Aug 24, 2019

A humble plea for transparency and honesty when declaring ‘expertise’ on terrorism

We all know that ‘experts’ are a dime a dozen. It seems that you cannot read an article or watch an interview without someone introduced as an ‘expert’ on this topic or that topic. And in truth it is good to have real experts available to help us understand complicated topics as none of us can be knowledgeable in more than a few areas, if that. The days of the ‘Renaissance man’ (or woman) are really behind us. There is far too much information out there on any topic to be able to master many.

But how many of these experts are real? How many embellish their backgrounds or their perceived depth of understanding? How many do so just to get attention? I suppose in some cases the overuse of the term ‘expert’ is the fault of the media who label anyone who seems to know a lot with such a title since they want to demonstrate to their audiences why they should watch their news and not some other network’s as they have landed someone whose views are worth paying attention to.

I am therefore agnostic on where the fault lies. Still it is a serious problem as fake experts can lead those seeking insight astray. And I imagine that few people have the wherewithal to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to determining actual expertise. Since experts rarely take the time to demonstrate why the merit the reputation accorded them the hoi polloi are left with no solid way to know one way or another.

I would like to suggest a way forward. With this blog I issue a challenge to all the experts on terrorism out there – true or self-styled – to show that they are indeed experts. And I will tell you what: I’ll get the ball rolling. Here is who Phil Gurski is and why some turn to him for views on terrorism (NB I NEVER call myself an expert in light of the near meaninglessness of the word: if others do so I confess to being uncomfortable).

For the record my experience (not expertise) in terrorism does not come from an academic background: this is a statement of fact, not a value judgment. It derives from having been a practitioner. Here is what I have accomplished in my life to make me knowledgeable about terrorism (and intelligence):

  • I spent 30 years in intelligence in Canada, split almost equally between CSE (SIGINT) and CSIS (HUMINT). With CSE I was accredited in working in a dozen languages, including Arabic and Farsi, and wrote thousands of intelligence reports (500 in my first year), only a few of which touched on terrorism. At CSIS I wrote hundreds of strategic analytic reports on terrorism including three major studies on radicalisation (n=300+), and helped with human source recruitment to assist in counter terrorism investigations;
  • I briefed thousands of Canadian clients on radicalisation and terrorism and intelligence partners in more than 50 countries
  • I worked as an analyst at CSIS on hundreds of counter terrorism investigations;
  • I provided testimony on terrorism in five Canadian court cases as a ‘court expert’ (their term, not mine);
  • I helped deliver outreach sessions on radicalisation and terrorism across Canada to dozens of communities;
  • I worked as an advisor to the Ontario Provincial Police’s Anti Terrorism Section (OPP-PATS) on radicalisation and terrorism ;
  • I have written five academic peer-reviewed books on terrorism since 2015;
  • I have composed more than 1,000 blogs and 16 podcasts on radicalisation and terrorism ;
  • I have been interviewed thousands of times on Canadian and international media on radicalisation and terrorism ;
  • In my ‘retirement’ I continue to read open source and academic literature (non pay-walled) to remain current on events and analysis.

I am sure there is more but that gives you a good idea of where I come from. I humbly think this demonstrates I know something – even if a little bit – about radicalisation and terrorism. This was not an intent to boast, just to demonstrate my point about ‘expertise’.

Ok, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Anyone else want to pick it up?