In search of expertise

This blog entry may get snarky at times and for that I apologise in advance.  But there are a few things I have noticed of late.

This blog entry may get snarky at times and for that I apologise in advance.  But there are a few things I have noticed of late – not just over the past few days, as we have heard from hundreds of people on all aspects of the attacks in Paris and what we should do now, but particularly over that time period.  It’s just that the sheer volume of recent said advice has been overwhelming.  You cannot read a newspaper – in the old way or on-line – or tune in to a news programme without someone talking about those horrendous events and offering solutions.  It seems everyone is an expert.

I will divide this beef into three categories.  I am bound to insult or upset someone in each.  You’ve been warned.  The three are: military responses, the nature of terrorism, and the world of intelligence.  You may want to stop reading now.

First, the military.  A lot of people are screaming for either more air strikes, or the commitment of ground forces or both.  I myself am not a military expert – I’ll save that for the other two items – but I cannot help but ask: have any of these military experts actually served in the military? Have they experienced battle first hand (i.e. not from the comfort of a drone station)?  Do they know what war means?  As I learned in France last week, no one who has seen war up close supports resorting to it a second time, without damn good cause.

Do we really need to jump on the military bandwagon with such enthusiasm?  I acknowledge that there is a role for some use of force, but wouldn’t special forces be a more logical – and more effective – option?  For God’s sake, haven’t we learned that invasions are bad ideas?

Moving on to the nature of terrorism, in a field once run almost exclusively by luminaries like Martha Crenshaw, Brian Jenkins and Bruce Hoffmann, it seems like everyone has an opinion these days.  Again, I wonder how many worked in the terrorism world, ranging from investigation to analysis to CVE.  My suspicion is not many.  For whatever reason, there are not a lot of former practitioners available, at least not in Canada.  Just because you can pronounce “Al Qaeda” in Arabic does not render you a world-class expert thereon.

As a result of this explosion of expertise, I continue to see the same “root causes” of terrorism and solutions that were debunked years ago being brought up.  I swear, if I hear one more “alienation and disenfranchisement lead to terrorism” comment I will become a fire-breathing radical (then I could study my own journey to violent jihad!).

Last but not least is the “intelligence expert”.  Here is where I am going to cut myself loose.  Listen closely.  If you have not worked for an intelligence agency, have no understanding of intelligence collection, prioritisation of investigations, source recruitment, etc., then you have nothing of interest to say about how intelligence agencies operate.  And you certainly have no business talking about intelligence failure.  Reading about the history of the CIA doesn’t make you an intelligence guru.  Sorry.  Leave the space to those who have and who can provide actual insight into intelligence matters.

There.  I am done.  I won’t write another blog like this again.  I promise – maybe.

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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