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The Long Walk

A robust response to domestic insurgency and terrorism does not start and end with investigation and enforcement.

The first step on the long walk now faced across the world is to stop examining segments of the problem and to define the whole problem, then break it down into a rational structure of roles, responsibilities, and - perhaps most importantly - get to grips with what is not helpful and will harm or inhibit a reduction in risk.

What is the threat?

Terrorism is broadly accepted to be the "use of unlawful violence to achieve political aims," whereas an insurgency is "an active uprising," domestic extremism "the commission of criminal acts in pursuit of a larger agenda, interfere in democracy, influence policy, or change laws," and organised crime the "planned and controlled, large scale, criminal activities under the direction and control of a powerful group."

There are clear overlaps and absences in these definitions which, over time, have distributed responses to what is often a unified problem between agencies and authorities, leading to the ball being dropped by everyone and emerging threats becoming active problems. Escape mutations, if you wish to look at the issue in such terms, arising where gaps in regulation and rule of law are driven through whenever opportunities to do so are identified.

The distribution and devolution of responsibility and resource extends beyond state-controlled agency too, with special interest organisations slicing off portions of the problem profile and creating niche activities which are fiercely defended in order to preserve funding access and prestige.

A further problem exists, in the form of state agenda - which effectively means one nation's hero may well be another's terrorist, in particular if they are challenging the status quo or a corrupt government which has the capability to tweak domestic legislation and make the lawful unlawful. It is possible, subsequently, to turn any opposition leader into a terrorist, extremist, or criminal at the drop of a domestic hat.

Defining the threat in fit for purpose terms is the first step on the long walk and, as any military or law enforcement experienced operator, will tell you: without a definition, response to (and control of) a problem is and will remain beyond grasp. The UN, for example, has wrestled with the nebulous nature of terrorism's definition across states for a number of years and this continues to create fragmented responses.

A particular challenge is defining the problem in a way which generates global understanding and avoids the potential for domestic abuse to fit state agenda. Subsequently ownership of the definition needs to rest at the intergovernmental level, but knowledge of what is and what is not acceptable must be universally understood at all levels of society in order to create clear expectations.

In short, the definition must be both functional and understandable rather than verbose and academic and, within its design, must actively seek to mitigate cognitive bias and preconceptions.

Hybrid Societal Threats:

"1. A hybrid societal threat is:

a) The actual or attempted use, encouragement, incitement, co-ordination, or support;

b) of internationally recognisable unlawful violence, intimidation, bribery or blackmail, or unconsented psychological manipulation by any means;

c) planned, controlled, and carried out by individuals or groups anywhere in the world;

d) acting in pursuit of changes to policy and legislation; or acting to interfere in, disrupt, or influence democratic processes; or acting to achieve political or ideological aims; or acting to cause disruption to the daily life of a population or part of a population, or expose that population or part of a population to risk of harm.

e) an attempt for the purposes of this section is any act which is more than merely preparatory and applies even where the attempted act is impossible.

f) "internationally recognisable" for the purpose of this section means the act must be identifiable as unlawful in the eyes of any reasonable person, for example: murder, the use of improvised explosive devices in civilian areas, physical violence or armed threats.

2. A hybrid societal threat is not:

a) Internationally recognisable political opposition; organised or spontaneous peaceful protest without violence; public outcry or open criticism of a government's actions; a grassroots, charity-led, or other peaceful campaign carried out within a framework of internationally recognisable rules and regulations."

The Importance of Definition:

Definition matters, not solely because it informs everyone what something is and removes ambiguity about what it isn't, but because it is instructive in defining which authority is appropriate to dealing with all or part of it and where we need to focus efforts before implementing a robust and effective counter strategy.

The definition allows us to identify actions and activities, ensuring that authorities and researchers can categorise - and most importantly prioritise - responses.

a) and e) Are they trying or are they doing?

This facilitates interventions. What method are they using, what evidence can we gather, who has the appropriate legal powers to gather that evidence? What action can we take immediately to render their action ineffective? additionally, providing specifically for attempts allows for intervention and prevention at a much earlier point.

b) What are they doing?

