Heading off in a new direction

The world of counter terrorism is usually associated with security intelligence agencies and the military.  The former carry out investigations, using human sources and court-approved taps on communications while the latter undertakes “kinetic” action and captures terrorists or kills them through the use of drones/aircraft or special forces (think here of the operation to locate and eliminate former Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden in 2011).  There is absolutely no question that on many occasions these measures are required to thwart future attacks and keep us safe.

But is there an option that stops short of investigation and targeting?  Yes there is, and it is being tried in Canada at long last.  This entails the use of early identification and intervention and has been used elsewhere, including in the UK, for almost a decade.  In these programs, individuals showing signs of subscribing to violent extremist ideologies are identified and provided with help to get them of these pathways.  The assistance may take the form of counselling (psychological, religious, etc.), family assistance or mentoring by qualified people.  Often local law enforcement is involved at least as a first response and as a body that can bring the right help to the table.

Calgary Police Services is the newest agency to announce its program, called Redirect (see story here) which starts up today (September 15).  The project aims to target young people vulnerable to radicalisation in an effort to “draw them from the lure of terrorism”.   The program is voluntary and involves referrals from parents, teachers and community leaders.   A checklist of indicators is used to determine how radicalised the youth is and an appropriate response is drawn up.

Are programs like this worth establishing and funding?  Absolutely and CPS is to be commended on its initiative (full disclosure: I worked with CPS on this program during my last tenure at Public Safety Canada and have briefed the service on the signs of radicalisation).  Early intervention has several advantages over the harder security focus.  It is orders of magnitude cheaper than multi-jurisdictional investigations which may lead to arrest, trial and incarceration.  It takes place in the “pre-criminal space” and is hence less stigmatising.  And families and communities are more prone to assist such programs because they are softer in nature and do not involve agencies which may bear negative connotations for some, especially new immigrants who come from countries where security services do not enjoy stellar reputations.

Of course even the best programs cannot guarantee success.  In some cases, individuals may be identified too late to reverse the radicalisation process or may not respond to intervention.  It is here that the security services need to be notified so they can do what they do best.  Actually, it is a win-win situation: if early intervention works we have a cost-effective way of heading off a problem before it gets worse; if not, our security services can step in to ensure that we as Canadians are safe.

Programs of this nature should be rolled out across Canada (there are similar initiatives already in Toronto and Montreal).  Calgary has made a great start and I wish them every success.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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