Preventing Violent Extremism: NPSIA Student’s Peer-to-Peer Social Media Campaign Goes Viral

By Alex Wilner, Assistant Professor at NPSIA

Combatting violent extremism can involve organizing Peer-to-Peer (P2P) preventing violent extremism (PVE) programs and social media campaigns. While hundreds of PVE campaigns have been launched around the world in recent months and years, very few of these campaigns have actually been reviewed, analyzed, or assessed in any systematic way. Metrics of success and failure have yet to be fully developed, and very little is publically known as to what might differentiate a great and successful P2P campaign from a mediocre one.

NPSIA students are changing that.

In a recently published article in the Journal of Deradicalization (Number 12, Fall 2017) NPSIA students provide a first-hand account of the promises and pitfalls of running a publically funded, university-based, online, peer-to-peer PVE campaign.

Wilner1

The article, “The 60 Days of PVE Campaign: Lessons on Organizing an Online, Peer-to-Peer, Counter-radicalization Program,” is based on the experience of a group of ten NPSIA students who between January and April 2017, developed and orchestrated an original, English-language PVE campaign as part of the 2017 Facebook Global Digital Challenge. The article provides a detailed account of the group’s approach to PVE and an assessment of its campaign.

The group’s PVE campaign was designed with both short- and long-term initiatives in mind. The first part of the initiative – a social media blitz titled 60 days of PVE (https://www.facebook.com/60DaysOfPVE/) – was developed to run for three months. The data gathered therein, along with the material created during the campaign itself, was simultaneously posted and hosted on another website – www.thePVEproject.com – designed with the intention of establishing a longer-term repository and platform that might assist Carleton University students and groups looking to expand upon the PVE campaign in the future.

Wilner2

The article highlights the entirety of the group’s campaign, from theory and conceptualization to branding, media strategy, and evaluation, and describes the campaign’s core objectives and implementation. The article also analyzes the campaign’s digital footprint and reach using data gleamed from social media.

Wilner3

Finally, the article discusses the challenges and difficulties the group faced in running their campaign, lessons that are pertinent for others contemplating a similar endeavour.

 

Free access to the article is available here: http://journals.sfu.ca/jd/index.php/jd/article/view/117/97

 

 

 

Advertisements

What Do We Know About the Kurdish Referendum

by Stephen M. Saideman

Not much as I haven’t studied the Kurds.  McGill Phd David Romano has studied them a great deal, and there are others who are far more expert.  However, I do know something about separatism, referenda and irredentism, so here’s what I think:

  1. Separatism is not as contagious as advertised. The only folks who really get encouraged by an effort, successful or otherwise, are those who are kin.  Everyone else is far more focused on their own incentives and constraints.  They will learn from the examples elsewhere whatever lessons that support their pre-existing inclinations.  Yes, I was a fan of confirmation bias long before it was cool.
  2. The Sunnis will not be pleased.  It is hard enough for two smaller groups to attempt to balance the Shia in whatever semi-democratic institutions, but with Kurds leaving, Sunnis are dwarfed by Shia.  Hard to craft a democracy or anything else that gives Sunnis some chance of not being dominated.  So, yeah, Kurds leaving would screw Sunnis just as Slovenia screwed the Bosnians.  Everything old is new again.
  3. Irredentism is not in the cards.  Sure, one could talk about a Greater Kurdistan, but which Kurds get to rule it?  Milton (and Khan) was right: better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.  So, no, despite what Turkey might say, there will be no significant effort at Greater Kurdistan.
  4. I am not a fan of secession from advanced democracies–the costs of changing are too high and always underplayed by the secessionists, democracy depends on losers staying in the system, and usually there are ways to get what you need, if not what you want.  But the Kurds have some reasonable grievances, starting with how they can’t trust the Shia dominated government of Iraq.
  5. The timing makes sense–Kurdish strength is at an alltime high given that the US, Canada and others have armed and trained the Kurds.  Those efforts are already declining now that ISIS has been mostly removed from the Kurds’ neighborhood.  Iraq is still weak due to the ongoing war with ISIS, so now makes sense….
  6. But a referendum does not mean independence.  It can mean a process, a bargaining process that can take quite some time.  The question of violence really now depends on what the Iraqi government will do.  Governments generally don’t let secessionist regions leave–lots of work on this especially by Monica Toft.
  7. Countries will support whichever side they have ethnic ties (article version).  If no ties, then other interests, such as seeking stability will kick in.  The one thing, for damn sure, is that countries will not be deterred by their own vulnerability to separatism.
  8. Turkey will overreact.  Duh.

