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Counter Terrorism: Global Learnings

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Writer: Dr. Vivek Lall

An excellent article on the lessons to be learnt from the US, British and French experience in Counter Terrorism (CT) operations. The writer highlights the need for an effective CT strategy that should be reviewed regularly. Homeland Security should be treated as the pivot of such a strategy and we must invest in prevention and ensure effective investigation and prosecution. India’s vulnerability to terrorism to a large measure is attributable to its geography - its borders are not secure. An open border with Nepal and a porous border with Bangladesh as well as the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir allow for unhindered movement of terrorists. India’s coastal security also needs to be beefed up.

 

Terrorism is a global phenomenon - developed and developing countries like India have equally felt the scourge of terrorist attacks. The events of 9/11 highlighted vividly the links between security, terrorism and globalisation and drew into sharp focus the need to understand and counter the threat of international terrorism. As more sophisticated technologies emerge, new risks proliferate at an exponential rate. The information technologies of the 1980s facilitate international crime and assist terrorism. We live in an age of globalisation and it is now accepted wisdom that the risks we face are more catastrophic than those of the past because they are global.

Experience from across the world shows us that terrorism may be contained or reduced but not completely eradicated. Some countries that have succeeded in controlling terrorist attacks include France, England, Germany, USA and, nearer home, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Based on their experience in handling terrorist activities in their respective territories, various countries have adopted diverse strategies and different measures to counter terrorist threats. Some of the common themes adopted by countries in countering terrorism are discussed here.

 

Effective counter-terrorism strategy


An effective counter-terrorism strategy based on domestic, regional and global threat perception is vital. Such a strategy should be articulated in clear terms to avoid mis-interpretations by stakeholders at the federal as well as at the state levels. The strategy should incorporate multi-dimensional threats and lay out comprehensive national objectives. A regular review of the strategy should become part of the strategy itself.

 

Some countries that have succeeded in controlling terrorist attacks include France, England, Germany, USA and, nearer home, Indonesia and Sri Lanka

Following 9/11, the United States launched a large scale, multi-dimensional global war against terrorism. This war includes military, diplomatic and intelligence efforts that transcend America’s shores to include operations across the world. Measures relating to immigration; prevention and reversing radicalisation or extremism; international cooperation; securing critical infrastructure; institutional development; attacking terror financing; empowering the police and other agencies are all components of this strategy. The NCTC was set up in 2004 as the primary organisation in US government for analysing and integrating all intelligence possessed or acquired by US government pertaining to terrorism and counter-terrorism except purely domestic counter-terrorism information. The NCTC also conducts strategic operational planning for counter-terrorism activities, assigns operational responsibility to lead agencies and serves as central shared knowledge bank on terrorism. Composed of representatives of all intelligence agencies the NCTC coordinates all counter-terrorism activities on US soil.

The PATRIOT Act provides leeway for law enforcement agencies in dealing with matters pertaining to national security. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was inaugurated in March 2003 as the lead federal agency to secure the nation which is now the third largest department with 1,80,000 employees with the Secret Service, Customs, Coast Guard, Immigration and Naturalisation Service as well as the Transportation Security Administration under its control. In order to reduce the impact of any large scale terror attack, the DHS is responsible for crisis preparation, management and response.

A major focus of UK and Netherlands counter-terrorism strategy is to educate the public about the steps taken to prevent terrorist attacks.

 

Protect homeland


Homeland security should be the pivot of an effective counter-terrorism strategy. This calls for identifying threats posed not only from outside but within, disseminate the information about the threats and steps to mitigate such threats among the security forces as well as the general public. An effective homeland security not only needs an extraordinary coordination among intelligence agencies but also should incorporate security forces as well as investigating agencies of non-security wings of the government.

 

India’s vulnerability to terrorism to a large measure is attributable to its geography - its borders are not secure. An open border with Nepal and a porous border with Bangladesh as well as the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir allow for unhindered movement of terrorists. India’s coastal security also needs to be beefed up

France’s counter-terrorism strategy is considered one of the most effective in Europe. The country experienced violence from muslim activists since the 1980s through 1995/96.The key elements of France’s strategy were privileged relationship between intelligence agencies and the magistracy, qualification of terrorist acts as autonomous offences and centralisation of terrorist related judicial proceedings. Vigipirate (security alert plan) a nation-wide pre-planned security measure was formulated. Other preventive measures included movement control to risky countries, provision of personal data by airlines and shipping companies to state, retention of data by cyber cafes and telecom providers for one year, major expansion of video surveillance and easier access to files by investigators. The strategy also visualises the use of military, law enforcement, intelligence and other resources to identify, circumvent and neutralise terror groups within France. For overseeing and coordinating anti-terror activity, the Inter-Ministerial Liaison Committee was set up that supervises the Anti-terrorism Coordination Unit with members from Interior and Defence Ministries.

 

Invest in prevention


Prevention should be the driving force of an effective counter-terrorism strategy. This calls not only for greater coordination among security forces and intelligence agencies but also considerable investments in these agencies to expand their areas of operation and mandate. An effective preventive strategy will necessarily call for a greater cooperation with security agencies and governments across the world. This means a more robust working relationship between diplomacy and security agencies at the decision-making as well as operational level. In other words, there is a need for policemen to increasingly understand the nuances of diplomacy and diplomats to realise the security imperatives. A successful preventive strategy also calls for a greater engagement between the government or the security forces with the civil society. Such an engagement not only acts as a force multiplier for security and intelligence agencies but also enables the government to effectively implement programmes like de-radicalisation, civil-police interface or to defuse communal, sectarian and other identity tensions.

Following 9/11, the United States launched a large scale, multi-dimensional global war against terrorism. This war includes military, diplomatic and intelligence efforts that transcend America's shores to include operations across the world. Measures relating to immigration; prevention and reversing radicalisation or extremism; international cooperation; securing critical infrastructure; institutional development; attacking terror financing; empowering the police and other agencies are all components of this strategy

 

The UK’s Prevent strategy, launched in 2007, seeks to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. It is the preventative strand of the government’s CONTEST strategy. The Prevent strategy includes responding to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat from those who promote it; preventing people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support; and working with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation that need to be addressed.

 

Effective investigation and prosecution


Investigation and prosecution of terrorist incidents and terrorists are often a key to help prevent future terrorist activities and attacks. An effective, credible investigation can often lead to terrorist hideouts, networks, support bases, financial networks and other crucial information which can help prevent future attacks. Not only does such successfully carried out investigations boost the morale and capability of the investigating agencies but also instill a sense of confidence in the general public. It also does defuse fears and doubts about unfair targeting of certain select groups or communities. A successful investigation, backed by credible forensic evidence, leads to an effective prosecution of terrorism cases which establishes the credibility and strength of the state as well as create a sense of security among the people. Poor investigations often lead to prosecution failures with detrimental consequences for CT officials but also the country as a whole.

 

India’s vulnerability to terrorism to a large measure is attributable to its geography - its borders are not secure. An open border with Nepal and a porous border with Bangladesh as well as the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir allow for unhindered movement of terrorists. India’s coastal security also needs to be beefed up, as the Mumbai terrorist attack has demonstrated. Homegrown terrorist groups, abetted and aided by external help, have also established a foothold. Socio economic and political motivations have also been contributing factors to violent activities. Homeland Security in India is a very complex issue and the government will have to put in place measures that address all these threats.


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