Global to Local: Fighting Terrorism & Cyber Crime

May 9, 2016

The Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies held its annual symposium in Ottawa in January 15. The focus
was the Islamic State, its competition with al Qaeda affiliates, and the insurgent threat it continues to pose across the Middle East North Africa, and parts of Asia. IS (or Daesh, the derogatory term ­preferred by Muslims who do not follow IS) is increasingly active in promoting attacks on civilians in the Middle East, and in Europe, as we have witnessed in Paris and Brussels.

Attackers believed to be connected

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson led the symposium off with a policing perspective, and talked about the increased challenge for police forces faced with a technologically sophisticated organization that could strike anywhere. One of the necessary responses is seen to be more intensive interaction between police forces at all levels.

This truth should create an imperative on all to share early, widely and robustly, within established legislative frameworks. No agency should independently collect, evaluate and formulate a response to intelligence when a major threat to public safety or national security is at stake.

The community is increasingly recognizing that a whole-of-government response ensures that there is a rigorous and careful approach to managing threats – not just about how to address threats, but also when.

Paulson stressed the importance of sharing ideas with academics who study terrorist movements, and the need to have strong community relations. In June 2015, Canadian government departments went “dark” after a massive cyber attack, and the Commissioner is concerned about the increasing potential for police forces to be hit with a cyber disruption, “going dark” at a time of critical challenge and unable to access the communications of terrorists and criminals or their own team members.

Bob Paulson, RCMP Commissioner
Bob Paulson, RCMP Commissioner 

Academic presentations during the symposium justified the comment that those who study terrorism are vital to combating it. Understanding the complex appeal of terrorist narratives to potential converts in Canada and elsewhere is vital to recognizing when someone has crossed a psychological barrier and accepted the ideologies that are being skillfully propounded by Daesh to reach into Canadian homes.

The challenge for police services would be serious enough if the local impact of global terrorism were the only instance of a global threat becoming a local one, but this is just the latest instance of the global-to-local pathway.

Statistics suggest that crime rates are falling, but this is only true of traditionally measured crimes. Canada and other countries have been subjected to waves of crime generated at the international level that have intensified some criminal threats and brought others which are wholly new, such as cyber crime.

Some crimes are both generated and visible locally. Others, such as the drug trade, are driven by international organizations, often with links to terrorists or insurgents in places like Afghanistan and Columbia. These market products travel through global hierarchical networks, ending with the local street contact. These networks are only partially visible and partially accessible to local law enforcement officers.

The internet has opened a totally new avenue for criminal enterprise – and sometimes the impact is very real but somewhat invisible. The internet, and specialized sub-networks such as TOR, are a gateway for criminal activity. Some internet-enabled crimes have local impacts that may not be obvious. On-line fraud, child pornography, commercial and government data theft and destructive hacking, digital blackmail, and ransomware may not be seen by victims, or may not be reported if known.

While the growth of this type of cyber crime is obviously facilitated by the internet, “safe havens” or “ungoverned spaces” (where criminal organizations establish a physical presence as if they were normal global corporations) are becoming more prevalent. Some speculate that this official permission to exist is sometimes tied to the desire of the host state to have non-official agents available to digitally attack targets designated by the state leadership.

New crimes with local impact but varying visibility are constantly added to the local scene but the old ones don’t disappear. Policing in this ‘local but global’ context forces constant adaptation for police at all levels.

We can expect traditional international organized crime to constantly increase. Changes in marijuana laws might shift the focus of drug organizations, but this may simply mean different product lines. Cyber crime is constantly expanding and the developing Internet of Things is causing concern because networked devices may be very vulnerable to penetration, and less accessible for security updates.

U.S. Customs and Border ­Protection Field Operations perform daily ­operational duties at the National Targeting Center (NTC) keeping ­terrorism at bay by filtering through advance information on people and products looking for ­potential ­terrorists or terrorist weapons. (Photo: James Tourtellotte, US Customs and Border Protection)

On terrorism, we know we are in a high-risk environment, with returned jihadi fighters, or would-be fighters, present in Canada. Because our environment is different than that of the European ethnic neighbourhoods, it is currently impossible to say if we will suffer the same attack intensity. We can hope the greater degree of integrated multiculturalism, combined with a confidence in the police, will discourage attacks, however, a small, violent minority could erase these protections.

What can we conclude? First, current crime statistics are only partially reflective of the actual criminal threat to citizens.

Second, even with a sympathetic legal system, the danger of being shut down or “going dark” and having limited access to some criminal communications, is driven by advancing technology, and will be an element of the new reality for police intelligence.

Third, important advantages lie with criminals and potential terrorists who have the resources to at times overwhelm police and security authorities.

Fourth, the strands of criminality, terrorism, ungoverned spaces and criminalized regimes, all contribute directly to crime at the international, national and local level, and are impossible to disentangle.

Fifth, we can expect a steady increase in the development of police and security networks which are beginning to more readily share intelligence across borders, coordinate investigations, and work collectively against criminal and terrorist networks.

(OPP Photo: Bobb Barratt)

Sixth, some elements of global criminality are beyond the current capacity of police forces to deal with effectively. Eliminating ungoverned spaces and criminalized regimes is a task for diplomats, supported by security and intelligence agencies and defence departments. Many western countries have learned that there should be no safe haven for criminals or terrorists, as the harm is eventually turned inward. Those countries, such as Russia, currently harbouring criminal internet companies, will eventually discover this truth.

In dealing with the local impact of global threats, policing will track the trajectory of intelligence and security agencies. Cooperation, information sharing, combined operations, bilateral and multilateral agreements, will continue to expand so that frontline officers have the tools they need to protect citizens.

Greg Fyffe is President of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies.