Definitions

Counter-terrorism

Counter-terrorism

[koun-ter-ter-uh-riz-uhm]
Counter-terrorism or counterterrorism refers to the practices, tactics, techniques, and strategies that governments, militaries, police departments and corporations adopt in response to terrorist threats and/or acts, both real and imputed.

The tactic of Terrorism is available to insurgents and governments. Not all insurgents use terror as a tactic, and some choose not to use it because other tactics work better for them in a particular context. Individuals, such as Timothy McVeigh, may also engage in terrorist acts such as the Oklahoma City bombing. If the terrorism is part of a broader insurgency, counter-terrorism may also form a part of a counter-insurgency doctrine, but political, economic, and other measures may focus more on the insurgency than the specific acts of terror. Foreign internal defense (FID) is a term used by several countries for programs either to suppress insurgency, or reduce the conditions under which insurgency could develop.

Counter-terrorism includes both the detection of potential acts and the response to related events.

Anti-terrorism versus counter-terrorism

The concept of anti-terrorism emerges from a thorough examining of the concept of terrorism as well as an attempt to understand and articulate what constitutes terrorism in Western terms. It must be remembered that in military contexts, terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology. Terrorism may be a tactic in a war between nation-states, in a civil war, or in an insurgency.

Counter-terrorism refers to offensive strategies intended to prevent a belligerent, in a broader conflict, from successfully using the tactic of terrorism. The U.S. military definition, compatible with the definitions used by NATO and many other militaries, is "Operations that include the offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, preempt, and respond to terrorism." In other words, counter-terrorism is a set of techniques for denying an opponent the use terrorism-based tactics, just as counter-air is a set of techniques for denying the opponent the use of attack aircraft.

Anti-terrorism is defensive, intended to reduce the chance of an attack using terrorist tactics at specific points, or to reduce the vulnerability of possible targets to such tactics. "Defensive measures used to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and property to terrorist acts, to include limited response and containment by local military and civilian forces." To continue the analogy between air and terrorist capability, offensive counter-air missions attack the airfields of the opponent, while defensive counter-air uses antiaircraft missiles to protect a point on one's own territory. The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sri Lankan Civil War, and Colombian Civil War are examples of conflicts where terrorism is present, along with other tactics, so that a participant uses counter- and anti-terrorism to limit the opponent's use of terror tactics.

Planning for detecting and neutralizing potential terrorist acts

Building a counter-terrorism plan involves all segments of a society or many government agencies. In dealing with foreign terrorists, the lead responsibility is usually at the national level. Because propaganda and indoctrination lie at the core of terrorism, understanding their profile and functions increases the ability to counter terrorism more effectively. See the series of articles beginning with intelligence cycle management, and, in particular, intelligence analysis. HUMINT presents techniques of describing the social networks that make up terrorist groups. Also relevant are the motivations of the individual terrorist and the structure of cell systems used by recent non-national terrorist groups.

Most counter-terrorism strategies involve an increase in standard police and domestic intelligence. The central activities are traditional: interception of communications, and the tracing of persons. New technology has, however, expanded the range of military and law enforcement operations. Domestic intelligence is often directed at specific groups, defined on the basis of origin or religion, which is a source of political controversy. Mass surveillance of an entire population raises objections on civil liberties grounds.

To select the effective action when terrorism appears to be more of an isolated event, the appropriate government organizations need to understand the source, motivation, methods of preparation, and tactics of terrorist groups. Good intelligence is at the heart of such preparation, as well as political and social understanding of any grievances that might be solved. Ideally, one gets information from inside the group, a very difficult challenge for HUMINT because operational terrorist cells are often small, with all members known to one another, perhaps even related. Counterintelligence is a great challenge with the security of cell-based systems, since the ideal, but nearly impossible, goal is to obtain a clandestine source within the cell. Financial tracking can play a role, as can communications intercept, but both of these approaches need to be balanced against legitimate expectations of privacy.

Legal contexts

In response to the growing threat of international terrorism many countries have introduced anti-terrorism legislation.

Terrorism and human rights

One of the primary difficulties of implementing effective counter-terrorist measures is the waning of civil liberties and individual privacy that such measures often entail, both for citizens of, and for those detained by states attempting to combat terror. At times, measures designed to tighten security have been seen as abuses of power or even violations of human rights.

