David Petraeus on US policy under Donald Trump, the generational war against Islamist terrorism, and dealing with China



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David Petraeus was interviewed at a Liberal Party dinner in Sydney on Friday.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Retired United States general David Petraeus was a commander of international forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Later he headed the CIA, before resigning amid a scandal involving his affair with his biographer.

At a Liberal Party gala dinner in Sydney on Friday, Petraeus was interviewed by Brendan Nicholson from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Petraeus argued there was more continuity than change in American foreign policy under the Trump presidency; warned the “generational” fight against Islamist terrorism would last far beyond its defeat on the military battleground; and declared China’s activities in the South China Sea should be dealt with firmly.

Below is an edited transcript of their discussion.


David Petraeus: I am here, frankly, because of the fondness, the affection, the admiration that I have for, first and foremost those who have worn your uniform – especially in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan where I was privileged to command diggers and developed extraordinary respect for them – but also for the time I have spent with your diplomats, with your development workers, with your intelligence officers.

There are lifetime friendships there that are founded on periods of real adversity. When I most needed help I knew that I could call, for example, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and [get it] even more rapidly than I could get forces from my own country.

Although we have vast forces and they would respond after you submitted the request for forces and it went through the chain of command, the services fought over who would do it and it went to the secretary of defence the one day a week that he signed these things if he was there and then they gave him an order to deploy and then they had to prepare for deployment, Angus Houston had 60 Aussies in Baghdad within a week of my calling him.

And it was that kind of relationship that we enjoyed and [with] many, many other individuals over the years.

You heard [tonight] from one of my wartime prime ministers, for whom I had enormous respect and still do, [former] prime minister Howard.

I should note that it was a prime minister of the other party, Julia Gillard, who made the first commitment of any national leader to extend the mandate of the international security force in Afghanistan and that really opened the floodgate to something that was enormously important, which is making sure the mandate literally did not run out and it was affirmed at the summit in Lisbon that year, and her leadership was also very, very important in that.

So, this is an extraordinary relationship between our two countries.

By the way, could I offer one quick anecdote? One of the times I was here, I remember [I] was hosted for lunch by your then minister of communications at his lovely place overlooking the water outside Sydney. And we had a great conversation and at a certain point I said, now minister – you ask these things when you’re trying to make conversation – so I said: where do you see yourself five or ten years from now?

This is a little less than two years ago and he said, well let me put it into military terms for you, and he looked and he got quite serious and he said, I may be approaching the up or out moment of my career.

He flew back to Canberra that night and was prime minister two or three days later.

Brendan Nicholson: You obviously gave him some good advice.

DP: Only in Australia.

BN: General Petraeus, as many of you would know, is an example of a class of very highly educated soldier scholars with a deep knowledge of history in an understanding of the role and responsibility of the military in a democratic society.

In 1987 while he was studying at Princeton University, he produced a thesis on the American military and the lessons of the Vietnam, a study of military influence and the use of force in the post-Vietnam era.

One of your conclusions was that the Vietnam experience … had led to a pattern of caution in the US military leadership when it came to advising the government of the day whether it should use armed force to deal with situations abroad.

The second concern you raised was a lack of focus on counterinsurgency training, which you went on to rectify.

But you’ve had four decades, an extremely crowded military career – much of that time in command in both Iraq and Afghanistan. If you had the chance, how would you mark that thesis now and would you have written it differently with all the experience you’ve had since?

DP: It’s a wonderful question. Another one of the conclusions was that in crisis decision-making … what tends to weigh on you most heavily are experiences you had personally and particularly those that were most visceral.

And I think I would actually use recent events to really affirm that further, because I think what’s happened in the United States and arguably in other, particularly democratic, countries in the world is that after a frustrating, tough, difficult experience like more recently Iraq or Afghanistan, there’s an understandable aversion to this and there’s a tendency to swing and [the] pendulum goes back and forth.

Arguably after 9/11, one could say we got perhaps a bit more, I don’t know if the term would be adventurous, but more willing to intervene and then it swung with the next administration I’d argue a bit too far the other way and it has come back somewhat to what I think is actually a reasonable balance.

I’ll tick off five lessons that I think we should have learnt from the past 15 years, particularly in the Middle East, but elsewhere as well.

The first is that ungoverned or even inadequately governed spaces in the Islamic world will be exploited by extremists. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when and how big will it be.

The second is that unfortunately Las Vegas rules do not apply in these areas: what happens there does not stay there.

Rather, they tend to spew violence, instability, extremism and a tsunami of refugees, not just into neighbouring countries, but in the case of Syria, a geopolitical Chernobyl meltdown of a country that has actually spewed them into Europe causing the biggest challenges domestically for our allies there.

The third is, by the way, you have to do something. You can’t do what we tried to do in Washington. I’m sure it would never be done in Canberra, but that is to admire a problem until it goes away. These problems aren’t going away. So you have to do something.

And the third is, that in doing something in most cases, not all, but in most cases the US is going to have to lead – and that is because [of] the way that we’ve learned how to do this now, where we are enabling others, they’re doing the fighting on the frontlines.

That’s hugely significant because of when I get to the fifth lesson – that these have to be sustainable.

The US has more of those enablers, more of the intelligent surveillance reconnaissance assets, the unmanned aerial vehicles and other systems, the precision strike, and the industrial strength ability to fuse intelligence. If you total up all of the drones in these platforms, of all the other possible allies and partners and multiply times six, you might get to what the US can bring to the fight and these are all integrated and connected with a global satellite communication system.

So, the US is going to have to do this but we’ve got to have a coalition. Coalitions do matter. I’ve long believed in the validity of what Churchill observed that the only thing worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them.

And allies like Australia – particularly important countries that punch way above their weight class and shoulder far more of the burdens of ensuring freedom, prosperity and this rules-based international order than others.

We also, by the way, need Muslim partners. This is more of a struggle within the Islamic world – within the Muslim civilisation. It’s an existential threat to them, so more of that than it is actually a clash between civilisations – to harken back to Sam Huntington and his book.

The fourth is that in responding you have to have a comprehensive approach. You cannot counter terrorist forces like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda with just counter terrorist force operations. You’re not going to just drone strike or Delta Force raid your way out of this problem. You’re going to have to have armed forces on the ground. You’re going to have all of the elements of the civil military campaign plan that we had, frankly, in Iraq, but we don’t want to be doing all of them and we’re able now to do that in places like Iraq and in Syria and some others.

