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Fighting ISIS in the Digital Space in Jordan

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Authors: Anne Speckhard & Ardian Shajkovci

With estimates of 3000 foreign fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq, Jordan had the highest per capita number of foreign fighters. In addition to Abu Musab Zarqawi having been the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Jordanians also rose to leadership positions in ISIS. Given the continued online recruitment of Jordanians by ISIS, the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) ran two Facebook Awareness Campaigns in Jordan using ICSVE’s Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative videos. Between the campaign and organic activities, one of the counter narrative videos received over 1.7 million views. 

Introduction –ISIS and Militant Jihadi Terrorist Recruitment in Jordan

Since the onset of the Syrian conflict in 2011, it is estimated that upwards of 40,000 foreign fighters joined Sunni militant groups such as ISIS and al Nusra in Iraq and Syria. Approximately 11,000 of the estimated 40, 000 are believed to be from the Middle East, with countries such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia supplying the vast majority of foreign fighters. While estimates differ, Jordan has seen nearly 3,000 men and women join ISIS and other Sunni militant groups in Iraq and Syria over the past years, together with Tunisians and Saudis, rounding out the list of top sources of foreign fighters.[1]According to some estimates, Jordan is ranked as either the first or the second country in the world with the highest number of foreign fighters, on a per capita basis, in the Syrian and the Iraq conflict.[2]Jordanians who joined Jabhat al Nusra the local Syrian arm of al-Qaeda, and later ISIS, often held leadership positions in these groups, advocating for militant jihadi terrorism in the region.[3]In fact, in the first iteration of ISIS, Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born jihadist militant who led al-Qaeda in Iraq, hailed from Zarqa, Jordan.[4]

The drivers of radicalization to violent extremism in Jordan are many. Beginning with a decades-long history of violent extremist and terrorist movements operating in Jordan, and involving Jordanians, alongside the destabilizing and radicalizing factors occurring in the region and globally, once relatively peaceful Jordan has absorbed both its share of terrorist attacks and a growing hub of terrorist groups and their ideologies, with al-Nusra and ISIS operating in Syria and Iraq at its current center. Moreover, the repeated influx of refugees from neighboring conflicts, economic and governance challenges, and Salafi influences migrating into Jordan have all combined to create vulnerabilities and motivations on a psychosocial level that have ideological resonance to terrorist recruitment inside Jordan.[5]Despite the volatile conditions, Jordanian leadership has managed to maintain political stability in the country, and is one of the trusted U.S. and coalition partners against ISIS and the so-called Islamic State. Jordan, however, remains a country of ‘easy recruits’ for terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda,[6]especially when considering the proximity of the battlegrounds in Syria and Iraq.[7]

Recent Changes in ISIS since its Territorial Defeat

While ISIS has lost most of the territory it once held in Iraq, and much of Syria, some 11,000 ISIS cadres are still believed to be active and operating in Iraq and Syria, though recent research indicates that numbers may actually be upwards of 30, 000.[8]Likewise, ISIS remains a formidable terrorist organization with a brand and dream of creating an Islamic State Caliphate and has also proven itself capable of spreading itself beyond its original territory, namely with ISIS affiliates continuing to recruit for, and control, territories in countries such as Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Algeria.[9]

In addition to kidnappings and insurgent and clandestine type activities in Iraq and Syria,[10]the group also remains focused on orchestrating, inspiring, and carrying out external attacks, which, in part, are carried out to demonstrate the group’s resilience as well as debunk claims and predictions of the group’s ultimate demise. ISIS has inspired or carried out attacks in more than 31 countries that have killed more than 2,000 people outside of Syria and Iraq.[11]For instance, in 2015, ISIS supporters and admirers, inspired by ISIS social media propaganda, were able to carry out one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the history of modern Tunisia.[12]

Recent militant jihadi activities in Jordan have also given cause for serious concern. In 2016, ISIS terrorists attacked Karak Castle, a popular tourist destination in Jordan, killing 10 and injuring 34. [13]In January 2018, Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID) reported to have prevented a major terrorist plot by ISIS involving 17 suspects. Potential targets included civilian, military, and religious facilities.[14]More recently, on August 10th, 2018, a police sergeant was killed in al-Fuheis when a police patrol car was blown up during a music festival in the town. The law enforcement managed to trace the attackers to a house in the city of Salt where they engaged in a shootout with police and ultimately exploded their bomb-rigged hideout rather than be arrested. The attackers were Jordanians. Their affiliation to any known terrorist group remains undisclosed,[15]though some experts in Jordan suggest they were either inspired or directed by ISIS. These represent only a short list of the many terrorist attacks involving Jordan.

