Articles
Uncertainty

Security in an Era of Uncertainty (by Chris Milburn)

The United States has new leadership. Among many notable changes made immediately by the new administration, the president has authorized religion-based immigration restrictions and has taken action to focus solely on Islam as a source of violent extremism within the United States. These early actions indicate a newly institutionalized “Islamophobia” that could prove to be disastrous for national security efforts if not addressed correctly by security practitioners.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world, and is as vast and complex as any of the world’s other faiths. As with all religions, understandings of its holy texts and traditions range from liberal to conservative on a spectrum with an infinite number of points in between. Muslims range from the intensely practical to mystical, from socially active to intensely private. Among this diverse group of Muslims, a branch known as Islamism has emerged from chaotic social conditions in the Middle East.

Islamism generally refers to a particular activist ideology with specific territorial, political, and social aspirations, and represents only a small fraction of the religion of Islam. Islamist extremists have threatened to upset global efforts toward peace and human rights by suppressing other Muslim groups and focusing some of their efforts toward western nations such as the U.S. and her allies. One of their most important ideas is the claim that the U.S. is at war with all Muslims, and they consistently produce evidence that they use to support their claim.

Islamist groups – such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State – specifically attempt to inflate their appearance by claiming to represent the true face of Islam. In falsely adopting the whole identity of Islam, these violent extremists aspire to appear larger and more threatening than they really are. The symbolic violence associated with terrorism functions in precisely the same way. Disproportionate fear of the terrorist often causes the target group to sacrifice its own freedoms for the sake of increasing security. The promise of improved security, of course, cannot be quantified, but is used to justify austere authoritarian measures when promised to a group living in fear.

In terms of Muslim beliefs, it is the violent Islamist ideology that is of most concern to the homeland security enterprise. But in treating all Muslims with suspicion, Americans play directly into the hands of those very few extremists seeking ownership of the Muslim identity. Suspicion leads to scapegoating, and the suppression of group rights is rarely far behind. Muslims seem to make easy targets for suspicious Americans, and this impulse to scapegoat “others” is often difficult to suppress in times of uncertainty.

It is fundamentally important to accurately identify sources of violent extremism. Homeland security efforts are most effective when approached with analytical precision and a constitutional foundation. Painting the adversary with a broad brush is the easy approach – one that is rarely effective and usually counterproductive. The American homeland security enterprise must painstakingly distinguish between peaceful religious practitioners and those seeking to commit violence using the false cover of an entire religion. American efforts should undoubtedly focus on violent ideologies and take measures to prevent their proliferation. Violent Islamism is one of these, but it is not by any means the sole producer of terrorist violence within the U.S.

By all indications, the years ahead could pose significant challenges for national security and counterterrorism efforts. Security experts in western nations will be expected to perform increasingly complex tasks in an amorphous and ambiguous environment. Consistency will be maintained when security efforts remain analytical and evidence-driven, while applying rigorous frameworks to understand social conflicts. Security practitioners should bear in mind that rigorous threat analysis will always outperform both hysteria and generalities in national security efforts.

U.S. security efforts must maintain an essential American character in which violence is not tolerated while constitutional protections remain intact. It is of the utmost importance that security efforts support the free expression of religion while seeking to disrupt violent ideologies that threaten the United States. Homeland security actions that interfere with Muslims’ abilities to exist as ordinary Americans will be devastating to American values. In this way, the battle for the identity of Islam is a battle for the identity of the United States. The success of homeland security efforts over the coming few years will depend on practitioners’ firm individual commitments to measured, precise strategies that resist the tendency to generalize the nature of the threat.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

National Homeland Security Conference 2017

The National Homeland Security Conference provides a direct bridge to connect and share best practices among those charged with keeping the nation safe. The conference brings together over 1,000 attendees from the homeland security and emergency management disciplines, representing local, state, federal government, military, and the private sector.

This year the NHSA will be hosting 60 and 75 minute national homeland security presentations based on the following areas: Recent Events; Training for Preparedness; Grant Management; Emergency Medical Response and Public Health Issues; Port and Transit Security; Intelligence & Information Sharing; Whole Community Preparedness; Public Safety; Counterterrorism – Protecting The Homeland. (Buffalo, NY)

Click here to view additional event details and registration.

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016
damaged US flag

ISIS and the Existential Threat (by Chris Milburn)

In the wake of violent attacks on civilians in the U.S. and Europe, ISIS, also known as the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”, poses a unique and unprecedented challenge to the western world. Americans, in particular, struggle to understand the group, its motivations, and capabilities. Among the most important points of conversation is the recurrent question: Does ISIS pose an “existential” threat to the United States?

