Terrorism

B

June 2013

The Global Governance Report Card grades international performance in addressing today's most daunting challenges. It seeks to inspire innovative and effective responses from global and U.S. policymakers to address them.

grade

Subject

  • Average

    Establishing Counterterrorism Norms

    After significant progress following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, efforts to strengthen multilateral counterterrorism norms saw marginal gains during the review period. Overall, there has been a substantial increase in signatures and ratifications of many of the fourteen major international conventions and protocols against terrorism. Since 2008, more than forty states have ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism—including critical states such as China, Georgia, and the United Kingdom—indicating a deepening understanding of the danger posed by nuclear terrorism. Furthermore, awareness of the need for more effective counterradicalization and deradicalization is slowly being embedded into international counterterrorism strategies. States from Europe to North America to the Middle East and South Asia are implementing novel frameworks, such as an Indonesian initiative that brings former extremists to prisons to help deradicalize terrorists, and investing in research to share best practices and improve counterradicalization tactics.

    Additionally, in 2009, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) responded to concerns about the lack of due process of people assigned to its al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions list by creating an ombudsperson to review requests from those individuals that they be removed from the so-called black list. The ombudsman's recommendation to remove a person automatically takes effect in sixty days unless other evidence motivates the UNSC sanctions committee to reject the petition. The creation of the ombudsperson represents an important step—however incremental—toward respecting the rule of law while preventing terrorism.

    Nevertheless, important challenges remain. One glaring gap remains the lack of an international consensus definition of terrorism, which has prevented the negotiation of a comprehensive convention on terrorism [PDF] and complicates efforts to prosecute terrorist suspects. Although UN instruments exist that provide operational definitions and standard interpretations of customary international law as it pertains to terrorism, a comprehensive agreement has proven elusive. Furthermore, implementation of the 2006 UN General Assembly Counterterrorism Strategy has been uneven and lacks coordination [PDF]. Perhaps as troubling is the long-term impact of drones on the international legal order and norms of violent conflict. The United States' widespread use of drones to conduct extrajudicial killings outside official theaters of war—and the associated civilian casualties—could undermine international laws of conflict. Finally, as the threat of cyberterrorism emerges, states have also not been able to proactively formulate a framework to reduce the possibility of a devastating cyberterrorist attack (on an electricity grid or nuclear power plant, for example) or consider appropriate responses in the event of a cyberterrorist attack.

  • Excellent

    Combating Terrorist Financing

    Combating terrorist financing has been one of the greatest success stories of the past four years and continues to build on the strong foundations that were laid throughout the past decade. Even as initial momentum wanes, the fact that the regime has been maintained and states have not regressed on implementing counterterrorism financing (CTF) regulations is a commendable achievement.

    Three developments in international CTF demonstrate that the regime became more robust and remains flexible. First, in February 2012, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) revised its anti-money laundering (AML) and CTF recommendations. (FATF is an intergovernmental body set up in 1989 that was at the forefront of pressuring states to bolster their national AML regime and CTF domestic frameworks after September 11.) The February 2012 reform included combining the AML/CTF measures, enhancing implementation and transparency, and facilitating more effective cooperation between states such as stepped up joint investigations and improved capabilities to freeze illegal assets across borders. FATF also continues to publicly name states on a list of "high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions" which contains nineteen states, and calls for countermeasures against two of them: Iran and North Korea.

    Second, the regime continues to uncover and provide a legal framework for prosecuting terrorist financing. The New York State Department of Financial Services, for example, accused Standard Chartered Bank of hiding from U.S. regulators up to $250 billion worth of illicit transactions potentially involving terrorists or transactions of persons or institutions—like the Iranian government—known to assist terrorists. Standard Chartered agreed to pay a fine of $340 million in September 2012 to settle the case, though the bank remains under investigation by multiple other U.S. agencies. These proceedings follow a number of similar cases during the period reviewed, in which regulators held banks accountable for lax money laundering controls that are intended to choke off terrorist financing. Outside of the United States, Europe has unveiled a project to track terrorist financing across the continent, and numerous other states continue to cooperate on advancing CTF efforts. These indicate a functioning regime that will continue to motivate stricter compliance.

    Lastly, two updates to the list of sanctioned terrorists demonstrate progress. In August 2012, the United States announced asset freezes targeting eight members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that murdered 166 people in the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. Second, the UN Taliban sanctions committee issued an arms embargo and asset freeze in November 2012 against a major Pakistan-based Afghan terrorist group, the Haqqani network, following the U.S. designation of the group as a terrorist network two months earlier. The Haqqani network has been responsible for numerous attacks on civilians in Afghanistan and the 2011 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

  • Good

    Stemming the Threat of WMD Terrorism

    As the number of states with nuclear programs rises, the need to safeguard nuclear materials from nefarious actors remained acute.