Internet Recruiting & Terrorist Activity in Jordan

Compared to other militant jihadist groups, ISIS’ strengths lie in its ability to maximize its reach by betting on innovation and exploiting social media platforms. Its mastery of modern digital tools has enabled it to support its war and state-building efforts during the time it held and controlled significant swaths of territories in Iraq and Syria. Today, given its significant territorial loses, it continues to rely on social media to enable, direct, and inspire terrorist attacks worldwide. The same is now also being used to encourage and facilitate travel to other territories it controls—even still successfully attracting upwards of 100 foreign fighters per month to come to Syria and Iraq while in territorial retreat.[16]ISIS’ propaganda production arm is no longer as prolific, yet the group continues to successfully use the Internet to recruit and orchestrate terrorist attacks. In this regard, the military defeat of ISIS and the so-called Islamic State should not reduce the need and the urgency to counter the online appeal of ISIS and similar violent extremist groups.

In focus testing the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism’s (ICSVE) Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative videos in Zarqa and Irbid in 2016 and 2017, respectively, with high school and college-age youth (n=54), we found that ISIS still manages to reach out to youth and attempt to attract them into the group. In fact, in the absence of adequate support and resources, many among the youth we spoke to shared how they often turn to the Internet to find answers regarding the claims made by groups like ISIS.[17]For instance, some noted, “If I say I’m bored on Facebook, they [ISIS recruiters] contact me.” Others pointed out how the ISIS recruiters know Islamic scriptures and hadithsbetter than those they are recruiting. Some commented how their parents, teachers, and imams were not open to discussing such topics, specifically, “No one wants to talk to us about these things.  They are all worried about the GID.” As a result, the youth we spoke to were both vulnerable to ISIS recruitment due to their Internet activities and for searching answers on the Internet to refute their claims.

Fighting ISIS on Facebook in Jordan

In December of 2017 and July of 2018, respectively, the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) responded to such concerns in Jordan by promoting two ICSVE-produced counter narrative videos from its Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Projectto learn if it was possible to raise public awareness in the vulnerable age group to ISIS recruitment in Jordan and also disrupt ISIS’ online and face-to-face recruitment occurring in social media platforms like Facebook by using video clips produced from interviews of ISIS insiders denouncing the group. (While a full discussion of the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrativevideos is not possible in this limited space, more information about the project can be found here.)

The two ICSVE counter narrative videos that were used in the campaign were Promises of ad-Dawlah to Womenand Rewards of Joining the Islamic State. The former features Laura Passoni, a Belgium woman who left Belgium with her son to join ISIS in Syria after being jilted by her partner. The latter features thirty-three-year old Abu Ghazwan, an Iraqi who, by joining ISIS, hoped to restore rights and dominance to Iraqi Sunnis. In the video, he discusses his involvement with ISIS, namely his role in placing bombs and attacking the enemies of the group. Both ISIS speakers denounce ISIS as un-Islamic, corrupt, and overly brutal, and express their deep regret over ever joining.

The two public safety awareness campaigns in Jordan were run by using Facebook ads. The month-long campaigns served to raise awareness about the dangers of joining violent extremist groups like ISIS as well as to drive online engagement among the citizens of Jordan over Facebook.  Facebook was the digital platform of choice as it remains a popular social media communication platform in Jordan. ICSVE research in Jordan also suggested the need to focus on Facebook, as many vulnerable youth have and continue to be contacted by ISIS via Facebook.

According to a 2016 study, around 93 % of Internet users in Jordan use social networks, with Facebook and WhatsApp representing the most used social media platforms. [18]

Source: Ghazal (2016)[19]

According to Arab Social Media Report, 89 % of the internet users in Jordan prefer Facebook (5,300, 000), 71 % WhatsApp, 66% YouTube, 34 % Instagram, and 33% Twitter (See below for a breakdown). [20]

Middle East Internet Users, Population and Facebook Statistics
Country Pop. (2018 Est.) Users in Dec/2000 Internet Usage Dec-31-2017 % Pop. (Penetration) Internet % users Facebook

Dec-31-2017

Bahrain 1, 566, 993 40,000 1,535,653 98.0% 1.0 % 1,100,000
Iran 82, 011, 735 250,000 56,700,000 69.1 % 34.6 % 40,000,000
Iraq 39,339,753 12,500 19,000,000 48.3 % 11.6 % 17,000,000
Israel 8, 452, 841 1,270, 000 6, 740, 287 79.7 % 4.1 % 5, 800, 000
Jordan 9,903,802 127, 300 8,700, 000 87.8 % 5.3 % 5,300, 000
Kuwait 4, 197, 128 150,000 4, 104, 347 97.8 % 2.5 % 3, 100, 000
Lebanon 6, 093, 509 300, 000 5, 546, 494 91.0 % 3.4 % 3, 600, 000
Oman 4, 829, 946 90,000 3, 310, 260 68.5 % 2.0 % 2, 630, 000
Palestine 5, 052, 776 35,000 3, 055, 088 60.5 % 1.9 % 1, 700, 000
Qatar 2, 694, 849 30, 000 2, 644, 580 98.1 % 1.6 % 2, 300, 000
Saudi Arabia 33, 554, 343 200, 000 30, 257, 715 90.2 % 18.4% 18,000,000
Syria 18, 284, 407 30,000 6, 625, 631 33.0 % 3.7 % 4, 900,000
UAE 9, 541, 615 735,000 9, 385, 420 98.4 % 5.7 % 8, 700, 000
Yemen 28, 915, 284 15,000 7, 031, 784 24. 3 % 4.3 % 2, 352,942
Total 254,438,981 3, 284,800 164,037,259 64.5 % 100 % 116, 482,942