Opinions on this matter vary widely. An existential threat would be one that threatens the existence of the United States, but the nature of the threat from violent jihadists remains unclear. In the past, an existential threat may be have been described as a uniformed enemy capable of overtaking a nation’s territory or resources. But acquisition of physical territory and large-scale force become less relevant to conflict as it intensifies in a world dominated by communication.

War remains a physically violent conflict, but the symbolic elements of war take on greater importance in a globalized world. The murder of Father Jacques Hamel, the French priest in Normandy, is but one gruesome illustration of this theory in action; a single murder, carried out in highly symbolic fashion, becomes an act of terrorism gaining notoriety on the global stage. Indeed, it is this type of decentralized symbolic violence that has allowed ISIS to extend their reach into Europe and the United States.

As ISIS continues to assert their claim to Islamic authority by executing effective symbolic violence, they have forced the two major U.S. political parties to divide into two opposing positions. Democrats refuse to acknowledge the ideological roots of the spreading violence while Republicans propose to exclude immigrants based on their religious practices or ethnic background. Both positions overlook significant elements of the intensifying conflict and open the door for the Islamic State to continue to thrive.

The United States president has set the tone for the Democratic Party’s response by rhetorically asserting that nothing would be accomplished by acknowledging that ISIS’ violence is the product of radical ideas rooted in Islamic belief – a blatant analytical bias certainly preventing his administration from properly engaging the threat posed by the Islamic State. The Republican Party’s presidential candidate has repeatedly proposed banning Muslims from the United States – a vague yet alarming proposal that is not only impractical, but also unconstitutional.

Contrary to the president’s declaration, an analysis of any such violent ideology must address the political, social, religious, and territorial claims of the violent actors. In the past and under different conditions, blunt military force may have been sufficient to prevent the advances of certain hostile armies. But if effective counter-measures are to be employed in the current conflict, the complexity of the new operating environment demands an accurate analysis of the ideological conditions leading to violence. American inaction in this regard allows violent Islamists to gain a strategic upper hand by manipulating a particularly compelling narrative of the United States to their advantage. This approach also ignores the decentralized nature of modern terrorism, a fundamental factor contributing to the problems understood by westerners as “radicalization” and “violent extremism.” The Islamic State’s influence flourishes in these conditions.

The Republican proposal predictably takes the opposite approach in recommending that Muslims be prevented from entering the United States. Proposing that any religious adherents be banned from the United States “until our country’s representatives figure out what is going on” is a massive shift away from the core American tenet of freedom of religious expression. Further, this proposal inflames fears of immigrants and outsiders (perhaps intentionally) by erroneously branding an entire population with the horrible violence of a few. Such a ban would be an egregious assault on the very identity of the United States itself. This, too, creates an environment in which the Islamic State’s influence flourishes.

Finding the way forward in such a conflict is not easy. An effective approach will require a nuanced view of humanity and social interactions, and a clear vision of a desirable United States identity. Perhaps the Islamic State does not pose an existential threat in any traditionally understood sense of the term; Islamist soldiers are not likely to arrive on the beaches of North America and forcibly overtake the United States. But the Islamic State threatens the existence of the U.S. when Americans allow their national identity to be manipulated by fear. When America no longer exists as a strategic global peacekeeper or the champion of freedom, liberty, and justice, it will have succumbed to the existential threat of ISIS.

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016
Banner for Favre article

The Wicked Problems of Low-tech Terrorism (by Gregg Favre)

When ideology is primary, the “means” is a matter of access

In France, the investigation into the Bastille Day attack is in its infancy. During the nation’s declared days of mourning, specialists will confer to uncover the specifics of how this horrific event occurred. Over the coming days and weeks, details will emerge about the driver, his networks and, perhaps most importantly, his motivations. But what is known now is that a rented delivery truck evaded security measures and menacingly ran down innocent men, women and children. While many share the brutality of the attack, its lack of sophistication should come as a surprise to few.

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Saturday, July 16th, 2016
Dallas Reflections Featured Article HS Community

Dallas Reflections (by Max Geron)

“Hey man this is Reuben. I don’t know if you heard but there’s a city-wide assist and reports of officers down at the demonstration. I’ve got some guys and we’re headed that way and I just wanted you to know in case you hadn’t heard.”

That was my first indication that something had gone horribly wrong. I glanced at social media and immediately saw throngs of people scattering from the anti-police brutality protests going on in downtown Dallas. I knew it was bad. They reported one officer having been evac’d to the hospital in a squad car – you know it’s bad when cops are evacuating other cops in squad cars and not waiting for ambulances.

