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The Persistence of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore

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The piracy and armed robbery (PAR) situation in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS) was reportedly under control from 2017 to 2018. The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre (ISC) recorded eight cases in 2018 compared to nine cases in 2017.[i] ReCAAP ISC attributed the improvement to the counter-piracy measures by the shipping industry and law enforcement agencies. Similarly, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), in its 2018 annual report, cited the same measures to explain the improvement in SOMS.

However, recent cases suggest that the PAR situation in SOMS, especially along the Singapore Strait, is not under control. ReCAAP in January 2020 reported that there is a significant increase in cases since October 2019.[ii] From January to May 2021, the 15 cases that occurred along the Singapore Strait accounted more than 50% of cases in Asia (28 cases).[iii] In July 2021, the IMB highlighted the Singapore Strait as an area of concern.[iv] The perpetrators remain at large, and there are concerns that the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic affects economies of coastal communities, hence creating conditions for PAR to thrive.[v]

Figure 1: Map of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore

Source: Maritime Port Authority of Singapore

Why is PAR a persistent problem in SOMS? This paper examines the issue by providing a historical appreciation of SOMS and interrogating why the notion of “control” is problematic. It implies causation between counter-piracy measures and the underlying structural causes of PAR. Instead, the problem waxes and wane as a function of counter-piracy measures on the one hand and pull and push factors of the PAR business on the other hand.

A WATERWAY OF GLOBAL IMPORTANCE

SOMS is a crucial waterway in Southeast Asia (SEA) that serves as a “global shipping superhighway” and accounts for “a third of the world’s marine commerce.”[vi] The 16th-century Portuguese voyager Tome Pines recorded the historical importance of SOMS to global trade during the early age of European colonialism in his book “The Suma Oriental.” He wrote that “whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.” In modern times, former Chinese president Hu Jintao in 2003 recognised the strategic importance of SOMS – “Malacca Dilemma” – to the economic growth of China.[vii]

Figure 2: Map illustrates a higher level of maritime activities in SOM vis-à-vis SEA

Source: live map from www.marinetraffice.com

PAR in SOMS is a maritime security concern for Singapore, given its plans to boost its economy. Singapore’s Tuas Mega Port is scheduled to be ready in 2040. Furthermore, a bustling maritime zone could inadvertently make SOMS a target-rich environment.[viii] An increase in shipping activities could create more opportunities for PAR.[ix] PAR in SOMS is also a concern to the Iskandar Development Region in Southern Johor, Malaysia, where the Port of Tanjung Pelepas and Johor Port are central to the region’s expansion. For the Riau Islands, Indonesia, shipping is crucial to the province’s free trade zone (FTZ).

PAR is SOMS could have wider implications for the region. The possible nexus between sea piracy and maritime terrorism is one of the primary maritime security issues for Singapore and other littoral states in Southeast Asia. The former President of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, mentioned this point during his speech in 2004 when he was the Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Security and Defence.[x]

Figure 3: Map illustrates the high level of maritime activities in the Singapore Strait and near the Riau Islands province in which Batam is a known pirate hotspot

Source: live map from www.marinetraffice.com

HISTORY INDICATES ENDURING UNDERLYING CAUSES

Historical records show that PAR has been a maritime security problem in SOMS since the 14th century when seaborne trade increased. Given the situation, the Ming Dynasty despatched the famous Admiral Zheng He to battle the pirates.[xi] The historical trend up to the mid-2000s in which coastal states had to implement a raft of counter-piracy measures such as the Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP) indicates that PAR in SOMS is endemic.

Most of the cases in SOMS from 2017 to 2018 occurred along the Singapore Strait, and this pattern continues into 2021.[xii] From January to April 2021, the 12 cases that happened along the Singapore Strait accounted for 50% of cases in Asia.[xiii] These cases correspond to the geographical trend over the past decade. Pirates have been shifting more activities from the Malacca Strait to the Singapore Strait and nearby South China Sea (SCS) instead of relinquishing a life of crime.[xiv]

PAR activities could shift to areas, which the pirates perceive as having lesser counter-piracy patrols. Whenever cases were low, it is possible that pirate activities were still ongoing but below a certain threshold of violence and economic loss. This strategy could help pirates circumvent counter-piracy measures. Anthropological factors such as the “generational shift among the pirates” and the state of the relationship between pirates and criminal syndicates may also partially explain the geographical shift in PAR activities.[xv]

In sum, PAR is “immensely adaptive to changing situations”, and any “control” that counter-piracy measures have is temporary in the long run.[xvi] Conventional security/naval measures in counter-piracy have more impact on the symptoms or tactical aspects than the underlying structural causes that make PAR endemic.