Source: Internet World Stats[21]

 Results of the Jordanian Facebook Public Awareness Campaigns

Video: Promises of ad-Dawlah to Women Campaign (Run Dec 7 to Dec 31, 2017)

Geographic and Demographic Reach:

In terms of geographic breakdown, our first campaign targeted the following areas in Jordan: Balqa Governorate, Ma’an Governorate, Mafraq Governorate, Zarqa Governorate, Irbid Governorate, Amman Governorate, Ajloun Governorate, Jerash Governorate, and Madaba Governorate. Our sample targeted some of the areas considered as hotbeds of radicalization in Jordan, namely Ma’an, Zarqa, and Irbid Governorates. Amman (538, 826), Irbid (117, 364), and Zarqa (46, 203) governorates achieved the highest reach. Seventy percent of the reached population is male and 30 percent female (See figure 1 for demographic and reach breakdown across two genders).

Table A contains a breakdown of video views by age group and the area targeted and serves to demonstrate reach in the relevant age categories in areas considered as the hotbeds of extremism, namely in Salt, Irbid and Zarqa.

Video Views:

Table B presents data on how much our video content was watched. The campaign generated a total reach of 797, 866, while also leading to 1, 456, 872 impressions and close to 869, 472 video views (See Table B).[1]

Table B presents data on how much our video content was watched. There is a total of 869, 472 video views at 3%, 10 %, 25% (89, 733), 50 % (74, 742), 75% (54,220), 95% (38, 545) and 100 % (8, 924) video watches. As the data indicate, there are a total of 266,164 clicked-to-play shared among 25%, 50%, 75 %, 95%, and 100 % recorded watches. Note, however, that the percentages include those who watched the full length of the video and those who skipped to the end of the video.

The video average watch time is 0:19, calculated as the video total watch time/total number of video plays (this includes replays). This number highlights the potential usefulness of making shortened versions of the videos for complementary ads, as some viewers will only watch very short videos. They may click through ashort version and, once hooked by it,  watch the longer version.[22]However, the fact that thousands did watch the entire video may indicate that some will be hooked by the content, while others less so.

The impression score in Table B indicates the total number of times our content was displayed, regardless of whether clicked or not. In other words, the score indicates the number of times our reached target base has been exposed to our video content. The higher the impression score, the more indicative that people are seeing our content, that they are becoming more exposed to our content, and that they are sharing our content.

The impression frequency of 1.83 (Impression/Reach) indicates the average number of times each individual has seen our ad over the period of thirty days. That said, because Facebook ad frequency indicates an average score, in practice, this means that some among our target audience might have been reached a number of times while others only once. Campaigns with high reach naturally have lower frequency rate. Moreover, the relatively low frequency rate of 1.83 suggests that we are not oversaturating out target audience with our content.

The campaign generated  a relevance score of  7, calculated on a 1-10 scale. The higher the relevance score, the better in terms of how our audience is responding to our ad. Facebook calculates the relevance score “based on the positive and negative feedback we expect an ad to receive from its target audience.”[23]It is calculated based on a number of factors, such as the positive vs. negative feedback it is expected to receive. For instance, video views, shares, and likes represent positive indicators. Conversely, the number of times our ad is hidden, or when someone clicks “ I don’t want to see this” our ad, represent negative indicators. Five hundred impressions need to be received before a relevance score is generated. This Facebook ad metric is useful to better identify our target audiences and use it for our campaign optimization. That said, the relevance score is used to measure relevance of a campaign and not the quality of the campaign. Put differently,  it is generated based on interaction and interest in our campaign. The relatively high relevance score suggests that the ads are generating  audience engagement.

Post Reactions:

The Facebook ad also led to a total of 4, 398 post reactions (e.g. Like, love, haha, wow, sad, and angry), comments and shares. For instance, there are 3, 487 post likes, 261 love, and 147 sad reactions. In addition, there are a total of 168 comments and 169 post shares.

Video: Rewards of Islamic State Campaign (run from July 15 to August 15, 2018)

Geographic and Demographic Reach:

The July 2018 campaign  targeted the following areas in Jordan: Balqa Governorate, Ma’an Governorate, Karak Governorate, Mafraq Governorate, Tafilah Governorate, Zarqa Governorate, Irbid Governorate, Amman Governorate, Ajloun Governorate, Jerash Governorate, Aqaba Governorate, and Madaba Governorate. Our sample targeted some of the areas considered as hotbeds of radicalization in Jordan, namely Ma’an, Zarqa, and Irbid Governorates. Amman (35, 136), Irbid (5, 792), and Zarqa (2,496) governorates achieved the highest reach. Ninety-six percent of the reached population is male and four percent female (See figure 2 for demographic and reach breakdown across two genders).