    The United States and Russia have been particularly prominent in leading the anti-weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism agenda. For example, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Association (NNSA), in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, carries out WMD counterterrorism exercises in order to increase U.S. practical experience in responding to a terrorist attack involving radiological, nuclear, or WMD-related materials. Furthermore, the NNSA contributes to the U.S. nuclear stockpile reduction strategy, which accomplished 112 percent of its weapon dismantlement targets in 2012. In 2006, the United States and Russia also set up the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. This forum aims to enhance multilateral cooperation between its eighty-five member states to prevent malicious actors from acquiring, transporting, or using fissile material—and to improve a multilateral response in the event of an attack. Over the last four years, the initiative succeeded in building international cooperation to counter proliferation and awareness about the threat of WMD terrorism, but has been failed to include military nuclear materials and weapons.

    Though U.S President Obama's 2009 goal of securing all global nuclear material within four years was clearly ambitious, efforts to secure fissile material have improved significantly in that time. Between 2008 and 2012, two Nuclear Security Summits gathered heads of state and governments to develop an international nuclear security agenda. At the 2010 summit in Washington, DC, twenty-nine states made specific commitments to improve nuclear security within two years. By the 2012 summit in Seoul, approximately 90 percent of the commitments had been fulfilled and by March 2012, Chile, Libya, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Mexico [PDF], had eliminated their Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) reserves. Under the terms of the 1993 U.S.-Russia HEU Purchase Agreement, Russia also committed to blending thirty metric tons of HEU into low-enriched uranium per year and as of September 2010, Russia had blended down four hundred out of five hundred metric tons [PDF] of weapons-grade HEU. As a result, global HEU stockpiles decreased between 2008 and 2012. Despite these efforts, four of the least secure nuclear weapons states—North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Israel—have continued to produce weapons-grade fissile materials.

  • Poor

    Fighting Terrorism While Protecting Human Rights

    Over the past four years, counterterrorism-related violations of international human rights norms have ranged from challenges to the right to a fair trial [PDF] and state-sanctioned targeted killings, to strategic military measures that have resulted in disproportionate civilian casualties. Examples include the detention of peaceful protestors in Turkey, the imprisonment of opposition leaders in Bahrain, and the prosecution of journalists in Ethiopia—all of which have been enacted under the guise of "counterterrorism" laws. In addition, the continued use of torture during interrogations in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq, and the uptick in the use of unmanned drones are concerning.

    To be sure, several states, including the United Kingdom and Canada, are amending recent counterterrorism laws in order to mitigate or eliminate human rights abuses. In the United States, the Obama administration has stopped acts of torture taking place in the Guantanamo Bay military detention facility in Cuba and, in 2009, the administration called for the facility's closure. However, the prison remains open, due largely to congressional opposition, and 160 of the 166 detainees currently in detention at the facility have yet to be formally charged.

    The United States has also steeply increased the number of unmanned U.S. drone strikes during the last four years. Given the secrecy surrounding drone operations and the inaccessibility to human rights groups and journalists of the tribal areas where most of the drone strikes take place, statistics regarding the number of strikes and resulting casualties vary significantly by source, as do the demographic profiles of those killed. Several sources estimate that drone attacks have killed over 2,500 people since 2008. Of this number, more than 100, and up to 885, were believed to be civilians. The majority have been individuals that fall into the encompassing but vague category of "militants," the definition of which has been expanded by the U.S. government to include all military-age men within the radius of a drone strike blast. The remaining dead fall into the "unknown" category.

    In addition, since 2008 there has been a trend toward Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes, known as "crowd kills," which do not rely on specific evidence to target individuals, but instead are based on general signals intelligence, drone surveillance, human agents, and target groups of "military age" males. These attacks have been responsible for an unknown number of civilian deaths. One such attack on a tribal meeting on March 17, 2011, caused the death of thirty-two tribesmen and elders of whom only eleven were Taliban militants. In response to these strikes, the United Nations special rapporteur on counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson QC, announced in October 2012 that the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva would investigate the deaths of civilians in the targeted killings in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Regardless of U.S.-Pakistani private agreements over drone strikes in Pakistan, the investigation into a number of individual strikes in Pakistan could generate allegations of war crimes.

  • Average

    Developing Effective Terrorism Prevention Strategies

    Over the past four years, counterradicalization and deradicalization strategies improved, but implementation remained uneven. Relevant examples include efforts by Indonesia's Detachment 88 to rehabilitate extremists in (and after release from) prison through religious reeducation and psychological counseling; Saudi Arabia's six-week rehabilitation course and counseling sessions; and similar programs in Singapore [PDF]. These programs have reported positive effects and are lauded as examples for other states to follow. However, results vary from country to country and some experts question the effectiveness of rehabilitation. For instance, despite undergoing deradicalization rehabilitation programs following their release from U.S. custody, a reported 20 percent of terrorist detainees returned to terrorist activity in the years after they were discharged from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Indeed, Saudi Arabia confirmed in 2009 that at least eleven former Guantanamo detainees had returned to terrorist activity after graduating from the Saudi deradicalization program. Furthermore, the successful deradicalization programs in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia have relied on heavily funded follow-up programs, which monitor individuals for years after they leave the rehabilitation program; this is neither easy nor feasible in states like Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates has also contributed to terrorism prevention through its development of the International Center of Excellence on Countering Violent Extremism, to be launched in late 2012 in Abu Dhabi. This center aims [PDF] to become the "premier international center for training, dialogue, collaboration, and research to counter violent extremism in all of its forms and manifestations."