This facilitates preemptive, intelligence-led operations, specific threat monitoring, and both preventative and reactive investigation. If unlawful acts have been committed, the investigation is evidence-led and includes the gathering of witness, forensic, and other materials to secure a conviction. If the unlawful act is in progress, a number of tactical response options are available, from public order deployments to in-action arrests and warrant executions. If the unlawful act is planned, the use of UCs to gather evidence of conspiracy may well be appropriate prior to executing warrants. And, where an information operation is in progress the range of responses goes from civil authority enforcement (data protection) to military or intelligence agency operations.

c) Who and where?

This facilitates threat assessment, strategic and operational planning, tactical action, and even the development of domestic or foreign policy. Who is involved? Alone or together? Is it unity of effort by multiple parties with differing goals? Are they localised, regional, national, or cross-border? What is the scale of their presence? What is their reach? What are the mechanics of their operation and logistics? What can be disrupted, including their supply chain and infrastructure. Who is empowered at these levels to intervene across a range of tactical options and who needs to act as oversight or take strategic command? Understanding jurisdiction, alliances, and partnership potential, is essential in dealing with the threat and additionally introduces the potential for structured to deprogramming through safeguarding. Additionally, understanding the root cause allows for a societal approach, removing the conditions and disenfranchisements which prompted the behaviour in the first place.

d) Who or what is being targeted, and how?

This facilitates understanding and profiling of modus operandi, attack vectors, and predictive modelling to identify targets and intervention points before they can be exploited. In turn, this means the appropriate authorities or people can be target-hardened using whatever method suits the circumstances. For example, changing the way ballot boxes are secured in transit and counts recorded, introducing conflict of interest and earnings registers for corporations and politicians, restricting social media, or implementing school-age education to teach children how to assess and process information. Profiling a threat opens the door to a whole of government or even global approach and could lead to legislative change or international treaty, reducing the opportunity for Hybrid Societal Threats to occur or becoming recurring.

1.f) and 2.a) Reasonable and recognisable

This combination restricts or removes the possibility for use of the provisions against, for example, legitimate political opponents, and sets the ground for improving global behaviour by spotlighting unacceptable state action and unpicking local frictions or distortions in understanding.

The Long Walk

By redefining the problem, the possibilities of intervention, reaction, and preemptive action become much clearer and this allows for more impactive partnership and alliance working. CSOs and NGOs can focus more clearly on addressing societal issues, States on conditions, policy, and legislation, and agencies on threat management and enforcement.

Redrawing the lines allows greater focus on threat identification, risk assessment, and strategic planning, allowing resource to be allocated appropriately depending on the scale and nature of the problem profile or tactical assessment generated. It also reduces the tendency towards fiefdom and aids shared-learning and exchange of best practices by reducing competition sentiment.

A continued lack of co-ordination, silo-working, and conflicting activities or interest preservation reduces the visibility of threats and allows a problem to grow to a sufficient size where it not only translates into an act which shocks but also leaves it likely to continue or return.

In practical terms, using the United States as an example, there are a number of Hybrid Societal Threats in action. Some are being investigated, some are already changing shape, some are being wrongly categorised and prioritised. There are calls for additional legislation which isn't required, an ongoing argument over constitutional rights - which will prolong and exacerbate the causal problems if not addressed, and the prevailing wind of pandemic and economic impact is likely to allow a number of domestic insurgent groups to re-form or spring up fresh from the generated disenfranchisement. And this is without considering the pervasive external threats America faces.

A global approach, a whole of government deployment, is required and this can only function if it starts with a unified understanding -a definition - of the problem. The long walk is going to involve enforcement, intelligence operations, and societal change. An effective CONTEST-style strategy following the Pursue, Prevent, Protect, and Prepare strands, adapted to fit the enhanced definition of Hybrid Societal Threat.

The final aspect, which flows through the point and process of redefinition, is a simple narrative strategy. We aren't talking about terrorists or domestic extremists - both terms which trigger cognitive bias at all levels in society and cause a reticence to act or react in appropriate ways. We are talking about complex and multi-faceted threats to everyone in a calm and rational way, creating a new collective common sense as we go. Crucially, this can be projected outwards as work of foreign policy influence, which subsequently reduces a variety of threats across the field of vision. The global temperature has been high for some time, adopting a unified definition of Hybrid Societal Threat is an iceblock to be shared. This is the fifth strand in the CONTEST strategy which was absent in its original form: Persuade.

Success will not be overnight, it's important to recognise this, but only by taking everyone along will The Long Walk ever end.

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