The reason that we don’t want to do that is because again it has to be sustainable – lesson number five is we are engaged in a generational struggle. And I know the leaders in here recognise that and it’s really important that that be communicated to populations, but they understand that we can carry out this generational struggle in a manner that is sustainable and sustainability is measured in the expenditure of blood and treasure.

So, you have to have a sustainable, sustained commitment. That is not easy, but we’re showing how that can be done now in these places that I’ve listed and also in others. Now there will be some, like in the Philippines, let’s say, where Australia will either lead or play a very significant role; Mali, where the French took the lead. But you will still even there find very substantial contributions from the United States.

So, those five lessons I think provide the intellectual foundation on which you will build policies and again if you come back to this, I think we’ve shifted back and forth arguably too much because of the influence of these very visceral experiences.

Vietnam weighed on that generation of officers inordinately. And I think you can be overly cautious, actually, and miss an opportunity when you should have intervened and then you have to come in later when it’s a much worse situation. But that’s the challenge and that’s the challenge that a wartime prime minister like Prime Minister [Malcolm] Turnbull bears and has to grapple with.

BN: From halfway around the world we watched with some astonishment for the best part of two years, while Americans fought this incredibly ferocious election campaign. There was dire warnings in Australia about the possible consequences, the possible return of a sense of isolationism in the United States and then the election of Mr Trump appeared to herald a more isolationist US policy.

With the benefits of several months of hindsight, do you believe that its allies in Europe and in this region can rely on America?

DP: I do. Look, I think what you have to do is jettison the campaign rhetoric or at the very least contrast it very considerably with what has actually taken place.

In some cases, it is taking a little while to get to a certain location like the presidential declaration of the Article 5 commitment in the NATO alliance that an attack on one is an attack on all. And ironically that opportunity to do that was not taken at the NATO Summit …

And then if you follow the money and follow the troops, don’t follow the tweets, follow what’s going on the ground, you’ll see the NATO forces are moving into the Baltic states and into eastern Poland.

There’s more resources from United States being provided to a European support initiative that will restore actually some of the capabilities that we took down after the Cold War now that there is a resurgence of an aggressive, adventurous Russia led by President [Vladimir] Putin.

If you look at China – most important relationship in the world – lots of accusations about China. A lot of trepidation. A phone call from the Taiwanese president was accepted without some sense of perhaps the historic nature of this and then a tweet followed that added a little bit of insult to injury.

Ultimately, there is a phone call between the president and President Xi [Jinping]. Then there’s the Mar-a-Lago summit. There’s the embrace of the One China policy and just this week, the first of four different groups that were charted by the Mar-a-Lago summit met.

This was between the secretaries of state and defence of the United States and their counterparts from China to start grappling with the really serious issues – the most prominent of which is North Korea and the desire to see China do more to squeeze, if you will, crimp down on this umbilical cord that basically keeps the lights on in Pyongyang.

You can work your way through a whole host of these different issues. The Iran nuclear deal that was going to be torn up on day one, we’re not walking away from. And it’s very pragmatic.

Unless there is really sufficient cause and a violation of that agreement, abrogating it would isolate us more than it would isolate Iran. We will counter malign Iranian influence more sufficiently and I applaud that. The America First does not turn out at all to have been America alone.

Frankly, I think the overall way to characterise American foreign policy that’s emerging is that there is more continuity than change and that even a lot of that continuity I see is improving. You see a commander-in-chief devolving authority down to the Pentagon or the battlefield commanders for decisions that I think should appropriately be made at those levels.

Now don’t get me wrong and by the way, again I remind you I’m non-partisan. I don’t vote. I don’t register. I don’t endorse. I don’t contribute. There was an op-ed that did appear in the Daily Arizonan that talked about saluting an American patriot – senator John McCain – two weeks before his election. But you know, you have to do these kinds of things for truly extraordinary people every now and then.

But so to show that, there are three areas that I do have concerns about and then one major issue that a lot of you have touched on.

Those would be climate … we’re again pledging to come out of the Paris Accord in 2020. Look, the US is going to meet its obligations anyway because of market forces, states, corporations and municipalities, but it does have enormous symbolic value and it is not something that I would have welcomed or advised.

Immigration policy – we’ve still got to work our way through that. You don’t see the wall going up yet between Mexico and I think there will be some wall.

I was asked actually when I had my audition, I guess you’d call it – my reality-TV show moment – with President-elect Trump to discuss the secretary of state job and he asked me, should we build a wall General?

And I said: sure we should build a wall, Mr President where we don’t already have a wall – you know, we’ve got hundreds of miles of wall – where it would actually do some good and in the context of a comprehensive approach that would include a variety of other elements that would actually improve security on our southern border, noting that the flow of people between Mexico and the United States has actually been from the United States to Mexico slightly, rather than the other way around in each of the last three years.

I did not note that perhaps therefore Mexico should demand that we pay for the wall. I thought that might be a bit untoward.

And then the other issue is trade and this is a very serious issue. This affects you very much. TPP, now it’s the TPP 11 – Trans-Pacific Partnership – because the 12th, the US has pulled out.

We’re going to have to see how that can go forward. We obviously have bilateral trade agreements with many of the countries … but this would be hugely significant for Vietnam and for some others. It would be enormous advantageous. Our labour movement should want to see labour treated better in some of these different countries, as would have been required.

And then the last issue is one that I think that is a still very much a legitimate issue for discussion and that is the occasional ambivalence of the United States to continue to lead the rules-based international order. I truly believe in it.

That was established in the wake of the worst 50 years of world history imaginable: two horrible world wars and the great economic depression. And it has stood the world in quite good stead since. The institutions, the financial structures, the norms, the principles, again, have really done well, but as your great foreign minister observed, [at] no time certainly since the end of the Cold War has there been as much strain, as many stresses, as many challenges to this.

And at such a time I do believe the United States has to continue to exercise its leadership and actually I think that it will.

I think first of all that you have a pragmatic president. He’s somebody who’s showed that he would do what was necessary to get elected and I think he will do what he needs to do to be successful and he will come to define that if he doesn’t already in part in that way.