Video Views:

This campaign generated a total reach of 48, 432, while also leading to 74, 875 impressions and close to 38, 584 video views. The video views are calculated at  3%, 10 %, 25%, 50 %, 75%, 95%, and 100 % video views (see Table C)

The Facebook ad led to a total of 214 post reactions, (e.g. Like, love, haha, wow, sad, and angry), 45 post comments, and 7 post shares (See Table C). The video average watch time is 0:57, calculated as the video total watch time/total number of video plays (this includes replays). The campaign generated a relevance score of 10, calculated on a 1-10 scale.

Comments for both Campaigns

As discussed above, the videos generated hundreds of comments related to ISIS, the message, and the messaging strategy applied to our counter-narratives. While there were many supportive comments, there were also those attempting to discredit ICSVE’s videos, claiming they were fake, that the defectors were lying, and that they are used to distort Islam. Arguably, some such comments may have been made by innocent individuals who felt the need to defend their religion, which they may have perceived to be under attack in the video clips. Moreover, the comments might also have been from ISIS supporters and recruiters trying to discredit the anti-ISIS messaging contained in the videos.  See sample comments below.

 “Supportive Category”—comments in support of the video, its message against ISIS, the characters in the video, or the campaign in general. 

“It’s called Daesh, not an Islamic State. It is a sect that does not provide the religion of Islam. Its purpose is to distort Islam, even if you look at Islam from the Holy Quran”—Promises of ad-Dawlah

A really painful reality”—Promises of ad-Dawlah  “She was deceived by these scoundrels because of her bad mental state at the time. But the main reason behind what happened with her was to follow one person and believe what he says without comprehensive knowledge. She was also naive and believed that she will find paradise in the world…The terrorist organization called Daesh is only an extremist group that claims Islam and is in reality expanding geographically and militarily by using naïve ones like this woman…It is very painful to find such criminals who distort the image of Islam in the eyes of  people”—Promises of ad-Dawlah).  “The truest word Laura has said is that they are not Muslims” –Promises of ad-Dawlah.

“ This isn’t Islam”

“Excellent work for awareness”—Rewards of Joining IS

“ It is necessary to slay, kill, explode and destroy until you win. What religion do you belong?”

“ We really believe you, you are not ignorant[defector]. But you are the enemy of Islam”

Comments in defense of Islam and “Negative Category”—comments expressing dislike towards the video, characters featured in the video, or the campaign in general

“ Those who distort images of Islam are wrong…but there is a big conspiracy against Islam that will be revealed by God”

“ISIS=GID”

“…she is really a lie”—Promises of ad-Dawlah  This is all a lie…fabrication and distortion”—Promises of ad-Dawlah  (…an American industry distorting the minds of the Arab-Islamic generation to eliminate Islam gradually, there is no God but Allah, Muhammed is the messenger of Allah”—Promises of ad-Dawlah

“America is the godfather of terrorism”

“ The video lies …to eliminate the Sunnis and Sunni cities…fabrication and distortion in a cancerous way”

Conclusion

Law enforcement, intelligence and CVE professionals around the world continue to assess the extent to which the collapse of so-called ISIS Caliphate will affect ISIS’ propaganda machinery and online recruitment efforts. As evidence from the field suggests, violent extremist groups like ISIS continue to thrive online, and may even have stepped up their online recruitment efforts with vulnerable youth to try to demonstrate the group’s continued virulence. In doing so, groups like ISIS attempt to persuade their online recruits to carry out homegrown terrorist attacks in their name. They also continue to “harass, recruit and incite violence” online,[24]and this may actually increase in the future.

In addition, some Jordanian security experts have noted that “ the roots of Jordan’s security problem lie in prevalence of extremist ideology in the country, which is in turn empowered by the frustrations of everyday life by many Jordanians.”[25]As also evidenced during our research in Jordan, online ISIS recruiters are very adept at exploiting such issues.  ISIS recruiters “sell” one type of narrative, while ISIS insiders disillusioned with the group’s ability to actually deliver what it is selling may be the most potent force to destroy their terrorist narrative.

Despite takedown policies instituted by social media companies, violent extremist groups continue to operate freely online. While important, once an account has been suspended, there is little that can be done to prevent a user from opening a new, or multiple new accounts. Moreover, the shutdown of extremist content online is heavily reliant on user reporting of extremist content online, which is equally problematic.  Likewise, in the case of YouTube, many experts following extremist content online remark that while takedown policies are rapid for English content, Arabic extremist content often remains present for much longer periods of time.

