Three new articles

Here are three articles I’ve had published recently. The newest is this article in the journal Democracy and Security, co-authored with Shandon Harris-Hogan:

Mantiqi IV: al-Qaeda’s failed co-optation of a Jemaah Islamiyah support network.

On July 14, 2000, a man called the Perth office of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and stated, “I’ve just returned from Afghanistan, I’ve just met with Osama bin Laden … I would like to have an interview with an ASIO officer … I would be willing to work for ASIO should the need arise.”1 The man was a member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a group that would gain the reputation as Southeast Asia’s deadliest terrorist organization following the 2002 Bali bombings. He had been sent to Afghanistan by the leaders of Mantiqi IV, JI’s Australian branch, where he was trained and tasked by al-Qaeda to assist an attack timed to occur during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. If successful, this plot would have constituted the first al-Qaeda-directed act of terrorism within a Western country and the first act of jihadist violence conducted on Australian soil.

The plot’s origins were not unique. Al-Qaeda’s strategy has long involved co-opting other jihadist organizations and redirecting their focus toward Western targets, often making use of their Western-based support networks. Al-Qaeda utilized UK-based support networks of Pakistani jihadist groups for attacks such as the 7/7 London bombings.2 Yet unlike London, this early Australian plot did not result in mass casualty violence. Instead, as the voluntary phone call to ASIO demonstrated, the plot fell apart. It is hoped that a detailed examination of this planned attack will help to identify factors that both enable and hinder al-Qaeda’s ability to attack the West through co-opting existing jihadist groups and their external support networks.

This article draws on interviews with former members of Mantiqi IV, court material, media sources, and existing scholarly accounts of al-Qaeda and JI to assess the factors that shaped the outcome of this plot. The first section outlines a number of key concepts such as jihadist movements, external support networks, and al-Qaeda’s strategy of co-optation. The article then provides a historical account of Jemaah Islamiyah’s emergence in Southeast Asia and the antecedents of its external support network in Australia. This is done in order to demonstrate the characteristics that made JI susceptible to co-optation by al-Qaeda, as well as those factors that would later prove to be obstacles. This is followed by an examination of Mantiqi IV and of al-Qaeda’s attempt to co-opt JI for its global war against the United States and its allies. The final section examines how this co-optation process played out among Mantiqi IV’s members and the resulting terrorist plot within Australia………


I also have a new post out in The Strategist:

In defence of ASIO’s passport powers.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation often cancels the passports of suspected terrorists, and has increasingly done so to prevent Australians joining jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. ASIO has issued adverse security assessments for more than 100 passports since 9/11, with over 60 cancellations in the past two years alone.

This tactic has occasionally been criticised on civil libertarian grounds, but has recently faced criticism from a different direction. Some commentators have argued that passport confiscations keep dangerous terrorists in Australia, and that it’d be better to let them leave and work to ensure they never return.

However, that approach would create bigger problems…….


And a couple of weeks ago I had short piece published in the Alternative Law Journal:

National security law update

Australian citizens continue to join proscribed terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq. This has gone from being a neglected security concern to becoming the Australian government’s ‘number one national security priority’.

The result is that three sets of new national security legislation are being introduced in quick succession, which carries great risks for human rights and effective counter-terrorism…….

However that last one is a bit out of date, as it was written a while ago. The laws it discusses have now been passed, and there have also been amendments. For example, I wrote that the no-go-zone proposal “could require any Australian returning from Syria and Iraq to prove they were not involved in terrorism”, but now there’s been a PJCIS amendment so that the law can’t apply to entire countries. Currently the law applies to al-Raqqa province in Syria.

On Raff Pantucci’s paper: A Death in Woolwich

Raffaello Pantucci has a new article out in the RUSI Journal (open access):

A Death in Woolwich: The Lone-Actor Terrorist Threat in the UK

It’s partly about the Lee Rigby murder, but also about the difficulties of addressing the UK’s changing terror threat:

From a security perspective, it is clear that lone-actor plots are, by their very individualised nature, those that are harder to penetrate, detect and disrupt. Fortunately for the security services, these individual cases are rare, and the majority of those who are drawn to extremist ideologies prefer to fight abroad or, if plotting at home, to become involved in complicated networked plots that security services are more easily able to penetrate and disrupt.

