSE) continues to simulate multiple “responses”, whereas the General Directorate for Internal Security has started “counter-terrorism liaison program” with Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM) along with Directorate for Defence Protection and Security (DPSD) in an effort to “strengthen, cooperate and coordinate” a response against future attacks. There is no absolute way to provide a suitable answer for the fourth aforementioned question, rather than stating the fact that, it is absolutely “difficult” for security and intelligence agencies to forecast and prevent future possible attacks. No intelligence agency would talk the responsibility to answer, however, drawing a strategic response in an effort to forecast and prevent an attack in the future would be “difficult”. The objective of the article is to evaluate and assess viable pragmatic counter-terror approachesagainst the threat posed by lone wolf terrorismwhile especially emphasising on strategies to counter “Charlie Hebdo” styled attacks. To begin with strategic viable solutions, it is imperative for policy makers to first define lone wolf terrorism.
The term “lone wolf” was first introduced by US law enforcement agencies towards individuals carrying out attacks outside a designated command structure.Operation Lone Wolf was carried by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)to “apprehend” Alex Curtis who instigated “right-wing factions” to participate in “lone-wolf” activism. Since then, numerous terminologies have been introduced by various strategic and intelligence experts, some calling it asan “individual resistance”, “self-indoctrinated terrorism tactics”and “self-sponsored terrorism”.
The article does not lean to a particular definition rather encourages law enforcement agencies and security, intelligence establishment to collect all “available definitions under an umbrella” in an effort to formulate an effective strategy. Traditional Counter-terrorism centred think tanksdefine Lone wolf as “an individual who acts on his/her own will outside a traditional organizing structure or a group”. Moreover, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) taking the definition to an extent, separates the definition with sleeper agents pointing towards the “dormant” nature of the sleeper agent who is “purposefully” tasked to infiltrate an organization and only reveals himself only on the command of a group or an organization. On the contrary, “A lone wolf is an “individual” operative without a “command and control” structurewho on his free will initiatives an attack”. Although,many counter-terrorism agencies ignore the “ideological” connection of the individual with other “active groups”, which the lone wolf could have been interacting either through “intra-personal interaction” or by “accessing internet”.
Throughout the article the focus will remain on “Operational mechanism” of lone wolf attackers. Although, a significant percentage of lone wolf attackers have been found “influenced” with radical Islamic militant organizations, such as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda, the “decision, operational planning and carrying out procedure” has largely been “self”, instead of following “traditional commands” from the organizational leaders. Moreover, it is imperative for policy makers to include those “individuals that are inspired/self-indoctrinated by violent radical religion-centric terror organization” within the brackets lone wolf terrorism definition. They could have maintained “links” with the radical religion-centric organization, but the structure of the organization could not be “traditional”.
Absence of a “traditional individualistic behaviour”
Numerous terror attacks carried by “lone-wolves”in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, in particular to the attack by Barend Strydom, an African national, whoshot and killed a dozen people while wounding many, at the Strijdom Square in Pretoria, South Africa; In La Défense, a man stabbed and mortally wounded a soldier Cédric Cordier. The soldier was later declared “out of danger”. The attacker was identified as Alexandre Dhaussy, a French national who converted to Islam; Another Islamist Mohammed Merah killed over seven people in the city of Toulouse while taking numerous hostage. He was later killed during a 32-hour standoff; In one of the first deadliest attack in Germany, Arid Ukashot and killed two US soldiers while mortally wounding many others at Frankfort Airport; On October 22nd, 2014, a Canadian national Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot a soldier on-guard at the National War Memorial. The suspect then ran towards the Parliament of Canada and was engaged in a gun-battle with the forces. Additionally,subsequent attempts were made to bomb Seaside Park, New Jersey, lower Manhattan, New York; and New Jersey. Injuring over thirty civilians, the perpetrator Ahmad Khan Rahami was apprehended from Linden, New Jersey, after he open fired injuring three responding officers.
Policy makers must note that, the mastermind” individuals of some aforementioned examples of deadly violence and attacks, vary particularly with respect to their operational mechanism and “target locations”, along with ideological and political inclined groups. Moreover, the common element in these attacks point towards a particular indoctrination or “religion induced”. All the lone wolf attackers were strongly “believers of faith”.