The purpose of this safety ad awareness campaign was to test if vulnerable audiences can be reached through a Facebook awareness campaign and to attempt to raise awareness about the realities of joining extremist groups like ISIS in order to protect potential vulnerable Jordanian recruits from considering joining.  Our campaign was successful  in driving engagement with our counter narrative materials. In combination, our ads generated a total reach of 808, 035 and close to 908, 056 video views. They also led to thousands of page engagements and hundreds of comments related to our video, ISIS in general, and other contentious socio-political issues that drive and affect violent extremism in Jordan.

While we were able to observe engagement with our counter-narratives, it is far more difficult to observe or report direct cognitive or behavioral changes among those who support violent extremist groups or ideologies. We hope that may in fact be occurring. As some researchers have observed,” It is possible that some of the counter-narrative narrative videos have managed to dissuade individuals from joining or supporting extremist groups, but those users are simply not leaving comments like, ‘Great, [this] video really changed my mind.’”[26]We have only engagement statistics to go by, and in that regard, we were able to observe that the videos can reach and engage the demographics in Jordan who are also vulnerable to being reached online by ISIS propaganda and recruitment efforts.

We will continue to expand our targeting campaigns, including in Jordan, and to drive further engagement on our newly created TheRealJihad.org website and seek support from those who may be willing to act as influencers and interact one- on- one with those who comment thereby magnifying the impact of our counter-narratives.[27]

Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D.is the Director of Research and a Senior Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE).  He has been collecting interviews with ISIS defectors and studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism as well as training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally. He has also been studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and how to rehabilitate them. He has conducted fieldwork in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, Africa,  and the Middle East, mostly recently in Jordan and Iraq. He has presented at professional conferences and published on the topic of radicalization and terrorism. He holds a doctorate in Public Policy and Administration, with a focus on Homeland Security Policy, from Walden University. He obtained his M.A. degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University and a B.A. degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from Dominican University. He is also an adjunct professor teaching counterterrorism and CVE courses at Nichols College .

Endnotes:

first published in our partner ICSVE

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She has interviewed over 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union and many countries in Europe. She is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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Engaging with Local Stakeholders to Improve Maritime Security and Governance

Michael Van Ginkel

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Illicit activity in the maritime domain takes place within a complex cultural, physical, and political environment. When dialogue is initiated with a diverse range of stakeholders, policy recommendations can take into account region-specific limitations and opportunities. As noted in the Stable Seas: Sulu and Celebes Seas maritime security report, sectors like fisheries, coastal welfare, and maritime security are intrinsically linked, making engagement with a diverse range of local stakeholders a necessity. This collaborative approach is essential to devising efficient and sustainable solutions to maritime challenges. Engagement with local stakeholders helps policymakers discover where in these self-reinforcing cycles additional legislation or enforcement would have the greatest positive impact. Political restrictions against pursuing foreign fishing trawlers in Bangladesh, for example, have allowed the trawlers to target recovering populations of hilsa while local artisanal fishers suffer. In the context of the Philippines, the Stable Seas program and the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation recently conducted a workshop that highlighted the importance of consistent stakeholder engagement, resulting in a policy brief entitled A Pathway to Policy Change: Improving Philippine Fisheries, Blue Economy, and Maritime Law Enforcement in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

Physical Environment

Consistent communication with local stakeholders on regional anomalies allows policymakers to modify initiatives to adjust for the physical, cultural, and political context of a maritime issue. The physical environment affects how, where, and why illicit actors operate in the maritime domain. Knowledge held by local stakeholders about uninhabited coastlines, local currents, and the locations of important coastal communities helps policymakers find recognizable patterns in the locations and frequency of maritime incidents. The 36,289 km of coastline in the Philippine archipelago means that almost 60 percent of the country’s municipalities and cities border the sea. The extensive coastline and high levels of maritime traffic make monitoring coastal waters and achieving maritime domain awareness difficult for maritime law enforcement agencies. A Pathway to Policy Change outlines several recommendations by regional experts on ways to improve maritime domain awareness despite limitations imposed by a complex physical environment. The experts deemed collaboration with local government and land-based authorities an important part of addressing the problem. By engaging with stakeholders working in close proximity to maritime areas, policymakers can take into account their detailed knowledge of local environmental factors when determining the method and motive behind illicit activity.

Cultural Environment

Culture shapes how governments respond to non-traditional maritime threats. Competition and rivalry between maritime law enforcement agencies can occur within government structures. A clearer understanding of cultural pressures exerted on community members can help policymakers develop the correct response. Strong ties have been identified between ethnic groups and insurgency recruiting grounds in Mindanao. The Tausug, for instance, tend to fight for the MNLF while the MILF mostly recruits from the Maguindanaons and the Maranao. Without guidance from local stakeholders familiar with cultural norms, correlations could be left unnoticed or the motivations for joining insurgency movements could be misconstrued as being based solely on extremist or separatist ideology. Local stakeholders can offer alternative explanations for behavioral patterns that policymakers need to make accommodations for.

