End of Chapter Question Pointers
Chapter 20 – Counterterrorism Agencies and Their Work
Martin Innes and Helen Innes
- How have growing concerns about far-right inspired terrorism impacted the roles of police, intelligence, and military?
- Why do risk and threat assessments sometimes fail to detect and thus prevent terrorist plots?
- What are the primary challenges for counter-terrorist agencies operating in an era of social media?
- How did the period of public sector austerity following the 2008 global economic crash impact upon the work of counter-terrorism?
- What are the risks of using Neighbourhood/Community Policing approaches as part of the counter-terrorism effort?
Whilst concerns about the far-right extremism are more readily expressed in our media, can you locate empirical data that supports this assertion? Does this data suggest a transnational issue, if so, how? Then think about the consequences of this for how counterterrorism agencies allocate their resources, the kinds of data they need to collect, and how they respond to gaps in their knowledge. There are also more interesting issues about the relationships between different terrorist ideologies and the ways in which they can amplify each other through processes of reciprocal radicalization.
Firstly, you need to specify how risk and threat assessments work and what they are intended to do. Then you could look at the profile of different terrorist incidents and the proportion of them where the attackers were previously on the radar of police or intelligence agencies. And then think about, are there particular characteristics that explain why these different types of plots were not interdicted and intercepted. At the same time, it is worth thinking about how police and intelligence agencies become aware of innovations in terrorist techniques, tactics, and procedures.
In approaching this question, think first about the volume and types of social media that exist and then what kinds of material posted online are problematic. You might want to look at Community Guidelines associated with mainstream platforms like Facebook and consider some lesser well-known platforms that attract younger audiences or people who want to communicate using encrypted messaging. As the question suggests, enforcement in this context lies beyond the social media platforms themselves, so consider the question of how far police or other counterterrorist agencies should monitor social media communications and the challenges and questions this presents in terms of their resources and the public’s reaction to any kind of surveillance.
Think also about what happens online in the aftermath of a terrorist incident, particularly in the early stages when misinformation and rumour flourish and the role of counterterrorism organizations in providing reassurance and factual information.
For this question, investigate the links between economic stress and inequality and violent extremist radicalization. How did this feed through into different extremist ideologies and to what extent did it contribute to the growth of far-right terrorism? Also, how did reductions in public spending impact upon policing and other institutional mechanisms for controlling terrorist threats? To help you think about these issues, compare and contrast what has happened in two different countries over the last decade.
The risks are sometimes thought to be that the attention of police officers will drift into counterterrorism type issues without paying sufficient attention to the low-level neighbourhood issues that are actually upstream drivers of radicalization. There is also a potential that visible and disruptive counterterrorism operations will have a negative impact on levels of community trust which can inhibit the ability of the police to manage more routine types of crime. In answering this question, it could be useful to develop a local case study from near where you live as a way of exploring these challenges.