It is important to note that, there is absolutely no “traditional” framework of a lone wolf attacker. However, in the light of their religion centric “differences” and “ideological” mindset coupled with the element of “faith in religion”, makes it easy for security and intelligence agencies to “classify or rule out lone wolf terror attack”. Additionally, there are certain characteristics which possess “significant similarities” among all lone wolf attackers. The fact that continues to challenge security and intelligence agencies is the presence of “few lone wolf attacks which were carried by individuals without any connection to a terror faction”. According to a research conducted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe(OSCE) jointly with INTERPOL, less than 1.34percent out of 78 lone wolf attacks in US, Germany, Canada, Australia were “individualistic” in nature. This numerical value further complicates the investigation carried by security and law enforcement agencies of lone wolf attacks, seriously hindering their ability to formulate a viable counter-terrorism strategy. Besides all agreements considered, the lone wolf attacks continue to accelerate phenomenally.
Identifying “motivating factors” of lone wolf elements
It will not be incorrect to state that, the radical religion-centric lone wolf “modus operandi” hosts similar characteristics of traditional “right-wing” lone wolf attacks. Throughout the 1990s, Tom Metzger and AlexCurtis openly instigated their followers to commit violent acts of crime. Furthermore,“radical-white” advocator Louis Beam, who was a former member of the notorious Ku Klux Klan, drew the “early strategy on how to carry out a leaderless revolution”. He drafted a scenario where “individuals could carry out attacks without responding to a centralised organization or a leader established headquarters”.
Although, experts have not directly linked the modus operandi used by “radical Islamic centred”lone wolf extremists with that of traditional “right-wing” attackers,however there is striking similarity ofsmall-scale attacks. In 2003, Osama-Bin Laden, through his supporters distributed “instructions” asking his followers not to wait for any instructions in “carrying out attacks”. He further asked his followers “to use whatever means available”. In the late 2004, Abu Musab al-Suri, a Spanish-Syrian national, who was an active member of the “closed circle” group of Bin Laden, published his narrative of Islamic Jihad through a paper titled “Call for Worldwide Islamic Resistance,”. In this roughly seventeen hundred “doctrine”, he mentioned a “new form of jihad”, highlighting the acts of terror carried by “small groups”, which he titled them as “leader-less resistance”. Individuals irrespective of their nationality or age, will wage war on allfronts-“fighting the West in the West”. Two years later, Abu Jihad al-Masri, a prominent figure in Al-Qaeda, published his narrative titled “How to fight alone”which was massively downloaded from Jihadi-centric websites.
Challenges faced by security and intelligence agencies
Lone wolf terrorist attacks are one of the most “unpredictable and difficult to diagnose” events. It will not be incorrect to state that, lone wolf terror attacks bring “nightmare” to intelligence agencies, domestic security institutions, national and regional law enforcement organizationsas they are extremely “sensitive” and “revolve around multiple possible scenarios”.
To begin with, lone wolf elements possess “individualistic” characterises, who live “shadowing intelligence agencies” in “plain clothes”. The attacker may be someone’s relative, friend, husband, brother, or neighbour living next door. Intelligence agencies cannot come to a inclusion simply by studying the perpetrators visual appearance or “daily routines”. The individual avoids “absolute outside contact” making his/her actions discreet. This further increases the difficulty for security and intelligence agencies to “identify and apprehend” a lone wolf attacker. While comparing the individual’s actions to “traditional/conventional terrorist factions”or “centralised command centred” terror actors, “individual” actors have the benefit to maintain a “low-life” and avoiding “all forms of attraction/suspicion” before and post-attack.
When “conventional” terror group members operate, the risk of “detection” from security and intelligence agencies remains high.
Furthermore, in the light of growing “right-wing” political activism followed by frequent protests by anti-government groups, it is very difficult for law enforcement agencies to differentiate between a political activist or a terrorist. This poses a grave threat to security and intelligence officers especially when they are forced to swing between their “gut” and “individual actions”, failing repeatedly to identify perpetrator while reassessing the individual’s operational mechanism, choice of targetor activities or propaganda. The epitome of lone wolf is “idiosyncratic”. They are individuals with motivated by “numerous ideologies and factors”: from radical Islamic fundamental or Wahhabi ideology to “extreme-right wing”, while suffering from “suicidal, obsessive compulsive behavioural disorder” which then fuels psychopathy. This “diverse” behaviour induces certain “vision”, which forces them make hateful comments/accusations on the internet, to disruptive activities which later concurs their quest of “violent actions”, which does not give away anything “unusual” characteristics forecasting the individual’s actions to be “violent”, alerting security and intelligence agencies only when the attack has occurred.
Policy makers must note that, it is literally impossible to differentiate between the lone wolves who carry violent attacks and radical fundamentalists who simply advocate their beliefs. In European Union member nations, and in US specifically, the “freedom of speech is absolute” which limits the investigation of intelligence and security agencies to only “active violent actions”. Although all terrorists are “radicals”but not every radical is a terrorist, which makes it a phenomenally difficult task for security agencies to rule out the “lone wolf”who is going to initiate an attack before the concerned agencies apprehend, particularly in the light of digital age and rapidly evolving “technical tools” used in intelligence.Policy makers must note that, the “original” lone wolves could have “seemingly popularity” which could result in the rise of “copiers”and instigate the youths in carrying attacks using “similar techniques”.
