In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks that took place in Brussels, we can question the current strategy in the fight against terrorism, especially the fight against Daesh. Are we doing the right things?
The recent terrorist attack in Brussels is a clear reminder that terrorism is still alive and well. Unfortunately Daesh is proving to be an outstanding enemy to fight against and even though the organization is losing ground in the Middle East, it is still able to influence people all over the world in launching terrorist attacks. Having that in mind, one must ask if the current strategy is really working, or if a shift would be necessary to get the upper hand on Daesh?
Asking the question is, in fact, giving the answer. The current strategy is nice, but it’s not great. Let’s make it great again, shall we? What can we do then?
Letting Go the Global Surveillance of the Internet
One of the pillars of the so-called “war against terrorism” launched in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attack is the willingness to globally monitor online activities in hope to find terrorists before they can commit an attack. So, the goal was mainly to detect a terrorist plot through the analysis of Internet relations between individuals. By looking at the relations between peoples, a thorough investigation would be able to show that a couple of them are having links and discussions that tend to show that they are plotting together. It would then be possible to act before the plot becomes an actual attack.
If in theory that seems to be a good solution to prevent, and even pre-empt terrorist attacks, the problem with that strategy is that practically it doesn’t work. Statistically, it is just not feasible. The thing has been proven over and over again through the Bayes theorem by some of the best mathematicians all over the world. Heck, even Bruce Schneier is telling us that it is not a project that can be done.
Furthermore, even though there is currently a widespread surveillance of the Internet, this is has not led the authorities to intercept the communications between the Brussels terrorist. And even though some wants to blame encryption methods to explain to us why the surveillance doesn’t appear to be efficient in the fight against terrorism, the truth is that even though communications aren’t encrypted, they cannot be collected, processed, classified, analyzed and transmitted in time to make sense of the information. This is exactly what happened in Paris; the terrorists didn’t even bother to use encryption in their communication. They used burner phones to avoid detections from the authorities. So we had the potential to know, but we did not. And a tragedy happened.
Small Is Beautiful
One way to make surveillance better at what it is doing would be to actively monitor people that are already suspected of conducting terrorist activities (logistical support, recruitment, potential attacks, etc.). Unfortunately, many of the terrorist attack that we saw in the recent months were conducted by some people that were already known by the authorities.
Switching resources from the global surveillance of the Internet toward the surveillance of known individuals that has already been categorized as being problematic would, at least, make sure that the security agencies involved in the fight against terrorism would have a better chance at stopping those people before they act. Just stopping people that we know are involved in terrorist activities would be a big plus, even though we are a little less efficient at identifying new threat.
A Global Effort
The other thing that we must underline is the fact that Daesh efforts are literally global. Their vision of the world is not compressed into a “national space”. It is not a vision defined by some geographical location, or some political boundaries. The vision that they spread plainly transcend traditional space. It even transcends time, as this war is seen as an ongoing effort that shall be conducted through generations to come.
As such, conducting a “war against terrorism” must really be an international effort that reflects the type of enemy that we must defeat. If they think globally, we must think globally. That means that intelligence agencies must be able to share actionable intelligence to their international partners just in time, even though those partners aren’t seen as “natural allies”.
That also means that the fight against Daesh must be conducted by more players that are willing to “get boots on the ground”. Drone attacks won’t be enough. Of course, this type of operation is costly; people are going to die, and a lot of money will be spent. But, right now, the operations we are engaged in aren’t stopping the threat. They have the effect of a rock thrown in a pool; we hit the centre of the problem, but we don’t know how to manage the ripple effect. This ripple effect is the propaganda pushed by Daesh everywhere; a discourse nourished by our inefficient strategy.
Yep, it is time for a shift.