LIMITATIONS OF CASE STATISTICS

Statistics are often used to demonstrate whether the PAR situation is under control or not, but this method has its limitations. Cases may either be over-reported or under-reported.[xvii]

Cases may be under-reported among the shipping communities because the victims are concerned that investigations could disrupt the ship’s schedule and commercial reputation, raising insurance premiums. Victims may not be overly worried if the economic loss is low, and the business could absorb it. The crew are generally unharmed as the pirates used minimal violence to avoid the attention of maritime security agencies. Some victims may not report cases to avoid the attention of governments if their ships are involved in unlawful activities. The activities include forced labour, smuggling, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Victims from coastal communities who operate small fishing and trading boats may not report cases if they distrust local authorities. Some local authorities could be complicit in PAR activities or lack enforcement capabilities. Also, they fear retaliation as the pirates may come from nearby communities or the same islands such as Riau and have links to criminal groups on land. According to the IMB, statistics rarely capture cases involving fishing boats.[xviii] Therefore, while official statistics may paint the picture that the PAR situation is under control, the reality on the ground may be different.

Cases may also be over-reported due to possible insurance fraud or victims reporting more petty thefts and failed PAR attempts.[xix] These cases could have gone unreported in the past to avoid the hassle of making reports. Furthermore, some victims may be more likely to report cases when their awareness of reporting channels is higher following maritime security organisations’ publicity campaigns.

In sum, statistical analysis may not always reflect the actual magnitude of the situation and how it affects different sections of the diverse maritime world – shipping and coastal communities. The situation may be under control for the shipping communities. However, the threat level for coastal communities may continue to be on the high side.

INSIGHTS FROM CASE PATTERNS

Scrutinising patterns in PAR cases instead of statistics only could provide a better situational assessment in terms of economic loss, level of violence used, the profile of pirates, types of ships targeted, who are the owners of the ships, whether the targeted ships were underway or at anchorages, time of the incident, etc. PAR cases should also be analysed alongside other maritime crimes. The overall maritime crime situation may continue to be of concern even if the PAR situation appears to be statistically under control.

Fewer PAR cases may not mean an improvement if perpetrators shift from petty thefts (ReCAAP CAT4 incident) to incidents that involve more violence and economic loss (ReCAAP CAT3 incident). In such a scenario, the pirates are less opportunistic but more organised in target selection, material and other backend support. Instead of the situation under control, the PAR network (e.g. better pirate leaders and recruiters, support from corrupt officials, ready buyers for stolen cargo, etc.) is evolving, therefore, enabling pirates to shift to higher risk but higher reward activities. Counter-piracy measures such as the Malacca Straits Sea Patrol (MSSP) would be insufficient as they could only “control” PAR at sea but not the chain of illicit activities on land that makes the crime possible.[xx] Maritime security agencies should always bear in mind that “all maritime piracy begins and ends on land.”[xxi]

In SOMS, data analytics by ReCAAP suggest that the trend of PAR cases is consistent over the past decade in terms of economic loss and level of violence.[xxii] However, more cases are happening at the Singapore Strait. Several factors may explain this geographic shift. Firstly, the counter-piracy measures along the Malacca Strait may be forcing pirates to “change jobs” to other maritime crimes and shift their operations to the Singapore Strait. Secondly, pirates may be adjusting their strategies to capitalise on better criminal opportunities arising from the growing shipping traffic at the Singapore Strait. Thirdly, it is plausible that more Indonesians in the Riau Islands resort to crime as the province’s economy, particularly Batam, has declined over the past few years and resulted in empty shipyards and rising unemployment.[xxiii]