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Saturday, July 9th, 2016
understanding radicalization

The Problem with Radicalization (by Douglas Weeks)

The advent of ‘new terrorism’ studies that began in the 1970’s remains as robust as ever. Exacerbated by 9/11, 3/11, 7/7, the Arab Spring, the rise of the Islamic State, the two Paris attacks, and more recently the San Bernardino attack to name but a few, terrorism research is here to stay. Couched under the banner of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) governments around the globe have sought to manage risk and build resilience through securitization and engagement. Convinced that radicalization is the ultimate evil, an enormous amount of research has focused on radicalization and ‘Islamic radicalization’ in particular. However, despite years of research, what is known about radicalization is defined more by what it is not rather than what it is.

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Monday, May 30th, 2016
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Security, Social Media and Encryption (by Joseph Campos)

The November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris, France that killed 150 people and wounded more than 350, and the San Bernardino, U.S. on December 2, 2015, that killed 14 people, raise questions as to the conflation of security and democratic principles, especially that of privacy. Smart phones and other devices have an array of applications/tools that enable users to encrypt various forms of communication. The question for the security apparatus in democratic societies is how do we continue to promote ideals of freedom and privacy while ensuring security.

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Monday, May 30th, 2016

Anonymous (Analysis by Robert Runnels)

Group Name: Anonymous

Principal Ideology: Freedom of speech and non-censorship

Area of Operation: Worldwide

Leadership: Constantly shifting coalition of like-minded participants, shaped by current hot issues

Affiliated Groups: Affiliations change based on the targets of the collective, however anarchist affiliations are common

Principal Enemy: Organizations and individuals who seek to restrict freedom of speech, particularly on the Internet

Tactics: Internet “hacktivism”


Anonymous is an Internet-based collective with members worldwide. Essentially, all a person needs to do to join Anonymous is to join in their online activities. The group uses the Internet as a medium for communication and coordination for its actions. These actions have included Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS) on such disparate targets as Stratfor, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Church of Scientology, Paypal, Bank of America and various law enforcement organizations. The group gains its collective power from the participation and acts of individual participants.[1]   The group is largely associated with Internet “hacktivism.” Hacktivism is a fairly controversial term. The Oxford online dictionary defines a hacktivist as a “computer hacker whose activity is aimed at promoting a social or political cause.”[2]

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Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016
Security Paris

Counter Terrorism through Dialogue (by Joseph Campos)

The anti-immigration, pro-security, and pro-enhanced tactics rhetoric over the past eight months, in various debates to secure the presidential nomination for both parties, is not a new phenomena. This fevered rhetoric traces its origins to the very beginnings of Operation Enduring Freedom and the U.S. “war on terrorism”. Specifically, George W. Bush announced on June 12, 2001, that the world had to address the “new threats of the 21st century if we’re to have a peaceful continent and a peaceful world.”[1]

The rhetoric of the United States’ “War on Terrorism” has come to contains a specific discourse that conjoins moral authority, application of meaning, infinite justice, and a prescribed search for peace with terrorism’s overarching incorporative aspect, revealing an ideological and cultural interpretation of both the U.S. state and its position in the world as the archetypal virtuous state.

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Wednesday, April 27th, 2016
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Chasing Ghosts: The Policing of Terrorism (Book Review)

Author: John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2016

Reviewed by: Jack Anderson

Practically any educated European from 1480 to 1680 understood that civilization was besieged by a vast and malevolent hidden society of witches literally hell bent on destroying it. “The reality,” says sociologist Rodney Stark, “of these malefactors was beyond question.” Thousands had confessed to their crimes once apprehended. Faced with such a terrifying and indisputable threat, the only “reasonable and decent” thing to do, says Stark, was “stamp it out”–which he notes is tragically just what reasonable and decent people did. Historian Hugh-Trevor Roper observed that the “most ferocious of witch-burning princes, we often find, are also the most cultured patrons of contemporary learning.” Tens of thousands of “witches” were hunted, tried, and killed during this period.

Early in Chasing Ghosts: The Policing of Terrorism, John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart compare the contemporary struggle against terrorism to medieval witch hunts. While often painted as genocide or gynocide, the extermination of witches was not an act of prejudice or ignorance, but rather the terrible application of reason and capability to a false premise. Mueller and Stewart are not arguing that terrorists don’t exist, rather that we exaggerate their capabilities, and in doing so justify actions and expenses that are out of proportion to the actual threat.

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Tuesday, April 19th, 2016