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Jihad Selfie: The Evolving Strategy of Homegrown Radical Recruitment

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Omar Mateen, Terrorist Who Attacked Orlando Gay Club

In February, an eye-opening new report was released by the Program on Extremism at The George Washington University. This 116-page report, The Travelers: American Jihadists in Iraq and Syria, is a powerful mix of the best of political science and sociology. It exposes the reader to both the definitions and statistics around American- and European-based jihadist travelers, while also providing context via meaningfully detailed backstories of a select few cases.

While this report makes excellent distinctions between the much larger community of European-based jihadists compared to the smaller and more isolated American-based one, there are several key aspects of radical recruitment that deserve further research and greater elaboration.

Addressing Isolation in Immigrant Communities

It is clear that the past three years in America have seen an increase in the same small-scale acts of terrorism that were recently only taking place in Europe.

While the report acknowledges that there is much fanfare about the Islamic State’s savvy use of social media and technology to do “abroad recruiting,” it finds that a personal touch still plays a big role in developing successful recruits who venture all the way over to Iraq and Syria.

In the United States, evidence points to a loosely connected network of radicalization that dates all the way back to the Balkans ethnic conflict in the early 1990s. This provides further evidence of the “social Balkanization” that has remained stubbornly prevalent in the United States when it comes to newer waves of emigrant populations.

The GW report acknowledges the feelings of isolation in many new recruits in America. However, it does not make a connection between the isolation of individuals and the clear failures of select communities to successfully integrate immigrants into American culture. The report does not address this problem, largely because it considers the alienation and isolation process in Europe to be more stark than in America. However, I am not entirely sure this presumption is true and it is certainly not provided for in the report in any evidentiary way.

It also seems clear that the perpetrators of those acts are remarkably similar in their feelings of isolation and alienation from the home culture, whether they are Belgian, French, English, or American. Understanding why some groups in the modern era are coming to the United States but not finding any great attraction to the political and social values of America could be a huge leap in helping law enforcement agencies ascertain where the most vulnerable communities are and which people are most susceptible to such pernicious recruitment.

As a whole, the American diplomatic, social assistance, and academic communities have not done an adequate job investigating the phenomenon best described as being “in the West” but never truly becoming “of the West.” It is this aspect of the recruitment process that is not yet examined in any report but deserves much greater attention.

The gap that supposedly exists between Europe and America in the GW report may in fact be closing and we need to come to terms with its consequences. The report suggests that the West’s success in destroying the political goal of the Islamic State in establishing a Caliphate across the greater Middle East could harbor an unintended negative consequence: Robbing ISIS of the opportunity to achieve their ultimate goal at home may spur recruitment to initiate “revenge” violence back in the West.

Why ISIS’s Recruitment Strategy is More Successful Than al-Qaeda

The report glosses over one of the more unfortunate “successes” of the Islamic State since its inception that makes this so-called “revenge” terrorism more likely: namely, its ability to overcome what I have in the past called al-Qaeda’s “9/11 Syndrome.”

In many regards, al-Qaeda fell victim to its own surprise success with 9/11. After hitting the Pentagon and seeing the total destruction of the Twin Towers, al-Qaeda succumbed to a unique version of self-imposed peer pressure: after such a devastating and history-changing attack, the group would be hard-pressed to consider itself successful if future initiatives only amounted to bus bombings, car attacks, or individual suicide-vest bombers. Such minor acts would only be seen as a regression of relevance and impact.

This has been one of the great conundrums of American counter-terrorist strategists: Was the success in preventing a second 9/11 because of how quickly we reacted and learned from our mistakes? Or was it because al-Qaeda became obsessed with only perpetrating a second version of 9/11, no longer satisfied with smaller-scale acts of terrorism?

We may never know the answer, but what seems clear as a point of distinction between the two terrorist groups is that the Islamic State took any act of terrorism to be a successful act as long as it caused injury, chaos, and death. This is why its social media recruitment is more powerful and more effective than al-Qaeda’s: If you can achieve the same heavenly rewards of martyrdom for an act you can easily commit yourself with little-to-no training and/or consultation (such as blowing up a bus or randomly shooting at people in a nightclub) and don’t need to travel very far from home, then why bother trying to pull off a much more complicated and less-likely-to-succeed fantasy act of high terrorism in a foreign land?

The Islamic State was not handcuffed by the success of 9/11 and its most dangerous weapon so far in terms of Westerner recruitment has been its ability to characterize smaller acts of terrorism as being valuable and important. The report touches on the edge of this reality but does not investigate it fully by encapsulating it within the possibility of “revenge” terrorism. This is where the true epicenter of home-grown Islamic State fanaticism in America is likely to grow and emerge and is therefore an area that needs to be investigated more seriously.