In this regard, a ReCAAP report stated that the arrests of pirates in 2018 included two masterminds in Batam, a known “pirate haven.”[xxiv] Research unveiled that some Indonesians in the Riau Islands who work as fishermen, boat operators or migrated to Batam from other parts of Indonesia might resort to PAR when in financial desperation.[xxv] Indeed, one measure of whether PAR is under control is to examine if PAR “is still viable for traditional maritime peoples” when “in times of economic hardship.”[xxvi]

Fewer PAR cases may also not mean a real improvement if circumstances make it less risky or more lucrative for pirates and potential pirates to participate in other maritime crimes such as smuggling, IUU fishing and illegal migration. For example, the eight recorded cases in SOMS in 2010 created the perception that PAR there was under control. However, research unveiled that other criminal activities in SOMS “continued unencumbered.”[xxvii]

The number of PAR cases in SOMS for 2016 to 2018 is lower compared to the period of 2011 to 2015. However, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2018 reported that the Malacca Strait continues to be a regular human smuggling route for Indonesians travelling illegally to Malaysia.[xxviii] Furthermore, Indonesian and Malaysian authorities reported a shift in the “pattern of drug smuggling” in SEA, given a “high number of drug smuggling attempts” thwarted at the Malaccan Strait.[xxix] Local smugglers are believed to be involved in the short legs of the smuggling operations. As circumstances change, these smugglers may shift or revert to PAR to maintain their earnings with ease as PAR, and other maritime crimes require the same skillsets and tools.

In sum, fewer PAR cases may not be due to the situation being under control but suggests a plausible interaction with other illicit activities at sea.[xxx] PAR statistics are unable to show how pirates are adapting their strategies to “operate within the layers of international policing and surveillance strategies.”[xxxi]

PIRATES’ INFLUENCE OVER PAR SITUATION

The notion that counter-piracy measures could categorically “control” the PAR situation is problematic. It overlooks the fact that the underlying causes of the persistence of PAR have social, economic, environmental and political roots, which such measures have limited control over.[xxxii] The endemic nature of PAR in SOMS suggests that these underlying causes sustain the pirates’ strategies in the maritime world.

The pirates may be “business as usual” despite existing counter-piracy measures as they could adapt their strategies to stay ahead of challenges to their trade. Furthermore, maritime security agencies have to restrict counter-piracy measures due to sovereignty concerns of coastal states. For example, naval patrols remain coordinated instead of joint, leaving gaps at seas, particularly areas where maritime boundaries are unclear, which pirates could exploit to escape hot pursuit. Geopolitical issues create a trust deficit that prevents coastal states from progressing from strategic cooperation (e.g. “talk shops” and capacity building) to substantive operational cooperation among themselves and with other maritime states such as the United States and Japan.[xxxiii] Intelligence sharing may not be optimal as countries such as Indonesia fear that it could reveal “blind spots in intelligence gathering” and that ports in Singapore and Malaysia would benefit disproportionately from Indonesia’s monitoring of shipping lanes.[xxxiv]

Pirates, however, do not frame their activities according to territorial boundaries and the associated restrictions to operations. Instead, they frame their activities according to “targets, objectives and outcomes”, which influence their modus operandi.[xxxv] Research shows that there are three types of PAR from the perspective of pirates who operate in SOMS.

Firstly, “shopping” is a form of simple, opportunistic or hit-and-run case. Pirates would watch the waterways of SOMS from their villages and strike when they feel that the time, target (ship) and environmental conditions are right. Cases of “shopping” may evade detection, and pirate gangs may elude enforcement actions due to several reasons. Pirate gangs could have bribed the local authorities to “look the other way.” The pirates may gain the acquiescence of the coastal communities by portraying themselves as “Robin Hood” and channelling some of the criminal gains to local needs. These local needs include maintaining village mosques, helping locals with medical costs and even donations to political campaigns. Pirates may also dissuade their victims (e.g. ship’s crew) from reporting the cases to the local authorities. They would limit their use of force as long as the victims do not put up a fight. These reasons suggest that pirates do have some control of the PAR situation by sustaining the sentiments among coastal communities that PAR is “culturally thinkable.” Also, the pirates appear to maintain some tacit agreement with victims. The latter would not resist and report cases to the authorities as long as the former limits the use of force and economic loss.[xxxvi]