    "Soft" terrorism prevention strategies continued to focus on multilateral and bilateral intelligence sharing. The United States, for example, has maintained intelligence sharing agreements [PDF] with Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, and even with Pakistan to some extent. To counter the use of communications technologies by terrorists for "recruitment, financing, propaganda, training, incitement to commit acts of terrorism, and gathering and dissemination of information for terrorist purposes," the United Nations has updated terrorism prevention strategies to include the utilization of modern technology [PDF], including the Internet. A U.S. initiative called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) [PDF] tracks the Internet to monitor terrorist operations and understand the recruitment psyche, enters online chat rooms and bulletin boards, and implements counternarrative [PDF] campaigns. In May 2012, the center identified an al-Qaeda advertisement banner appearing on websites in the Arabian Peninsula, which showed coffins draped in American flags, and bragged about terrorist attacks in Yemen that killed Americans. CSCC officials immediately posted advertisements on the same websites with pictures of Yemeni flag-draped coffins and described the impact of al-Qaeda operations on Yemeni nationals. However, counternarrative campaigns such as these remain nascent.

    In an attempt to stem homegrown violent extremism (HVE), domestic deradicalization programs in states such as the United States and United Kingdom have taken hold in the last four years. With HVE cases in the United States continuing to rise [PDF], the United States has launched a number of domestic counterterrorism actions [PDF] to discourage radicalization. These include the 2011 [PDF] National Strategy for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States. Similarly, the United Kingdom is tackling radicalization through its CONTEST strategy's Prevent program, which was revised in 2011 to address emerging threats and aims to counter HVE through actions such as community engagement and integration strategies.

Leader

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United States

Gold Star

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Indonesia

Most Improved

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Saudi Arabia

laggard

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Pakistan

Truant

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North Korea

Eritrea

Detention

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Iran

Class Evaluation

The United States deserves recognition as a class leader for sustaining momentum against transnational terrorism, providing significant financing and technical support for capacity-building initiatives around the world, and for continuing to build a wide range of bilateral relationships that have prevented terrorist attacks in a number of instances.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), which gathers counterterrorism officials from "frontline countries and affected regions" to help build their capacity, is just one instance of this improved cooperation, though it remains too early to tell whether the new forum will live up to its potential. (Though its exclusion of Israel has worried many critics, this may be an inevitable price to pay for cooperation among Arab partners). Overall, U.S.-led efforts have decimated the core leadership of al-Qaeda—including killing its former leader, Osama bin Laden, and helped lead to an estimated 20 percent decline in total terrorist deaths.

For its part, Indonesia earns a gold star for waging "one of the world's most determined campaigns against terrorism." With the assistance of Australia and other donors, including the United States, Indonesia has successfully stopped hundreds of terrorists, including important al-Qaeda-associated terrorist leaders. These include the 2009 killing of Noordin Top, the mastermind of a series of deadly hotel and resort bombings in Indonesia between 2002 and 2005. Saudi Arabia earns the label of most improved for continuing to invest in, and hone, counterterrorism strategies. Achievements have included the first-ever public trials of suspected terrorists, supporters, and terrorist financiers, monitored by human rights observers; revamped border security involving new technology such as biometric scanners and electronic-sensor fencing; and a new fifteen-thousand troop detachment to patrol porous borders. In the last four years, Saudi Arabia also helped the United States establish an important regional forum, the GCTF. However, much remains for Riyadh to improve upon—including its penchant for violating the human rights of political dissidents and rights activists in terrorist courts.

For their lack of cooperation on counterterrorism, Eritrea and North Korea are the class truants. According to the United Nations, North Korea maintains underdeveloped and weak counterterrorist financing regulatory regimes. Since removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in October 2008, it has failed to cooperate fully with the U.S. counterterrorism laws on arms dealing under the Arms Export and Control Act. Eritrea also provides very little disclosure on banking and financial regulation, and has no dialogue with the United States concerning terrorism. Since 2009, the United Nations Security Council has imposed sanctions on Eritrea because, according to the U.S. Department of State, it will not "cease arming, training, and equipping armed groups and their members, including al-Shabaab, that aim to destabilize the region."

Meanwhile, Pakistan is the class laggard, with counterterrorism measures waning significantly in the last four years, despite a continued stream of extremist violence. Between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2011, 6,521 terrorist attacks took place in Pakistan resulting in a total of 9,149 deaths; a number third only to Afghanistan and Iraq. This figure reflects attacks in which more than ten people died; it may also include victims of sectarian violence. Despite repeated denials by Pakistani officials, the United States believes that elements of Pakistan's government retain ties with terrorist groups. Pakistan has also failed to hand over the military-led counterterrorism operation to civilian authorities. Furthermore, cooperation [PDF] between Pakistani and U.S. counterterrorism forces has deteriorated, thanks to a variety of incidents, including a diplomatic row over the controversial detention of a U.S. consular official, the accidental killing of Pakistani soldiers at a border checkpoint, the U.S. raid on Abbottabad that killed bin Laden, and continued U.S. drone strikes.

