An exclusive WSN interview with Dr. Athanasios E. Drougos, a senior defence and counterterrorism analyst and lecturer, conducted by Ioannis Michaletos, WSN Editor South East Europe
Ioannis Michaletos: Since the attacks on the twin towers almost a decade ago, there was intense effort by international authorities to curb the flow of funds directed towards terrorist organizations. Do you assess that we can call the results positive so far or is there a long way to go, until durable results can be achieved?
Dr. Athanasios E. Drougos: Yes in certain areas, but more remains to be done. International terrorist groups raise money in the US and elsewhere to exploit the market-based economies, and democratic freedoms for profits that they send overseas or use locally to support and finance sleeper cells. In order to effectively and deeply disrupt and fight terror finance, you should deal with an interconnected number of criminal and illegal activities (e.g. illicit drugs-fraud-small arms proliferation-intellectual property theft-cigarette smuggling etc).
Since 9/11 I have seen a lot of positive contributions(especially in response to the 9/11 commission recommendations), such as the office of terrorism and financial intelligence, in combating the illicit use of the financial space by terrorists./the setting up of the financial crimes enforcement network, the office of foreign assets control etc.
It will be a very long and tough process, but I believe that there are some engagements and measures aiming at the right directions. We should never forget that we are fighting asymmetric and invisible/non-linear enemies.
Ioannis Michaletos: Have the international authorities and especially the UN, been able to set frameworks so as the international community adheres into common practices, regarding the issue of terrorism financing?
Dr. Athanasios E. Drougos: The war against finance of terror is a global one. The UN has been trying to adequately handle difficult cases in a globalized world with uncontrolled ramifications. I personally believe that all the relevant UNSCR should be implemented by all states.
I would suggest to enhance specific measures and options, such as the imminent enforcement of specific sanctions to financially isolate non-implementing states, to upgrade the level of imposing the international convention on the suppression of the financing of terror, to raise (with external support) the regulatory supervision of financial institutions, to enhance the UNSCR 1373(2001), promoting more international cooperation, paying more attention to non-profit entities, etc. Due to the interdependence of terrorism and crime, more emphasis should be given (by the UN and other groups) to the regions of the Middle East and Latin America. (I.e. Hezbollah-Al Qaeda-Al Shabaab-FARC and pro-Iranian violent organizations).
Ioannis Michaletos: In your view, do you believe that state-sponsored terrorism poses a great peril regarding international counterterrorism policy? What exactly constitutes the term “state-sponsored” and how widespread is it nowadays?
Dr. Athanasios E. Drougos: Yes of course. The security of the western interests is directly challenged by the deep and strident anti-western policies and tactics of certain countries. For instance, Iran-Syria-Cuba-Sudan, and I would add Burma-North Korea, and Venezuela. They are state-sponsors of terrorism. They are rogue regimes, involved in a wide variety of terrorist and other criminal activities.
The state-sponsorship means that fully and ruthlessly supports terrorist groups as proxies to advance their anti-western interests. They support transnational networks to wage asymmetric-hybrid operations against states.
On the other hand, those trends require a broader and joint counterterrorism strategy and response, including pre-emptive/preventive measures against the state sponsors of political violence. The western world should upgrade even more the level of intelligence-sharing and studying in depth the “asymmetrical behaviour” of the current enemies.
Ioannis Michaletos: About Europe, is the threat of future terrorist acts visible? What constitutes as the best approach so as the European states could coordinate their capabilities against such threats?
Dr. Athanasios E. Drougos: Yes it is a visible one. Frankly speaking, I am expecting more lethal terrorist attacks in the coming time in our continent. We have vulnerable borders and insecure domestic areas. Just mentioning some of the factors: Radicalization of religious groups in various European countries/mass movement of people/proximity to unstable regions/al Qaeda’s trans-European links/terrorists returning to their homes with fighting experiences from Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan etc.
I would add my fears on having (in the coming time) cases of maritime terrorism/cyber terrorism/suicide-bombing incidents
From a joint counterterrorist glance , I would suggest more exercises against asymmetric foes/enlarging the spectrum of intelligence cooperation/increase the level of cooperation among the EU, the Atlantic alliance and other bodies/and to get a better sociological-cultural-psychological knowledge of our enemies and adversaries.