What does it mean for the war against ISIS?  Damned if I know.  Anyhow, my past work suggests this will be both better and worse than what the pundits say.  Woot?

Jez Littlewood on Bill C-59 and what it means for Canada’s national security

The recently introduced Bill C-59 described by experts as the biggest overhaul in Canadian national security since the creation of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) in 1984, enacts the establishment of a so-called super watchdog agency – the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency – to keep an eye on federal departments and agencies gathering intelligence, as well as revamps the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and its activities, among other provisions. Katarina Koleva talked to Jez Littlewood, an Assistant Professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, who teaches courses on terrorism, national security, intelligence, and arms control, about his thoughts on Bill C-59, the changes it introduces, and what they mean for Canada’s security.

iAffairs: What exactly is Bill C-59 going to change?

Jez Littlewood: The Bill is going to change a lot of things. It is omnibus legislation. It changes a number of existing acts of legislation such as the CSIS’s Act, the National Defence Act, it changes parts of what was the antiterrorism act in 2015 – Bill C 51. In that sense, it changes a lot in terms of accountability structures but equally, in reality, it is tweaking and refining some of the major issues that were clearly points of concern among parliamentarians as well as among the public in Bill C-51 rather than rejecting them and getting rid of them in their entirety.

iAffairs: In what way does Bill C-59 address and refine some of the concerns raised by Bill C-51?

Jez Littlewood: It tries to do this in two ways. The first is to refine or amend some definitional terms in certain areas. To give two examples in that sense. First, major concerns were raised about the idea that CSIS could take part in what are considered to be disruption activities. This makes CSIS, rather than a passive gatherer of intelligence that was passed on to other people, if there was a threat to the security of Canada, more actively involved in disrupting those threats. C-51 allowed or certainly permitted that those disruption activities could be potentially very far ranging, to the point that it allowed breaches of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in certain circumstances, if a federal judge approved a warrant for such activities in contravention of the Charter. In one sense, a major concern was that we were allowing our intelligence agency to essentially violate certain portions of the Charter, under federal warrant, but that warrant itself will be delivered in secret. Bill C-59 rolls that back by essentially making it clear that there are certain disruption activities which do not require a warrant even though these are not specified in the Act. Listed in the Act in seven broad categories of disruption where a warrant would be required. These are the areas of potential concern.  Equally, it is clear that C-59 passes what the lawyers would call the Section One Charter test, which means it is supposed to be within the infringement of civil liberties and rights the Charter permits for national security reasons. That is one area.

Another area relates to disclosure of information and what was the Information Sharing Act. The concerns in the Bill C-51, in that context, was that 17 agencies and departments in Canada were named in the act itself as being able to share information, if perceived to be necessary to assist in the security of Canada. That, “security of Canada,” was a very broad definition. This has been narrowed somewhat, in an attempt to clarify that we are not talking about new intelligence collection, and that such sharing of information can only happen if it really does assist in national security investigation. So, there is some tweaking of the definitions in C-51 and refinements to certain portions of it rather than a wholesale rolling back.

iAffairs: What would be the mandate and the structure of the new super watchdog agency and how would it fit within the existing bodies of ministerial, judicial, and independent oversight?