Lastly, Iran merits detention because the Iranian Quds Force (a branch of the Iranian military) has provided weapons, training, safe haven, and funding to numerous terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, the Afghan Taliban [PDF], al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other Palestinian terrorist groups. Consequently, some analysts fear that Iran may supply terrorist groups with fissile material to carry out an attack with weapons of mass destruction (though others doubt that the Iranian leadership would assume such an enormous level of risk). In 2011, U.S. authorities uncovered an Iranian plot to assassinate the ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Washington. Iranian-trained operatives in Azerbaijan were also linked in 2012 to terrorist plots targeting U.S. and Israeli embassies, as well as Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia, and Thailand.

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Introduction

Between 2008 and 2012, states continued to build on the momentous progress achieved in the previous decade to fight terrorism. In 2008, terrorism deaths worldwide fell by almost 30 percent [PDF], and reached a five-year low in 2011 (the last year for which total deaths have been tabulated as of this writing). Major successes include the removal of high-level al-Qaeda leaders and the effective use of frameworks to police and cut off financing for terrorist activity. Regulatory collaboration across the world—and joint pressure by like-minded states to overcome initial resistance from some states—have greatly reduced the ease with which terrorist organizations can amass funds and transfer money to support their operations. Furthermore, states with vulnerable nuclear arsenals, especially the United States and Russia, took active measures to secure fissile material and to address the threat of a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Nations also sought to develop counterradicalization strategies and international legal norms for terrorism but with only mixed success. The lack of an international definition for terrorism remains a problem. Moreover, despite moderate progress to protect human rights while fighting terrorism, nations have fallen short. In particular, the expanded use of U.S. drone strikes generated controversy.

The United States demonstrated strong international leadership to maintain momentum for the counterterrorism regime and was at the forefront of both intelligence gathering and kinetic action to stop terrorists. Indonesia and Saudi Arabia also earn praise for robust counterterrorism initiatives; Pakistan's efforts, on the other hand, have been deeply disappointing. Eritrea and North Korea also earn poor marks for failing to cooperate with global counterterrorism frameworks. Lastly, Iran sits in detention for deliberately aiding terrorists. Despite these black marks, the threat of international terrorism has decreased over the past four years, earning international counterterrorism efforts a grade of B.

This review identifies five major areas for improvement. First, states should agree to international norms for the detention of terrorists and for targeted killings outside formal war zones. Second, the United Nations (UN) should establish a single counterterrorism coordinator to streamline the organization's efforts and use existing frameworks more effectively to prosecute state sponsors of terrorism. Third, nations should endeavor to break down the silos between domestic and international counterterrorism initiatives. Fourth, the counterterrorism agenda should be integrated more deeply with the fight against transnational crime given the often overlapping methods and pipelines used by those groups. Finally, UN member states should decouple compliance with international counterterrorism mandates from capacity-building initiatives in order to boost the legitimacy of both operations.

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Background

The September 11 terrorist attacks shocked the international system, motivating unprecedented global cooperation to reduce the threat of transnational terrorism. They underscored how globalization—including interconnected financial, communications, and transportation systems—as well as new technology, have empowered nonstate actors to carry out devastating strikes from virtually anywhere on the planet. Multilateral counterterrorism instruments had existed since the 1960s when attacks like the kidnapping of athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the 1988 explosion of a Pan American Airlines flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1997 massacre of tourists in Luxor, Egypt, had focused international attention on the issue.

But prior to 9/11, the global counterterrorism regime lacked international priority and suffered from fragmentation. After the 2001 attacks, the United States led a global push to construct international norms to define, investigate, and disrupt terrorist networks. For the next decade, the United States was the primary leader in keeping counterterrorism a priority on the security agenda of international institutions and allies.

The United Nations also sought to formulate an international legal architecture to combat terrorism. Soon after 9/11, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed numerous legally binding resolutions, most prominently Resolution 1373, which requires all UN member states to "prevent and suppress" terrorist financing. In addition, in 2004 the UNSC issued Resolution 1540—to help focus states' efforts on preventing nonstate actors from acquiring nuclear technology. The UN Security Council also passed Resolution 1267 in 1999 to enact sanctions on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. However, UN member states have differed in their prioritization of the threat of terrorism, as well as their capacity to carry out counterterrorism mandates; thus, implementation remains patchy. A 2006 UN General Assembly Global Counterterrorism Strategy helped to broaden ownership of UN counterterrorism activities beyond just the fifteen-member Security Council, but it has struggled [PDF] to add coherence to the UN's disparate efforts in counterterrorism.