Secondly, “black business” is a form of professional theft that typically involves the illicit ship-to-ship transfer of fuel or products and the involvement of insiders. This theft is less risky as compared to “shopping” and more likely to evade counter-piracy measures. The lucrative nature of this crime stems from pirates having the resources and connections to bribe local authorities into reducing patrols in the areas that “black business’ activities happen. “Black business” is possible as pirates work with the “networks of corruption on land as well as at sea” and the transnational network of criminal syndicates. These syndicates facilitate the planning and preparation of PAR activities and disposal of stolen fuel and products.[xxxvii]

Pirates could gain the cooperation of insiders – such as crewmembers – in exchange for money because the “Open Register” in the flag state regime is lacking in terms of enforcing “welfare, training and payment of seafarers.”[xxxviii] Furthermore, the lack of training also begs the question of whether the International Ship and Port facility code (ISPS) has “degenerated into a box-ticking exercise” for some ships and particularly on the code’s requirement for “training drills and exercise on ship security.”[xxxix]

“Black business” is a good PAR model. Although the economic loss is higher than “shopping”, violence is unnecessary. The economic loss is within the “margins of error” in product quantities that companies would write off typically as part of the standard accounting process. These reasons mean that “black business” is essentially under-reported and create the impression that local authorities are categorically in control of the situation.[xl] There were arrests of pirates involved in “black business”, but they could also influence the situation by moderating their activities when prices of fuel and commodities are low.[xli]

Thirdly, “perompakan/bajak laut” is a form of PAR that is more violent and resembles the typical imagery of a pirate attack. It involves either the temporary hijacking of a ship to steal its fuel and cargo or the permanent hijacking of a ship to transform it into a phantom ship. The surge in “perompakan/bajak laut” cases in the early 2000s resulted in the implementation of various counter-piracy measures such as Operation MALSINDO.[xlii] Given the risks of interdiction, pirates who wish to continue with their criminal profession, either full time or to supplement their day jobs, have possibly shifted to less risky forms of PAR – “shopping” and “black business.” “Perompakan/bajak laut” could nevertheless increase if there is increasing competition among pirates for targets for “shopping” and “black business.”

However, it is in the interest of the pirate community to keep “perompakan/bajak laut” cases low. This form of PAR is extremely high risk and less sustainable than “shopping” and “black business.” According to some pirates operating in SOMS, PAR activities that are too aggressive and similar to the “Somali business model” are “bad for business.” They attract too much attention from local authorities of coastal states and security forces of maritime states.[xliii] Pirates may also try to evade attention when committing “perompakan/bajak laut” by targeting ships, which are involved in illicit activities and, in particular, “black business.” This scenario is possible if accomplices whom the pirates engage to provide “security overwatch” for “black business” are also involved in providing similar services for “perompakan/bajak laut.”[xliv] Essentially, pirates have their sources of intelligence from within the criminal fraternity.

While maritime security agencies use counter-piracy measures to control the PAR situation, pirates also seek to influence the situation.  They would want to ensure that the environment remains favourable for the piracy business in the long run. In terms of strategic thinking, pirates perceive counter-piracy measures as operational obstacles. They seek to overcome the obstacles by adjusting internal factors such as their “targets, objectives and outcomes” and adapting to external, pull and push factors such as economic conditions and commodity prices.

In sum, while statistics may suggest that PAR is under control, it may be “business as usual” for the pirates, as research has suggested. This scenario stems from the possibility that pirates continue to remain active in sea-related illicit activities – which counter-piracy measures may not address – to maintain some influence in the shipping and coastal communities.

CONCLUSION

Media reports often cite counter-piracy measures such as coordinated patrols as the reason for fewer PAR cases in SOMS. Statistics that show fewer PAR cases are usually the primary indicator for the effectiveness of these measures in controlling the situation. However, the reality is that PAR is a persistent problem in SOMS.