It is important to remember that, lone wolf attackers suffer from necessary skills, technical training, and“organizational support”of violent terror factions, their “attacks”,in the form of Charlie Hebdo shooting and the 32-hour hostage crisis in Sydney, can be lethal.
Drafting an effective Counter-terror policy
How should the intelligence and security agencies deal with the“phenomenally” growing threat of lone wolf terror attackswhile facing enormous challenges of identifying and arresting them, without raising suspicions? This question remains “unanswered” especially in an inclusive society which continues to debate on “human rights” and police brutality. Although, the fact remains unchanged: security and intelligence agencies are facing an enormous challenge,especially when it comes to lone wolves carrying out attacks “using all means available”.
However, the aforementioned statements and shortcomings highlight significant factors which could be utilised by policy makers to formulate an effective counter-terror strategy.
To begin with, the approach agency uses to track “radical elements” entering and exiting a country, plays a vital role. Formulating the strategy which focusses more on “how an attack” could take place rather than “the identity of the attacker” creates a big difference. Furthermore, it is imperative for security and intelligence agencies to extensively study on “how does an individual radicalises”, the entire procedure. Such “aggressive” and “out-of-the box” strategy could effectively reinforce the state’scounter-terror policywhich could, if “effectively and efficiently planned”, could put an end to a possible lone wolf attack.
It is imperative for security and intelligence agencies to understand the modus operandi of a lone wolf,while formulating carefully a “detection trap”unavoidable even by the “careful” individuals while reinforced with “every tactical manoeuvre”used in counter-terror planning. Counter-terror training should be extensive throughout law enforcement units, while training in “signal avoidance”, “isolation and individualism” should be provided at all levels, in an effort to apprehend a perpetrator “isolating” himself before an attack. This not only requires real time data inputsbut also requires an “effective and efficient flow of information and its management”. The union between the intelligence analysts and field operation staff makes the difference.
Furthermore, intelligence agencies should bring their attention to the essential “common feature” that might be link one lone wolf with another, separating the individual from “community” while indicating an “irrational behaviour”. At this point, security and intelligence agencies must “coordinate and cooperate” with relevant agencies before “making an arrest”. Also, it is important for security and intelligence agencies to strengthen their grip on community, which can be achieved by hosting confidence building mechanisms within the community, after all the masses are the true “eyes and ears”.
Policy makers must note that, lone wolf operators, although acting alone, at some point of time, receive inspiration from an ideology or violent actors, it is imperative for security and intelligence agencies to disrupt presence of any such materials or “hidden societies”. It the state’s responsibility to condemn any, all such acts, ideologies which promotes violence.
Since, lone wolves act outside the framework of an organization, their acts are ignited by a local incident. State must initiate awareness talks, community development “de-radicalisation” centric program inviting students, teachers, community leaders, parents and all stakeholders, while maintaining an “healthy” atmosphere rather than panic.
The formulation of an effective counter-terror program begins with “communicating” with certain section of communities. Alternatively, this should be carried out without “providing their acts a stage and an audience”. Countering lone wolves is a priority but not at the stake of “publicising” them in a way that incites others to “take the same route”.
In the end, the most effective way to counter lone wolf attacks rests in “understanding their operational mechanism”. In recent violent incidents, all the perpetrators where masculine and used licensed firearms to commit acts of crime.This “selective individuals” who carries licenced arms and significant ammunition needs to be isolated and carefully assessed by security and intelligence agencies. This can be done by “strengthening gun licensing policy along with strict background checks”.
As explained in the aforementioned arguments, security and intelligence agencies face an enormous challenge in countering lone wolf attackswhile any “formidable” counter terror strategy would have limited impact. Similar to all acts of terrorism,there is no way to guarantee absolute elimination of this threat. With this said, the road to counter lone wolf terrorism is “rough and long”. The answers for the question on “factors responsible for radicalisation of lone wolf terror actors” are in its premature stage,needs to be assessed thoroughly. In the light of increasing lone wolf terror attacks, new question repeatedly emerges, particularly highlighting the role of internet along with “narcissistic sadistic” comments made by “right wing” factions against minority communities. With few “radical Islamic” lone wolf actors, the question of “an individual’s sudden change of course to commit acts of terror” makes it difficult for security agencies to respond. Thus, through “extensive cooperation and coordination” between inter and intra domestic and intelligence agencies along with timely sharing of ideas, experience and assessment of lone wolf terror attacks,policy makers will be able to create viable counter-terror response against lone wolf acts of terrorism.
