Thursday, November 29, 2018
There are four times as many Sunni Islamist militants today in the world than on September 11, 2001, despite an almost 20 year-long war campaign by the United States and its allies, according to a new report. Washington launched the ‘global war on terrorism’ in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that were perpetrated by al-Qaeda. In the ensuing years, American and other Western troops have engaged militarily in over a dozen countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and the Philippines. But a new study by the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) suggests that the West’s efforts to combat Sunni militancy are failing —and may even be making the problem worse. The report by the Washington-based think-tank states that the number of active Sunni Islamist militants today is as much as “270 percent greater than in 2001, when the 9/11 attacks occurred”.
Entitled “The Evolution of the Salafi-Jihadist Threat”, the 71-page report is one of the most extensive ever undertaken on this topic, drawing on information from data sets that date back nearly 40 years. It warns that, despite the rapid loss of territory suffered by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, armed Sunni militancy is “far from defeated”. The number of Salafi-jihadists —active proponents of armed fight against perceived enemies of Islam— has slightly declined in comparison to 2016, but it remains at near-peak levels over a 38-year period, says the CSIS report. It estimates that there are today as many as 230,000 Salafi-jihadists in almost 70 countries. Most of them are based in Syria (as many as 70,500), Afghanistan (as many as 64,000), Pakistan (up to 40,000), and Iraq (up to 15,000). Nearly 30,000 more are in Africa, primarily in Somalia, Nigeria and the Sahel region.
These fighters, and the groups they fight under, are far more resilient than Western antiterrorist strategists tend to assume, claims the report. They are also inadvertently aided by successive policy failures by the US and its closest Western allies. The latter focus primarily on the military aspects of counterterrorism campaigns, while ignoring the importance of improving local governance in territories where Sunni Islamism is rife, argues the report. Therefore, as the US and its allies continue to engage “in a seemingly endless [military] confrontation with a metastasizing set of militant groups”, they face seemingly endless waves of militants, who are becoming increasingly capable of resisting Western conventional military force. The report is available online in .pdf form, here.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis
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Norway’s supreme legislature body is considering a bill that would offer immunity from prosecution to intelligence officers and informants who are authorized by the country’s spy service to conduct espionage. The bill has been proposed on behalf of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Defense, which supervises the operations of the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS), Norway’s primary intelligence agency. The NIS operates primarily abroad and is the only institution of the Norwegian state that can be authorized by the government to break laws in foreign countries. However, supporters of the new bill point out that NIS overseas operations can also break Norwegian law. That is something that the proposed bill addresses, they argue.
The proposed bill offers immunity from prosecution to NIS case officers and their assets —either informants or foreign spies— who may commit offenses under Norwegian law, as part of authorized espionage operations. In its consultation note that accompanies the proposed bill, the Norwegian Ministry of Defense admits that a number of NIS operations “already violate existing Norwegian laws”. That is inevitable, argues the Ministry, because officers and informants who engage in espionage operations will often “act contrary to the stipulations of criminal law […] as part of their assignments”. They may, in other words, “do certain things that would be illegal if they were done not on behalf of the intelligence service”, states the consultation note.
The document does not provide details of the types of offenses that are committed in pursuit of intelligence operations, arguing that “the offenses that the NIS commits, as well as its methods, must remain secret”. It does, however, suggest that intelligence officers may make use of “false or misleading identities, documents and information”. They may also “smuggle large amounts of cash from the country”, which they will use to pay foreign assets. Given that these assets receive Norwegian taxpayers’ funds, and that some of them end up settling in Norway, it is important that their proceeds not be considered taxable income under Norwegian law, according to the Defense Ministry. By reporting their revenue to the Norwegian Tax Administration, these assets would make their NIS connection known, and thus blow their cover, the document states.
The Defense Ministry notes that the new bill “will have little legal significance”, as NIS espionage operations are generally shielded from prosecution under Norway’s existing legal codes. It will, however, formalize the NIS’ legal scope and allow the agency to assure its case officers that they can perform their missions without fearing arrest or prosecution, so long as they act within the parameters of their authorized missions. The spy agency will also be able to recruit more “informants, sources and contractors”, says the document.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis
Twenty-five members of the European Union have agreed to establish a joint intelligence training academy, a move interpreted by some as a concrete effort to deepen inter-European security cooperation following Brexit. The announcement came just hours after leading EU heads of state spoke in favor of establishing a joint EU defense force. Calls for tighter cooperation between EU members in the areas of defense and security have been issued for decades. But the upcoming departure of Britain from the EU —popularly known as Brexit— has prompted Germany and France to propose deeper integration as a response to the rise of anti-EU sentiment across the continent.
The decision to establish a joint intelligence training school was approved on Monday by the ministers of defense and foreign affairs of 25 EU members. It was part of a wider agreement involving 16 other joint defense and security projects under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) pact. The pact was first agreed on in September of 2017, and has since been functioning under the supervision of the European Defense Agency and the External Action Service —the diplomatic service of the EU. Nearly 20 projects of a military or security nature have since been signed under PESCO. Monday’s agreement virtually doubled the PESCO projects in existence. The new EU intelligence academy initiative will be led by Greece —an EU member since 1981— and will be headquartered in Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004. When it becomes operational, the academy will provide “education and training in intelligence disciplines and other specific fields to EU member states’ intelligence personnel”, according to a joint PESCO communique issued on Monday.
The new intelligence school will work in cooperation with the individual intelligence agencies of the 25 co-signatory states, along with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and with other regional security bodies, said PESCO. However, three EU states, namely Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom, refused to support the project. Denmark and Malta are not participants in PESCO, while the United Kingdom is expected to leave the EU in March of next year. However, even before Brexit, London had vetoed the idea of closer EU intelligence cooperation, which it saw as a potential competitor to the so-called Five Eyes alliance, a postwar intelligence pact between the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Additionally, despite the overwhelming support for the intelligence academy by EU officials, it remains to be seen whether it will be realized. Observers told Politico on Monday that many other PESCO projects have “yet to get much beyond the drawing board” since their announcement last year.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis