Podcast news

Kate Grealy and I have released the first episode of Sub Rosa for 2019.

In the episode, Kate shares a presentation she recently gave at the University of Melbourne in November 2018, discussing the impact of countering violent extremism (CVE) policies on international development efforts in Indonesia. She discusses the implications of the international development sector engaging in work that has previously been conducted by domestic counter terrorism and security professionals. Enjoy it!

Meanwhile, I recently realised that the Australian Institute of International Affairs has a podcast, so I’ve updated my list of Australian foreign policy and national security podcasts:

This list only contains podcasts specifically focused on Australian foreign policy and national security, so it excludes many excellent Australian podcasts that are relevant to foreign policy and national security but are focused on either broader policy issues (such as Policy Forum Pod) or particular countries (such as Talking Indonesia or The Little Red Podcast) or regions (such as the New Mandala podcast) or themes (such as The Dead Prussian or Risky Business).

News on Sub Rosa and other Australian security-related podcasts

For the first time in a while, we have a new episode of Sub Rosa out.  I spoke to David Schaefer again, this time about intelligence studies and a new article of his on the future of Pine Gap.

I also want to mention a bunch of other podcasts that may be of interest, particularly as some new Australian security-related ones are out.

One of my fellow PhD candidates at Monash, Alasdair Kempton, co-hosts the On War: the Podcast. My favourite episode is the one on pirates and privateers, particularly for the stories about the SMS Emden and the SMS Seaadler, followed by the episode on soldiers of fortune.

It has a similar style to War for Idiots, a podcast co-hosted by Army officers Mick Cook and Rich Thapthimthong, which I’ve mentioned here before. Both podcasts focus each episode on a war-related concept and aim to explain it clearly to listeners, with the difference that War for Idiots aims for a military audience while On War: the Podcast aims for an academic audience.

Mick Cook’s other podcast, The Dead Prussian, has just started a new season and so far it’s great.

Those three podcasts (The Dead Prussian, War for Idiots and On War: the Podcast) are ones I listen to a lot and find heaps of fun.

There are also Australian security-related podcasts I listen to much more intermittently.

The Lowy Institute’s podcast, which is more about  international relations and foreign policy rather than just security, is particularly valuable. I don’t listen to it often but one recent excellent episode was a panel discussion on Australia, China and the fallout from the foreign influence debate. It was the most responsible and nuanced discussion of this issue I’ve seen come out of any Australian think-tank.

A similarly less directly security-related podcast is The Little Red Podcast, co-hosted by Graeme Smith and Louisa Lim, which is the most informative podcast on China and Chinese-Australian relations that I know of.

We’ve also had two new Australian entrances into podcasting, though from long-established institutions.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) now has a podcast called Policy, Guns and Money, with five episodes out so far.

The Australian National University’s National Security College (NSC) produces the National Security Podcast, with about ten episodes out.

Finally, if your interest is more in information security, there’s Patrick Gray’s podcast Risky Business and Stilgherrian’s The 9pm Edict.

As for Sub Rosa, Kate Grealy and I have several more episodes planned, but it will probably be at least a few months before we produce and release the next one.

Four announcements

Four bits of news relevant to readers of this blog.

First, one of the founders of modern terrorism studies, Bruce Hoffman, is briefly coming to Australia. He will give a public talk in Canberra on 30 April, organised by Charles Sturt University:

hoffman event

Second, Kate Grealy and I have released a new episode of Sub Rosa, for the first time in over a year.

I interviewed David Schaefer, who is now at King’s College London, about Australia’s dependence on US space technology and how this impacts our military alliance and the risks of conflict entrapment. Click here to listen to the episode:

Episode 13: Space technology and the US-Australian alliance, with David Schaefer

dave schaefer kingsIn this episode, Andrew talks to David Schaefer about developments in space technology and how they are changing long-held assumptions about the military alliance between Australia and the United States.

David Schaefer is currently a PhD Candidate at King’s College London. When this episode was recorded in September 2017, David was based at the University of Melbourne, working for AsiaLink and Ormond College.

We spoke about his research on how technological changes have impacted the US-Australian alliance in ways that haven’t always been widely recognised in Australia’s national security debates. We also spoke about how this potentially makes Australia’s exposure to great-power conflict more complex and ambiguous than during the Cold War, particularly in the context of US-China rivalry and the prospect that any new conflict could open with cyber-attacks against information networks shared between Australia and the United States.

Third, the Monash Gender, Peace and Security group has released an interesting new resource which maps gender provisions in peace agreements. Take a look here.

Fourth, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute is hiring a new National Security / Counter-Terrorism Analyst. You can apply here before 29 April. They have also announced openings for their six month paid internships, you can apply here before 6 May.

Enjoy!