The reliance on statistics only can be problematic as it overlooks historical trends and qualitative aspects such as patterns in cases. Furthermore, the “control” of the PAR situation, like a coin, has two sides. On the one side, counter-piracy measures address the symptoms and tactical aspects rather than the underlying causes of PAR. On the other side, these enduring underlying causes sustain the pirates’ strategies in the maritime world. Economic hardships resulting from prolonged COVID-19 pandemic could aggravate these underlying structural causes.[xlv]

To conclude, the PAR situation in SOMS is complex. It entails the interplay between conventional security (symptoms and tactical aspects) and human security (underlying structural causes) factors. The persistence of PAR in SOMS is both a function of counter-piracy measures and the substitution of PAR with viable cultural and economic alternatives for coastal communities in the Riau Islands and along SOMS.


[i] Lim Min Zhang, “Less piracy, armed robbery in Asia waters but vigilance still key.” The Straits Times, January 17, 2019. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/less-piracy-armed-robbery-in-asia-waters-but-vigilance-still-key

[ii] ReCAAP, “Monthly Report: Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia,” Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery, January 2020, https://www.recaap.org/resources/ck/files/reports/monthly/2021/ReCAAP%20ISC%20May%202021%20Report.pdf, pp. 8 -11

[iii] ReCAAP, “Monthly Report: Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia,” Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery, May 2021, https://www.recaap.org/resources/ck/files/reports/monthly/2021/ReCAAP%20ISC%20Report%20for%20April%202021.pdf, pp. 9 – 12

[iv] Dale Wainwright, “Piracy at ’27-year low’ but risk remains, warns IMB,” TradeWinds, July 13, 2021, https://www.tradewindsnews.com/casualties/piracy-at-27-year-low-but-risk-remains-warns-imb/2-1-1039215

[v] Ian Storey, “Will Covid-19 Trigger a Tsunami of Maritime Crime in Southeast Asia?” Fulcrum, August 06, 2020, https://www.iseas.edu.sg/media/commentaries/will-covid-19-trigger-a-tsunami-of-maritime-crime-in-southeast-asia/

[vi] Adam McCauley, “The Most Dangerous Waters in the World.” TIME, September 22, 2014. http://time.com/piracy-southeast-asia-malacca-strait/

[vii] Malcolm Davis, “China’s ‘Malacca Dilemma’ and the future of the PLA.” Asia Dialogue, November 21, 2014. http://theasiadialogue.com/2014/11/21/chinas-malacca-dilemma-and-the-future-of-the-pla/

[viii] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, p. 123

[ix] Bruce A. Ellermen, Andrew Forbes and David Rosenberg, Piracy and Maritime Crime: Historical and Modern Case Studies. Newport: Naval War College, 2011, p. 81

[x] “Speech by Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for Security and Defence at the 2004 IDSS Maritime Security Conference held on Thursday, 20 May 2004 at 9.00 am at Marina Mandarin Hotel,” MCI Singapore, May 20, 2004

[xi] Graham Gerard Ong-Webb, Piracy, Maritime Terrorism, and Securing the Malaccan Straits. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2006, p. 225

[xii] ReCAAP, “ReCAAP ISC Weekly Report: 5-11 Mar 19.” ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre, March 11, 2019. http://www.recaap.org/resources/ck/files/reports/weekly/2019/ReCAAP%20ISC%20Weekly%20Report%20(5-11%20Mar%2019).pdf

[xiii] ReCAAP, “Monthly Report: Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia,” Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery, April 2021, pp. 9 – 12, https://www.recaap.org/resources/ck/files/reports/monthly/2021/ReCAAP%20ISC%20Report%20for%20April%202021.pdf

[xiv] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, p. 12

[xv] Stefan Eklof, Pirates in Paradise: A Modern History of Southeast Asia’s Maritime Marauders. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2006, p. 51

[xvi] Derek Johnson and Mark Valencia (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Status, Issues and Responses. Singapore: ISEAS Publications, 2005, p. 24

[xvii] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, pp. 16 – 18

[xviii] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, p. 2

[xix] Euan Graham, “Syphoning Confidence: Piracy and Fuel Theft in Southeast Asia.” RSIS Commentary, November 18, 2014. https://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/CO14227.pdf

[xx] Karsten Von Hoesslin, “The Economics of Piracy in Southeast Asia.” Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, May 2016, p. 21