Furthermore, controversies over the lack of human rights protections in counterterrorism efforts—particularly surrounding U.S.-led operations such as the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—have tainted counterterrorism efforts in much of the world. As the United States stepped up its drone strikes in recent years, these debates have only grown fiercer.

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Class Evaluation

The United States deserves recognition as a class leader for sustaining momentum against transnational terrorism, providing significant financing and technical support for capacity-building initiatives around the world, and for continuing to build a wide range of bilateral relationships that have prevented terrorist attacks in a number of instances. The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), which gathers counterterrorism officials from "frontline countries and affected regions" to help build their capacity, is just one instance of this improved cooperation, though it remains too early to tell whether the new forum will live up to its potential. (Though its exclusion of Israel has worried many critics, this may be an inevitable price to pay for cooperation among Arab partners). Overall, U.S.-led efforts have decimated the core leadership of al-Qaeda—including killing its former head, Osama bin Laden—and helped bring about an estimated 20 percent decline in total terrorist deaths.

For its part, Indonesia earns a gold star for waging "one of the world's most determined campaigns against terrorism." With the assistance of Australia and other donors, including the United States, Indonesia has successfully stopped hundreds of terrorists, including important al-Qaeda-associated terrorist leaders. These include the 2009 killing of Noordin Top, the mastermind of a series of deadly hotel and resort bombings in Indonesia between 2002 and 2005. Saudi Arabia earns the label of most improved for continuing to invest in, and hone, counterterrorism strategies. Achievements have included the first-ever public trials of suspected terrorists, supporters, and terrorist financiers, monitored by human rights observers; revamped border security involving new technology such as biometric scanners and electronic-sensor fencing; and a new fifteen-thousand troop detachment to patrol porous borders. In the last four years, Saudi Arabia also helped the United States establish an important regional forum, the GCTF. However, much remains for Riyadh to improve upon—including its penchant for violating the human rights of political dissidents and rights activists in terrorist courts.

For their lack of cooperation on counterterrorism, Eritrea and North Korea are the class truants. According to the United Nations (UN), North Korea maintains underdeveloped and weak counterterrorist financing regulatory regimes. Since being removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in October 2008, it has failed to cooperate fully with the U.S. counterterrorism laws on arms dealing under the Arms Export and Control Act. Eritrea also provides very little disclosure on banking and financial regulation, and has no dialogue with the United States concerning terrorism. Since 2009, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has imposed sanctions on Eritrea because, according to the U.S. Department of State, it will not "cease arming, training, and equipping armed groups and their members, including al-Shabaab, that aim to destabilize the region."

Meanwhile, Pakistan is the class laggard, with counterterrorism measures waning significantly in the last four years, despite a continued stream of extremist violence. Between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2011, 6,521 terrorist attacks took place in Pakistan resulting in a total of 9,149 deaths; a number third only to Afghanistan and Iraq. This figure reflects attacks in which more than ten people died; it may also include victims of sectarian violence. Despite repeated denials by Pakistani officials, the United States believes that elements of Pakistan's government retain ties with terrorist groups. Pakistan has also failed to hand over the military-led counterterrorism operation to civilian authorities. Furthermore, cooperation [PDF] between Pakistani and U.S. counterterrorism forces has deteriorated, thanks to a variety of incidents, including a diplomatic row over the controversial detention of a U.S. consular official, the accidental killing of Pakistani soldiers at a border checkpoint, the U.S. raid on Abbottabad that killed bin Laden, and continued U.S. drone strikes.

Lastly, Iran merits detention because the Iranian Quds Force (a branch of the Iranian military) has provided weapons, training, safe haven, and funding to numerous terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, the Afghan Taliban [PDF], al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other Palestinian terrorist groups. Consequently, some analysts fear that Iran may supply terrorist groups with fissile material to carry out an attack with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) (though others doubt that the Iranian leadership would assume such an enormous level of risk). In 2011, U.S. authorities uncovered an Iranian plot to assassinate the ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Washington. Iranian-trained operatives in Azerbaijan were also linked in 2012 to terrorist plots targeting U.S. and Israeli embassies, as well as Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia, and Thailand.

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U.S. Performance & Leadership

B plus

The United States has demonstrated strong leadership to reduce the threat of terrorism, notwithstanding some backsliding on ensuring adequate protections for human rights. To begin, the Obama administration prioritized the search for Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, the group that plotted the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and also helped coordinate terrorism and terrorist financing for multiple attacks in the 1990s, such as the Luxor massacre in Egypt. Bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. military forces in May 2011 struck an important and symbolic blow to transnational terrorism. In addition, U.S. operations in Afghanistan have denied safe haven for al-Qaeda to plan and launch foreign terrorist attacks. Lastly, as of October 2012, U.S. authorities had thwarted at least thirty attempted terrorist attacks inspired by al-Qaeda on U.S. soil since 9/11 and killed at least sixty-five senior al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistan.

