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Christian Kaunert

Professor, Director of the Jean Monnet Network on EU Counter-Terrorism, Director of the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales

Tatyana Kanunnikova

Independent journalist, RIAC expert

Professor Christian Kaunert is the Director of the Jean Monnet Network on EU Counter-Terrorism (EUCTER). He is the Chair of Policing and Security, as well as the Director of the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales. Previously, he served as an Academic Director and Professor at the Institute for European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, a Professor of International Politics, Head of Discipline in Politics, and the Director of the European Institute for Security and Justice, a Jean Monnet Centre for Excellence, at the University of Dundee. Christian has been invited expert for the European Institute for Public Administration (EIPA), the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the European Parliament, the European Union Institute for Security Studies (an agency of the EU), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He is currently Editor of the Journal of Contemporary European Studies, was also previously an elected member of the national (UK) Executive Committee of the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES).

Interviewed by Tatyana Kanunnikova.

Professor Christian Kaunert is the Director of the Jean Monnet Network on EU Counter-Terrorism (EUCTER). He is the Chair of Policing and Security, as well as the Director of the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales. Previously, he served as an Academic Director and Professor at the Institute for European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, a Professor of International Politics, Head of Discipline in Politics, and the Director of the European Institute for Security and Justice, a Jean Monnet Centre for Excellence, at the University of Dundee. Christian has been invited expert for the European Institute for Public Administration (EIPA), the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the European Parliament, the European Union Institute for Security Studies (an agency of the EU), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He is currently Editor of the Journal of Contemporary European Studies, was also previously an elected member of the national (UK) Executive Committee of the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES).

Interviewed by Tatyana Kanunnikova.

How do terror groups use the Internet for recruitment and radicalization purposes?

Christian Kaunert

I think it is a very important topic that we are discussing. Just a couple of words, before we go to the Internet dimension, on the links in terms of how terrorism recruitment happens more generally. It is important to point out that, of course, there are very strong links between terrorism and organized crime that have already been established for a number of years, especially that started, historically speaking, in the 19th century. We then had various revolutionary political movements in the 19th and 20th centuries. We see some of that in Western Europe, North America, we also see the growing interest between terrorist movements and organized crime, how they tend to work with one another. And essentially, terrorism is based on illicit economies or market of violence, where we have an increasing interest in terms of using those illicit economies and market of violence, especially after the end of the Cold War with the configuration of power that characterizes the relationship between the West and the East.

When it comes to the Internet, what we can find is that the Internet itself provides more opportunities for radicalization. Generally, a lot of research has been done on this. And it also suggests that the Internet enhances opportunities to become radicalized because there is more and more availability thanks to the Internet. Also, you can reach people in a much better way, you can enable a connection with them in a way that people are ideologically, politically connected. And you can do that 24/7. In a sense, the Internet provides a forum where 24/7 communication is possible.

The way the research has described that phenomenon is that the Internet acts as an echo chamber. Our research suggests that the Internet can act as an echo chamber for various extremist beliefs, where it provides greater opportunities than offline interaction to confirm already existing beliefs. It does not create those beliefs, to begin with, because people tend to hold these beliefs. However, it acts as an echo chamber in this. And it, therefore, uses that technology in order to radicalize. That helps radicalization, and in fact, accelerates radicalization.

The Internet appears to facilitate this process. It also allows radicalization to occur without physical contact, so people do not have to be physically in contact with one another. And that is also something that is quite different when we look at the phenomenon of terrorism in the decades before the Internet. The final point here is that it also increases the opportunities for self-radicalization when people use the Internet to self-radicalize in their own pre-existing beliefs and use propaganda material that is already in existence on the Internet to self-radicalize.

What are the most efficient ways to counter these activities based on European experience?