Impacts on Counterterrorism Strategies

The unfortunate truth, as highlighted in the report, is that the perpetrators of future acts of homegrown terror in the United States – motivated by Islamic State recruitment – might only be getting more isolated and more socially alienated, thus becoming harder to detect and preempt. As the Islamic State leans ever-more heavily on social media, demanding less personal contact and perhaps no requirement for foreign travel and training, the prevalence of “lone wolf” acts are likely to become more dominant.

Unfortunately, our methods of counter-terrorism may also be growing antiquated. If this is so, then important reports like “The Travelers” will depressingly become out-of-date much faster than we would like and the emergence of “Jihadi Janes and Johns” will not be marked by travel overseas or by direct personal contacts with known radicalized communities.

Up to now, we have hoped and relied upon that patchwork of loose radicalized elements, centered around well-known communities within major American cities, to produce the most highly motivated recruits, thereby giving us ample evidence of where to focus our law enforcement efforts.

Which leaves one disturbing counter-terrorist Faustian bargain hanging in the air: which do you find more terrifying? Terrorist acts that are large-scale and highly planned, resulting in greater casualties but are quite rare? Or terrorist acts that are smaller-scale and random, resulting in fewer casualties, but are far more common?

Deepening our understanding of evolving recruitment strategies can help us prevent both types of attacks.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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OSINT in Current and Future Military Operations

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In recent years, the international security environment has evolved in a way that lays greater emphasis on information gathering and analysis. This is largely due to the proliferation of digital technologies and the internet, which have made it easier for individuals, organisations, and governments to access, share, and disseminate information. As a result, the traditional concept of ‘national security’ has expanded to include cyber security, information security, and online propaganda.

In this context, ‘Open-Source Intelligence’ (OSINT) has emerged as an important tool and resource for governments, militaries, intelligence organisations, and individuals. It refers to information that is publicly available and can be collected from a wide range of sources, including the internet, social media, newspapers, and government websites.

The rise of information warfare and the need for intelligence on digital fronts has made OSINT an even more crucial resource for organisations dealing with the national security of a state. Various examples and case studies show it can provide valuable information that can be used to make informed decisions about foreign policy, intelligence operations, and military strategy; understand and respond to global security threats; support military operations; and gain a deeper understanding of conflicts. By analysing data from various sources such as social media, online forums, and satellite imagery, OSINT analysts can gain a better understanding of movements and activities in conflict areas. For instance, the US military used OSINT to track and monitor the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), through information on the location, movements, and activities of ISIS leaders and fighters, as well as its financial and logistical networks. Thereby, becoming a true force multiplier.

Not only this, OSINT can be used to monitor and counter disinformation, propaganda, and misinformation, which are widely used by state and non-state actors to influence public opinion and political decisions. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine War, characterised by a high degree of disinformation and propaganda on both sides, is also a case study of OSINT. One of the key aspects of OSINT in this war has been the use of social media. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been used to disseminate information by the warring parties. OSINT analysts have been able to use these platforms to track the movement of troops, equipment, and weapons. They have also been able to identify and track individuals and organisations that have been involved in the conflict. Besides social media, another important aspect of OSINT in the Russia-Ukraine War is the use of satellite imagery. Analysts on both sides have been able to use satellite imagery to accurately track the movement of troops and equipment, as well as to identify and track changes in the terrain. OSINT specialists have also been able to track the flow of money to different groups and individuals involved in the conflict, which has helped to identify potential sources of funding for the war.

Since OSINT allows for the collection of information from a wide variety of sources, it enables a more comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground, while also allowing for cross-referencing and verification of the information. Another advantage of OSINT is that it is relatively low cost and accessible to a wide range of individuals and organisations. This has enabled a diverse group of actors, including journalists, researchers, and analysts, to play an active role in monitoring and analysing conflicts worldwide.

Despite these advantages, it is important to note that OSINT is not without its limitations. The information collected from open sources may be incomplete, biased, or even deliberately misleading. It is also important to be aware of ‘information pollution’ where a large amount of false or misleading information is spread deliberately to confuse or mislead.

In short, OSINT has become increasingly relevant in today’s strategic environment due to the abundance of open-source information. As conflicts become more complex and globalised, it is essential for governments, military organisations, and other stakeholders to have access to accurate and timely information in order to make informed decisions in a variety of fields, including cyber security, intelligence, surveillance, and national security. As the world becomes more interconnected and the amount of publicly available information continues to grow, the use of OSINT is likely to assume a critical role alongside traditional means of intelligence gathering.