To be sure, affiliates of al-Qaeda have stepped up their activities, but U.S. cooperation with partner governments across the world has targeted these local franchises. For example, U.S. intelligence officers cooperated with Saudi Arabian counterparts in a crossborder operation to foil a plot after a Saudi spy infiltrated a Yemeni al-Qaeda cell. In another instance of international coordination, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates cooperated in 2010 to foil a parcel bomb plot. Furthermore, U.S. drone strikes have eliminated senior commanders in a number of terrorist cells, from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia.

To address the threat of nuclear terrorism, the Obama administration convened a Nuclear Security Summit of forty-six nations in Washington, DC, in 2010, where leaders committed to sixty national steps to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. By the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, 90 percent of the commitments had been completed—a remarkable level of success.

However, the practical merits and lawfulness of the U.S. strategy of targeted killings using drones remain in dispute. Such assassinations arguably violate international human rights norms governing conduct in war, and their ultimate impact on U.S. national security is at best unclear. Experts continue to debate whether drones exacerbate anti-American sentiment, the legality of targeting U.S. citizens in particular, the long-term effectiveness of strategies designed to "decapitate" senior terrorist leaders, and whether the targets can be legally selected without a trial. The resulting loss of intelligence from killing rather than capturing terrorists, some argue, casts further doubt on drones. On the other hand, some analysis suggests that eliminating leadership cadres has helped reduce the lifespan of terrorist organizations. In the absence of an alternative method to target nonstate actors hiding in a number of states, such strikes may represent the best option for now. Large-scale military exercises (either by the United States or local government forces), for example, would undoubtedly result in more civilian casualties. Finally, some scholars argue that drone strikes are permissible acts of war [PDF] under international law.

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Establishing Counterterrorism Norms

Average

After significant progress following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, efforts to strengthen multilateral counterterrorism norms saw marginal gains during the review period. Overall, there has been a substantial increase in signatures and ratifications of many of the fourteen major international conventions and protocols against terrorism. Since 2008, more than forty states have ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism—including critical states such as China, Georgia, and the United Kingdom—indicating a deepening understanding of the danger posed by nuclear terrorism. Furthermore, awareness of the need for more effective counterradicalization and deradicalization is slowly being embedded into international counterterrorism strategies. States from Europe to North America to the Middle East and South Asia are implementing novel frameworks, such as an Indonesian initiative that brings former extremists to prisons to help deradicalize terrorists, and investing in research to share best practices and improve counterradicalization tactics.

Additionally, in 2009, the UNSC responded to concerns about the lack of due process of people assigned to its al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions list by creating an ombudsperson to review requests from those individuals that they be removed from the so-called black list. The ombudsman's recommendation to remove a person automatically takes effect in sixty days unless other evidence motivates the UNSC sanctions committee to reject the petition. The creation of the ombudsperson represents an important step—however incremental—toward respecting the rule of law while preventing terrorism.

Nevertheless, important challenges remain. One glaring gap remains the lack of an international consensus definition of terrorism, which has prevented the negotiation of a comprehensive convention on terrorism [PDF] and complicates efforts to prosecute terrorist suspects. Although UN instruments exist that provide operational definitions and standard interpretations of customary international law as it pertains to terrorism, a comprehensive agreement has proven elusive. Furthermore, implementation of the 2006 UN General Assembly Counterterrorism Strategy has been uneven and lacks coordination [PDF]. Perhaps as troubling is the long-term impact of drones on the international legal order and norms of violent conflict. The United States' widespread use of drones to conduct extrajudicial killings outside official theaters of war—and the associated civilian casualties—could undermine international laws of conflict. Finally, as the threat of cyberterrorism emerges, states have also not been able to proactively formulate a framework to reduce the possibility of a devastating cyberterrorist attack (on an electricity grid or nuclear power plant, for example) or consider appropriate responses in the event of a cyberterrorist attack.

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Combating Terrorist Financing

Excellent

Combating terrorist financing has been one of the greatest success stories of the past four years and continues to build on the strong foundations that were laid throughout the past decade. Even as initial momentum wanes, the fact that the regime has been maintained and states have not regressed on implementing counterterrorism financing (CTF) regulations is a commendable achievement.

Three developments in international CTF demonstrate that the regime became more robust and remains flexible. First, in February 2012, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) revised its anti-money laundering (AML) and CTF recommendations. (FATF is an intergovernmental body set up in 1989 that was at the forefront of pressuring states to bolster their national AML regime and CTF domestic frameworks after September 11.) The February 2012 reform included combining the AML/CTF measures, enhancing implementation and transparency, and facilitating more effective cooperation between states such as stepped up joint investigations and improved capabilities to freeze illegal assets across borders. FATF also continues to publicly name states on a list of "high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions" which contains nineteen states, and call for countermeasures against two of them: Iran and North Korea.

