In this article I will cite the main areas of interest of a report from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). The report details the 10th year anniversary of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and includes a reflection on what has changed, why, and to what degree it has been effective. It includes other organisations such as ASIO and DFAT. To begin, I will break it down into relevant sections and comment on each topic of interest.
“[…] our national efforts are focussed on:
• disrupting attacks
• undermining terrorist activities and
• promoting community cohesion.”
Page 9 tells us exactly what the objectives are: to disrupt attacks, undermine terrorist activities and support networks, and promote community cohesion.
This three-pronged strategy deals with the present terrorist issues, the future to-be terrorists, and the future community discontent and backlash to said issues. It is a very well-rounded approach to counter-terrorism nationally.
“1. disrupt the activities of individuals or groups planning an attack
2. detect and undermine terrorist activity by:
a. blocking the flow of support (finances, goods and people) to or from terrorists and their networks
b. impeding the development of terrorist capability (particularly their tactical and operational security training both directly and online)
c. degrading ideological support for terrorist activities.
3. promote community cohesion and build resilience to radicalisation.”
Page 9 gives us a list of the prior objectives broken down into goals. These goals couple with the COAG objectives but acknowledge greater detail. The picture below gives a visual example of these goals. Further goals expanding beyond terrorism can be found here.
Above: The Spectrum of CT Efforts (taken from cited report).
Key Changes to Counter-Terrorism
Page 20 notes multiple key changes:
“• the increased scale of the threat
• the home-grown aspect
• lower barriers of entry to terrorist groups
• lone actor attacks
• use of everyday items as weapons
• individuals can move rapidly from intent to
• social media
• secure and encrypted communications.”
These changes were mainly introduced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) including lone-actor attacks, lower barrier to entry, polished propaganda, and social media usage.
Understanding the Threat: Islamist Terrorism
Page 10 gives us a clear enemy: Terroristic or Violent Islamism.
“The terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 were a major turning point in Western understanding of the threat from Islamist terrorism.”
This is one thing that Australian Intelligence Services have been clear to demonstrate previously. The threat is identified and recognised, unlike that of many American Intelligence Services. This is one thing Australia does better than other services.
This couples nicely when you consider the growing need to undermine Islamist ideology correlates with undermining not only terrorism but many practices counter to Australian norms and many processes of radicalisation.
Expanding Counter-Terrorism and Related Organisations
The threat adjusts to real-time politics and changes in the international community, and it looks to exploit any window of opportunity in relation to grievances and narratives. Thus, there has been a substantial increase in the capabilities and funding of multiple organisations. These organisations now work together, interconnected and coordinated, in order to defeat terrorism and counter other national security risks, as seen below.
Above: Increasing Roles and Width of Counter-Terrorism in Australia (taken from cited report and modified by myself).
The two models proposed, on page 30, are the large ‘super-agency’ model or the small, co-ordinated model. The former seen in the United States with their Department of Homeland Security and the latter seen in the United Kingdom with many regional departments. There is no consensus as to the best practice model. However, identified strengths follow the model of:
- Clear government policy.
- Representatives from a wide range of agencies.
- Senior-level attendance at key coordination meetings including roles such as Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.
- Risk groups allocated substantial responsibilities and lead by senior officials.
- Reports that are regular and given to all agency heads or deputies in a reference group.
- Regular cabinet reporting to ensure continued ministerial oversight, attention, and priority.
A Warning: Lone Wolf Attacks and Metrics – We’re NOT Wining!
The report warns us time and time again of self-initiated, or lone wolf, attacks. These attacks are very difficult to detect and often catch both the public and security apparatus by surprise. It is noted that these attacks are likely to occur in greater propensity and capacity in the future, even for Australia with the amount of foreign fighters in and around Australasian, including Indonesia.
In fact, the major warning is that all the metrics are increasing: foreign fighters, known sympathisers, known supporters, passport investigations and cancellations, and other serious investigations. We do not seem to be ‘winning’ against terrorism. We have to work on a range of factors to counter the problem, such as community engagement, youth engagement, counter-messaging, and education (including intercultural and interfaith education) to build community resilience towards, and recognition of, radicalisation.
In conclusion, the COAG report gives us an overview of Counter-Terrorism efforts in Australia. The emerging threats come in the forms of lone wolf attacks and rising trends in radicalisation and terrorism. We are not winning the fight against terrorism. But, that said, there have been huge leaps in coordination, technological advancement, and other innovations that will continue to challenge terrorism and its support networks.