Jez Littlewood: Essentially, the new agency deals with a problem that we’ve long had in existence in Canada. At this stage, the intelligence accountability is based upon review bodies that are sort of agency or department specific. For example CSIS had the Security Intelligence Review Committee and it could only look at CSIS; CSE has the Office of the CSE Commissioner; the RCMP has the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. The barriers between these review bodies, the silos, have been quite firm, not impossible to bridge, but nonetheless still quite firm. This new review agency – the National Security Intelligence Review Agency – is going to subsume and take over certainly SIRC and the CSE Commissioner’s office. It will take some responsibilities for the national security component of the RCMPS’s review body in a way that allows review and accountability agencies to follow the thread of the investigations, as people say, rather than be siloed. We are likely to see, assuming C-59 passes in due course, a fundamental restructuring of Canadian intelligence and accountability oversight issues. This is, of course, in conjunction with two other areas. The first is the establishment of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians which gives parliamentarians a role here, which is separate to what is in C-59. But equally we would see in C-59 itself the creation of an Intelligence Commissioner who will handle some of the ministerial authorizations so that the instructions and permissions from the ministers to CSE, within its foreign intelligence and cyber role, and within CSIS related to the retention of its open source datasets.

iAffairs: How would the new review Agency and the Parliamentarian Committee complement each other?

Jez Littlewood: They are separate or will be separate in law. But certainly within the first drafting of C-59 it is clear that the new review agency will work with parliamentarians, if they decide or they have a common interest. They can certainly share or would be expected to share information where it is possible to do so. So, we should see these bodies as separate but nevertheless complementary. I certainly don’t detect in the way the legislation is written that these are competing rather than complementary, in different levels. There is a level of interest and focus within parliamentarians and a different level of experts working inside and along with an agency, department, or entity which is doing intelligence. In reality, the latter is not what you would expect parliamentarians to be doing anyway. But the overlap exists and Parliamentarians have a quite wide latitude on paper to go where they see fit.

iAffairs: Do you see any weaknesses in the text of Bill C-59?

Jez Littlewood: There are a number of issues which have to be thought about, in some detail, and presumably discussed quite robustly in parliamentary committees. It is clear that some organizations remain concerned about the level of information sharing. The information sharing components of C-51 have now been renamed the information disclosure components of C-59. There are also some issues in terms of the tweaking of the passenger protect program, i.e. the no fly list, which remains a concern for some civil liberties organizations. So I would certainly expect the government is going to be pushed quite hard in consultations, and don’t necessarily think we should expect this to be simple or easy ride, in terms of the passage of Bill C-59 in due course.

iAffairs: When is the bill likely to become law? How long will the process take?

Jez Littlewood: I would imagine it will take at least one year. There is an expectation that there will be further delay. So, even if we allow for parliamentary committees to be up and running, and considering this in October, it is a wide ranging bill, with a lot of moving parts. If it is going to be reviewed correctly, that is going to take, in my view, at least six to eight months of committee hearings, and back and forth. I would be surprised if C-59 is law by this time next year, in 2018. At the same time, I would be somewhat disappointed given the fact that I am broadly in favor of what is in C-59. There are some things that might need attention but I will be somewhat disappointed if it wasn’t finally tweaked and becomes acceptable by the end of 2018.

iAffairs: The document permits CSE to hack foreign nations. Is it aimed to shut down potential cyber-attacks?

Jez Littlewood: The CSE already has foreign and signal intelligence, as well as cyber safety and cyber assurance role. It is in its existing mandate, as well as offering technical advice to existing law enforcement intelligence agencies. It is really putting armour or proposing to put on a legal footing the fact that CSE can have more interventionist role, more active or offensive role. But equally it can have an active defensive role in thwarting attacks and interfering with the structures in the cyber domain. At this early stage, we understand, these will not be decisions taken solely by the CSE internally. Such decisions would have to involve ministerial authorizations and oversight of a fairly high level of government. So, it alters CSE mandate pretty much in line with what people have been thinking is going to be necessary in the future years, and puts more extensive and intrusive technical capabilities in the hands of government on a much more formal legal foundation.

iAffairs: Are there models of super watchdog agencies, in other countries, that Canada can draw examples from?