Second, the regime continues to uncover and provide a legal framework for prosecuting terrorist financing. The New York State Department of Financial Services, for example, accused Standard Chartered Bank of hiding from U.S. regulators up to $250 billion worth of illicit transactions potentially involving terrorists or transactions of persons or institutions—like the Iranian government—known to assist terrorists. Standard Chartered agreed to pay a fine of $340 million in September 2012 to settle the case, though the bank remains under investigation by multiple other U.S. agencies. These proceedings follow a number of similar cases during the period reviewed, in which regulators held banks accountable for lax money laundering controls that are intended to choke off terrorist financing. Outside of the United States, Europe has unveiled a project to track terrorist financing across the continent, and numerous other states continue to cooperate on advancing CTF efforts. These indicate a functioning regime that will continue to motivate stricter compliance.

Lastly, two updates to the list of sanctioned terrorists demonstrate progress. In August 2012, the United States announced asset freezes targeting eight members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that murdered 166 people in the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. Second, the UN Taliban sanctions committee issued an arms embargo and asset freeze in November 2012 against a major Pakistan-based Afghan terrorist group, the Haqqani network, following the U.S. designation of the group as a terrorist network two months earlier. The Haqqani network has been responsible for numerous attacks on civilians in Afghanistan and the 2011 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

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Stemming the Threat of WMD Terrorism

Good

As the number of states with nuclear programs rises, the need to safeguard nuclear materials from nefarious actors remains acute.

The United States and Russia have been particularly prominent in leading the anti-WMD terrorism agenda. For example, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Association (NNSA), in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, carries out WMD counterterrorism exercises in order to increase U.S. practical experience in responding to a terrorist attack involving radiological, nuclear, or WMD-related materials. Furthermore, the NNSA contributes to the U.S. nuclear stockpile reduction strategy, which accomplished 112 percent of its weapon dismantlement targets in 2012. In 2006, the United States and Russia also set up the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. This forum aims to enhance multilateral cooperation between its eighty-five member states to prevent malicious actors from acquiring, transporting, or using fissile material—and to improve a multilateral response in the event of an attack. Over the last four years, the initiative succeeded in building international cooperation to counter proliferation and awareness about the threat of WMD terrorism, but has been failed to include military nuclear materials and weapons.

Though U.S President Obama's 2009 goal of securing all global nuclear material within four years was clearly ambitious, efforts to secure fissile material have improved significantly in that time. Between 2008 and 2012, two Nuclear Security Summits gathered heads of state and governments to develop an international nuclear security agenda. At the 2010 summit in Washington, DC, twenty-nine states made specific commitments to improve nuclear security within two years. By the 2012 summit in Seoul, approximately 90 percent of the commitments had been fulfilled and by March 2012, Chile, Libya, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Mexico [PDF] had eliminated their Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) reserves. Under the terms of the 1993 U.S.-Russia HEU Purchase Agreement, Russia also committed to blending thirty metric tons of HEU into low-enriched uranium per year and as of September 2010, Russia had blended down four hundred out of five hundred metric tons [PDF] of weapons-grade HEU. As a result, global HEU stockpiles decreased between 2008 and 2012. Despite these efforts, four of the least secure nuclear weapons states—North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Israel—have continued to produce weapons-grade fissile materials.

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Fighting Terrorism While Protecting Human Rights

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Over the past four years, counterterrorism-related violations of international human rights norms have ranged from challenges to the right to a fair trial [PDF] and state-sanctioned targeted killings, to strategic military measures that have resulted in disproportionate civilian casualties. Examples include the detention of peaceful protestors in Turkey, the imprisonment of opposition leaders in Bahrain, and the prosecution of journalists in Ethiopia—all of which have been enacted under the guise of "counterterrorism" laws. In addition, the continued use of torture during interrogations in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq, and the uptick in the use of unmanned drones are concerning.

To be sure, several states, including the United Kingdom and Canada, are amending recent counterterrorism laws in order to mitigate or eliminate human rights abuses. In the United States, the Obama administration has stopped acts of torture taking place in the Guantanamo Bay military detention facility in Cuba and, in 2009, the administration called for the facility's closure. However, the prison remains open, due largely to congressional opposition, and 160 of the 166 detainees currently in detention at the facility have yet to be formally charged.

The United States has also steeply increased the number of unmanned U.S. drone strikes during the last four years. Given the secrecy surrounding drone operations and the inaccessibility to human rights groups and journalists of the tribal areas where most of the drone strikes take place, statistics regarding the number of strikes and resulting casualties vary significantly by source, as do the demographic profiles of those killed. Several sources estimate that drone attacks have killed over 2,500 people since 2008. Of this number, more than 100, and up to 885, were believed to be civilians. The majority have been individuals that fall into the encompassing but vague category of "militants," the definition of which has been expanded by the U.S. government to include all military-age men within the radius of a drone strike blast. The remaining dead fall into the "unknown" category.