Mounting Cyber Espionage and Hacking Threat from China
Earlier this month a ransomware attack on America’s Prospect Medical Holdings, which operates dozens of hospitals and hundreds of clinics and outpatient centres across the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Southern California was forced to shut off its centres in several locations as the healthcare system experienced software disruptions. In June India’s premier hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) faced a malware attack on its systems which was thwarted by its cyber-security systems. This is not the first time that the premier hospital’s data was breached. In November 2022, AIIMS had experienced a cyberattack within weeks of announcing that from January 2023, it would operate on a completely paperless mechanism. The cyber attack which involved ransomware, designed to deny a user or organisation access to files, lasted for nearly a month affecting the profile of almost 4 crore patients – affecting registration, appointments, billing, laboratory report generation, among other operations of the hospital. Regarding the quantum of data that was compromised, the government revealed that “five servers of AIIMS were affected and approximately 1.3 terabytes of data was encrypted.”
Till June this year, Indian Government organisations faced over one lakh cyber security incidents and financial institutions saw over four lakh incidents. Data presented by the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), which has the mandate of tracking and monitoring cybersecurity incidents in India, indicates rising Cyberattacks to government organisations. or systems year on year. From 70798 in 2018, to 112474 in 2023 (up to June) incidents of cyber attacks have been on the rise, on a year on year basis. Presenting this data at the Parliament, Minister for electronics and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw said, “With innovation in technology and rise in usage of the cyberspace and digital infrastructure for businesses and services, cyber-attacks pose a threat to confidentiality, integrity and availability of data and services, which may have direct or indirect impact on the organisation.”
A lot of the hacking activity points towards China. Western intelligence agencies are becoming increasingly wary of digital intrusion by hacking teams that they believe are being backed by China’s government. Almost a decade ago, American computer security firm Mandiant had made the startling claim that these hacking groups are operated by units of China’s army. The firm was able to trace an overwhelming percentage of the attacks on American corporations, organisations and government agencies to a building on the outskirts of Shanghai. Mandiant made the case that the building was one of the bases of the People’s Liberation Army’s corps of cyberwarriors. US intelligence analysts have detected that a central element of Chinese computer espionage is Unit 61398 which targets American and Canadian government sites. Mandiant, which was hired by The New York Times, found that hacker groups like “Comment Crew” or “Shanghai Group” were behind hundreds of attacks on U.S. companies, focusing “on companies involved in the critical infrastructure of the United States — its electrical power grid, gas lines and waterworks” thereafter bringing that information to the military unit 61398.
In their defence the China’s authorities simply denied any form of state-sponsored hacking, and have in turn dubbed the US National Security Agency (NSA) as “the world’s largest hacker organisation.”
Nonetheless, since the 2013 revelations, Chinese hacking teams have generated a lot of interest and Western cybersecurity companies and intelligence agencies have accused them of global digital incursion. They allege that Chinese government-backed hackers attempt to target everything from government and military organisations to corporations and media organisations.
Most recently in the footsteps of the incident involving the Chinese spy balloon Microsoft claimed that in an ongoing effort Chinese state-sponsored hackers group ‘Storm-0558’ was forging digital authentication tokens to gain unauthorised access to Microsoft’s Outlook accounts and urged users “close or change credentials for all compromised accounts”. On May 24, Microsoft and US intelligence state-sponsored hackers of ‘Volt Typhoon’ were engaged in ongoing spying of critical US infrastructure organisations ranging from telecommunications to transportation hubs, using an unnamed vulnerability in a popular cybersecurity suite called FortiGuard, and had been active since mid-2021.
According to US cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks cyber espionage threat group ‘BackdoorDiplomacy’ has links to the Chinese hacking group called ‘APT15’and they are all involved in cyber intrusions and financially motivated data breaches for the Chinese government. During the visit by then-US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei, APT27 initiated a range of cyber attacks targeting Taiwan’s presidential office, foreign and defence ministries as well as infrastructure such as screens at railway stations. Television screens at 7-11 convenience stores in Taiwan Began to display the words: “Warmonger Pelosi, get out of Taiwan!”
Mara Hvistendahl’s article in Foreign Policy, 2017 ‘China’s Hacker Army’ estimated China’s “hacker army” anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 individuals, but rejected the belief that it was a monolithic cyber army. Mara contends that Chinese hackers are for the most part dangerous ‘freelancers’ whose ‘causes neatly overlap with the interests of the Chinese government’ and these hackers are left alone as long as they target foreign sites and companies.
