ATbar Honorable Michael Chertoff – ICT16
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Honorable Michael Chertoff – ICT16

12/09/2016 | by Chertoff, Michael (H.E)  

“Terrorism 3.0: The Challenge of Crowdsourced Global Terrorism”

The Honorable Michael Chertoff, Executive Chairman & Co-Founder, The Chertoff Group and Former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, United States of America

The session was part of the ICT's 16th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism: "Unpuzzling Terrorism". Chertoff claimed that there are two newer types of terrorism; 1) a number of smaller coordinated events and 2) inspired terrorism. He claims that these two new surfacing types of terrorism are more difficult to deal with. He emphasized the importance of intelligence and monitoring not only covert activity, but also information shared over social media and open spaces.


Mr. Chertoff began his keynote by elaborating on his personal experience with 9/11. He discussed the fight against terrorism in the aftermath of the attack. There was no Department of Homeland Security until after the attack; it was established as a response to the attack.

The puzzle was whether the US experienced the worst terrorist attack in its history or whether it was just precursor of more attacks to follow. There was an assumption that simultaneous attacks by taxi drivers with bombs will crash into buildings will be carried out.

Previous attacks against the US of this magnitude were against the military, not citizens. The issue was finding the balance between demonstrating to the public that you are dedicated to making sure such an attack never happens again, and not creating a climate of over-reaction. So, President Bush induced the war on terror, but also made it clear that the war is not against Islam but against the particular ideology of extreme violent jihadism. A war against violent Jihadist groups shouldn’t be confused with a war against the entire Islamic world.

This type of attack is what Chertoff considers "terror 1.0". In the aftermath of 9/11, the security agencies in the United States recognized that they are dealing with a group largely from overseas, where they had planned and trained and financed. Chertoff claimed that such terrorists used a top down, hierarchical, approach. This meant that they would have to move money, travel and use communication channels. This type of terrorism and terrorists required the right intelligence to combat that kind of infrastructure.  This first type of attack (terror 1.0) is a large-scale attack which are seen and heard worldwide (i.e. 9/11). Such attacks require time and resources, and created vulnerabilities on the side of the terrorists which could be exploited by the security agencies. The architecture against such attacks included work overseas, control over who enters the country and work to reduce vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure. This approach to dealing with externally imported terrorism has been very successful.

Chertoff argues that currently, we have seen additional type of terrorism: 2.0 and 3.0. Terrorism 2.0, according to Chertoff, is the terrorism that recognizes that a number of smaller, coordinated, attacks may have a large impact as well. Mumbai in 2008 is the perfect example of this; a small group of people who spent 60 hours attacking various sites in Mumbai and terrorizing the city. According to Chertoff, the Paris 2015 attacks are also this type of attack.

Terrorism 3.0 is what some describe as inspired, influenced, terrorism. This terrorism looks to people who cannot be (and are not) directly trained or recruited face-to-face, are not operationally assisted by people in the central terror organization. These terrorists are inspired to pick up whatever weapon is at hand (gun, knife, homemade bomb, automobile) and go out to kill. While these attacks are not on the scale of even the 2.0-type attacks, they prey upon the fear that at any moment someone may attack.        

So far, terrorism 1.0 type attacks have been reduced. Chertoff questions how do we deal with two other forms of terrorism? Recognizing the difference between the forms is essential. The line between terrorism and criminality is blurred with these types of actors. Chertoff points out a second feature of terrorism 2.0 and 3.0, which is a low signature- very little communication and movement of funds. As such, Mr. Chertoff emphasized that collecting intelligence must go beyond the tradition high-tech technology.

A third feature of terror 2.0 and 3.0 is the plethora of targets; efforts to identify critical infrastructure (as was done after 9/11) will not be effective when everything and anything can be a target. Open space is the arena for targets, so we need to adapt the intelligence gathering.

Attacks have a demoralization effect. The scale and number of people killed is not most important. It is the frequency of attacks and whether the government has an adequate response that affects the public. Having a firm, strong response is important in dealing with the demoralizing effect of terrorism 2.0 and 3.0.   To deal with these types of terrorism, Chertoff claims broader intelligence is needed, not just spies and satellites. Furthermore, he expressed the importance of sharing the information globally, though he noted the importance of respecting varying national laws. In this regards, Chertoff also talked about the issue with foreign fighters coming back to Europe and the United States. As such, he strengthened his call for sharing information in order to provide efficient early warnings.

Towards the end of the speech, he moved to the need for improved security measures concerning the airports (i.e. protection from high jacking, placing a bomb, scanning). He notes the vulnerability of the area outside the security zone. He highlights the need to deal with these vulnerabilities, noting that this might mean re-evaluating the physical architecture of public areas. Chertoff discusses the importance of "information-based white-listing"; screening people based on their conduct not just their luggage. Most watch-listing today is based on criminal records and known terrorists, though in today's world such indicators are becoming less relevant. There is many times an abrupt change in behavior at the point of radicalization. This would allow white-listing people; if they allow access to behavior indicators they will be placed in a preferred line (less, or no, screening). Chertoff also highlighted the importance of a rapid, efficient response.

Lastly, Chertoff discussed de-radicalization and changing peoples' path to radicalization. He discussed creating "off-ramps"—ways of luring people away from the path of radicalization. This would require family and friends intervening and indicating at-risk individuals to the authorities. He warned against too broadly defining incitement, which would suppress ideas and speech.

Chertoff also discussed what he indicates may be terrorism 4.0; where the internet is not only a tool for recruitment and persuasion by as an operational tool. Chertoff gives the example of the attack against Saudi Aramco. The idea of using the internet to collect data in order to target individuals for assassination, according to Chertoff, is going to become a more prevalent phenomenon. As such he purported that we need to be careful with the data we share on the internet and social media. Chertoff concluded his speech with the warning that without taking a firm, but measured, response to these types of terrorism, we may find society and our values beginning to erode- providing the terrorists with the victory they may want but do not deserve.