In addition, since 2008 there has been a trend toward Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes (TADS), known as "crowd kills," which do not rely on specific evidence to target individuals, but instead are based on general signals intelligence, drone surveillance, human agents, and target groups of "military age" males. These attacks have been responsible for an unknown number of civilian deaths. One such attack on a tribal meeting on March 17, 2011, caused the death of thirty-two tribesmen and elders of whom only eleven were Taliban militants. In response to these strikes, the United Nations special rapporteur on counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson QC, announced in October 2012 that the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva would investigate the deaths of civilians in the targeted killings in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Regardless of U.S.-Pakistani private agreements over drone strikes in Pakistan, the investigation into a number of individual strikes in Pakistan could generate allegations of war crimes.

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Developing Effective Terrorism Prevention Strategies

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Over the past four years, counterradicalization and deradicalization strategies improved, but implementation remained uneven. Relevant examples include efforts by Indonesia's Detachment 88 to rehabilitate extremists in (and after release from) prison through religious reeducation and psychological counseling; Saudi Arabia's six-week rehabilitation course and counseling sessions; and similar programs in Singapore [PDF]. These programs have reported positive effects and are lauded as examples for other states to follow. However, results vary from country to country and some experts question the effectiveness of rehabilitation. For instance, despite undergoing deradicalization rehabilitation programs following their release from U.S. custody, a reported 20 percent of terrorist detainees returned to terrorist activity in the years after they were discharged from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Indeed, Saudi Arabia confirmed in 2009 that at least eleven former Guantanamo detainees had returned to terrorist activity after graduating from the Saudi deradicalization program. Furthermore, the successful deradicalization programs in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia have relied on heavily funded follow-up programs, which monitor individuals for years after they leave the rehabilitation program; this is neither easy nor feasible in states like Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates has also contributed to terrorism prevention through its development of the International Center of Excellence on Countering Violent Extremism, to be launched in late 2012 in Abu Dhabi. This center aims [PDF] to become the "premier international center for training, dialogue, collaboration, and research to counter violent extremism in all of its forms and manifestations."

"Soft" terrorism prevention strategies continued to focus on multilateral and bilateral intelligence sharing. The United States, for example, has maintained intelligence sharing agreements [PDF] with Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, and even with Pakistan to some extent. To counter the use of communications technologies by terrorists for "recruitment, financing, propaganda, training, incitement to commit acts of terrorism, and gathering and dissemination of information for terrorist purposes," the United Nations has updated terrorism prevention strategies to include the utilization of modern technology [PDF], including the Internet. A U.S. initiative called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) [PDF] tracks the Internet to monitor terrorist operations and understand the recruitment psyche, enters online chat rooms and bulletin boards, and implements counternarrative [PDF] campaigns. In May 2012, the center identified an al-Qaeda advertisement banner appearing on websites in the Arabian Peninsula, which showed coffins draped in American flags, and bragged about terrorist attacks in Yemen that killed Americans. CSCC officials immediately posted advertisements on the same websites with pictures of Yemeni flag-draped coffins and described the impact of al-Qaeda operations on Yemeni nationals. However, counternarrative campaigns such as these remain nascent.

In an attempt to stem homegrown violent extremism (HVE), domestic deradicalization programs in states such as the United States and United Kingdom have taken hold in the last four years. With HVE cases in the United States continuing to rise [PDF], the United States has launched a number of domestic counterterrorism actions [PDF] to discourage radicalization. These include the 2011 [PDF] National Strategy for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States. Similarly, the United Kingdom is tackling radicalization through its CONTEST strategy's Prevent program, which was revised in 2011 to address emerging threats and aims to counter HVE through actions such as community engagement and integration strategies.

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Areas for Improvement

To improve the fight against terrorism, the United States and its international partners should take the following steps:

  • States should establish common norms for the detention of terrorists apprehended both in and outside theaters of war, and develop expedited extradition procedures to facilitate trials in home countries where sufficient capacity and dedication to human rights norms exist. When capture of a terrorist suspect is feasible, these bolstered norms for detention could also provide alternatives to targeted killings using drone strikes.

  • States should begin the long and difficult process of negotiating international norms governing targeted killings, including by drones, of suspected terrorists. Drone technology will not disappear, and in the coming decades a greater number of states will probably develop the capacity to carry out strikes with unmanned aerial vehicles.

  • The United Nations should establish a counterterrorism coordinator to streamline and provide strategic coherence for the mandates of multiple counterterrorism directors who currently oversee the UN's efforts. Furthermore, states should utilize the existing international legal frameworks more robustly to hold state sponsors of terrorism accountable.

  • States should seek to break down the silos between domestic and international efforts, including increasing coordination of counterterrorism assistance. Bilateral mechanisms should be integrated with multilateral frameworks, particularly for capacity-building of policing and countering terrorist activities.

  • States should endeavor to integrate counterterrorism with the fight against transnational crime given emerging relationships between terrorist and criminal networks. The combination of the Financial Action Task Force's standards against terrorist financing and money laundering was a good first step, and international and domestic agencies that fight terrorism should follow suit and break down the silos between counterterrorism and anticrime efforts.

  • UN member states should separate compliance with antiterrorism frameworks from capacity-building to boost legitimacy of both operations—and simultaneously highlight many states' lack of will in either area.

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