Recent podcast episodes on terrorism and Australian national security

I’ve been listening to bunch of podcasts recently, and want to share some episodes I think readers of this blog might enjoy.

Anyone interested in the study of terrorism needs to give Talking Terror a shot. It’s hosted by John Morrison, Director of the Terrorism and Extremism Research Centre at the University of East London, and focused both on the phenomenon of terrorism itself and on the academic field of terrorism studies. Each guest is asked about their own research and research by others that has strongly influenced them. Most of the guests are quite critical of aspects of terrorism studies, as many scholars are, but also optimistic about where the field is heading. I find it a fascinating and refreshing podcast. My favourite episodes are:

Episode 1: Laura Dugan
“John and Laura discuss the origins and iterations of the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), her research on moving beyond deterrence in Israel, and Armenian terrorism.”

Episode 4: Bart Schuurman
“This episode covers a range of issues including the evaluation of Dutch re-integration programmes, the role of public support in terrorism and counter-terrorism, and the individual rationales for involvement in Dutch jihadist groups.”

Episode 5: Erica Chenoweth
“Erica discusses a range of topics relating to her research and her influences. Included within this is a fascinating discussion of how Zlata’s Diary had a huge influence on her career… Erica’s career has focused on analysing political violence and its alternatives, and this is reflected in her discussion with John.”

Episode 11: John Morrison
“John Morrison has left the host’s chair, replaced by Andrew Silke, and for one episode only is the guest on the show. In this interview John discusses how his early interest in sports psychology still influences him today, his research on splits in Irish Republicanism, and his current focus on the role of trust is the psychology of terrorism.”

Also, the Blogs of War podcast, Covert Contact, has been doing a great run of episodes with Australian guests, covering issues like terrorism, warfare and information security. I’ve collected them all here:

Episode 75: Understanding and Developing Resilience To Information Warfare
Interview with Clint Arizmendi, an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow for the Australian Graduate School of Policing & Security’s Terrorism Studies program at Charles Sturt University.

Episode 76: Australian Special Operations Forces
Interview with Colonel Ian Langford, DSC (Two Bar), who has served the Australian Army and Special Operations Command, with distinction.

Episode 77: Australian Approaches to Counterterrorism
Interview with the Director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Levi West.

Episode 78: Australian Cyber Policy
Interview with  freelance journalist, commentator, and broadcaster Stilgherrian.

Episode 82: The Crypto Wars: Update from the Australian Front
Another interview with Australian freelance journalist, commentator, and broadcaster Stilgherrian.

Episode 85: Terrorists and Technology
Another interview with Levi West, Director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University in Canberra.

 

Updates on research, writing and reading

I wanted to share some things I’ve been up to recently.

First, I am co-authoring a book on the history of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Australia since the 1960s! I am extremely excited by it. My co-author is Debra Smith (author of this great article), and it will be published by Palgrave MacMillan.

In less exciting news, I recently withdrew from the University of Melbourne. However I have not ended the PhD, I will resume it at Monash University. About halfway through last year my primary supervisor (David Malet, who does excellent work on foreign fighters) left Melbourne University for a position at George Washington University. I took a Leave of Absence after that, initially planning to resume my PhD there if I could find another supervisor in my area, but decided instead to return to Monash. I successfully applied and will continue my PhD there, beginning in early 2018.

The book will be my main focus for the next six months, before returning to the PhD. I will be working on a few other things in that time, such as my job at APO and some pieces of writing.

Also, my podcast with Kate Grealy will be returning. We went on hiatus again and will recommence once we have a bunch more episodes ready to go. We’ve recorded some new interviews recorded, one on militias in Indonesia and one on the role of space technology in the US-Australian alliance, and have several more planned.

I’ve also had some new articles out:

And I was interviewed by Fatima Measham for the Eureka Street podcast Chattersquare.

In other news, some colleagues of mine have some new pieces of research out. Pete Lentini has authored this new article (paywalled) on the Melbourne-based terrorist cell disrupted by Operation Pendennis in 2005, The Neojihadist Cell as a Religious Organization: A Melbourne Jema’ah Case Study. Michele Grossman has co-authored this study on Community Reporting Of Violent Extremist Activity And Involvement In Foreign Conflict. It’s a UK-based replication of an Australian study, which makes it particularly important as it helps terrorism studies to address the Replication Debate.

I also want to share some of what I’m reading at the moment. For the book, I’m revisiting a lot of books on Australia’s Security history:

But as we are making use of lots of untapped information, institutions like the National Archives of Australia and the Australian Legal Information Institute are invaluable, and I encourage everyone to support them.