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Chinese spy balloon over Latin America

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Intelligence gathering has been conducted using balloons since the 19th century, and their usefulness has significantly declined. During the 1950s, the U-2 spy plane was used to spy on the Soviet Union, and the country’s satellites were eventually replaced by the Corona reconnaissance units. A Chinese balloon that drifted across the US has raised concerns about people’s knowledge.

Sending out balloons is not an ideal strategy for gathering intelligence. They are not designed to be easily hidden, and they tend to go where the winds lead. During World War II, Japan launched incendiary devices known as firebombs into Washington state in an attempt to destroy Seattle. Unfortunately, they were unable to get them to fly over the city. Since a balloon will never return to its base, it has to find a way to retrieve the data it collects. During the 1960s, the US developed a system that allows a plane to snatch the payload from a reconnaissance satellite. Unfortunately, using this method would be very risky for China.

If China wants to collect intelligence, it should consider using a parachute to land the payload on the ground. This would prevent the people from recovering it unless the country has people in places such as Labrador or Montana. The balloon could also transmit data to a Chinese satellite. Not being able to retrieve the data collected by a balloon is a waste of money and time. China has numerous spy satellites that fly over the US every day. These satellites collect various data points, such as radio signals and photos. The country launched four more satellites last year. Since China has never used balloons for espionage, it is believed that the incident was caused by an error. The country’s meteorological agency might have lost the balloon, which is the basis of numerous UFO sightings.

Despite China’s claims that it does not spy on the US, it is still conducting a massive espionage campaign against the country’s allies and the US. This is more extensive than the operations carried out by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Until 2015, America was still accepting Chinese espionage as a cost of doing business with the country. The U.S. was wrong when it believed that China was using a balloon for espionage. The country reacted after the Office of Personnel was hacked in 2015, which revealed the private information of millions of employees. If the U.S. is truly interested in learning what the balloon is capable of, it should shoot it down. The incident has highlighted the need for China to reduce its espionage activities as the U.S. is on edge. Americans must learn from this and act more aggressively to prevent this kind of behavior from happening in the future. Some of the measures the U.S. can take include increasing the number of FBI agents, establishing more effective cyber security measures, and negotiating with the Chinese government directly. The use of Chinese balloons is a distraction, and this will not stop the country from carrying out its espionage activities. As aggressive as China is, focusing on them is like looking into the bedroom every night for its spies.

Current Scenerio:

Montana has long been a location for the US’ nuclear weapons. One of the country’s major missile silos is situated in the state. The Pentagon revealed that a Chinese spy balloon was detected flying over various sensitive sites in the US. It’s believed that the route the object took could be linked to Montana’s nuclear facilities. During a briefing in Washington DC, the Pentagon confirmed that the object was spotted in Montana. It was revealed that the balloon had flown over the Alaskan islands and Canada before it entered the US.

The Air Force’s Malmstrom facility is situated in central Montana and houses 150 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) silos. The Pentagon stated that the balloon did not pose a threat to civilians and was currently flying at an altitude well above the commercial air traffic. This type of activity has been observed in the past. After learning about the incident, the US government launched an immediate response to protect the sensitive data inside the balloon. The country’s fighter jets were dispatched to intercept the object. Despite the government’s initial response, the Pentagon decided not to launch a missile against the object. The agency noted that the balloon’s size could create a dangerous debris field. On which, China responded about the incident and it stated that it was looking into the matter and urged the US to remain calm. According to the country, it has no intention of violating other nations’ airspace and territory. China is a responsible nation that follows international laws. It does not intend to violate the airspace or territory of any country. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao said that the country was taking the matter seriously. The public should refrain from speculation and hype until the details of the incident are clear. This official also stated that the public should wait for more information before making judgements.

According to a statement released by the Chinese government, the balloon was a civilian airship that was used for meteorological research and it was malfunctioned due to wind. It deviated from its intended flight path due to the Westerlies. China expressed its regret over the incident and noted that it would continue to communicate with the US. The country’s foreign ministry also said that it would handle the situation properly.

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India’s Strategic Use of TTP to Undermine Pakistan’s Stability

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Image source: hindustantimes.com

Again, bloodshed in the city of flowers, with more than 90 martyrs and at least 250 injured in a suicide attack by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Peshawar. India’s backing for the TTP and its participation in the group’s avowed jihad against Pakistan have emerged as the most important security challenges in South Asia, with significant ramifications for regional stability and peace.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), commonly known as the Taliban in Pakistan, is a Pakistan-based Islamist extremist group. The group, which was founded in 2007, has claimed responsibility for a number of fatal assaults against Pakistani civilians and military personnel. TTP has proclaimed war against Pakistan’s government and military forces, arguing that they are not Islamic enough.