Ioannis Michaletos: In Europe, how well can the public sector cooperate with the private one, in order to face the issue of terrorism?
Dr. Athanasios E. Drougos: I am not very satisfied. There are gaps, and divergent views. Take the case of fighting cyber threats. I do know that a variety of initiatives and proposals have been made to “bridge the gap”, and I believe that the private sector has a lot to offer in ideas/options/studies/experiences/concepts/ways.
I would suggest something to be done (more professionally) with active involvement-participation by NATO-EU-other governmental organizations and representatives from the leading private companies around the globe, to exchange thoughts and take comprehensive measures against terrorism (regular meetings-joint ventures-intelligence sharing-etc).
Ioannis Michaletos: Do you think that the current world financial crisis will affect negatively the efforts of the authorities? Moreover, countries in Europe that are facing economic hurdles, do you believe that they will be able to confront with the issue of money laundering or will they become “weak links” to the contemporary globalized environment?
Dr. Athanasios E. Drougos: The current financial crisis and the decreasing budgets in defence and homeland security (especially in Europe) will have implications on certain counterterrorism policies and joint actions against violent movements. (I am mostly thinking of the southern European countries).
There are some weak institutions in our countries, requiring expertise-introduction of new technologies-aviation security measures-enhancing customs methods-maritime interdiction-early warning systems to deal with the CBRN materials etc .all of them, in order to increase the security level, require economic investments and professional people.
In an era of declining budgets, I am afraid that the global environment possibly to be permissive in terms of reinforcing “the islands of criminality, terrorism, drugs-trafficking etc”.
Ioannis Michaletos: How well is the cooperation between the USA-Europe and other countries progressing as relating to the combat of terrorism?
Dr. Athanasios E. Drougos: Since the catastrophic attacks of 9/11 there have been some positive and constructive steps within the Euro Atlantic community to respond to radicalization, terrorism, asymmetric warfare. Some of the areas of cooperation are: Intelligence-legal measures-joint financial initiatives-preventing measures against WMD terrorism, setting up joint NATO-EU counterterrorism units-an expanded US-EU dialogue on various aspects of terrorism, the “Atlantic storm” joint drills etc .but the Americans are far ahead in certain sectors. They have seen global terrorism with many faces and sub-faces.
They took more measures, including pre-emptive actions. They have paid more attention to ungoverned areas -terrorist safe havens. From a European perspective we have to do more in training-analyzing-penetrating in the fields of terrorism. The European countries should increase the level of maritime security awareness-protecting critical infrastructure-ameliorating cross border security, and proceeding with more specializing trend to the areas of terrorism in the 21st century. One of the topics on whose the European countries should act with a more comprehensive way is the threat of bioterrorism.
Ioannis Michaletos: For the short and mid-term, do you assess that the mass movement of population, mainly from the East to the West and the liberalization of finance and telecommunication networks globally; affects negatively any efforts by the security authorities to stop the proliferation of the terrorist-extremist networks?
Dr. Athanasios E. Drougos: Dealing for years with asymmetric-hybrid threats I am fearful and sceptical of some of the aspects of globalization (human trafficking-insecure borders-globalizing transportation systems).conflict and post-conflict zones often contain sanctuaries that can enable terrorists and criminals to work in concert. I am expecting more ungoverned spaces in the coming time and an increase in the connections between criminals and terrorists, enhancing the capabilities of each.
There are gaps in the fields of systematically gathering intelligence related to the deeply dangerous nexus of crime and terrorism. More credible human intelligence is essential to counter the threat coming from the confluence of politically-violent and criminal groupings.
More research from the academic and other communities is important, in order to predict future links. There are a lot of “A.Q. Khan-networks”, specializing in various types of criminal activities. Finally to remain vigilant and to keep in our minds that some of the safe havens are not physical. Some are digital, thus increasing even more the current threats and risks upon our societies.
Dr. Drougos is a senior defence and counterterrorism analyst and lecturer (Greek-NATO /military-joint defence colleges). He has appeared numerously in Greek and international media for issues ranging from international counter-terrorism policy, NATO-EU relations and developments in the Middle East and maintains a website (www.drougos.gr), which updates on a daily basis analyses and information with a special focus on: NATO, Middle East, AFPAK and counter-terrorism.