Jez Littlewood: The one, in some sense of a model, might be Australia which has the Inspector General approach which looks across all of Australia’s national security and intelligence community. In some respects we can look at that. In another way, in a separate environment, we can look at the UK’s Independent Commissioner to deal with counterterrorism issues which is focused on counterterrorism, not the broader set of national security. Canada’s approach is to cover all aspects of national security.

iAffairs: What are your thoughts with regard to the latest terrorist attacks in London and elsewhere – using vehicles as weapons?

Jez Littlewood: It is not a new terror tactic in the sense that we’ve seen vehicles used as weapons in Nice, France, in Germany, in Sweden, and elsewhere. However, it has been an innovation over the last decade or so, a part of a broader trend with two characteristics. The first is coming exclusively from the so-called Islamic State for individuals to basically carry out acts of terror wherever and however they can. Even if you do not have access to bombs or weapons, you use what you have and this is what we see in the propaganda, as well as in the literature – use a vehicle, use a knife. A good example, of course, being October 2014, and the attack in Quebec. The other part of that trend is that counterterrorism efforts have made it more difficult, but not impossible, for individuals to get quite sophisticated weapons. So, in one sense the success of counterterrorism in largely removing bomb making capabilities has pushed terrorists into using bladed weapons, vehicles etc. This trend reinforces what we’ve known for a long time throughout the history of terrorism – terrorism and counterterrorism have action-reaction effect on each other. If some things become harder or more difficult for terrorists, they shift to different kinds of targeting tactics. This, unfortunately, is one of those realities we are all living in.

In terms of prevention, are we going to harden every bridge, every sidewalk? That is unlikely. That is not really going to happen. Some measures might be temporary, in terms of, for example, if you have a special event where the street is closed off for a public celebration. The streets around it, you may have a much more controlled access to a given area. There are some practical short term measures that can be taken. But the reality is it is very difficult for any intelligence agency or police force to prevent an individual who may simply get in his own car and decide to target civilians. It is an unfortunate reality. We have to accept that we can do some things but we cannot eliminate all risks in their entirety.

This article is a cross-post from iAffairs.

Nuclear Logics: Uncertainty Is Not Necessarily Bad

by Stephen M. Saideman

Reading Andrew Coyne’s piece on North Korea and the need for Canada to join the American Ballistic Missile Defence System reminded me of lots of old deterrence theory stuff.  The piece raises good questions about the reliability of the key actors, especially Trump, but confuses what is necessary for deterrence.  Still, there are some problems that we need to think about.

The big problem in the piece is that Coyne thinks that the American commitment to defend its East Asia allies is now largely unbelievable with the North Koreans developing the ability to strike the continental US (and Canada).  It is true that the US, under several Presidents, has failed to deter the North Korean effort to develop both nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.  But deterring their effort to develop some deterrence and deterring an attack on allies are two different things.  Coyne is right to point out that extended deterrence (don’t attack my allies or else) is less believable than regular, vanilla deterrence (don’t attack me or else).  The threat to start or expand a nuclear war is problematic in either case, but seems a bit more believable if it is in retaliation for a big attack on the homeland.

The key is that for deterrence to work, the side being deterred (North Korea in this case for the moment) does not need to be certain that a counter-strike would happen.  They just need to think that there is some possibility of such a response.  Why?  Because the costs of nuclear war are so very high, if one does the probability math (probability of x times value of x), the prospective costs of attacking first are simply too high compared to the status quo (.01 times infinity = infinity) …. as long as the status quo is bearable (which is why we have to stop threatening regime change).  We do not have to convince North Korea that a retaliatory strike is certain if North Korea attacks South Korea and/or Japan, but that it could happen.  The placement of US troops in South Korea is far more about being a tripwire to raise the probability of the US responding than actually defending South Korea in a conventional attack.

Again, one might say that this is not sufficient, but the key to nuclear threats is that classic Schelling phrase: a threat that leaves something to chance.  One does not have to threaten, for instance, total nuclear annihilation of North Korea crosses the Demilitarized Zone–one just has to threat to start a process that might lead to things getting out of hand and ultimately leading to nuclear war.  This was the old extended deterrence logic for Europe and Asia during the cold war.