Examples of these problems can include prolonged, incommunicado detention without judicial review; risk of subjecting to torture during the transfer, return and extradition of people between or within countries; and the adoption of security measures that restrain the rights or freedoms of citizens and breach principles of non-discrimination. Examples include:

  • In November 2003 Malaysia passed new counter-terrorism laws that were widely criticized by local human rights groups for being vague and overbroad. Critics claim that the laws put the basic rights of free expression, association, and assembly at risk. Malaysia persisted in holding around 100 alleged militants without trial, including five Malaysian students detained for alleged terrorist activity while studying in Karachi, Pakistan.
  • In November 2003 a Canadian-Syrian national, Maher Arar, alleged publicly that he had been tortured in a Syrian prison after being handed over to the Syrian authorities by U.S.
  • In December 2003 Colombia's congress approved legislation that would give the military the power to arrest, tap telephones and carry out searches without warrants or any previous judicial order.
  • Images of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody in Iraq and other locations have jeopardized the legitimacy of the US war on terrorism and brought on international scrutiny.
  • Hundreds of foreign nationals remain in prolonged indefinite detention without charge or trial in Guantánamo Bay, despite international and US constitutional standards outlawing such practices.
  • Hundreds of people suspected of connections with the Taliban or al Qa'eda remain in long-term arbitrary detention in Pakistan or in US-controlled centres in Afghanistan.
  • China has used the "war on terror" to justify its repression policies in the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region to stifle Uighur identity.
  • In Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Yemen and other countries, scores of people have been arrested and arbitrarily detained in connection with suspected terrorist acts or links to opposition armed groups.
  • Until 2005 eleven men remained in high security detention in the UK under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

Many would argue that such violations exacerbate rather than counter the terrorist threat. Human rights advocates argue for the crucial role of human rights protection as an intrinsic part to fight against terrorism. This suggests, as proponents of human security have long argued, that respecting human rights may indeed help us to incur security. Amnesty International included a section on confronting terrorism in the recommendations in the Madrid Agenda arising from the Madrid Summit on Democracy and Terrorism (Madrid 8-11 March 2005):

"Democratic principles and values are essential tools in the fight against terrorism. Any successful strategy for dealing with terrorism requires terrorists to be isolated. Consequently, the preference must be to treat terrorism as criminal acts to be handled through existing systems of law enforcement and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law. We recommend: (1) taking effective measures to make impunity impossible either for acts of terrorism or for the abuse of human rights in counter-terrorism measures. (2) the incorporation of human rights laws in all anti-terrorism programmes and policies of national governments as well as international bodies."

While international efforts to combat terrorism have focused on the need to enhance cooperation between states, proponents of human rights (as well as human security) have suggested that more effort needs to be given to the effective inclusion of human rights protection as a crucial element in that cooperation. They argue that international human rights obligations do not stop at borders and a failure to respect human rights in one state may undermine its effectiveness in the international effort to cooperate to combat terrorism.

Preemptive neutralization

Some countries see pre-emptive attacks as a legitimate strategy. This includes capturing, killing, or disabling suspected terrorists before they can mount an attack. Israel, the United States, and Russia have taken this approach, while Western European states generally do not.

Another major method of pre-emptive neutralization is interrogation of known or suspected terrorists to obtain information about specific plots, targets, the identity of other terrorists, and whether the interrogation subjects himself as guilty of terrorist involvement. Sometimes more extreme methods are used to increase suggestibility, such as sleep deprivation or drugs. Such methods may lead captives to offer false information in an attempt to stop the treatment, or due to the confusion brought on by it. These methods are not available to European powers because in 1978 the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the Ireland v. United Kingdom case that such methods amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment, and that such practices were in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights Article 3 (art. 3).

Non-military preventive actions

The human security paradigm outlines a non-military approach which aims to address the enduring underlying inequalities which fuel terrorist activity. Causal factors need to be delineated and measures implemented which allow equal access to resources and sustainability for all peoples. Such activities empower citizens providing 'freedom from fear' and 'freedom from want'. This can take many forms including the provision of clean drinking water, education, vaccination programs, provision of food and shelter and protection from violence, military or otherwise. Successful human security campaigns have been characterised by the participation of a diverse group of actors including governments, NGOs, and citizens.