Political Environment

Local stakeholder engagement allows policymakers to work on initiatives that can accommodate limitations imposed by the political environment. Collaboration with local stakeholders can provide information on what government resources, in terms of manpower, capital, and equipment, are available for use. Stakeholders also provide important insights into complex political frameworks that can make straightforward policy implementation difficult. Understanding where resource competition and overlapping jurisdiction exist enables policymakers to formulate more effective initiatives. Despite strong legislation regulating IUU fishing in the Philippines, local stakeholders have pointed out that overlapping jurisdictions have created exploitable gaps in law enforcement. In A Pathway to Policy Change, local experts suggested that the government should lay down an executive order to unify mandates in the fisheries sector to address the issue. Similarly, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is highlighted as a region that heavily influences maritime security in the Sulu and Celebes seas. Working with government officials to understand how policy initiatives need to adjust for the region’s semi-autonomous status ensures maritime issues are properly addressed. BARMM, for instance, issues fishing permits for its own waters in addition to government permits, which can cause inconsistencies. Working alongside local stakeholders allows policymakers to create initiatives that take into account special circumstances within the political system.

Private Sector Engagement

Extending engagement with local stakeholders to the private sector is particularly important during both the policy research and implementation processes. Encouraging private stakeholders to actively help counter illicit activity can help policymakers create a more sustainable and efficient solution to security threats. As A Pathway to Policy Change highlights, private companies already have a strong incentive from a business perspective to involve themselves in environmental and social issues. Governments can encourage further involvement of private stakeholders like blue economy businesses and fishers by offering tax breaks and financial compensation for using sustainable business practices and for helping law enforcement agencies gather information on illicit activity. Offering financial rewards to members of the Bantay Dagat program in the Philippines, for example, would encourage more fishers to participate. Governments can also double down on educational programs to raise awareness of important issues threatening local economic stability. By communicating consistently with local stakeholders, policymakers can both more accurately identify maritime security needs and more comprehensively address them.

Conclusion

The unique physical, cultural, and political context in which maritime issues take place makes the knowledge of local stakeholders an invaluable asset. While many important types of information can be collected without working closely with stakeholders, there are also innumerable important aspects of any given context which cannot be quantified and analyzed from afar. Engagement with stakeholders provides a nuanced understanding of more localized and ephemerial factors that affect regional maritime security. Engaging with local stakeholders allows policymakers to capitalize on opportunities and circumvent limitations created by the political, cultural, and physical environment surrounding maritime issues in order to create sustainable, long-term solutions.

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Turkey Faced With Revolt Among Its Syrian Proxies Over Libyan Incursion

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Relations between Turkey and Syrian armed groups that used to be considered cordial due to massive support provided by the Turkish authorities to the Syrian opposition are rapidly deteriorating over Turkey’s incursion into the Libyan conflict, according to sources among the Syrian militants fighting in Libya.

Last month, over 2,000 fighters defected from Sultan Murad Division, one of the key armed factions serving the Turkish interests in Syria. The group’s members chose to quit after they were ordered to go to Libya to fight on the side of the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). This marks a drastic shift in the attitude of the Syrian fighters towards participation in the Libyan conflict: just a few months ago there was no shortage of mercenaries willing to fly to Libya via Turkey for a lucrative compensation of $2,000 – 5,000 and a promise of Turkish citizenship offered by Ankara.

Both promises turned out to be an exaggeration, if not a complete lie. The militants who traveled to Libya got neither the money nor the citizenship and other perks that were promised to them, revealed a fighter of Ahrar al-Sharqiya faction Zein Ahmad. Moreover, he pointed out that after the fighters arrived in Libya they were immediately dispatched to Tripoli, an arena of regular clashes between GNA forces and units of the Libyan National Army despite Turkish promises of tasking them with maintaining security at oil facilities.

Data gathered by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights shows that around 9,000 members of Turkey-backed Syrian armed factions are currently fighting in Libya, while another 3,500 men are undergoing training in Syria and Turkey preparing for departure. Among them are former members of terror groups such as Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, as confirmed by reports of capture of a 23-years-old HTS fighter Ibrahim Muhammad Darwish by the LNA forces. Another example is an ISIS terrorist also captured by the LNA who confessed that he was flown in from Syria via Turkey.

By sending the Syrian fighters to Libya Ankara intended to recycle and repurpose these groups for establishing its influence without the risks and consequences of a large-scale military operation involving major expenses and casualties among Turkish military personnel. However, the recent developments on the ground show that this goal was not fully achieved.

The Syrian fighters sustain heavy casualties due to the lack of training and weaponry. Total count of losses among the Turkey-backed groups reached hundreds and continue to grow as GNA and LNA clash with intermittent success. Until Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan curbs his ambition, destructive nature of involvement of the Syrian armed groups in Libya may result in the downfall of Turkey’s influence over the Syrian opposition.