There are a number of different strategies that different European countries have used. For instance, the British government has obviously been at the forefront of tackling terrorist use of the Internet. In 2006, the British government made public its strategy to counter international terrorism — the CONTEST strategy — where the Internet was identified as a domain where many types of radical views are strongly promoted. The UK Home Office suggested that the growth of the use of the Internet has led to them trying to facilitate the countering of the disinformation that in a sense occurs on the Internet.

In March 2009, the UK government published a revised version of its counterterrorism strategy CONTEST, which set out a more sophisticated approach to online counterterrorism. That document acknowledges that the Internet, in fact, presents significant challenges. This new approach was then followed up in 2010 when a new Counterterrorism Internet Referral Unit was launched with the Association of the Chief Police Officers. What this particular unit does is remove and modify unlawful internet content. It also identifies individuals responsible for posting of such material, scans the Web for content that promotes or glorifies terrorism, and it acts on referrals. Also, if individual citizens or public bodies contact that unit, it then acts in order to remove that content. This particular unit also develops and shares new technologies in order to assess and process the Internet content and improve the effectiveness of the police response to that particular unlawful material.

More broadly, a number of European countries have looked at the same issue and, in fact, faced the same kind of issue. For instance, we had one particular case in 2012, in Belgium, where the court’s decision concerning five people who were charged with terrorism-related offences was altered and they were charged with using radicalization material. Now, what the European Union as an institution did is recognize that Internet radicalization is a significant threat, and terrorism was formalized in its 2002 Framework Decision on combating terrorism.

It was also the only international organization that actually criminalized terrorism. If you go back to 9/11, at the time, only about five EU member states had terrorism even defined as a crime. Now there is an obligation for all member states to define terrorism as a crime. So from 2005 onwards, the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, in particular, placed a high priority on the whole issue of online radicalization. It aims to disrupt the various networks, examines ways to beat terrorist recruitment and has also developed a number of different strategies. For instance, it created a portal called the Check the Web initiative that works a little bit like the UK initiative, which I told you about earlier.

It also has developed a legislative framework, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2010, which stated that the member states shall ensure that appropriate measures and means are implemented so that the audiovisual media services provided by media service providers under their jurisdiction do not contain any incitement to hatred based on race, sex, religion, or nationality. It has also developed a number of other initiatives, and, of course, the Radicalization Awareness Network, the so-called RAN — a network linked to the Home Affairs Directorate. They are split in different aspects, where they would bring together different people that work within the whole range of counterterrorism from first-liners that include social workers, teachers, police to academics and NGOs. They look at how to foster tolerance and moderation, develop an internal security strategy, and, of course, they have developed a network of experts on radicalization. What was particularly important is that it modelled itself on a number of UK experiences.

How does the EU fight against the online financing of terrorism?

The initial strategy that the EU developed was to go with implementing the UN sanctions. Whenever the UN Security Council implemented sanctions against individuals or terrorist groups, the EU pronged its approach. On the one hand, it had internal market regulation where it could freeze assets of those particular terrorist groups. But at the same time, it also implemented a foreign policy action as part of its compliance with the UN security policy. Usually, those two things go hand in hand, shrinking the space that terrorist groups can operate in. But there is still plenty more to do in terms of the precise use of the Internet, especially if we look at certain terrorist groups that are perhaps a little bit more modern, and some of those former strong terrorist groups, like Al Qaeda. And I think that is something that we need to look at for the future.

Artificial intelligence is widely used in the fight against online terrorist activity. What are the most popular tools?

If you look at radicalization, you need to look at the whole chain of radicalization in terms of the detection of online activity and the removal of that particular online activity. At the early stages, a lot was done with human manpower and individual detection. Nowadays, artificial intelligence can replace some of the human element and can detect some of that activity through programming, and so on. That is one of the efficient tools, of course, but you need to first program this software correctly to be able to detect and remove some of that activity from the Internet.

Are there similarities in the propaganda strategies of the two ideologies: Islamist terrorism and violent far-right extremism?