[xxi] Bruce A Ellermen, Andrew Forbes and David Rosenberg, Piracy and Maritime Crime: Historical and Modern Case Studies. Newport: Naval War College, 2011, p. 81

[xxii] ReCAAP. (2018). “Annual Report 2018: Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia.” ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre, December 31, 2018. http://www.recaap.org/resources/ck/files/reports/annual/ReCAAP%20ISC%20Annual%20Report%202018.pdf, pp. 50 -55

[xxiii] Francis E. Hutchison and Siwage D. Negara, “Batam’s Emerging Digital Economy: Prospects and Challenges.” ISEAS Yusof Ishak, April 10, 2019. https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_Perspective_2019_25.pdf, p. 3

[xxiv] Eric Frecon, “Beyond the Sea: Fighting Piracy in Southeast Asia.” RSIS Commentary, December 21, 2009. https://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/rsis/co09128-beyond-the-sea-fighting-piracy-in-southeast-asia/#.YMgYDvLivIU

[xxv] Eric Frecon, “Pirates with black magic attack shipping in Indonesian waters.” The Conversation, April 27, 2018. http://theconversation.com/pirates-with-black-magic-attack-shipping-in-indonesian-waters-94106

[xxvi] Bruce A Ellermen, Andrew Forbes and David Rosenberg, Piracy and Maritime Crime: Historical and Modern Case Studies. Newport: Naval War College, 2011, p. 82

[xxvii] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, p.122

[xxviii] UNODC, “Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants 2018.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, June 2018. https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glosom/GLOSOM_2018_web_small.pdf, p.127

[xxix] Apriadi Gunawan, “Malacca Strait remains prone to transnational crimes.” The Jakarta Post, December 05, 2018. https://www.thejakartapost.com/seasia/2018/12/05/malacca-strait-remains-prone-to-transnational-crimes.html

[xxx] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, p.169

[xxxi] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, p.122

[xxxii] Derek Johnson and Mark Valencia (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Status, Issues and Responses. Singapore: ISEAS Publications, 2005, pp. 25 and 126

[xxxiii] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, pp. 170 – 171

[xxxiv] Karsten Von Hoesslin, “The Economics of Piracy in Southeast Asia.” Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, May 2016, p. 20

[xxxv] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, p. 124

[xxxvi] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, pp. 124 – 126

[xxxvii] Karsten Von Hoesslin, “The Economics of Piracy in Southeast Asia.” Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, May 2016, pp. 11, 15 and 21

[xxxviii] Carolin Liss, “The Roots of Piracy in Southeast Asia”, Nautilus Institute, October 22, 2007. https://nautilus.org/apsnet/the-roots-of-piracy-in-southeast-asia/, p. 5

[xxxix] Derek Johnson and Mark Valencia (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Status, Issues and Responses. Singapore: ISEAS Publications, 2005, p. 37

[xl] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, pp. 126, 127 and 169

[xli] Karsten Von Hoesslin, “The Economics of Piracy in Southeast Asia.” Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, May 2016, pp. 20 – 21

[xlii] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, p. 128

[xliii] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, p. 124

[xliv] Liss and Biggs (Eds.), Piracy in Southeast Asia: Trends, Hot Spots and Responses. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, p. 129

[xlv] CNA, “Sea robbery incidents in Singapore Strait rise again in 2020,” Channel News Asia, January 15, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-strait-sea-robbery-piracy-13966858

Muhammad Faizal bin Abdul Rahman is a Research Fellow (Cyber and Homeland Defence) at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS), a unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. His research interests include homeland security, asymmetric threats, influence operations and terrorism.

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Intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Online Radicalization in India

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

               Indian Context

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

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

               Undermining Indian Threat

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

               Radicalisation Strategies/methods: Indian vs global players

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

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

               Adoption of online platforms and technology

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

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

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

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

Rise of radicalization in southern India

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

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

               Radicalization: Similarities/Distinctions in North and South

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

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

               Impact of Radicalisation

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

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

               Challenges Ahead

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

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

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

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

India’s Counter Measures

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

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

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

Prognosis

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

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

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Is Deterrence in Cyberspace Possible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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