I’m reading a bit on the Vietnam War. I just finished Thomas Richardson’s Destroy and Build: Pacification in Phuoc Thuy, 1966-1972, which I would put in the top five books ever written on Australia’s role in Vietnam. I’m currently reading a novel on the war and its aftermath, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathiser:

IMG_0087

I’m about to start Mark Hamm and Ramon Spaaij’s book on lone wolf terrorism. The term “lone wolf” tends to evoke a lot of sarcasm now, and while I’ve had problems with how loosely the term can be used, it’s not a meaningless concept. These types of terror attacks deserves serious study, and this book looks like a rigorous and empirically-grounded example of that:

I like to balance these sort of micro-level studies with big-picture reading on world history, or on where the world may be heading. The most interesting thing I’ve read recently like that has been Amitav Acharya’s article After Liberal Hegemony: The Advent of a Multiplex World Order, and I’ve just begun Lawrence Freedman’s The Future of War: A History:

IMG_0104

That’s it for now, but I hope to update this blog a bit more frequently. We will see!

Australia’s growing online strategy-sphere

In March last year, I wrote that Australia was seeing an emerging online strategy-sphere. It’s now grown well past the point where it can be considered “emerging”.

That post discussed how, in the mid-to-late 2000s when the US had tens of thousands of troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, an online network developed of soldiers and civilians who debated military operations and strategy. My post suggested that Australia was starting to see something similar, and gave the following examples:

  • The Australian Army has started its own blog, the Land Power Forum, with contributions from many active members. As Danielle Cave points out, despite it being a government blog the posts are not simply puff pieces. There are of course firm boundaries set though, with the about page stating “Land Power Forum is not designed to re-litigate issues that have already been discussed and decided upon.”

  • Army Major Clare O’Neill has a website called “Grounded Curiosity”, including a blog and a podcast, which “aims to start a conversation with junior commanders about our future in warfare.”

  • Army Major Mick Cook has started a podcast called The Dead Prussian (referring to Clausewitz), which “aims to explore War and Warfare through discussion and analysis of military theory, historical events, contemporary conflicts, and expert interviews.”

  • Army Brigadier Mick Ryan has a Twitter account, has been writing in The Bridge (an online journal which is part of the Military Writer’s Guild) about the importance of social media for the military, and appeared on Clare O’Neill’s podcast.

  • Several Army officers recently spoke at a conference on Social Media and the Spectrum of Modern Conflict. You can watch videos of their talks here.

  • Navy Captain Justin Jones, who was director of the Sea Power Centre, has been blogging on the Lowy Interpreter and tweeting for a while (I would guess that there are other examples from the Navy, and maybe the Air Force, but most of what I have found is Army).

  • With the creation of ASPI’s Strategist in 2012, and the Land Power Forum in 2014, Australia’s institutional blogs now feature much more discussion of military strategy than before (though strategy has always been part of the discussion on the Lowy Interpreter since 2007), with both civilian and military contributions.

There have been many more developments since then. For example:

  • Lieutenant Colonel Tom McDermott and others have created a new online resource, The Cove, which describes itself as “a professional development resource for the Australian Profession of Arms.  It is designed to help military professionals sharpen their skills, connect with peers and allies, and develop new concepts and ideas for consideration.”
  • Major Clare O’Neill and others have set up the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum Australia, to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation within the military, which is described here. It was prompted by the need to better facilitate innovation within the Army, which has been recognised for some time. DEFAus is a subsidiary of a similar outfit in the United States, created in 2013.
  • Another organisation has also been created, the Postern Association, which is “the Australian Army’s new association for professional development”. It doesn’t seem to have a website yet, but these four posts (one, two, three, four) help explain what it is.
  • Army Major Mick Cook now has a second podcast, co-hosted with Rich Thapthimthong, called War for Idiots. Their review of Netflix’s War Machine is a good place to start.
  • The Army now has its own official podcast, called The Australian Army Training and Doctrine Podcast, to “explore all aspects of training within the Australian Army. From international large-scale exercises to individual training activities, find out how the men and women of today’s Australian Army work towards professional excellence.”
  • The Australian Defence Force also now has its own podcast, called Our Stories – Australian Defence Force on Operations Podcast. Its description says “ADF members serving Australia in the Middle East describe their mission and share their personal experiences”.
  • The papers from the 2015 conference I mentioned on social media and the military have now been published in a special edition of the journal Security Challenges. The organisers held a follow-up conference in March called Keyboard Warriors.
  • There continue to be many Australian contributions to the Strategy Bridge, often by Australian members of the Military Writer’s Guild.
  • Brigadier Mick Ryan has continued contributing to many of these discussions. He wrote this three-part series on mastering the profession of arms (one, two, three) for War On The Rocks, and a recent piece for Foreign Policy. He also conducted a review of Australia’s Professional Military Education, Training and Doctrine called the Ryan Report, and sometimes posts updates (from January, February, and March).
  • There are now more Australian Army Twitter accounts.
  • The Army’s own blog, the Land Power Forum, remains active.
  • Nathan Finney, a major figure within America’s online strategy-sphere, is currently in Australia as an Australian Strategic Policy Institute visiting fellow.