Beyond that, I think the national security team that has been established is arguably the finest in recent memory: a terrific national security advisor [H. R. McMaster]. He and his deputy both had many tours together on battlefields, battlefields on the Potomac as well. [Defence Secretary] General Mattis, long-time combat comrade, buddy, boss, at one time he replaced me when I went down to Afghanistan; stayed close even after government.

The secretary of state I think is very good, superb. You just have to understand he’s an engineer. He takes things apart painstakingly. He wants to understand how they operate then he puts them back together and he doesn’t necessarily love the press. He’s not, you know, a retired four-star, you know. Never stand between an retired four-star and an open mic. You can do that with Rex Tillerson and not fear for your life.

Our US ambassador to the United Nations, former governor Haley, has proven to be superb. She’s the one who has in the early weeks been the one to go out and clarify what came out of the White House in a previous day, such as when the president said with Bibi Netanyahu there, you know, one state, two state for the Palestinian issue … and she came out the next day and announced that the US policy has been and continues to be support for the two-state solution.

So, again, I think this is a very good team and I think American foreign policy has been reassuringly impressive, actually, in the ways that it has evolved with those caveats that I mentioned.

BN: So, I’ve got ask you what sort of people are crossing the American border into Mexico?

DP: Mexicans going home.

Mexico has a manufacturing miracle underway. Monterrey is the hub of this. Anybody who hasn’t seen Monterrey, you should. This is Detroit on, you know, steroids and anything else you could possibly inject into it. They’ve done extraordinarily well. I think they’re already now the fourth-largest car exporter in the world and obviously, they have ground access to the largest economy in the world.

Now, I should note the problem with that border is that’s where Central American country refugees come through and Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have sent various substantial numbers because of the violence, the instability and the lack of rule of law in those countries at various points.

BN: General, some years ago the Berlin Wall came down. The Cold War ended. I think we all thought we were in for decades of peace and harmony and prosperity.

Relatively recently, some smart people have warned that we might be fighting Islamist terrorism for a century, which is a pretty daunting idea. Do you agree that the threat is likely to be that prolonged and what sort of impact is it going to have on our democracies?

DP: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I think this is at least a generational struggle and the impact therefore is that you are going to have to have a sustained commitment against it, but in a way that is sustainable.

I’d offer as an example: I’ve never doubted that Iraqi forces once reconstituted and supported by the US, Australians and the other coalition members would be able to defeat Islamic State.

I think, literally, within weeks if not days the final old city part of Mosul in which they barricaded themselves and [have been] fighting to the death will be cleared and essentially Islamic State by and large will have been cleared at least in its army form.

There would still be terrorist organisations that are carrying out bombings, but that will have been completed. We’ll put a stake through the heart of [Abū Bakr al-] Baghdadi [the leader of Islamic State] at some point in time and they’ll be defeated in Syria.

But there is still even after the ground caliphate is taken in those two countries, they’ll still be pockets of them in a number of others – North Africa, East Africa, now the southern Philippines, some other places out in the far east, Afghanistan.

They have an affinity for eastern Afghanistan where the 9/11 attacks were planned. Let’s not forget that the reason we went to Afghanistan and the reason we have stayed is because that’s where the 9/11 attacks were planned.

That’s where the initial training of the attackers was conducted and we don’t want to ever allow that to be a sanctuary for transnational extremists again so that they can do what al-Qaeda did.

So, this is going to be a long fight and the difficult area in particular is the so-called virtual caliphate. You could eliminate all of the ground vestiges of this and there’s still going to be on the internet this extremist propagation that recruits, that shares lessons on how to make explosives, on tactics, that proselytises, that tries to encourage. One [message] now is to conduct attacks in the United States.

There’s going to be a very small number of a very large population that will unfortunately be attracted by this and carry out what are termed lone-wolf attacks, but typically it turns out the lone wolf got inspiration from the internet or from some other form.

And so I think we do have to get used to this in a sense, while doing everything we can, obviously, to eliminate the risk of this, to mitigate the risk of when it does happen and so forth, but we are going to be seized with this problem for a very long time I fear.

And again, that implies a lot about how it is that we’re going to have to take this on and again it is always going to take a comprehensive approach. There’s no silver bullet that you can shoot that will make this go away.

BN: The citizens of both our countries would be deeply concerned if they felt that their personal information and transactions online – your banking information and everything else – wasn’t fully and effectively encrypted, but at the same time that would be in conflict, would it not, with the need for various agencies to have access to information right across the internet?

How do you deal with that conflict and are those two ideas heading for collision?

DP: They do collide and so my view has been that on the one hand – CIA, NSA and others – I mean, look, we get paid to steal secrets, to recruit sources, to chase bad guys. That’s what our governments pay us to do and you should expect us to do that.

And I think we ought to have the ability to crack anything, anywhere, anytime when the legal circumstances obtain. And I generally think we shouldn’t talk about it too, which is a little more difficult.

The second ,though, is that I don’t believe we should be able to compel Apple or other producers, manufacturers of devices to have a back door, for the simple reason that the criminals will find this very, very quickly.

It’s actually criminals that are finding the so-called zero-day defects and exploiting them before the firms themselves find them. There’s a whole industry of this now and you can go to the dark web and find this kind of stuff.

So, I do think this a bit in conflict. I should also note that the Snowden revelations were enormously damaging to the relationship that we had between the intelligence community and the internet service providers, the social media platforms, the CEOs and all the rest of it.

It used to be that you could go to them quietly and they would help us and we would help them occasionally, that broke down because these revelations cost tens of billions of dollars just for say Google alone. And we’ve got to rebuild that trust and confidence and that’s going to be very important in the way going forward.

There’s also a very significantly debate that has to be had I think, and I’ll be interested in the prime minister’s view on this, and that is on what [British] Prime Minister [Theresa] May has raised: enough is enough, how far will people be allowed to go in the internet? Where does free speech end and incitement to extremist violence begin? And I think that you will see a pendulum moving on this.

The key, of course, is to get it to move far enough, but not too far because then it will, you know, come back the other way. But I think there is going to be a very significant debate on this in the UK in the wake of the attacks that they’ve suffered, which have been linked back to activity on the internet.

And I think that will be instructive for all of us, and you and we and the UK all share not just a common language, but common values, common heritage and a shared future. And I think that debate is going to be one to watch and I assume that there is going to be something like that here in Australia as well.

BN: Australia is in this sort of paradoxical situation that affects many countries in the region of finding itself in a region that is the subject of some aggression from the main trading partner of most of the countries in that region.