Although cyber attacks have gone up globally, data by Check Point, an American-Israeli software company, reveals that weekly cyber attacks in India have gone up by 18 per cent this year, which is 2.5 times more than the global increase. Furthermore the cyber attacks are becoming more sophisticated as hackers try to weaponize legitimate tools for malicious gains. For instance the use of ChatGPT for code generation, enables hackers to effortlessly launch cyberattacks.
Last year in a massive case of cyber espionage, Chinese-linked hackers broke into mail servers operated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in February 2022 and stole sensitive data. At the recent ‘Conference on Crime & Security on the theme of ‘NFTs, AI and the Metaverse’, current G20 President India, has highlighted the need for cooperation to build cyber-resilience in an increasingly connected world. Both cyber attacks and cyber crimes have national security implications.
In India, investigations into the cyberattack, which had crippled the functioning of India premier health institution AIIMS, revealed that “the IP addresses of two emails, which were identified from the headers of files that were encrypted by the hackers, originated from Hong Kong and China’s Henan province”.
Earlier this year, US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray had an alarming metric, – that Chinese hackers outnumber FBI cyber staff 50 to one. Addressing a Congressional panel he said, China has “a bigger hacking programme than every other major nation combined and has stolen more of our personal and corporate data than all other nations — big or small — combined.”
China is today home to some of the most sophisticated hackers, whose capabilities have only improved with time. Their motivations and actions might be independent but are conveniently entwined. However, much more needs to be understood about the hacker culture from China in recent years, if the menace of cybercrime and ransomware is to be mitigated successfully .
Whistleblowers: the Unsung Heroes
Whistleblowing is a bribery and corruption prevention strategy that does not receive the credit it deserves. In fact, rather than relying exclusively on laws, regulations, and resolutions, whistleblowing can be considered a highly effective method to combat bribery and corruption in any field, including government or corporate settings. Whistleblowing often leads to sustainable solutions, as it involves voices from various levels, ranging from grassroots to top-tier management. However, there are plethora of challenges whistleblowers face when they blow the whistle. Nonetheless, whistleblowers play a crucial role in preventing bribery and corruption, and this pivotal role enables preserving the security of any nation.
As stated by the National Center for Whistleblowing (2021), at its core, a whistleblower is an individual who discloses instances of wastefulness, fraudulent activities, misconduct, corruption, or hazards to public well-being, with the intention of prompting corrective actions. While whistleblowers are often affiliated with the organization where the wrongdoing occurs, it is not a prerequisite; anyone can assume the role of a whistleblower as long as they reveal information about the wrongdoing that would otherwise remain concealed. In simple terms, a whistleblower is a person who acts responsibly on behalf of themselves as well as others. Whistleblowers play an extremely imperative role in any society, as they stand for justice, promote accountability, and advocate transparency.
When looking at its link to national security, whistleblowers play a crucial role. One prominent action is whistleblowers exposing imminent and occurred security threats. They are capable of disclosing breaches of security, illegal surveillance, and in situations where individuals or entities are attempting to divulge material information. Whistleblowers uncover injustices, misconduct, and beyond-the-scope activities of decision-makers within government or private entities. If individuals engage in unethical practices, illegal actions, or actions jeopardizing integrity, whistleblowers blow the whistle. One such example, as reported by St. Francis School of Law in 2022, is whistleblower Frank Serpico’s case. He was the first police officer who openly testified about corruption within the New York Police Department, reporting instances of police corruption, including bribes and payoffs, despite facing numerous obstacles. His revelations contributed to a 1970 New York Times story on systemic corruption in the NYPD, leading to the formation of the Knapp Commission. In 1971, he survived a suspicious shooting during an arrest, raising concerns about potential attempts to harm him. Serpico’s bravery emphasized the importance of accountability and transparency in law enforcement.
Whistleblowers also contribute by facilitating accountability by bringing into light corrupt practices such as mismanagement of money. An example is, in 1968 when A. Ernest Fitzgerald, known as the “godfather of the defense movement,” exposed a staggering $2.3 billion cost overrun related to the Lockheed C-5 transport aircraft. His courageous testimony before Congress shed light on issues in defense contracting and resulted in substantial government savings. Fitzgerald’s contributions went beyond the immediate case, playing a crucial role in the passage of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. This results in a culture of accountability where representatives of the public are answerable to their actions. Whistleblowers uphold the rule of law and promote justice by defending the rights of the citizens. It fosters democracy.
