COVID-19: An opening for terrorists?

The current global coronavirus crisis is putting a lot of pressure on governments, including intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Where were you on Christmas Day 1979?

If you were like most of us in the West you were gathered around the Christmas tree doling out gifts or, if you were either non-Christian or non-practicing, enjoying the concomitant break from work or school. Among those taking advantage of a well-earned break were most working in security intelligence.

I was not in the national security world back then – that would not begin for another three and a half years – but when I was I do remember that during the holiday period we had a skeleton crew manning the barricades. Unless you were working on a particularly time-sensitive investigation or task, you were allowed to spend time with family. That was the right one thing to do.

But back to Christmas Day 1979. That was the date on which the Soviets decided that invading Afghanistan was a good idea. As the old Crusader monk in the last Indiana Jones film stated: “(t)he(y) chose…poorly”. We all know what happened next: the Red Army got bogged down in a decade-long war, the ‘Afghan Arabs’ rose up, and we got Al Qaeda (AQ). The rest is, as they say, history.

By choosing Christmas Day, did the Soviet leadership think we would be asleep at the switch? Not that we would have done anything to prevent it I suppose.

I have always wondered whether that move was timed to take the West by surprise. By choosing Christmas Day, did the Soviet leadership think we would be asleep at the switch? Not that we would have done anything to prevent it I suppose. But this was still the Cold War and I cannot imagine the West was too happy with this naked aggression.

Image result for soviet invasion of afghanistan
So long Afghanistan!

Are we perhaps vulnerable to something similar now with the COVID-19 crisis?

As the virus spreads governments are making cascading moves to shut down different parts of our society to minimise spread. This includes having as many people work from home as possible: the civil service is not ‘immune’ (sorry!) from this request.

But intelligence agencies cannot, by definition, ‘work from home’. The material they collect and analyse is too sensitive to allow to leave the building. I had coffee yesterday (March 13) with a friend of mine from CSE (Canada’s signals intelligence agency, where I toiled from 1983 to 2001) and she said she thought the higher ups were busily figuring out how to manage their ‘business’ under these circumstances.

But intelligence agencies cannot, by definition, ‘work from home’. The material they collect and analyse is too sensitive to allow to leave the building.

I suppose the worry is that the bad guys will take advantage of this situation. And by ‘bad guys’ I mean terrorists, not those assholes in BC who are hoarding Lysol disinfecting wipes and selling them at grossly inflated prices on Amazon – how unCanadian! Will terrorists assume that our protectors are understaffed and that now is the time to strike?

Maybe not.

Three cheers for COVID-19 – d’oh, we all touched each other!! (ISIS Libya image)

ISIS issues travel warning to avoid coronavirus-hit countries

It turns out that Islamic State (ISIS) has issued a travel warning to its fighters to avoid coronavirus-hit countries. A spokesperson for the terrorist group wrote “Healthy people should refrain from entering virus-hit states, and infected people should not exit them.” At the same time ISIS fighters should also remember that “illnesses do not strike by themselves, but by a decree from God.”

ISIS also reminds its followers to “cover the mouth when yawning and sneezing”, citing a hadith (sayings from the Prophet Muhammad) about germs and contamination:

Cover the vessels and tie up the waterskins, for there is one night in the year when pestilence descends, and it does not pass by any vessel that is not covered or any waterskin that is not tied up, but some of that pestilence descends into it.

Prophet Muhammad

So maybe ISIS too will ‘self-isolate’. If there is a God (or Allah) all these ISIS wankers will contract COVID-19, infect each other (but no one else) and die. Here’s hoping.

PS in case you think I am giving terrorists ideas think again. These guys are far ahead all of us when it comes to planning and they are not waiting for advice from a retired Canadian intelligence analyst. I wish my former colleagues well – physically and mentally – as they strive to keep us safe in these difficult times.


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The world is in a COVID-19 (Coronavirus) panic. People are living in fear and cancelling events and travel. What, if any, are the parallels with terrorism?


Phil Gurski
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