What do you think of China’s activities in creating artificial islands, militarising them, the muscular use of its fishing fleet?

DP: Yep, which have the most sophisticated communications we have ever seen on any fishing fleet.

BN: Well, how do we deal with this? And how important are things like freedom-of-navigation exercises?

DP: Hugely important and I think we have to be firm. You know, let’s get the big idea right – better be firm.

And I would acknowledge that I think there have been times in recent years where the rhetoric at the Shangri-La Dialogue … several years ago when I heard for example, [then] secretary of defence Ash Carter, and his inaugural speech there literally pound the podium and say we will sail anywhere and fly anywhere – and it took us eight months to sail through the South China Sea. That’s not firmness.

Teddy Roosevelt did, I think, have it right on this. You know, speak softly and carry a big stick.

We should just state it, we should just do it and frankly there were opportunities when those islands were first being constructed where we could have said, OK fine, you know, and we’ll help the Philippines build there and we’ll help Vietnam here and if Malaysia wants to get into the act. Every single country that has a maritime border with China has a dispute with it.

And the Nine-Dash Line is an outrageous assertion that is completely without foundation in international law, as we found when the Philippines took their case to the World Court if you will and the case was decided in their favour.

But you know as Thucydides or someone or the Melian Dialogue said, the strong do what they will and the weak submit. I think the weak don’t have to submit, we have to collectively be firm in response.

I do think that Australia has done quite an admirable job in acknowledging this curious duality where their number-one trading partner is also, arguably the number one security cause for concern and the number-one security partner is the United States, which again has China as its now number-one trading partner, but also our number-one strategic competitor.

This relationship between the US and China is absolutely crucial. There’s a wonderful new book out again by the professor up at the Belfer Center at Harvard, Graham Allison. It’s titled Destined for War – there’s no question mark.

You know, it’s about can China and the United States avoid the so-called Thucydides Trap, and it’s called that because Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian War – Sparta is the established power, Athens is a rising power and Thucydides writes they inevitably went to war.

And so, of course, we don’t want that in this case. He then reviews a number of cases that go back about five centuries – 75% of the time there was war in that situation – and we need to obviously avoid that this time.

So, I think is where the strategic dialogue with China is crucially important and this is where again I think you see heartening development in the relationship between the president of the United States and the president of China, and now these relationships at the levels below and I think that’s very important.

By the way, I’m the one that believes we should have a strategic dialogue with Russia as well. Yes, we have many conflicting interests. Yes, they have been extraordinarily over-aggressive against Georgia, in Crimea, south-eastern Ukraine, flights that come very near to our aircraft, a variety of other actions. But in Syria, the ultimate resolution is going to require Russia to be at that table.

By the way, I think the ultimate resolution is not going to be what is sought through diplomacy, which is a democratically elected multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian government in Damascus for all of Syria.

I think it’s going to be something that basically just tries to stop the bloodshed with a series of local ceasefires around the periphery of a rump Syria. Some will be guaranteed by Turkey, some by the United States, some by Jordan and the US, and so forth. But Russia is going to have to at least tacitly, if not formally accept that.

BN: Do you think countries like Australia should carry out freedom-of-navigation operations within the 12-mile perceived boundaries round those artificial islands?

DP: Look, I do, but these are tough calls for national leaders. The fact is that the islands have been constructed.

I talked to Ash Carter about this. I said don’t use the term “reclamation”. They’re not reclaiming anything. They’re building islands. These are on rocks that were below the level of the sea at high tide, which gives you no justification for anything if you actually had a claim to use them in the first place, which they don’t.

And so, yeah, absolutely, I think that should be the case and again quietly done. We don’t have to have brass bands and fanfare, but it should be done and I think countries of the world should indeed do that, and I again if it can be done as a coalition I think it obviously says much more.

BN: Again on a subject you touched on: the recapture of Mosul and the capture of Raqqa, which appears to be likely, will clearly, significantly reduce the power of the Islamic State terror group in terms of major military operations, but what comes next?

DP: I’ve actually written about this, that the battle that matters most is the battle after the battle.

There’s been no doubt again that we would enable our Iraqi counterparts to defeat the Islamic State on the ground. The question is: after that can the Iraqis achieve governance that is sufficiently representative of all the different groups? And by the way Nineveh Province, of which Mosul’s the capital, is where I spent the first year of the war after the fight to Baghdad and it is the most complex human terrain of all of Iraq.

Can you get adequate representation of all, reasonable responsiveness to all those groups within means and most importantly guarantee minority rights, not just majority rule? That’s a tall order and it will not be easy. But if you don’t get that right, there will be once again fertile fields for the planting of the seeds of extremism and the rise of ISIS 3.0.

BN: You worked closely with Kurdish fighters in your time in Iraq. Now those Kurdish groups are playing a major role in the campaigns to recapture significant parts of Iraq.

They’ve recaptured significant parts of Iraq all by themselves with help from the United States and allies, but also they’re playing a major role in Syria. Is that likely to lead to the creation of a Kurdish state?

DP: No, and that’s a great point. One of the strategic revelations of what’s happened is recognition that the Syrian Kurds do not want to be part of a greater Kurdistan – that is, part of the Iraqi Kurdish regional government.

In fact, the Iraqi Kurdish regional government has significant political disputes ongoing right now. They will have a referendum on independence. Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish regional government, has pledged this.

But I literally don’t think they can afford to be independent. We calculated at one point – the CIA – that they needed to export about 800,000 barrels of oil at US$105 per barrel. They are only producing 800,000 barrels on a really good day and exporting a subset of that now in the forties per barrel. So, they still need some of what they get from Baghdad.

Keep in mind that Iraq for all of the centrifugal forces pulling it apart has a huge centripetal force and that is the central government’s distribution of the oil revenue. That is absolutely crucial and that is keeping that country together.

The Sunni Arabs, for all of the differences they have with Shia-led government in Baghdad have no alternative, but to getting that. So maybe you get a new deal with Baghdad, gets greater devolution of power to the provinces, the Sunni provinces, as they have and some of the others. But I think they stay part of Iraq and I think that the Kurds will stay part of Iraq for some time longer as well.

I think, ultimately, they probably do have a right to an independent state and an independent people, but again they’re going to have to get a good deal. This has to be an amicable divorce with Iraq and a good deal with Turkey before they can risk that.