However, whistleblowers are often subjected to criticism for standing up against injustice. They fear retaliation, as guilty parties may try to silence them out of revenge. Additionally, companies or institutions may not take whistleblowers seriously, leading them to avoid addressing the reported issues. In many cases, this happens because governments or authorities in power might be involved in bribery and corruption. Public recognition and appreciation of whistleblowers’ contributions to society are vital and should not be perceived as excessive. In addition, there are situations where groups of individuals create sub cultures within organisation and act against rules and protocols jeopardising inclusive culture. In such situations, reporting to a superior will be seen as favoritism or being overly devoted to the institution. This toxic environment demotivates valuable employees or those willing to stand against injustice. The lack of adequate legal protection further compounds the challenges faced by whistleblowers. Moreover, the courage to stand against bribery and corruption is in dire need, as many individuals may lack the moral fortitude to do so.
Whistleblowers are internationally and domestically protected, primarily through the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Other international agreements, such as the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and the Organization of American States Inter-American Convention against Corruption, also demonstrate a commitment to whistleblower protection. Various influential international organizations, including the G20, OECD, and APEC, have played a role in promoting whistleblower laws and best practices worldwide. On the domestic front, countries like Sri Lanka have specific laws dealing with corruption, while OECD findings highlight countries with comprehensive whistleblower laws such as the United States, Canada, Japan, and others.
Despite these efforts, there are still some ambiguities and gaps in provisions that hinder effective whistleblowing. For instance, the proposed anti-corruption bill in Sri Lanka allows public officers to accept gratifications authorized by written law or employment terms, which undermines the core objectives of the bill and enables influential individuals to evade accountability for corrupt gains. In Russia, whistleblower protection is limited, with unsuccessful attempts to establish protective measures in 2017. This puts Russia behind the EU, which has implemented robust whistleblower protection through the Whistleblowing Directive.
It is evident that whistleblowers play an indispensable role in combatting bribery and corruption, acting as a highly effective strategy to preserve the security of any nation. Despite facing numerous challenges, these individuals contribute significantly by uncovering wrongdoing, promoting accountability, and upholding transparency. By exposing imminent security threats and holding corrupt practices accountable, whistleblowers safeguard the rule of law and foster democracy. However, to harness the full potential of whistleblowing, it is crucial to address barriers to reporting and remedy afore mentioned legal hurdles. Encouraging a whistleblowing culture and recognizing their contributions will enable society to effectively mitigate and combat bribery and corruption, by creating a more just and transparent environment. To accomplish this, organizations can embrace a culture of whistleblowing, by conducting awareness campaigns, implementing training programs, and fostering a safe and supportive environment for whistleblowers to come forward. In addition, implementing technical measures and policies to ensure whistleblower protection, authorities can demonstrate their commitment to supporting those who expose wrongdoing. These collective actions will strengthen the pivotal role of whistleblowers in preserving security by combating bribery and corruption, fostering a safer and more ethical society for the future.
Breaking the Grip: Comprehensive Policy Recommendations to Defeat Drug Cartels
In 2022, drug overdoses claimed the lives of over 100,000 Americans. The primary sources of illegal drugs flooding into the United States are the Mexican drug cartels, who exploit a network of corrupt politicians, police officers, and military personnel in Mexico. Within Mexico itself, these cartels are responsible for a staggering level of violence, including tens of thousands of homicides each year. Within the United States, the cartels establish distribution cells, collaborating with either Mexican gangs or affiliated criminal organizations.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) considers the Mexican drug cartels to be the number-one threat to the United States. Among them, the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) are the richest and most powerful. Their exceptional earnings allow them to invest in soldiers and weapons, as well as payoffs and bribes, enabling them to expand their territorial control.
To effectively address the challenge posed by the cartels, the United States should adopt a comprehensive set of policy measures. These include securing the southern border, fostering enhanced cooperation with the Mexican government, implementing immigration reforms, bolstering drug enforcement efforts domestically, designating the cartels as terrorist organizations, imposing targeted financial and economic sanctions, and considering if limited military intervention is necessary.
While these measures hold significant potential, there exist political barriers that hinder their implementation.
Secure the Southern Border
Since January 2020, over five million people have illegally crossed the southern border. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) identifies protecting the border from illegal movements of people and drugs as being essential to homeland security. Transnational criminal organizations, such as the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG, are responsible for most of the drugs entering the country. On an average day, CBP seizes 1,797 pounds of illegal narcotics. In 2022, CBP seized a total of “more than 1.8 million pounds of narcotics and 14,700 pounds of fentanyl.” Preventing the cartels from being able to transport drugs into the United States would take away their income, causing their soldiers and friendly politicians to stop cooperating with them.