The case of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, however, presents a new concern, hinting at a fusion of a long term radical community and the lone actor approach. Previously, most of the individuals who had been involved with Al-Muhajiroun had gone on to attempt to fight and train abroad, or set up networks to try to carry out complicated plots. The concept of lone-actor terrorism had not clearly entered their activity flow. Should the actions of Adebolajo and Adebowale prove to be the beginning of a trend, the security services will suddenly find their caseload multiplying as they try to work out who, within their broader intelligence networks, might be moving towards launching an attack similar to the murder of Lee Rigby and, once identified, how they can be detained, if their actions at that point are restricted to the usual digest of extremist activity associated with the group. It is worth noting that, almost two years on, there has not been a repeat of the Woolwich incident, though a number of individuals within the wider network have been arrested on various charges, including some related to terrorist activity. There could be many reasons for this lull, and given the longevity and persistence of the ideology and group it is impossible to discount a repeat or an imitation as yet.

Yet overreacting may prove equally counterproductive. Repeated arrests and intimidation through legal means may cause frustration and lead to extreme reactions. This appears to have already happened in some cases, but it is far from a universal reaction, and often long term activists remain just that, continuing to show up at protests without ever transitioning to terrorist violence. These individuals may present a problem because they help an ultimately violent ideology to persist and spread, but if they stay on the right side of the line of legality then they remain within their rights to express these views, as unpalatable and unpleasant as they may be.

The article is relevant to Australia’s situation, even though we face a much smaller threat than the UK does. The dilemmas he describes are common to security services in liberal democracies, and three recent incidents suggest Australia’s jihadist threat is evolving in a similar way to the UK’s.

In Melbourne, two police officers were stabbed by a suspected Islamic State (IS) supporter whose passport had been confiscated by ASIO.

In Sydney, an alleged terror plot was uncovered that involved members of a suspected IS support network, several of whom had also had their passports confiscated. Police claim senior Australian IS recruiter Mohammad Ali Baryalei ordered conspirators in Australia to kidnap and murder a randomly chosen non-Muslim member of the Australian public, film the killing, and place the video on social media.

In Brisbane, a man named Agim Kruezi was charged over a separate alleged terror plot. He had already been arrested for allegedly recruiting people for IS, but further investigations led to new charges including transportation of a firearm in preparation for a terrorist act, and possessing machetes, knives, balaclavas, military fatigues and fuel in preparation for a terrorist act.

Much about these incidents remains unproven, and we will have to see what comes out in court. However, so far these incidents suggest a shift away from the sorts of large-scale plots (involving many participants and developing over a long period of time) that were foiled by operations Pendennis and Neath, towards smaller scale attempts at violence involving fewer people and less sophisticated methods.This apparent shift is consistent with the two recent attacks in Canada, and IS’s repeated calls for ad-hoc attacks in the countries taking part in military action against it:

If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be…. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict.

I’ve previously argued for scepticism towards the idea that ad-hoc attacks represent the future of jihadism, but with IS’s leadership explicitly adopting this approach, these type of attacks will likely be prominent for at least the next couple of years. Australia will likely see more of these increasingly unpredictable (but hopefully low-impact) plots, and security services will be continually called on to take action.

Raffaello Pantucci’s article does a great job explaining this evolving threat and the counter-terrorism dilemmas it creates.

Resources: mapping terrorism studies in Australia

I recently revisited this 2006 assessment of terrorism studies in Australia by Stuart Koschade, which got me thinking about where you could start if you were to assess the field today.

I’ve put together this list of articles from 2003 onwards by Australian-affiliated authors from the journals Studies in Conflict and Terrorism and Terrorism and Political Violence, traditionally considered the core terrorism journals.

To be included, the article must:

  1. Have been published in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism or Terrorism and Political Violence.
  2. Be published at any point from January 2003 (the metadata was less clearly presented for earlier articles and finding them became time-consuming).
  3. Have at least one author listed as affiliated with an Australian institution.
  4. Must be a full-length article, not a book review or a reply piece.

