COVID-19: When bad guys take advantage of international crisis

In this time of COVID-19 we have enough to worry about without freaking out about terrorism.

In this time of COVID-19 we have enough to worry about without freaking out about terrorism.

OTTAWA, CANADA — When I used to work at CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) at any given time we were looking at somewhere between 100 and 200 individuals (or, more rarely, cells) who were espousing Islamist extremist rhetoric. They would say things that indicated they had some form of allegiance to this ideology and, on occasions, would express an interest in actually doing something, i.e. commit an act of terrorism.

And just how many of these ‘terrorists’ got to the point where they implemented their desires? Very, very few. The vast majority were wannabes and incapable wankers. They did nothing to cause real alarm. To those who question why we were leveraging the power of the state on Canadian citizens in the first place I’d like to remind you that CSIS is a kind of ‘early warning system’ for threats to national security or public safety:

The Service shall collect, by investigation or otherwise, to the extent that it is strictly necessary, and analyse and retain information and intelligence respecting activities that may on reasonable grounds be suspected of constituting threats to the security of Canada.

Emphasis added.

I think it is important to bear this fakery in mind when we come across information or reporting that this or that terrorist group is going to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to carry out an act of violence. If you read the propaganda – here is an example from ISIS (Islamic State) – you might think that we are all doomed.

Podcast – When bad guys take advantage of international crisis

Some terrorist groups are threatening to carry out terrorism during the COVID-19 crisis. How realistic is this and, more importantly, how afraid should we be in light of terrorist propaganda.

Except that even these ‘professional’ terrorists boast of upcoming action in far greater proportion to actual deeds. In other words, a lot of what they say and write is nothing more than blather. It is put out to cause fear, anxiety and unease and is very unlikely to progress into real attacks. That is what history teaches us and I have no reason to think that things have altered that much since the coronavirus upended our lives.

Here is another example from a recent New York Times article.

On a website called Azerbaijani Eagles, you can commission a murder for $5,000. The site Slayers Hitmen provides more options, with a beating going for $2,000. Death by torture costs $50,000. But don’t expect someone to get the job done. Experts and law enforcers who have studied these sites — almost all of them on the so-called dartk web or dark net — say they are scams. There has not been a known murder attributed to any of them.

Emphasis added.

I imagine there are many such sites out there. They certainly look scary and I am pretty sure some are real and are capable of assassinating someone. But if they were all real, where are all the assassinations? Why are we not seeing a killing a day by these self-styled ‘guns for hire’? Because most are losers, that is why.

In an era where we are surrounded by fake news and disinformation – compounded during COVID-19 by shysters like Alex Jones and even President Trump – it is even more critical to examine and question what we consume via social media, the Internet and our circles of friends and family. A lot of what we see and hear is indeed fake and we must not taken in by it, nor respond irrationally to it.

Terrorists want to keep us in a constant state of fear. How about we not let them do that?

In this time of COVID-19, we have enough to worry about without freaking out about terrorism!

Even ISIS is afraid of COVID-19, suggesting we may not see an uptick in attacks seeking to take advantage of a possible skeleton crew in security and intelligence agencies.

The COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving and governments are having a hard time keeping up with strategies to respond and react effectively to keep their citizenry safe. Read more about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and its ties with terrorism.

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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