In order to better secure the border, CBP has created a preparedness plan which consists of a number of crucial elements, such as increasing the number of personnel, while improving technology and infrastructure. In addition to new hires, the number of personnel can be augmented through increased cooperation with other branches of law enforcement and the military. In May, President Biden, in response to a request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees CBP, ordered an additional 1,500 troops to the border for a 90-day deployment. This was on top of the 2,500 already in place. Texas Governor Ron Abbot deployed his national guard and the new Texas Tactical Border Force to the border. North Dakota and Tennessee, as well as other states, also sent members of their national guard to Texas. In addition to national guard troops, the state of Florida sent a mix of state law-enforcement officers from varying branches. To effectively control the border, however, and have a major impact on illegal immigration, the number of troops will have to be drastically increased and the deployment would have to be permanent.
The technological improvements called for by the DHS include increased use of high-tech assets for aerial surveillance such as drones and manned aircraft. They also want sensors on border barriers, land sensors, cameras, radar, and autonomous surveillance towers. This technology will allow the DHS to better detect, monitor, and track unauthorized border crossings. Additionally, improved data analytics and artificial intelligence would help with screening and processing of legal entrants as well as illegals who have been apprehended.
The DHS has called for improved infrastructure towers, as well as facility expansion and upgrades. Some U.S. lawmakers would also like to see the border wall completed, particularly along vulnerable areas. A wall would impede illegal entry to the country, while making it easier for officials to spot illegal crossings.
Plans to secure the border have been rejected on a number of grounds. First, it would be expensive to station the necessary number of personnel at the border. Increased infrastructure, particularly the wall, would also be very costly and would not provide a 100-percent solution. Even more, it would be seen as racist, with Bloomberg calling the border wall a monument to White Supremacy.
Increased Cooperation with Mexican Government
One part of the cooperation with Mexico has to include Mexico’s willingness to help staunch the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. Mexican President López Obrador formed a national guard tasked with this purpose, but the group has been condemned by human rights activists. Furthermore, the national guard, like other elements of Mexico’s law enforcement and military, suffers from corruption.
If migrants were turned away by the U.S. in large numbers, Mexico would have to stand ready to accept them. Mexico would also have to form agreements with other countries in the chain of drug transit, from Colombia, through Central America, to the U.S. border. These countries will have to similarly agree to help prevent migrants from entering Mexico and they will have to stand ready to receive those migrants returned by Mexico.
Inside of Mexico, the Mexican government must actively fight the cartels, disarming them, disbanding them, and loosening their hold over both territory and people. This includes targeting high-profile cartel leaders. This will create command and control vacuums which historically have caused in-fighting among cartel members. Large cartels would then splinter into independent and warring groups with considerably less power. Changes within Mexico, however, would be dependent on reducing corruption, and these policies would be very unpopular among politicians, police, and military officers who benefit from the status quo.
Because of the massive corruption and the influence the cartels have over the Mexican authorities, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) has abandoned any hope of cooperating with the Mexican government, calling the country “a failed narco-state.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has similarly given up on the Mexican government, saying that the U.S. should notify Mexico that the cartels will soon be designated as terrorist organizations.
The screening process for legal immigrants must be strengthened, while backdoor avenues, such as illegal entry and asylum-seeking, must be curtailed. Under the Biden administration, anyone arriving at the southern border can claim to be seeking asylum. This allows them to remain in the United States awaiting their asylum hearing. Republicans see this as an enticement for people wishing to enter the country, bypassing normal immigration procedures. Rights groups, on the other hand, complain that Washington should not curtail its acceptance of asylum seekers. In this case, asylum seekers should be returned to Mexico to await their court date. Knowing that they cannot get a free pass into the U.S. would reduce the number of people seeking to exploit the system. This change in immigration procedure would have to be coordinated with Mexico, however, as the undocumented would be entering Mexican territory.
Increased Drug Enforcement in the U.S.
Drug laws in the U.S. must be rigorously enforced in order to reduce the demand for drugs. Law enforcement must be strengthened, including additional training, and increased investigation and prosecution of drug-related crimes. Intelligence gathering must be enhanced through the creation of specialized units and task forces. The DEA reported that drug cartels are exploiting social media to sell fentanyl and methamphetamine. The authorities should closely monitor these social media in order to identify and arrest buyers and sellers. Furthermore, the DEA must coordinate with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to increase arrests of people selling or buying illegal drugs.
Beyond law enforcement and prosecution, there must be comprehensive drug prevention and treatment programs, education campaigns, addiction treatment, and rehabilitation programs. Opponents of strict enforcement claim that enforcement does not work because drug use has increased during the 50 years that the U.S. war on drugs has been going on. The war on drugs has cost $1 trillion, and roughly one in five incarcerated people were arrested on drug charges. Opponents also complain that prisoners are disproportionately Black and Latino. Although only 13.4 percent of the population is African American, about 25 percent of all persons arrested for drugs are African American adults.