BN: You were able, I think, in Iraq to negotiate with diverse and opposing tribal factions. Do you believe that after all the violence and bloodshed that we’ve seen in Iraq and Syria that that sort of rehabilitation is possible again?

DP: I do. And look, by the way, when I was negotiating that I had a great position. I was the sheikh of the strongest tribe in Iraq. Having 165,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and then tens of thousands of additional coalition forces and others, was hugely helpful.

The ConversationBut I do actually think the prime minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, knows that there has to be inclusive governance and I think that he is determined to that and I see break-off factions within the Shia, who I think will enable that as well.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/kmkbw-6c3c94?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull and Shorten urge need to curb terrorists’ opportunities on the internet



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Both the government and the opposition will warn about terrorists exploiting cyberspace.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten will both home in on the importance of tackling cyber issues as part of the fight against terrorism, in parliamentary speeches on Tuesday.

In a security update on the threats facing Australia at home and abroad, Turnbull will say that an “online civil society is as achievable as an offline one”.

“The privacy and security of a terrorist can never be more important than public safety,” he says in notes released ahead of the address.

“The rights and protections of the vast overwhelming majority of Australians must outweigh the rights of those who will do them harm.

“That is truly what balancing the priority of community safety with individual liberties and our way of life is about.”

The government would not take an “if it ain’t broke we won’t fix it” mentality, Turnbull says – rather, Australia is at the forefront of efforts to address future threats.

Attorney-General George Brandis will visit Canada this month to meet his Five Eyes security counterparts – the others are from Britain, the US, New Zealand as well as Canada – and discuss what more can be done by likeminded nations and with the communications and technology industry “to ensure terrorists and organised criminals are not able to operate with impunity within ungoverned digital spaces online”.

Shorten, in his address (an extract of which has been released), will say: “We need to recognise this is a 21st-century conflict – being fought online as well as in the streets. Terrorists are using sophisticated online strategies as well as crude weapons of violence.”

He says this is where the private sector has a responsibility.

“For a long time Daesh has used the internet as an instrument of radicalisation. Through Twitter and Facebook they boast of a propaganda arm that can reach into every home in the world: spreading hate, recruiting followers and encouraging imitators.

“And with encryption technology like Whatsapp and Telegram they can securely communicate not just a message of violence – but instructions in how to carry it out.”

Shorten will acknowledge many internet providers and social media platforms such as Facebook work hard to detect and remove offensive content, namely child pornography and other forms of violent crime.

“But we need more – and these companies have the resources and the capacity to do more.

“As good corporate citizens and responsible members of democratic nations, I’m confident these tech companies will seek to do everything they can to assist the fight against terror.

“We must always be mindful of the rule of the law and the proper protections of our citizens – but we must be equally focused on adapting to new mediums and new technologies to detect and prevent new threats,” Shorten says.

The security focus in parliament comes after last week’s attack in Melbourne, events in Britain, and Friday’s decision by the Council of Australian Governments that there should be a presumption against parole and bail for people who have had any involvement with terrorism.

The ConversationThe government this week will introduce its tough new provisions governing visa and citizenship requirements. They include giving Immigration Minister Peter Dutton power to overrule Administrative Appeal Tribunal decisions on citizenship. Dutton said this would align citizenship provisions with the power he already has in relation to visas. There would still be the right to appeal to the Federal Court. Labor will announce its attitude when it sees the legislation.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/icjdu-6b9a25?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

COAG agrees to new push on security after Melbourne attack



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Federal and state leaders will convene as soon as practicable for a special COAG meeting on counter-terrorism.
AAP/Rob Blakers

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Federal and state leaders have ramped up anti-terrorism provisions and plan to meet again soon for a broad review of the nation’s legal and practical security preparedness.

Malcolm Turnbull won support from the Council of Australian Governments for a tougher approach to parole and bail, where people have had terrorist connections.

States and territories agreed to strengthen their laws to ensure a presumption against granting bail or parole when people had “demonstrated support for, or have links to, terrorist activity”.

In the wake of this week’s Melbourne attack by Somali-born Yacqub Khayre, Turnbull demanded that state attorneys-general should sign off on parole applications when there was a terrorism link, rather than parole authorities.

Khayre, who killed the receptionist at a serviced apartment block before he was shot by police, had been out on parole, despite having a violent history and known past links to terrorism.

Turnbull said what COAG had agreed to was consistent with recent changes made by New South Wales.

He said if the change had been in place, it was inconceivable Khayre would have been given parole. The challenge of overcoming the presumption against release would be “very high indeed”.

The leaders also decided to hold a special COAG meeting as soon as practicable “to fully and more comprehensively review the nation’s laws and practices directed at protecting Australians from violent extremism”.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, speaking at the joint news conference after the meeting, delivered a blunt warning that people had to expect curbs on civil liberties.

“I think we are at a point in our nation’s history where we have to give very serious consideration to giving law enforcement some tools and powers that they don’t enjoy today,” he said.

That might be unpopular with the civil liberties community, and involve curtailing the rights and freedoms of a small number of people, he said. But “that is what will be needed in order to preserve and protect a great many more”.

COAG had reports from ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, Turnbull’s cyber-security adviser, Alastair MacGibbon, and the counter terrorism co-ordinator, Tony Sheehan. The meeting had originally been expected to be dominated by a briefing from Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, who presented his report on energy security. But the recent events in Britain and Melbourne meant that terrorism was an equal focus.

Also on security, the leaders:

  • agreed to having security-cleared corrections staff as part of the counter-terrorism team in each jurisdiction. This is designed for better sharing of information;

  • agreed on the importance of close co-operation between all levels of government and with the private sector in protecting crowded public places;

  • discussed strengthening the security of public and private IT systems in the context of the WanaCry ransomware campaign, which locks computer files and demands payments to unlock them;

  • committed to governments continuing to work together and with industry to manage the security risks coming from foreign involvement in the nation’s critical infrastructure; and

  • ordered further work on a nationally consistent approach to organised crime legislation.

The ConversationTurnbull stressed that when it came to overcoming the terrorist threat, “governments cannot simply set and forget”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian authorities are doing all they can to combat terrorism



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Australian authorities have been working to come up with a comprehensive response to terrorist threats.
AAP/Julian Smith

Adrian Cherney, The University of Queensland

The recent terror attacks in London and Manchester have raised concerns about whether authorities here in Australia are doing enough to combat terrorism.

