Annual Review 2021: How two decades of disruption has shaped today's fight against terrorism and extremism
It feels appropriate, a couple of months after the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, to pause and consider whether the world is more, or less, secure from terrorism than in the latter part of the previous century. I fear not. We are living in unprecedented times, in a new paradigm where “Cold War” has been replaced by “Hot Peace”. A paradigm where we have gone from a bi-polar world to one of multiple asymmetric conflicts and threats, where war is now indistinguishable from peace. Where the distinction between acts of war, hybrid war, terrorism, and serious organised crime, in particular in the cyber domain, is becoming increasingly blurred. The build-up of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, coupled with destablisation operations by Belarus...

Annual Review: How two decades of disruption has shaped today’s fight against terrorism and extremism

It feels appropriate, a couple of months after the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, to pause and consider whether the world is more, or less, secure from terrorism than in the latter part of the previous century. I fear not. We are living in unprecedented times, in a new paradigm where “Cold War” has been replaced by “Hot Peace”. A paradigm where we have gone from a bi-polar world to one of multiple asymmetric conflicts and threats, where war is now indistinguishable from peace. Where the distinction between acts of war, hybrid war, terrorism, and serious organised crime, in particular in the cyber domain, is becoming increasingly blurred. The build-up of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, coupled with destablisation operations by Belarus, could well see the first outbreak of a global ‘conventional confrontation’ in the 21st Century. Tensions over Taiwan, and the Iranian pursuit of a nuclear weapon add to global uncertainty and unpredictability.

We inhabit a world where traditional terrorist threats, which tended to be localised and focused on the destruction of property and killing servicemen, policemen and public figures, feel somewhat primitive. Our new world is populated by Jihadis and extremists who buy ‘one-way tickets’ on route to martyrdom and mass casualty events. The new world is characterised by remarkable digital and information sharing advances, where information (good and bad) can pass at the speed of photons and is largely “unseen”, hidden in a virtual cloud. Concerns over ‘bedroom radicalisation’ continue to grow.

At the time of 9/11, we had technological superiority over terrorists, through the use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Night Vision Systems (NVS), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and precision strike weapons and across most, if not all, IT networks. Now, Daesh, Al Qaeda (AQ) and most, if not all, threat actors use state of the art GPS, NVS, drones, the dark web and encrypted messaging to plan and execute their attacks. The latter is of significant concern for our intelligence and security services and, to quote a former Director of the FBI, we are going “dark and dumb” at just the wrong time.

The growing capabilities of terrorists raises concerns around the ability and capacity of our military, security and intelligence services to continually deliver success against a rapidly evolving spectrum of threats. Can our counterterrorism operations keep pace with the rapid technological changes? The diversity of threat actors? New, dynamic threats, especially in the information domain? And lastly the evolution of the “digital terrorist”?  …

About the author

Ed Butler is the Chief Resilience Officer at Pool Re, the Government backed terrorism reinsurance scheme as well a Senior Independent Advisor to the Board of EDF Energy Generation.

He has extensive experience spanning nearly 40 years of international relations, counter terrorism, intelligence, security and risk management much of which was gained during 24 years on front line service with the British Army.

He was privileged to command 22 SAS over 9.11 and was Commander of British Forces Afghanistan in 2006, before retiring as a Brigadier in 2008.

9:11 Two Decades of Disruption

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