The term “strategy-sphere” was borrowed from this Tanner Greer post about the American version of this scene. I don’t know if the participants in the Australian initiatives I’ve listed above would consider themselves part of a “strategy-sphere”, or what other term they might use to describe their online community. But I find value in the term because it conveys how their focus is not primarily on the broad political questions of the wisdom or justice of particular wars, alliances or foreign policy decisions (though these can be considered questions of “grand strategy”).

Instead they mainly discuss questions of military strategy, operations and tactics, including issues such as leadership, logistics, training and technology. These online discussions tend to be practitioner-focused rather than policy-focused, which makes sense. Many of those involved are serving soldiers, who don’t decide whether wars should be launched but have to fight where elected leaders choose to send them.

For the broader political discussions, there’s plenty coming out of the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC), National Security College (NSC), Sydney University’s United States Studies Centre (USSC), the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the Lowy Institute for International Policy, the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA), the Kokoda Foundation (now the Institute for Regional Security or IFRS), the Perth USAsia Centre and many other places.

But I’m finding this strategy-sphere (which does overlap with the activities of some of the above institutions, there isn’t a firm divide) particularly interesting, because it’s a much newer addition to Australia’s online national security discussions.

We weren’t seeing this five years ago (the earlier post discussed some of the reasons why), but Australia now has a substantial online community focused on military strategy and operations, including the voices of serving soldiers. It has gotten much bigger in just the past year, and I’m enjoying watching it grow.

Updates for 2017

I haven’t got around to blogging for a while, so this is a quick post to update things.

Some updates about my projects:

  1. I have an article coming out in the next issue of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel, tracing the evolution of jihadism in Australia from the 1990s to the era of the Islamic State.
  2. I’ve released a few terrorism-related episodes of Sub Rosa, the podcast created by Kate Grealy and I. The two most recent episodes present a conversation I had with Levi West about terrorism in Australia. You can listen to Part 1 or Part 2.
  3. I’m returning to the PhD soon, after a period of leave, and have been working on some side-projects (including an article on the 2015 Anzac Plot in Melbourne) which I will post about when they are more solid.

Some updates about Australian counter-terrorism:

  1. Nicola McGarrity and Jessie Blackbourn have set up a new website on Australian national security law. It covers a lot, including every terrorism prosecution so far.
  2. We have a new Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM), James Renwick.
  3. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) is seeking submissions on ASIO’s questioning and detention powers.

Finally, something that struck me:

The Joint Counter-Terrorism Team recently arrested someone in rural New South Wales for allegedly supporting Islamic State. But unlike most arrests of IS supporters, he is not alleged to be funding them, facilitating the flow of fighters, or attempting to travel to join them. Instead, he allegedly supported them by “researching and designing a laser warning device to help warn against incoming laser-guided munitions used by forces in Syria and Iraq; and also by researching, designing and modelling systems to assist with Islamic State efforts to develop a long-range guided missile”.

I have a strong interest in transnational support for armed movements, particularly the different roles individuals can play when providing support. This sort of technical support appears rare compared to funding or fighting, but it seems to be a significant and under-acknowledged form of support. In 2012 John Pollock gave this account (mentioned in Kilcullen’s Out of the Mountains) of a Libyan rebel leader getting technical advice from supporters in Europe:

After weeks of skirmishes in the Nafusa Mountains southwest of Tripoli, Sifaw Twawa and his brigade of freedom fighters are at a standstill. It’s a mid-April night in 2011, and Twawa’s men are frightened. Lightly armed and hidden only by trees, they are a stone’s throw from one of four Grad 122-millimeter multiple-rocket launchers laying down a barrage on Yefren, their besieged hometown. These weapons can fire up to 40 unguided rockets in 20 seconds. Each round carries a high-­explosive fragmentation warhead weighing 40 pounds. They urgently need to know how to deal with this, or they will have to pull back. Twawa’s cell phone rings.

Two friends are on the line, via a Skype conference call. Nureddin Ashammakhi is in Finland, where he heads a research team developing biomaterials technology, and Khalid Hatashe, a medical doctor, is in the United Kingdom. The Qaddafi regime trained Hatashe on Grads during his compulsory military service. He explains that Twawa’s katiba—brigade—is well short of the Grad’s minimum range: at this distance, any rockets fired would shoot past them. Hatashe adds that the launcher can be triggered from several hundred feet away using an electric cable, so the enemy may not be in or near the launch vehicle. Twawa’s men successfully attack the Grad—all because two civilians briefed their leader, over Skype, in a battlefield a continent away.

This will be an interesting case to watch.