These events have led to accusations that police and security agencies are not being upfront about the threat of terrorism – in particular Islamist terrorism. It has been suggested they are in denial about the link between terrorism, refugees and Islam, and are too concerned with maintaining good relationships with the Muslim community. Much of this commentary overlooks some key points.

First, the threat we face from terrorism in Australia is completely different from the UK or the rest of Europe. These countries face a higher number of terrorist threats from returning foreign fighters, and more people on terrorist watchlists.

This is not to diminish the threat we face domestically. Hence Australian authorities have on all fronts been developing comprehensive responses. These include the introduction of laws targeting foreign fighters, preventive legislation aimed at detained terrorists, deradicalisation programs in prisons, the establishment of state-based diversion teams that target those identified as at risk of radicalising to violent extremism, counter-terrorism hotlines and various local projects supporting grassroots efforts to tackle radicalisation and violent extremism.

Some commentators may argue we don’t actually know if these approaches or programs work, or that these have failed to prevent terrorism. But it is early days and some programs have only recently been established.

Tackling violent extremism is an evolving issue. But there is much evidence to indicate Australian authorities’ strategies hold great promise.

When an individual commits a terrorist act – particularly someone previously known to police – it is a hard reminder of the limits of counter-terrorism efforts. It should be an opportunity to reflect on whether we have the right mix of legal and preventive responses, while remembering that legal responses based on detection and detention have their limitations.

If we really want to be able to tackle violent extremism, we need to have an open debate and deal with some difficult issues.

As I have argued before, we need to consider a range of causes. Singling out and overemphasising one – such as religion or refugee intakes from Muslim countries – only inhibits a comprehensive policy response.

Leading academics in terrorism research have argued that we need to take the role of faith-based ideology seriously in understanding terrorism and its prevention. This is because groups like Islamic State take it seriously. They emphasise ideological rationalisations to justify their actions and attract fellow Muslims to their cause.

But this does not mean it is the most significant factor in leading Muslims to commit acts of terrorism. Likewise, just because a number of terrorist episodes in Australia have involved individuals with a refugee background, that does not mean one causes the other. In other words, correlation doesn’t equal cause.

Attacking the head of ASIO as somehow being in denial about the link doesn’t not help us get any closer to how we can best tackle the threat of violent extremism. There are multiple pathways into and away from violent extremism.

For instance, research has shown that peers, associates and families play key roles in the radicalisation process. That is, they help reinforce personnel grievances and the jihadist ideology, providing the intent and capability to commit acts of terrorism.

This is why former prime minister Tony Abbott’s comments, made after the London attacks, that “officials were too concerned about maintaining relations with the Muslim community” or that “Islamophobia, unlike terrorism, has never killed anyone” are mystifying.

The police maintaining good relations with the Muslim community is essential to the passing of intelligence to police and in helping to identify youth at risk. Episodes of Islamophobia only further alienate the Muslim community. Making Muslims feel like they don’t belong is an identified pathway into violent extremism.

It’s important to keep in mind that one of the aims of terrorism is not just to take human life, but to instil fear in the broader population. The loss of life to terrorism understandably provokes a demand for a forceful response. Tough language like “enough is enough” is important in offering public reassurance governments are taking the issue seriously.

The ConversationBut we have to keep in mind that a goal of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction and create divisions in society. Jihadi ideologue Abu Bakr Naji in his treatise the Management of Savagery – the textbook that has guided much of Islamic State’s brutality – stated that this should be a key goal of violent jihad. We should be mindful of not falling into this trap.

Adrian Cherney, Associate Professor, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Four ways social media companies and security agencies can tackle terrorism


Robyn Torok, Edith Cowan University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has joined Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May in calling on social media companies to crack down on extremist material being published by users.

It comes in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Australia and Britain.

Facebook is considered a hotbed for terrorist recruitment, incitement, propaganda and the spreading of radical thinking. Twitter, YouTube and encrypted services such WhatsApp and Telegram are also implicated.

Addressing the extent of such content on social media requires international cooperation from large social media platforms themselves and encrypted services.

Some of that work is already underway by many social media operators, with Facebook’s rules on this leaked only last month. Twitter says that in one six-month period it has suspended 376,890 accounts related to the promotion of terrorism.

While these measures are a good start, more can be done. A focus on disruption, encryption, recruitment and creating counter-narratives is recommended.

Disruption: remove content, break flow-on

Disruption of terrorists on social media involves reporting and taking down of radical elements and acts of violence, whether that be radical accounts or posted content that breaches community safety and standards.

This is critical both in timing and eradication.

Disruption is vital for removing extreme content and breaking the flow-on effect while someone is in the process of being recruited by extremists.

Taking down accounts and content is difficult as there is often a large volume of content to remove. Sometimes it is not removed as quickly as needed. In addition, extremists typically have multiple accounts and can operate under various aliases at the same time.

Encryption: security authorities need access

When Islamic extremists use encrypted channels, it makes the fight against terrorism much harder. Extremists readily shift from public forums to encrypted areas, and often work in both simultaneously.

Encrypted networks are fast becoming a problem because of the “burn time” (destruction of messages) and the fact that extremists can communicate mostly undetected.

Operations to attack and kill members of the public in the West have been propagated on these encrypted networks.

The extremists set up a unique way of communicating within encrypted channels to offer advice. That way a terrorist can directly communicate with the Islamic State group and receive directives to undertake an attack in a specific country, including operational methods and procedures.

This is extremely concerning, and authorities – including intelligence agencies and federal police – require access to encrypted networks to do their work more effectively. They need the ability to access servers to obtain vital information to help thwart possible attacks on home soil.

This access will need to be granted in consultation with the companies that offer these services. But such access could be challenging and there could also be a backlash from privacy groups.

Recruitment: find and follow key words

It was once thought that the process of recruitment occurred over extended periods of time. This is true in some instances, and it depends on a multitude of individual experiences, personality types, one’s perception of identity, and the types of strategies and techniques used in the recruitment process.

There is no one path toward violent extremism, but what makes the process of recruitment quicker is the neurolinguistic programming (NLP) method used by terrorists.

Extremists use NLP across multiple platforms and are quick to usher their recruits into encrypted chats.