This is far from a comprehensive overview of the terrorism research coming out of Australia. The list excludes other terrorism studies journals such as Critical Studies on Terrorism, Perspectives on Terrorism, Behavioral Studies of Terrorism and Political Aggression, Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict, Democracy and Security and Policing, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism. Also, lots of terrorism research is published in non-terrorism-specific journals (such as legal journals), in books, in government and think-tank reports, and elsewhere.

So there’s plenty of research by Australian authors missing here, such as the work of Leah Farrall. I may expand the list later on.

The articles are listed in reverse chronological order, and all are unfortunately paywalled.

  Continue reading

On John Faulkner’s paper: Surveillance, Intelligence and Accountability

Australian Labor Party (ALP) backbencher John Faulkner has just published a paper: Surveillance, Intelligence and Accountability: an Australian Story. It gives a detailed history of Australian intelligence agencies, outlines problems with their oversight mechanisms, and proposes several reforms.

It’s a good paper and I’m quite excited by it. It comes as the Coalition Government is rushing three sets (or “tranches”) of extensive new national security legislation (some needed, some not) through Parliament, that increases the powers of security agencies and poses risks for press freedom.

This counter-terrorism approach had recieved largely uncritical support from the ALP. However, as the Saturday Paper recently reported, sections of the ALP are regretting this support and pushing back.

Anthony Albanese expressed worries about the reach of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill’s impact on press freedom, though only after it had been passed. Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus is calling for a greater oversight role by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) to keep a check on how the legislation is used. The PJCIS (a bipartisan committee, but one that contains three ALP shadow ministers: Wong, Plibersek and Conroy) also asserted a stronger role for itself in its response to the Counter Terrorism Legislation Amendment Foreign Fighters Bill (the Government’s second set of new national security legislation). Several Labor MPs are expressing concern about data retention, which will be the Government’s third set of national security legislation.

Faulkner’s proposed reforms the latest example of this discontent within the ALP.

Faulkner proposes eight reforms, summarised here, which include ways to improve current oversight mechanisms (the PJCIS, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor), shortening the sunset clauses on contentious legislation, and launching an independent review into accountability arrangements.

I would add a further point. Faulkner’s proposals mainly address oversight mechanisms, but another crucial element of accountability is transparency. The proposed review should not just examine oversight, but also address what scope there is for greater transparency. As I’ve argued before:

Intelligence agencies of course have to be more secretive than other parts of the public service, but Australia’s agencies have a level of secrecy that exceeds those in similar countries. For example, ASIO and other agencies have blanket 20–30 year exemptions from Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, which the Australian Information Commissioner, John McMillan, currently opposes. In a submission to a review of FOI laws he pointed out that (PDF) in ‘other jurisdictions, including New Zealand and the United States, intelligence agencies are covered by FOI legislation’.

This difference allows journalists and academics in such other jurisdictions to obtain much more information about what their intelligence services do. For example, terrorism researcher J. M. Berger has written detailed accounts of the CIA’s investigations into al Qaeda from 1991 to 2003 and the FBI’s infiltration of far-right extremist groups (PDF) in the 1990s, based substantially on documents acquired through America’s FOI legislation. Comparable research into Australian agencies is almost impossible.

The problem goes beyond the intelligence services, as Australia generally has excessive secrecy on national security matters. For example, Australia’s military secrecy goes well beyond that of our allies. Lowy Military Fellow James Brown has noted (PDF) that Defence’s annual reports are ‘less transparent and detailed than similar defence reporting in the UK, US, Canada, and New Zealand’.

The limited transparency contributes to the lack of well-informed debate. Whenever a public controversy breaks out (such as on Julian Assange, Ben Zygier, Mamdouh Habib, possible spying on anti-coal activists, data retention proposals, and now whether Australia receives PRISM data), the lack of publicly available information means that neither side’s claims can be critically assessed. Instead, each side becomes entrenched in their positions, the media publish with what they have and move on, and much of the public remains indifferent.

So transparency, where feasible, also needs to be part of the discussion on intelligence accountability in Australia. Even so, Faulkner’s paper is one of the best contributions to this debate to come from a politician in years. Be sure to read it.

New article and some updates

Another quick post.