Foreign internal defense programs provide outside expert assistance to a threatened government. FID can involve both non-military and military aspects of counter-terrorism.

Military intervention

Terrorism has often been used to justify military intervention in countries where terrorists are said to be based. That was the main stated justification for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. It was also a stated justification for the second Russian invasion of Chechnya.

History has shown that military intervention has rarely been successful in stopping or preventing terrorism. Although military action can disrupt a terrorist group's operations temporarily, it rarely ends the threat. Provoking repression is actually a key goal of terrorism, as most of the time it increases the popularity of the terrorist cause as well as furthers the motivation for continuing terrorism. Most probably such a strategy against terrorism is not successful and cannot be as the structural causes of terrorism are not addressed: Relative deprivation that leads to frustration, aggressive foreign policy that leads to 'hate', and psychosocial effects of globalization (as well as other causes) are not solved. Thus repression by the military in itself (particularly if it is not accompanied by other measures) usually leads to short term victories, but tend to be unsuccessful in the long run (e.g. the French's doctrine described in Roger Trinquier's book Modern War used in Indochina and Algeria). However, new methods (see the new Counterinsurgency Field Manual) such as those taken in Iraq have yet to be seen as beneficial or ineffectual.

Planning for response to terrorism

Police, fire, and emergency medical response organizations have obvious roles. Local firefighters and emergency medical personnel (often called "first responders") have plans for mitigating the effects of terrorist attacks, although police may deal with threats of such attacks.

Target-hardening

Whatever the target of terrorists, there are multiple ways of hardening the targets to prevent the terrorists from hitting their mark, or reducing the damage of attacks. One method is to place Jersey barrier or other sturdy obstacles outside tall or politically sensitive buildings to prevent car and truck bombing. Aircraft cockpits are kept locked during flights, and have reinforced doors, which only the pilots in the cabin are capable of opening. English train stations removed their waste bins in response to the Provisional IRA threat, as convenient locations for depositing bombs. Scottish stations removed theirs after the 7th of July bombing of London as a precautionary measure. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority purchased bomb-resistant barriers after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

A more sophisticated target-hardening approach must consider industrial and other critical industrial infrastructure that could be attacked. Terrorists need not import chemical weapons if they can cause a major industrial accident such as the Bhopal disaster or the Halifax explosion. Industrial chemicals in manufacturing, shipping, and storage need greater protection, and some efforts are in progress. To put this risk into perspective, the first major lethal chemical attack in WWI used 160 tons of chlorine. Industrial shipments of chlorine, widely used in water purification and the chemical industry, travel in 90 or 55 ton tank cars.

To give one more example, the North American electrical grid has already demonstrated, in the Northeast Blackout of 2003, its vulnerability to natural disasters coupled with inadequate, possibly insecure, SCADA (system control and data acquisition) networks. Part of the vulnerability is due to deregulation leading to much more interconnection in a grid designed for only occasional power-selling between utilities. A very few terrorists, attacking key power facilities when one or more engineers have infiltrated the power control centers, could wreak havoc.

Equipping likely targets with containers (i.e., bags) of pig lard has been utilized to discourage attacks by Islamist suicide bombers. The technique was apparently used on a limited scale by British authorities in the 1940s. The approach stems from the idea that Muslims perpetrating the attack would not want to be "soiled" by the lard in the moment prior to dying. The idea has been suggested more recently as a deterrent to suicide bombings in Israel. However, the actual effectiveness of this tactic is probably limited as it is possible that a sympathetic Islamic scholar could issue a fatwa proclaiming that a suicide bomber would not be polluted by the swine products.

Command and control

In North America and other continents, for a threatened or completed terrorist attack, the Incident Command System (ICS) is apt to be invoked to control the various services that may need to be involved in the response. ICS has varied levels of escalation, such as might be needed for multiple incidents in a given area (e.g., the 2005 bombings in London or the 2004 Madrid train bombings, or all the way to a National Response Plan invocation if national-level resources are needed. National response, for example, might be needed for a nuclear, biological, radiological, or large chemical attack.