Key terms are always used alongside NLP, such as “in the heart of green birds” (which is used in reference to martyrdom), “Istishhad” (operational heroism of loving death more than the West love life), “martyrdom” and “Shaheed” (becoming a martyr).

If social media companies know and understand these key terms, they can help by removing any reference to them on their platforms. This is being done by some platforms to a degree, but in many cases social media operaters still rely heavily on users reporting inappropriate material.

Create counter-narratives: banning alone won’t work

Since there are so many social media applications, each with a high volume of material that is both very dynamic and fluid, any attempts to deal with extremism must accept the limitations and challenges involved.

Attempts to shut down sites, channels, and web pages are just one approach. It is imperative that efforts are not limited to such strategies.

Counter-narratives are essential, as these deconstruct radical ideologies and expose their flaws in reasoning.

But these counter-narratives need to be more sophisticated given the ability of extremists to manipulate arguments and appeal to emotions, especially by using horrific images.

This is particularly important for those on the social fringe, who may feel a sense of alienation.

It is important for these individuals to realise that such feelings can be addressed within the context of mainstream Islam without resorting to radical ideologies that leave them open to exploitation by experienced recruiters. Such recruiters are well practised and know how to identify individuals who are struggling, and how to usher them along radical pathways.

Ultimately, there are ways around all procedures that attempt to tackle the problem of terrorist extremism on social media. But steps are slowly being taken to reduce the risk and spread of radical ideologies.

The ConversationThis must include counter-narratives as well as the timely eradication of extremist material based on keywords as well as any material from key radical preachers.

Robyn Torok, PhD, PhD – researcher and analyst, Edith Cowan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Looking at terror attacks ‘per capita’ should make us rethink beliefs about levels of risk and Muslims



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In the fight against terrorism, seemingly easy conclusions may be drawn too quickly.
Reuters/Jon Super

Michael Jetter, University of Western Australia and David Stadelmann, Bayreuth University

Recent events in London, Manchester and elsewhere highlight that Western societies are vulnerable to terrorist attacks – and political decision-makers need to find solutions.

Two key questions to consider are:

  1. How likely are you to fall victim to terrorism?

  2. What increases or decreases that likelihood?

Our natural way of thinking about the first question should be similar to considering crime (murder or robbery, for instance), mortality (infant mortality at birth, or cancer), car accidents, or other threats. And the salient point is not so much the total number of murders in a large country, but rather the total number in relation to the size of the population.

Put simply, we should consider the number of affected people on a per-capita basis – that is, murder rates, or mortality rates.

For example, from a policy perspective, it makes sense that ten murders in a populous country like China (which has 1,371,000,000 citizens) would be much less significant than ten murders in a tiny country like Liechtenstein, with its 37,000 citizens.

Terror per capita vs total terror

However, when it comes to terrorism, almost all the knowledge that drives policy decisions comes from studies analysing the total number of terror casualties in a given country and year.

India is a good example. It ranks fourth on the list of terror-prone countries since 1970, with 408 deaths from terrorism in an average year.

But the average Indian need not be particularly worried about terrorism. The country is home to 1.27 billion people, and terrorism kills only one in 2,500,000 people – or 0.0000004% of the population – per year, once we translate total terror deaths to terror deaths per capita. The likelihood of dying from crime or in a road accident is far higher.

India ranks only 82nd in the world when we compare terrorism victims per capita.

So, although India has a relatively high number of terrorist attacks, an individual’s likelihood of dying in such an attack is minimal – because India has such a large population.

Once we switch from focusing on total terror deaths (or attacks) per country to terror deaths per capita, relevant conclusions about what drives terrorism change dramatically. And thus potential policy reactions also change when focusing on terror deaths per capita.

Democracy, Muslims and terrorism

A somewhat baffling conclusion from a long list of research articles states that terrorism is more likely to emerge in democracies, rather than non-democracies. This idea is difficult to reconcile with our intuition of democracy giving people political (and usually religious) freedom – so why should we see terrorism in such free countries?

It turns out that once we analyse terror per capita, democratic nations are less likely to witness terrorism. Again, take India, a large democracy that, at first glance, suffers a lot from terrorism. But, in per-capita terms, terrorism becomes less important.

Another popular belief states that countries with a sizeable Muslim population – such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh or Nigeria – are experiencing more terrorism than non-Muslim countries. This is true when looking at the total numbers of deaths.

But that result is also overturned once we consider terror per capita. A larger share of Muslims in a given country relates to marginally less terrorism. Pakistan (202 million people), Indonesia (258 million), Bangladesh (156 million) and Nigeria (186 million) all feature exceptionally large populations.

This result is informative for the current policy debate. More caution is needed before classifying certain countries as more prone to terrorism based on their religion.

Another – admittedly simplistic – way of considering the link between Islam and terrorism comes from comparing the share of terror attacks conducted by Muslim groups with the share of the world population identifying as Muslim. If Muslims were more likely to be terrorists, we should expect the latter figure to be lower.

Approximately 23% of the world population identifies as Muslim. But, since September 11, Islamist groups have conducted about 20% of terrorist attacks worldwide. Thus, terrorist attacks are – historically and today – less likely to be conducted by a Muslim than by a non-Muslim group.

Where to go from here?

Our results suggest it may be time to rethink the way we approach terrorism.

On an average day, terrorists kill 21 people worldwide. On that same average day, natural or technological disasters kill 2,200 people – or more than 100 times as many.

The likelihood of dying at the hands of a terrorist is comparable to the odds of drowning in one’s own bathtub.

This does not mean we should be afraid of bathtubs, nor does it mean terrorism is not among the problems that need to be solved with a high priority.

The ConversationRather, in the fight against terrorism, seemingly easy conclusions may be drawn too quickly – and we should not forget other matters that affect people’s lives far more than terrorism does.

Michael Jetter, Lecturer in Economics, University of Western Australia and David Stadelmann, Chair of Development Economics, Bayreuth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

FactCheck Q&A: have any refugees who came to Australia gone on to be terrorists?


Clarke Jones, Australian National University

The Conversation is fact-checking claims made on Q&A, broadcast Mondays on the ABC at 9:35pm. Thank you to everyone who sent us quotes for checking via Twitter using hashtags #FactCheck and #QandA, on Facebook or by email.


Excerpt from Q&A, November 23, 2015.