Certainty?  That is for allies.  That is, the tripwires and all the rest over the years are mostly aimed at reassuring allies.  The enemy is deterred by a modest chance of the US responding, of sacrificing Chicago for Bonn or now Seattle for Seoul.  The allies?  They are very nervous and require a great deal of assurance.  Ballistic missile defense both in the region and in the US might assure them somewhat–that the US can stick around and meet its commitments knowing that it is protected.

Except for one thing: BMD may be at best a coin flip.  We have lots of uncertainty about whether the efforts to invest in destroying missiles in flight have produced anything remotely reliable.  Again, that is ok from a deterrence perspective–uncertainty is not bad.

While I think that joining the US BMD program makes sense, my reasons do not center on the NK nuclear threat.  The US would try to stop an attack on Vancouver or Toronto since they are very close to American cities whether Canada is in or out of the BMD program.  And North Korea is not going to be gunning for Calgary or Edmonton.  North Korea barely notices Canada, and, given its small supply of nuclear arms, it will not be aiming at Canada.  The BMD arguments I buy have more to do with building a robust NORAD that addresses a variety of threats in the 21st century, and strengthening a key US-Canadian institution in these uncertain times.

While we should all doubt Donald Trump, I am far more worried about his starting a process that leaves something to chance via a small strike at North Korea’s missiles or at its leadership than I am about his not responding to a North Korean attack.  Yes, we are now deterred from attacking North Korea, but that has been true since it developed the capability level Seoul with its artillery.  Yes, we have much to worry about, but then so does Kim Jong Un.  If he wants to survive, he will avoid a process that might lead to escalation.  The costs of being wrong are just too high.

Old Deterrence Logics Still Apply

by Stephen M. Saideman

Reading Andrew Coyne’s piece on North Korea and the need for Canada to join the American Ballistic Missile Defence System reminded me of lots of old deterrence theory stuff.  The piece raises good questions about the reliability of the key actors, especially Trump, but confuses what is necessary for deterrence.  Still, there are some problems that we need to think about.

The big problem in the piece is that Coyne thinks that the American commitment to defend its East Asia allies is now largely unbelievable with the North Koreans developing the ability to strike the continental US (and Canada).  It is true that the US, under several Presidents, has failed to deter the North Korean effort to develop both nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.  But deterring their effort to develop some deterrence and deterring an attack on allies are two different things.  Coyne is right to point out that extended deterrence (don’t attack my allies or else) is less believable than regular, vanilla deterrence (don’t attack me or else).  The threat to start or expand a nuclear war is problematic in either case, but seems a bit more believable if it is in retaliation for a big attack on the homeland.

The key is that for deterrence to work, the side being deterred (North Korea in this case for the moment) does not need to be certain that a counter-strike would happen.  They just need to think that there is some possibility of such a response.  Why?  Because the costs of nuclear war are so very high, if one does the probability math (probability of x times value of x), the prospective costs of attacking first are simply too high compared to the status quo (.01 times infinity = infinity) …. as long as the status quo is bearable (which is why we have to stop threatening regime change).  We do not have to convince North Korea that a retaliatory strike is certain if North Korea attacks South Korea and/or Japan, but that it could happen.  The placement of US troops in South Korea is far more about being a tripwire to raise the probability of the US responding than actually defending South Korea in a conventional attack.

Again, one might say that this is not sufficient, but the key to nuclear threats is that classic Schelling phrase: a threat that leaves something to chance.  One does not have to threaten, for instance, total nuclear annihilation of North Korea crosses the Demilitarized Zone–one just has to threat to start a process that might lead to things getting out of hand and ultimately leading to nuclear war.  This was the old extended deterrence logic for Europe and Asia during the cold war.

