PhD and publications update

I haven’t been blogging here much as I am still yet to finish the PhD. However, I want to re-share things I published or produced during 2020:

  • An episode of the podcast Sub Rosa, “Technology adoption and organisational learning by terrorists and start-ups, with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Carolina ‘Nina’ Ponzeto”, January 2020.
    • We covered a lot in this conversation, including similarities between how terrorist groups and commercial start-ups adopt new technologies, ways that running one sort of organisation can give insights into other organisations, the arguments in Dan Drezner’s book The Ideas Industry, the weaponisation of commercial drones, and a whole lot more. We also discussed virtually planned (or cybercoached) terrorist attacks, where the perpetrators were guided through online communication with Islamic State operatives who provided encouragement or instructions. Given that we discussed whether many of these attacks had actually managed to kill people, I should mention that since the episode was released new evidence has emerged strongly suggesting that the December 2019 Pensacola attack, which killed three US Air Force members and injured eight others, was virtually planned by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Similarly, the September 2020 Akouda attack in Tunisia, which killed one person and injured another, also appears to have been instigated through this approach.

  • An article for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel, “Operation Silves: Inside the 2017 Islamic State Sydney Plane Plot”, April 2020.
    • This article revisited the most ambitious jihadist terrorist plot Australia has faced (which was also one of Islamic State’s most innovative external operations). The article provides a detailed account of how the plot developed, the advantages the plotters had (relative to comparable plots), and how these advantages were fortunately insufficient to overcome all the obstacles the plotters faced. It is relevant to the earlier discussion on Islamic State’s virtually planned attacks and how Islamic State’s external threat evolved as its territorial fortunes declined.

  • A post for AVERT Commentary, “Taking stock of terrorism amid uncertainty”, June 2020.
    • This post looked back at developments during 2019 (particularly the tragic attacks in New Zealand and Sri Lanka) to provide a clear picture of how the terrorist threat facing Australia had evolved before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It does not directly engage with the debate over how the pandemic may reshape the terrorist threat, but for an important contribution to that debate see this article by Sam Mullins and Michael King.
  • A small number of posts on this blog, the most detailed of which was “Resources: Concepts behind Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update”, July 2020.
    • This post was just incredibly fun to write.

  • A correspondence piece for Australian Foreign Affairs, “Response to Kim McGrath’s ‘Drawing the Line’”, October 2020.
    • This was a response to Kim McGrath’s important essay on the Australian Secret Intelligence Service’s alleged bugging of Timor-Leste’s cabinet office and the subsequent prosecution of “Witness K” and Bernard Collaery. I approached the issue from a position of strong moral agreement about the injustice of many Australian government policies towards Timor-Leste (both historic and current) but also skepticism towards some of the essay’s arguments and recommendations (though not its core recommendation of upgrading the next independent review to a Royal Commission and including the “Witness K” scandal in its terms of reference). You can see the sources used in my response here.

I also worked on several projects at Victoria University last year, some of which will come out in publications. For example, Debra Smith, Gaetano Joe Ilardi and I have co-edited a special issue of the Journal of Policing Intelligence and Counter Terrorism which should be out in April. The special issue has a great range of contributors addressing the topic of Navigating the divide: Cooperation between academia and national security practitioners.

I will also soon resume blogging for the Addressing Violent Extremism and Radicalisation to Terrorism (AVERT) network.

My top priority for the next three months is to finish the PhD, What did you do in their war? Roles and agency in transnational support for armed movements. I am excitingly close to the finish line but frustratingly not quite there yet! So I will continue to only post here sporadically for the near future.

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