Identify Cartels as International Terrorist Organization
The cartels are known to cooperate with international terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah, Taliban, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and al-Qaeda, in order to sell their drugs in other parts of the world. They also aid terrorism by smuggling terrorists into the United States. To launder their illicit income, they employ the services of Chinese criminal organizations which pose their own threat to the United States. U.S. lawmakers have proposed designating the cartels as terrorist organizations, because they use violence and threats of violence to influence and control judges, politicians, and lawmakers. Designating the cartels as terrorist organizations would facilitate U.S. government seizure of cartel assets. It would make it easier for the U.S. to arrest cartel members inside of the United States, and possibly inside of Mexico. The U.S. could deport or bar from entry persons associated with the cartels. A terrorism designation would also enable the U.S. to deploy the military, even inside of Mexico.
However, there would be a number of disadvantages. First, violence would most likely increase, particularly if the U.S. military became involved. Next, it would effectively destroy U.S.-Mexico relations. The U.S. would be able to sanction or arrest high-ranking members of the Mexican government and security forces, which might be perceived as an act of war. These types of purges might destabilize the Mexican government and would, at the very least, cause a breakdown in cooperation between the two nations. Furthermore, bilateral trade, valued at $800 billion and accounting for millions of jobs on both sides of the border, would dry up. Increased violence, a destabilized government, and a loss of jobs would increase the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw and other U.S. lawmakers have called for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to target Mexican drug cartels, saying “We must start treating them like ISIS – because that is who they are.” Those who back an AUMF point to the fact that the cartels are responsible for more American deaths each year than the entire Vietnam War. An AUMF would provide the president with the sophisticated hardware and expert personnel of the U.S. military, more powerful assets than those possessed by law enforcement or the DHS. Supporters of an AUMF also make the point that the soldiers would be engaging foreign hostiles in a foreign nation and, therefore, would not be infringing on the civil rights of U.S. citizens.
In addition to arresting or killing key cartel members, military intervention could disrupt drug supply chains by destroying growing fields and drug labs. The government of Mexico has protested discussions of U.S. military operations in his country, calling it an offense to the Mexican people. Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador said that he would not “permit any foreign government to intervene in our territory, much less that a government’s armed forces intervene”.
Another disadvantage of U.S. military operations in Mexico would be an increase in violence. Inevitably, civilians would suffer, and the U.S. would be portrayed as the villain in the international and liberal press. The threat of cartel violence against Americans would also increase. Historically, the cartels have tried to avoid killing Americans, for fear of provoking Washington’s wrath. If the U.S. military began engaging in cross-border operations, the cartels would most likely declare all-out-war on Americans. Cartel violence within the U.S. would also accelerate as the cartels would be risking nothing by upping the ante.
Increased Financial and Economic Sanctions
Financial and economic sanctions can be powerful tools to break the cartels and to punish those who assist them. This includes enforcement of anti-money laundering laws, as well as targeting financial institutions that handle cartel money. Cartel assets held in banks around the world could be seized if U.S. allies also participated in the sanctions. If Mexico is legitimately interested in curbing corruption in their own government, this intense scrutiny would also help them to discover which public officials were accepting bribes.
Sanctions have already been used against the cartels: In 2022, the U.S. Treasury Department, in cooperation with their Mexican counterparts, brought sanctions against a cartel member who was trafficking weapons from the United States. Under the sanctions, Obed Christian Sepulveda Portillo had his property in the U.S. seized. U.S. Entities and persons from the U.S. are also prohibited from doing business with him or completing transactions on his behalf. Those who violate these sanctions may face criminal charges or civil lawsuits. In July 2023, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against ten individuals, including several Sinaloa Cartel members, as well as one Mexico-based company, for their role in the production of illicit fentanyl and the precursor chemicals necessary for fentanyl production. Under the sanctions, all of their properties and interests in the U.S. were seized. Americans were banned from doing business with them. Companies in which they had a direct or indirect stake of 50 percent or more were also prohibited from doing business in the U.S. or with Americans. These are good examples, but to break the cartels, these types of sanctions would have to increase in scope, hitting large numbers of people participating in criminal networks.
From an efficacy standpoint, the above policy recommendations, if taken together, would result in a decrease in the supply side, a decrease in the demand side, and a long-term reduction in drug deaths and violent deaths in both the U.S. and Mexico, eventually leading to the stabilization of Mexico. Breaking the hold the cartels have on the country would allow Mexico to develop economically. This would benefit the entire population and the United States. But this success, which could take painful years to achieve, would come with a political and human cost which politicians may not be willing to pay.
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