I know that since 1976, there have been 70,000 asylum seekers settled in Australia who arrived by boat. Not one of them has been found to have a link to terrorism. – Tasneem Chopra, cross cultural consultant, speaking on Q&A, November 23, 2015.

Since the recent Paris terrorism attacks, Chopra and others have argued that Australians have nothing to fear from refugees arriving by boat.

But others have linked national security concerns to refugees.

Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi recently told the ABC that:

In our previous refugee intake, we’ve had examples where people who’ve been accepted as refugees have gone on to commit terrorist acts or plan terror attacks in this country.

So are Chopra and Bernardi right in making those two claims?

The answer is not entirely black and white, partly because of a lack of publicly available information. But based on my knowledge of this area, research and contacting senior police investigators, this is the best evidence available.

Boat vs plane arrivals

The first thing to remember is that the majority of asylum seekers arriving in Australia do so by plane.

It’s also true that of the handful of former refugees who went on to involve themselves in terrorist activities, most grew up in and were radicalised in Australia. Most arrived as children. They did not step off planes or boats in Australia as fully formed terrorists who somehow evaded security checks and slipped into Australia.

When asked for a source for her assertion, Chopra sent a comment from the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre that said:

The statistic is based on the past 15 years of work in that sector where not one asylum seeker who arrived by boat has been charged with domestic terrorism. Man Haron Monis, the perpetrator of the Lindt Cafe seige, arrived by plane. And regarding the numbers of boat arrivals, this was drawn from stats with this parliamentary library link, indicating around 69,000 since 1976.

Boat arrivals by calendar year 1976 to 2014 and financial year 1989-90 to 2014-15.
Parliamentary Library, CC BY

I know this is not a very satisfying answer, but we can’t say with absolute certainty that no refugees who arrived by boat have been linked to terrorism. That’s because the police who have investigated the handful of terrorist plots in Australia that have been perpetrated by former asylum seekers didn’t always collect information on their mode of arrival.

It’s also true there’s no obvious, compelling evidence proving Chopra is wrong. As an expert advising the Australian government and courts on terrorism and counter-terrorism, I am not aware of any perpetrators or plotters who arrived in Australia by boat.

Some people who have arrived by boat may have gone on to break Australian laws or commit crimes, but that is obviously not the same as saying they are terrorists.

What about the Lindt Cafe seige, the Paramatta shooting and others?

It is true the man behind the 2014 Lindt cafe seige, Man Haron Monis, was a refugee who arrived in Australia from Iran. However, he did not arrive by boat – he came on a plane, just like most refugees. In fact, he arrived on a business visa.

Whether or not the Lindt Cafe seige qualifies as a terrorist act is also contested. Some experts say it was; others contend that while Monis latched onto Islamic State as his cause, there’s no compelling evidence to indicate that Monis had any confirmed links with them.

Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar, the IS-inspired 15-year-old who shot police officer Curtis Cheng outside the NSW Police Parramatta headquarters in October, was of Iraqi-Kurdish background. His family moved to Australia. No reliable evidence has emerged so far to suggest he arrived in Australia by boat.

A spokesperson for Senator Bernardi also referred The Conversation to a plot to attack the Holdsworthy Army Barracks in Sydney.

One of the plotters in that case, Saney Edow Aweys, arrived in Australia as a 15-year-old refugee, but we don’t know for sure if he came by boat or plane. The judgement in that case doesn’t say.

Senator Bernardi’s spokesperson sent another news article on Mohammad Ali Baryalei, accused of conspiring to behead an Australian in a random attack.

Baryalei’s aristocratic Afghan family came to Australia as refugees when he was a child, the ABC has reported.

Again, it’s not clear whether Baryalei arrived in Australia by boat or plane. There’s no compelling evidence suggesting it was one or the other. We do know he was a child when he arrived.

So Bernardi is also correct to say that, in general terms, there are a handful of documented cases of refugees who have settled in Australia being linked to terrorism. These refugees did not arrive as fully formed terrorists who slipped through security measures.

Verdict

Let’s look at the two claims separately.

We can’t say with absolute certainty that Tasneem Chopra is correct to say that no refugees who arrived by boat have been linked to terrorism. However, there’s no obvious compelling evidence showing she is wrong.

With the current intake of the 12,000 Syrian refugees, there are tight selection processes and comprehensive screening procedures conducted before refugees enter Australia that dramatically reduce any chances of terrorists (or criminals) slipping into Australia.

Bernardi is correct. There have been a handful of asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by plane who we know have been eventually linked to terrorism.

It’s also worth noting what Chopra’s co-panellist, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Q&A the same evening:

… when you have a massive exodus of refugees, there may very well be a couple of insurgents that infiltrate but it’s neither here nor there. Both the terrorist attacks and the refugee influx are symptoms of the same problem but one doesn’t cause the other.

– Clarke Jones


Review

This is a sound analysis. There is an unfortunate trend in the debates about national security and border security towards both hyperbole and generalisation. This article is careful to avoid these. It examines the publicly available material and ultimately concludes that it is impossible to say whether or not any Australian terrorists arrived in this country by boat. While this lack of certainty may be frustrating for some readers, there are two important points to be taken from this article.

The first is that extremely few – if indeed any – of the people who have arrived in Australia by boat have later had any involvement with terrorism.

Secondly, this article highlights the irrelevance (including to the police) of how terrorism suspects arrived in Australia. In my experience – both in co-authoring a book, Inside Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials, and also appearing as junior defence counsel for Saney Aweys (linked to the Holdsworthy Army barracks plot) in his trial before the Victorian Supreme Court – whether a person arrives in Australia by boat or plane has no bearing on their likelihood of later being involved in terrorism. To the best of my knowledge, the mode of arrival was not even something that we discussed with Aweys during our pre-trial interviews.

The only thing that I would add to this article about Aweys’ background is that he spent many years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia before coming to Australia and being granted a humanitarian visa.

This – in combination with the fact that his arrival coincided with the Australian government’s decision to accept a significant number of refugees from Somalia and that I have no recollection of him spending any time in immigration detention – would suggest that he did not arrive here by boat. This could be confirmed by speaking to Aweys but that is of course easier said than done, given his current detention in a maximum security gaol. – Nicola McGarrity


Have you ever seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

The Conversation

Clarke Jones, Co-Director of the Australian Intervention Support Hub (AISH), Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.