Damage mitigation

Fire departments, perhaps supplemented by public works agencies, utility providers (e.g., gas, water, electricity), and heavy construction contractors, are most apt to deal with the physical consequences of an attack.

Local security

Again under an incident command model, local police can isolate the incident area, reducing confusion, and specialized police units can conduct tactical operations against terrorists, often using specialized counter-terrorist tactical units. Bringing in such units will normally involve civil or military authority beyond the local level.

Medical services

Emergency medical services will bring the more seriously affected victims to hospitals, which will need to have mass casualty and triage plans in place.

Public health agencies, from local to national level, may be designated to deal with identification, and sometimes mitigation, of possible biological attacks, and sometimes chemical or radiologic contamination.

Counter-terrorism tactical units

Today, many countries have special units designated to handle terrorist threats. Besides various security agencies, there are elite tactical units, also known as special mission units, whose role is to directly engage terrorists and prevent terrorist attacks. Such units perform both in preventive actions, hostage rescue and responding to on-going attacks. Countries of all sizes can have highly trained counter-terrorist teams. Tactics, techniques and procedures for manhunting are under constant development.

Most of these measures deal with terrorist attacks that affect an area, or threaten to do so. It is far harder to deal with assassination, or even reprisals on individuals, due to the short (if any) warning time and the quick exfiltration of the assassins. Of course, if the assassination is done by a suicide bomber, exfiltration becomes moot.

These units are specially trained in tactics and are very well equipped for CQB with emphasis on stealth and performing the mission with minimal casualties. The units include take-over force (assault teams), snipers, EOD experts, dog handlers and intelligence officers. See Counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism organizations for national command, intelligence, and incident mitigation.

The majority of counter-terrorism operations at the tactical level, are conducted by state, federal and national law enforcement agencies or intelligence agencies. In some countries, the military may be called in as a last resort. Obviously, for countries whose military are legally permitted to conduct police operations, this is a non-issue, and such counter-terrorism operations are conducted by their military.

See Counter-intelligence for command, intelligence and warning, and incident mitigation aspects of counter-terror.

Examples of actions

Some counterterrorist actions of the 20th century are listed below. See List of hostage crises for a more extended list, including hostage-taking that did not end violently.

Representative Hostage Rescue Operations
Incident Main locale Hostage nationality Terrorists Counter-terrorist force Results
1972 Munich Massacre Munich Olympics, Germany Israeli Black September German police 11 hostages, 1 rescuer, 5 terrorists killed. 3 terrorists captured.
1975 AIA Hostage Incident AIA building, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia US, Swedish Embassies. Mixed Japanese Red Army Malaysian police All hostages rescuer, all terrorists flew up to Libya.
1976 Entebbe raid Entebbe, Uganda Mixed. Israelis and Jews separated. PFLP Israeli mixed force all 6 hijackers, 45 Ugandan troops, 3 hostages and 1 Israeli soldier dead. 100 hostages rescued
1977 Hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181 Spanish airspace and Mogadishu, Somalia Mixed PFLP GSG 9, Special Air Service mixed forces 1 hostage, 3 hijackers dead, 1 captured. 90 hostages rescued.
1980 Iranian Embassy Siege London, UK Iranian Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan Special Air Service 1 hostage, 5 terrorists dead, 1 captured, 1 SAS operative received minor burns.
1981 Hijacking of "Woyla" Garuda Indonesia Don Muang International Airport, Thailand Indonesian Jihad Commandos Kopassus, Thailand military mixed forces 1 hijacker kill himself, 4 hijackers and 1 Kopassus operative dead, 1 pilot wounded, all hostages rescued.
1985 Capture of Achille Lauro hijackers International airspace and Italy Mixed PLO US military, turned over to Italy 1 dead in hijacking, 4 terrorists convicted in Italy
1996 Japanese embassy hostage crisis Lima, Peru Japanese and guests (800+) Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement Peruvian military & police mixed forces 1 hostage, 2 rescuers, all 14 terrorists dead.
2000 Sauk Arms Heist Perak, Malaysia 2 policemen, 1 army and 1 civilian Al-Ma'unah Malaysian military & police CT Pasukan Gerakan Khas mixed forces 2 hostages dead, 2 rescuers, 1 terrorist dead and all 28 terrorists captured.
2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis Moscow Mixed, mostly Russian (900+) Chechen Russian OZNAZ 129-204 hostages dead, all 39 terrorists dead. 600-700 rescued
2004 Beslan school hostage crisis Beslan, North Ossetia-Alania, (an autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation). Russian Chechen Mixed Russian 334 hostages dead and hundreds wounded. 10-21 rescuers dead. 31 hostage takers killed, 1 captured
2007 Lal Masjid siege Islamabad, Pakistan Pakistani students Lal Masjid students and militants Pakistani Army and Rangers SSG commandos 61 militants killed, 50 militants captured 23 students killed, 11 SSG killed,1 Ranger killed,33 SSG wounded,8 soldiers wounded,3 Rangers wounded, 14 civilians killed
2008 Operation Jaque Colombia Mixed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia 15 hostages released. 2 hostage takers captured
2008 Hijacking of MISC Bunga Melati Dua and Lima ships Gulf of Aden, Somalia Mixed Somaliaan piracy and militants Royal Malaysian Navy PASKAL and international mixed forces Negotiation finished. 80 hostages released. RMN including PASKAL navy commandos with international mixed forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden during this festive period.