TTP has become a major security danger to Pakistan over the years, spreading widespread fear and instability. The group’s constant strikes on civilians and military targets have resulted in hundreds of deaths and massive devastation. The rising frequency and savagery of TTP assaults has caused considerable alarm among Pakistanis and the international world. Despite significant international criticism, the TTP continues to carry out atrocities with impunity.

Evidence of India’s Support for TTP:

Over the last decade, Pakistani security services have often reported on the Indian intelligence agency (RAW) providing support to the TTP. This assistance has been reported to include financing, training, and weaponry, all of which have aided the TTP’s capacity to carry out strikes against Pakistan. Pakistani officials, security professionals, and independent investigators have claimed India’s participation with TTP, citing proof of Indian involvement in TTP activities and divulging the false flag operations.

TTP commanders obtaining safe shelter in India is another piece of evidence pointing to India’s connection with TTP. TTP commanders have been said to have crossed the border into India for medical treatment and then stayed for lengthy periods of time. The granting of safe haven to TTP commanders implies that India is not only supporting the organization, but also shielding its leaders from prosecution and reprisal.

In addition to the Indian intelligence agency’s direct backing for TTP, there have been claims of Indian media outlets distributing misinformation in favor of TTP. This has included interviews with TTP officials and positive coverage of TTP’s efforts by Indian news sources. The media coverage has been interpreted as a means for India to legitimize the TTP’s conduct and seek sympathy from the world community.

India is contributing to Pakistan’s instability by supplying TTP with the money, safety, and legitimacy it requires to carry out its assaults.

India’s Motives Behind Supporting TTP:

One of India’s key motivations for supporting the TTP is to undermine Pakistan’s government and military. By assisting the organization, India is able to undermine Pakistan’s ability to maintain security and stability, creating an atmosphere in which the TTP may operate with impunity. The ultimate purpose of this assistance is to weaken Pakistan’s military and political institutions, making it easier for India to achieve a regional advantage.

Another reason India backs the TTP is to create a political and security vacuum in Pakistan. By assisting the organization, India may foment turmoil and instability in the country, creating possibilities for India to exploit the situation. The political and security vacuum left by the TTP’s operations can then be utilized by India to further its own goals and acquire more influence in the area.

India’s backing for the TTP might also be interpreted as an attempt to shift attention away from its own human rights violations in Kashmir. By assisting the TTP and producing turmoil and instability in Pakistan, India is able to divert attention away from its own activities in Kashmir, which have been severely condemned for abusing the human rights of Kashmiris. By helping TTP, India can divert attention away from its own acts and position itself as a responsible regional actor.

The Consequences of India’s Actions:

One of the most serious consequences of India’s backing for the TTP is the worsening of terrorism in Pakistan. India is feeding the fire of terrorism in the area by supplying finance, training, and equipment to the group, making it easier for TTP to carry out its heinous actions. This has had a significant influence on Pakistan’s security and stability, as well as the safety of its population. Terrorism has exacerbated violence and loss of life, creating an environment of dread and insecurity throughout the country.

India’s backing for TTP worsens regional tensions and instability. The rise of terrorism in Pakistan has heightened tensions between Pakistan and India, as well as between Pakistan and its neighbors. This has produced a climate of insecurity and uncertainty in the region, threatening regional peace and security. As each side gets more entrenched in its stance, the international community’s ability to find a solution to the crisis has become more difficult.

India’s backing for TTP has had a significant influence on regional peace and security. The rise in terrorism and tensions has made it increasingly difficult to establish regional peace and stability. This has had a detrimental influence on the region’s economic development, social advancement, and people’s well-being. The continuation of violence and insecurity has also made it more difficult for the international community to address the underlying causes of conflict and work toward a long-term solution.

Conclusion:

The international community must take steps to confront India’s backing for TTP. India’s activities are clearly against international law and standards, and they endanger regional peace and security. The international community must strongly denounce India’s conduct and endeavor to hold those involved accountable for their acts.

Holding those involved accountable for their conduct is critical to preventing such incidents in the future. The international community must act to bring individuals who promote terrorism and destabilize the area to account. This involves investigating and punishing individuals responsible for supplying TTP with support, as well as those involved in planning and carrying out terrorist actions. Only by taking firm action can we expect to restore stability and security to the area and prevent such actions in the future.

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