I have an article in the latest issue of CTC Sentinel, called New developments in Australian foreign fighter activity.

I’ve also been updating the List of alleged violent plots in Europe involving Syria returnees. I might add this event (which would make eight) but am waiting for some information that’s more solid.

We have another set of national security legislation before Parliament, the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is holding a (very short) inquiry on it. You can read the legislation, the submissions, and transcripts of hearings here. They will have a report out on 17 October.

Operation Pendennis, Abbott’s CT approach and law resources

I have two new articles out. One is a co-authored journal article in Perspectives On Terrorism, revisiting the terrorist plot foiled in 2005 by Operation Pendennis:

Operation Pendennis: A Case Study of an Australian Terrorist Plot
by Bart Schuurman, Shandon Harris-Hogan, Andrew Zammit and Pete Lentini

This Research Note article provides a case study of a major Australian terrorist investigation, code-named Operation Pendennis. Drawing primarily from publicly available court transcripts, this study seeks to expand upon the growing literature within terrorism studies which utilises primary source materials. Its aim is to provide a detailed overview of Operation Pendennis that might serve as a resource for other scholars. The work also aims to add to existing knowledge regarding how terrorists prepare their attacks and react when under surveillance. This is done by providing a descriptive account of two cells’ preparations for an act of terrorism, and their unsuccessful attempts to evade authorities.

The other is an opinion piece in The Age, published a fortnight ago:

Abbott’s haste to tackle home-grown terrorists carries grave risks
by Andrew Zammit

The threat posed by Australians in extremist groups in Syria and Iraq is being used to justify dramatic changes to national security legislation. The threat is very much real, but that does not make all the proposed new laws necessary or justified.

The opinion piece expresses my fears, which have only increased in the past few weeks, that counter-terrorism in Australia is heading in a bad direction and returning to some of the worst aspects of the Howard Government approach. It looks like several of the Abbott Government’s new laws will be harmful, unnecessary, and will complicate counter-terrorism efforts.

I say “looks like” because there’s not much detail on the new laws, particularly the most contentious ones like reversing the burden of proof for suspected returning fighters.

So I’m linking to some extra resources on the laws, following up from the last post.

There are three sets of proposed national security legislation. The previous post contained resources on the first set, the five background reports, and some commentary.

Since then, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has been conducting a short inquiry on the first set. Submissions to the inquiry can be found here, and transcripts of the public hearings can be found here.

Much less information has been released on the second set, aside from a press release and this press conference transcript.

The third set will involve data retention. No detail has been released on the government’s current plans for that, but there’s good background info in this Parliamentary Library paper from October 2012.

Finally, the Parliamentary Library recently released this useful paper: Counter-terrorism and national security legislation reviews: a comparative overview.

Resources: Australia’s new national security legislation reforms

Another quick post. Here are some resources for the impending reforms to national security legislation.


1. The Parliamentary page for the first set of reforms, National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014, is here. There will reportedly be a second set of reforms a few months later.

The key documents on that page are the bill itself and the explanatory memorandum.


2. Some commentary on the bill:

Bernard Keane, “Brandis’ national security bill a concern for whistleblowers, journalists“, Crikey, 17 July 2014 (currently paywalled).

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, “National security bill gives ASIO more powers and a tighter gag“, The Conversation, 17 July 2014.

Cameron Stewart, “Security laws must be updated“, The Australian, 19 July 2014.


3. Five reports recommending national security legislation reform (the current bill is based heavily on the Joint Committee report, but the second set of reforms will apparently be partly based on the Independent Monitor reports and presumably the COAG one too):

Independent National Security Legislation Monitor – annual report 28th March 2014
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC)
18 June 2014

Independent National Security Legislation Monitor – declassified annual report 20th December 2012
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC)
14 May 2013

Council of Australian Governments review of counter-terrorism legislation
Council of Australian Governments (COAG)
14 May 2013

Report of the inquiry into potential reforms of Australia’s national security legislation
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS)
24 June 2013

Independent National Security Legislation Monitor – annual report 7th November 2013
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC)
12 December 2013


4. On Friday the Parliamentary Library published two lists of useful web links, one on national security and the other on crime and law enforcement.