Certainty?  That is for allies.  That is, the tripwires and all the rest over the years are mostly aimed at reassuring allies.  The enemy is deterred by a modest chance of the US responding, of sacrificing Chicago for Bonn or now Seattle for Seoul.  The allies?  They are very nervous and require a great deal of assurance.  Ballistic missile defense both in the region and in the US might assure them somewhat–that the US can stick around and meet its commitments knowing that it is protected.

Except for one thing: BMD may be at best a coin flip.  We have lots of uncertainty about whether the efforts to invest in destroying missiles in flight have produced anything remotely reliable.  Again, that is ok from a deterrence perspective–uncertainty is not bad.

While I think that joining the US BMD program makes sense, my reasons do not center on the NK nuclear threat.  The US would try to stop an attack on Vancouver or Toronto since they are very close to American cities whether Canada is in or out of the BMD program.  And North Korea is not going to be gunning for Calgary or Edmonton.  North Korea barely notices Canada, and, given its small supply of nuclear arms, it will not be aiming at Canada.  The BMD arguments I buy have more to do with building a robust NORAD that addresses a variety of threats in the 21st century, and strengthening a key US-Canadian institution in these uncertain times.

While we should all doubt Donald Trump, I am far more worried about his starting a process that leaves something to chance via a small strike at North Korea’s missiles or at its leadership than I am about his not responding to a North Korean attack.  Yes, we are now deterred from attacking North Korea, but that has been true since it developed the capability level Seoul with its artillery.  Yes, we have much to worry about, but then so does Kim Jong Un.  If he wants to survive, he will avoid a process that might lead to escalation.  The costs of being wrong are just too high.

Crisis in US Civil-Military Relations? Not Yet

by Stephen M. Saideman

Yep, no process, no policy, no implementation.  I wrote yesterday that Trump’s transgender in the military “policy” would depend on how the military would feel about implementation.  Well, from the very top, the attitude is: wait and see.  More than that: a smidge of contempt seems to be in the reaction:

Dunford has informed service
members that there will be “no modifications to the current policy until
the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense
and the Secretary has issued implementation guidelines.”

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with
respect,
” Dunford wrote in a memo to the military that was obtained by
CNN. “As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we
face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned
missions.”CNN (I would have cited NYT but they don’t let me cut and paste!)

If Dunford were General (ret.) Kelly of Homeland Security, he might have taken the tweet and ran with it, as Kelly enforced an immigrant ban with very little backing it up.  Dunford, like the other active senior officers, has opposed kicking transgender people out even as they hem and haw on how to deal with recruiting.  So, this agent has preferences that are distinct from the principal and, as a result, does not imagine what the tweet actually means, but instead asks for the paperwork to be done.

And, yes, DC runs on paperwork …. or Word docs shipped around town as attachments to emails (yes, on the classified servers mostly).  Since Mattis has thus far been silent (did he say anything while I was at Costco?), Dunford went ahead and interpreted how far he could go and went pretty far.  I had some responses on twitter asking for him to do more.  Such folks don’t understand civil-military relations–that civilian control of the military means that the civilians have the right to be wrong (which they are here), that the military must obey clear orders.  But they can fudge implementation if the orders are not clear or are not handed down through the chain of command.  Dunford could have started a process to weed out the transgender soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators, but chose not to do so.  This is kind of a work-to-rule thing, where resistance of this form is merely following the rules.  Trump would need to find another general who is more enthused about discrimination to get faster action.  Firing a Chairman for this?  Unlikely.

Finally, it is good to see someone indicate that a tweet may be a policy direction but is not a policy itself.

Learning Too Few Lessons

by Stephen Saideman

Several years ago, I had heard in various bars in the Byward Market that the Canadian government under Stephen Harper had engaged in a serious Lessons Learned exercise about Afghanistan.  I heard that the document was buried (I used the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark to illustrate).  I tried an Access to Information Request in January of 2013, but got rejected because the document was viewed as “advice to cabinet” and containing sensitive information about Canada’s allies.  I thought this was hogwash, so I appealed.  I got the document just before my recent trip to Brazil (here it is),* so I didn’t have time to process it.

Continue reading