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Covid-19: A New Non-traditional Security Threat

Dhritiman Banerjee

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Authors: Dhritiman Banerjee & Ayush Banerjee

Traditional Security vs Non-traditional Security

There exist various types of threats that a nation faces in today’s world. These primordial threats, in turn, affect a nation’s security dilemma in ways more than one. These can be of two primary type- traditional security threats and non-traditional security threats. Traditional security threats are threats to national security that arise out of conventional international issues such as water sharing, land sharing, etc. These disputes often result in a full-scale war or conventional conflicts among the nations involved.

Similarly, non-traditional security threats are the concerns that a nation faces due to the increased complexity in the conduct of foreign relations after the wake of the new world order, post-1945. As more nations gained their independence and as more international organisations were formed, these threats spread throughout the world resulting in diplomatic tensions and, intra-state and inter-state armed conflicts. At times these conflicts also involve non-state belligerents as well. Large scale migration, environmental degradation and climate change action, intensification of ethnocentrism towards ethnonationalism leading to ethnic conflicts, cyberspace security risks, terrorism and violent extremism, etc. are examples of such non-traditional security threats.

Traditional security threats were directly aimed at the system of governance of the involved international actors, often involving various proportions of military conduct and an aggressive foreign policy coupled with intelligence operations. Meanwhile, non-traditional security threats are complex systems of organised opposition to a dominant entity or actor. These may not involve armed warfare or an aggressive foreign policy as such. For instance, the 9/11 attack on the twin towers in the United States by Al-Qaeda affiliates amount to a non-traditional security threat, in general, and terrorism, in particular. This attack was not directly aimed at toppling over the regime in power, rather spread the message of radical extremism globally by a non-state actor of violent nature. Such threats are becoming more and more predominant in the 21st century.

Another instance of a non-traditional security threat stemmed out of the growing resentment for the authoritarian regime in power in Syria, which triggered the Syrian refugee crisis in 2011-12. The rapid displacement of people in rural locals within the nation created large scale dissatisfaction in terms of the economy with a rise in unemployment rates and poverty among with the loss of their means of livelihood. This displaced populace travelled beyond the already fragile Syrian border into several European states that triggered a spillover of the Syrian refugee crisis resulting in a security risk for most south European states such as Greece and Italy. Invariably, most of the European states shut down their borders due to an imminent security risk from extremism and rising ethnocentrism that may have resulted from integrating the refugees into their formal economies. More recently, India shut down its borders on the displaced Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, stating the probable cause of extremism being imminent within such a marginalised, persecuted populace.

The Case of Covid-19

This year shook the global political order. By March 2020, the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan turned into a full-scale health crisis across the world. The virus had spread throughout the globe and new epicentres were discovered almost every week. Nations such as the United States, Spain, Italy, India, United Kingdom, among others have been severely affected ever since. However, alongside the health risks associated with the virus, as most governments focus on the research and development of a safe vaccine, the security risks are becoming more important as a part of this discourse with each passing day. There are restrictions on fundamental freedoms such the freedom of movement and assembly. While most major channels of information have shifted to the domains of cyberspace, governments have become heavily reliant on data infrastructures and domestic resource capacities. The transportation industry alongside others has been severely affected, affecting the national economy. The food supply chain has frayed. There have been no practical international trade operations except for highly politicised transfers of essentials and medicare. Millions have lost their employment and means of livelihood. Fear and panic have spread among the public at large. In a few nations, internal displacement has risen hundred folds.

However, as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads chaos, non-traditional security issues may not result in a nuclear catastrophe, but it may directly or indirectly threaten the survival of States. This time period is extremely important for all governments to reshape their policy processes to curtail the social, economic, political, diplomatic and human security risks associated with the outbreak. While many governments have opted to follow a phased lockdown model to tackle the health-related issues associated with the outbreak, they have failed to implement public policy to curtail the other risks associated with it. This nonchalance has resulted in a new age security dilemma that coerces the States into taking policy actions they never planned to adopt.

There are several security threats that pose a risk to major governments due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the economic context, Covid-19 has increased market volatility such that the price of risk assets has fallen sharply with economies both large and small recording a significant drop of at least 30% at the trough. Tobias Adrian and Fabio Natalucci estimate that “Credit spreads have jumped, especially for lower-rated firms. Signs of stress have also emerged in major short-term funding markets, including the global market for U.S. dollars. Volatility has spiked, in some cases to levels last seen during the global financial crisis, amid the uncertainty about the economic impact of the pandemic. With the spike in volatility, market liquidity has deteriorated significantly, including in markets traditionally seen as deep, like the U.S. Treasury market, contributing to abrupt asset price moves.” It is said that all jobs created since the financial crisis in the US, have been completely wiped away during this Covid-19 outbreak. This creates an atmosphere of public agitation against the government that continues to trigger mass protests and activism. The financial security, housing security, employment security concerns are paramount in this distraught for the public and government alike. International trade is at a standstill affecting all the export-oriented economies around the globe. These nations are now bound by self-reliance on domestic industries creating a need to romp up securitisation efforts at the domestic level itself.