Law enforcement counter-terrorist organizations by country

+ indicates military organization allowed to operate domestically.

Examples include:

Military counter-terrorist organizations by country

Given the nature of operational counter-terrorism tasks national military organisations do not generally have dedicated units whose sole responsibility is the prosecution of these tasks. Instead the counter-terrorism function is an element of the role, allowing flexibility in their employment, with operations being undertaken in the domestic or international context. In some cases the legal framework within which they operate prohibits military units conducting operations in the domestic arena; United States Department of Defense policy, based on the Posse Comitatus Act, forbids domestic counter-terrorism operations by the US military. Units allocated some operational counter-terrorism task are frequently Special Forces or similar assets.

In cases where military organisations do operate in the domestic context some form of formal handover from the law enforcement community is regularly required, to ensure adherence to the legislative framework and limitations. such as the Iranian Embassy Siege, the British police formally turned responsibility over to the Special Air Service when the situation went beyond police capabilities.

Further reading

  • Darko Trifunovic, "Islamic Fundamentalist's Global Network-Modus Operandi-Model Bosnia" ref , The Center for Documentation of the Government of Republic of Srpska and The Secretariat of the Government of RS for relation with ICTY, Banja Luka, Republic of Srpska, 2002. (136 pages + maps in addition)
  • Darko Trifunovic, "TERRORISM – Global Network of Islamic Fundamentalist's – Part II – Modus operandi-Model Bosnia" ref , The Government of Republic of Srpska and The Secretariat of the Government of RS for relation with ICTY, Banja Luka, Republic of Srpska, 2004 (275 pages)
  • Ivan Arreguín-Toft, "Tunnel at the End of the Light: A Critique of U.S. Counter-terrorist Grand Strategy," Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Vol. 15, No. 3 (2002), pp. 549–563.
  • Ivan Arreguín-Toft, "How to Lose a War on Terror: A Comparative Analysis of a Counterinsurgency Success and Failure," in Jan Ångström and Isabelle Duyvesteyn, Eds., Understanding Victory and Defeat in Contemporary War (London: Frank Cass, 2007).
  • Ariel Merari, "Terrorism as a Strategy in Insurgency," Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter 1993), pp. 213–251.
  • James Mitchell, "Identifying Potential Terrorist Targets" a study in the use of convergence. G2 Whitepaper on terrorism, copyright 2006, G2. Counterterrorism Conference, June 2006, Washington D.C.
  • Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), ISBN 0-8122-3808-7.
  • Kuriansky, Judy, Editor, "Terror in the Holy Land: Inside the Anguish of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" (2006, ISBN 0-275-99041-9, Praeger Publishers).
  • George Crawford, Manhunting: Reversing the Polarity of Warfare, (2008, ISBN 1-60441-332-8, PublishAmerica).

See also

References

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