In fact, you could almost speak of a trilogy of ideologies there. What you have is Islamist ideologies, on the one hand, and the far-right, on the other hand. But you also have the far-left. In particular, in the last couple of years, we have seen an increase in activities of the far-left, so you could say that it is a trilogy of different ideologies.

Now, what they have in common — and I think that is particularly interesting — is that they live in a symbiotic relationship. The symbiotic relationship that they have is that, let’s say, we have Islamist terror attacks, they tend to then be able to use that in their propaganda to attract others towards their cause. But when Islamist and Jihadi terrorists do that, we can see that on the other end, far right activities are using similar events for their own radicalization purposes, just in a different way. They will use that from an “us-versus-them” standpoint. So it is a kind of other ring activity that goes on. And while Islam is portraying the West and the Western culture as the enemy, far right activities are portraying Islam as the enemy that aims at attacking them. And in that way, they live in a symbiotic relationship where they are using each other's activities to further radicalize their own supporters.

In the same way, the far-right and far-left are also in a symbiotic relationship. By increasing the far-right activity, you also have an increase in the far-left activity that uses the increase in the far-right as a radicalization tool and their own kind of recruitment. That is why I think you can nowadays speak of a trilogy of those three different ideologies.

Can cyber terrorism become a significant threat? Is there an increase in the scope of ideologically motivated cyber-attacks over recent years?

Yes, I absolutely think that this is a very, very important point that you are asking. Certainly, cyber terrorism can become a significant threat. What we have found already is that the entire cyberspace provides new vulnerabilities when it comes to infrastructure, all sorts of elements of human organization and society. And those vulnerabilities can be exploited by terrorists, there is no doubt that a certain capability in terms of the Internet is necessary in order to be exploited. But we can increasingly see that if we look at ISIS, for instance, they use the Internet in a very modern way as a propaganda tool. And we can see that, obviously, as the technology evolves, the terrorist groups also evolve with the technology.

I would say that it is something that we need to watch out for and have strengthened cyber defenses that are standing ready to do something when cyber-attacks occur. If you look at the most recent strategy of the United Kingdom in terms of the security strategy, an emphasis has also been put on this particular dimension.

Countering the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes requires increased cooperation and intelligence sharing. How could the EU and Russia improve their cooperation in this field?

Of course, you are very right to point out that, in fact, cooperation is important when it comes to terrorism. And in order to do that very well, you have to, in a sense, establish a framework for that particular cooperation. So that is something that is very important. We have found that cooperation is vital when it comes to counterterrorism financing. If you live in black boxes around the globe and people are still able to bring their families to hide away from investigators, then they are able to use that kind of violence in the same way.

It is something very important to collaborate so that you do not create safe havens for terrorist activities. And in that sense, what would be important is establish a framework for that kind of cooperation. I think the EU and Russia used to have a framework that pre-existed current, more complicated, relationships. And that could be a framework that in principle could be revived in terms of providing this type of cooperation that could occur in this particular format.

It is the kind of framework that would need to be established in order to push for that type of activity. I think the EU has a number of different initiatives that could drive that type of cooperation. It could do that as part of the foreign policy of the European Union. But it could also do that as part of the general counterterrorism cooperation that the European Union conducts with a number of different powers around the world. But of course, cooperation can only happen if both sides are willing, and Russia needs to be interested in this type of cooperation.

What examples of such a framework of cooperation would you provide?

If we look at what the EU does, it has a number of different activities with various cooperation partners around the world. And the closest one is the United States when it comes to extradition, handing over criminal evidence, certain elements of data sharing, intelligence sharing, and so on. There is a framework that exists. Also, the EU is developing similar relationships with Britain in the context of Brexit, this is more complicated than it used to be prior to Brexit, but those frameworks exist.

It would be a case of negotiation between different international partners, between the European Union and, perhaps, Russia, to develop similar agreements that could be envisaged on the model that already exists with these countries.


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