Moreover, Covid-19 is set to increase political instability in countries such as Japan, South Korea, India, Italy, China and the US due to the economic repercussions of the lockdown and also due to the public reaction to governmental policy in efforts towards eradicating the virus. In fact, if the virus causes a global economic meltdown or a global recession, it will perhaps be due to the economic perils the US economy shall face in the coming years. This will also considerably influence Trump’s reelection campaign, as he may be forced to prioritise digital media campaigns over public campaigns due to the risks emanating from Covid-19. There will be rising security concerns with regard to the same considering the fact that there has already been illegitimate involvement of foreign actors in the previous election campaigns wherein Cambridge Analytica was allegedly charged for deliberating manipulating audience content with the help of the Russian Federation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the dependence on cyberspace as software applications such as Google Meet, Skype and Zoom gain in popularity. This gain has been noticeably triggered by the idea of working from home and due to the conversion of physical classroom education to online learning modules. This brings into focus the need for an enhanced cybersecurity mechanism that can allow easy access while also protect the private and personal data of the users. There have already been reports which suggest that the security at Zoom has already been breached. This called for close inspection and proper securitisation of the features to ensure its clients’ next-generation data protection, as a remarkable landmark in the domains of cyberspace security. It is also said that the spread of Covid-19 will increase strategic disinformation campaigns leading to the spreading of propaganda, fake news and manipulated content. Much of this content may also undertake dubious angles on the virus outbreak itself inciting public dissatisfaction leading to panic and mass hysteria. While governments may also attempt at withholding valuable information and data on the actual consequences of the virus especially by downlisting the rate of mortality and infection behind the veil of public security.

The Council of Europe Cybercrimes division has reported that there is valuable evidence that malicious actors are exploiting the cyberspace vulnerabilities to cater to their own advantage. For example, it stated that phishing campaigns and malware distribution through seemingly genuine websites or documents providing information or advice on Covid-19 are used to infect computers and extract user credentials. Attacks against critical infrastructures or international organizations, such as the World Health Organization are becoming seemingly probable. Such agents also use ransomware targeting the mobile phones of individuals using applications that claim to provide genuine information on Covid-19 in order to extract financial information of the user. They can also obtain access to the systems of organisations by targeting employees who are teleworking or video conferencing. Fraudulent schemes where people are tricked into purchasing goods such as masks, hand sanitizers and fake cheap medicines claiming to prevent or cure Covid-19 are also being used for the same purpose by the cybercriminals. These are a few instances that add to the security dilemma the nations face due to the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the world.

Alongside these, the defence industry is set to experience a major slowdown due to the pandemic. Production, manufacturing facilities and supply chains could be affected as the requirements shift towards civilian and police equipment from heavy military equipment. More importance will be given to recovery and aid systems than weapons and ordnances. However, defensive readjustments continue to remain important for ensuring adequate security especially with respect to border control, protection of personnel and institutions, protection of natural resources from exploitation, ensuring law and order as law enforcement and paramilitary operations remain the primary preventive measures at the monopoly of the governments. This crisis will also have profound geopolitical consequences, particularly for the US-China relationship.

Tarık Oğuzlu believes, “the years ahead will likely see the geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China intensify. This power competition will likely transpire within a post-liberal international order in which neither the U.S. will continue to act as the chief provider of global public goods nor China will acquiesce in the role of norm-taker.” We already know that the USA under President Trump’s presidency has already begun questioning the liberal international order from within. Notwithstanding Trump’s reelection in November, the isolationist and nationalist tendencies within the current American society will continue to grow more radical and dominant. There may be smear campaigns that could affect the well-settled Chinese populace in order to expunge them from the integrated American society. Instances of racism and ethnocentrism will grow and lead to civic hostilities threatening public order and human security norms. Similarly, China under President Xi Jinpinghas adopted a more assertive and claimant role in international politics, and China has changed its course from the ‘bide your time and hide your capabilities’ dictum in history. Trade between the two major powers has already come to a standstill.

In the words of Ahyousha Khan, “…it is essential for states to counter non-traditional security threats because they can potentially reduce national resilience of states to prosper. The consequences of these threats would be more damaging for developing world, where there is population density, lack of medical facilities and most importantly economic vulnerability of the state to handle such threats for a prolonged period of time.” It is evident from the aforementioned instances that Covid-19 is, in fact, a non-traditional security threat in ways more than one. It leads to multitudes of security concerns hat encompasses most major domains of politics including the economy and cyberspace. Securitisation and protection services are of paramount importance in the same regard. It can be stated that the need to protect the civilians from such non-traditional security threats will lead States to assume a more authoritarian role whereby the State will increase surveillance on its citizens and will curtail the freedoms of movement and expression. Political leaders often exploit these non-traditional security threats to fulfill their own political interests and to secure their own position as the leader of the party. Such is the security risk arising out of the pandemic at large.

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