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inf o /2013/07/29/fully-o peratio nal-the-o ngo ing-challenges-o f-terro rist-risk-reductio n-pro grams/

Fully Operational? The Ongoing Challenges of Terrorist Risk Reduction Programs
By Jo hn Ho rgan

Terrorist deradicalization. What an intriguing idea f or a quick f ix if ever there was one. Yet never in the history of counter-terrorism has any short-term solution ultimately proven to be more than a naïve pipedream. T hat is not to suggest that what is commonly called “deradicalization programs” would see themselves as representing a quick f ix. But the allure surrounding these creative approaches to counterterrorism has been so powerf ul that a seeming f ailure to deliver on the implicit (and vague) promise of “revers[ing] radicalism” has apparently led to a loss of popularity. T hat may not be a bad thing, but a critical question lingers around whether or not these programs are ef f ective. T he programs are as numerous as they are diverse in their goals. T hey range f rom some well-known and highly publicized initiatives in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore, Iraq, Indonesia and Yemen to f ledgling ef f orts in Pakistan, Af ghanistan, Kenya and Somalia. If anything, they are increasing in number. T he development of some programs began as much as ten years ago. While never initially intended f or public awareness, some (e.g. the Saudi program) were buoyed on by their own claims of phenomenal success that they embraced publicity a f ew short years into their experimental construction. In f act, so convinced of their own ef f ectiveness, several programs welcomed f oreign media, law enf orcement, academics and anyone else interested in seeing how ‘radicalization’ was apparently being undone. T hough the data tended to shy away f rom making an appearance, a powerf ul display of national pride usually did with f ormer prisoners, of f ered up as role models of successf ul deradicalization, of ten on hand to meet with f oreign guests. T hose claims of extraordinary ef f ectiveness provided strong motivation f or the academic and policyoriented research that f ollowed, much of that research posing important questions rarely considered by the programs themselves. Among some of the most high prof ile ef f orts were those by the International Center f or the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College, London. T hey presented a wide-ranging report in 2010 into such initiatives across f if teen countries. ICSR proposed a list of “key underlying drivers and principles of individual disengagement and deradicalisation programmes”. T hese, the report asserts: “may help policymakers understand the phenomenon and identif y elements of best practice”. In a subsequent ICSR study, a detailed report in 2012 by Hamed El-Said, the author provided caref ully nuanced recommendations f or understanding the f actors that promote success across many dif f erent countries. Yet, less than a year af ter the second report, ICSR Director Peter Neumann decried de-radicalization programs as resembling “a bid of a f ad”. So what changed? It’s Complicated…

but not f or the reasons we might assume. T he Sabaoon program is also a good example to highlight the f act that answers to the ef f ectiveness question cannot be separated f rom the need to ensure f or ongoing. T he change in attitudes. But one of several recommendations was to abandon the collective label “deradicalization programs”. weeks. meeting with those he has victimized) or post-release. T his need is f requently addressed via religious counseling. In terms of reducing the risk of re-engagement in terrorism. no matter how broadly def ined). Some are certainly f ar more transparent than others about how they operationalize and measure success. Collectively these initiatives are still called “deradicalization programs” yet this continues to be an unerringly misleading description. To f igure out what is at the heart of a seemingly stagnant debate of whether they are ef f ective or not. it is because they are classif ied as “low risk” f or re-engagement. to borrow Inzlicht and Schmeichel’s (2012. that our understanding has “sacrif iced deep explorations of process f or broad explorations of application. It’s Complicated…But Do T hey Work? T he short answer is: it depends. but also it is a way f or younger participants to shield themselves f rom a terrorist group that otherwise can provide them with f ood. But on the surf ace at least. T hese range f rom helping terrorist ‘dropouts’ disentangle f rom deeply woven social bonds f orged with their f ormer comrades to repatriating them back into the communities f rom whence they came.” Yet those broader explorations are f requently devoid of data. Attempting to promote deradicalization is predicated on the presumed need f or some ef f ort to undo the social and psychological change that accompanies (or is a product of ) the initial move into terrorism in the f irst place. When participants in rehabilitation programs are released f rom detention. the one common denominator in all of these initiatives is that they try to reduce the risk of re-engagement in terrorism. the real challenge in answering the question of their ef f ectiveness is actually a testament to whether the programs are as adaptable as the radicalization and recruitment strategies the terrorist groups themselves use to pull in new members. post-release supervision. But the true test of that change. Additionally. Kurt Braddock and I proposed the development of a multi-attribute f ramework with which deradicalization programs could be evaluated f or ef f ectiveness.g.g. can only be f ully inf ormed with data f rom post-release monitoring. the heterogeneity of these programs cannot be overstated.Let’s f irst assert a f ew basic f acts. T he question of what we call them and as a result what we think these programs do (and why this is important) are not just pedantic academic questions – more on this to f ollow. some of the programs would appear to be more ef f ective than others. context and realistic sense of limitations. More of ten that not. shelter and some sense of purpose. and of the risk classif ication of the program’s staf f . overlapping objectives and programmatic elements. it is only one of multiple. Yet when deradicalization is even a f ormal element of such initiatives. priorities and objectives. it seems to be the case that interest in the programs has thus far spawned f ar more commentary than actual research. T he result has been. to ef f ectively ascertain. Ok. Only some of these programs try to achieve this through “de-radicalization” (signif icantly. and they have made suf f icient progress through their participation in the program. supported by the University of Maryland’s START consortium. some of the most ef f ective programs (e. T his can take years. Af ter all.453) description of a dif f erent challenge. not days. values and prior level of commitment to the terrorist group in part a product of continued adherence to this new role and identity. T hey are not just diverse and context-specif ic but the more successf ul and ambitious initiatives themselves adapt to changing environments. psychotherapy or through ef f orts at promoting restorative justice either during an individual’s detention (e. And many are indeed highly ef f ective. Instead we suggested “risk reduction” programs. deradicalization is thought to be more or less the emergent quality of some combination of these. or months. In f act. p. At its most basic the idea of deradicalization exists within a context of rehabilitation. In 2010. Sabaoon in North West Pakistan) emphasize the need to equip participants with vocational training. In part this is to enable them to play a constructive role in their communities. .

were bystanders in torture. ideally in the design phase such that f ar more ef f ective evaluation processes and procedures can be built into the core design of such programs. engaging with overcrowded prisoners might appear an “elegant solution”. active participants in torture. And still. noting: “On the whole. f rom the mundane to the horrif ic. If anything it might actually spur practitioners to take discussions about evaluation and ef f ectiveness (and engagement with those who know about evaluation) f ar more seriously than themselves retreating behind the ‘it’s complicated’ def ense. my colleagues and I have f ound that f ormer terrorists were deeply engaged in the gamut of activities. Looking Ahead In a recent article with my colleague Mary Beth Altier. subsequently participating in beheadings. .136) some programs are borne out of sheer necessity – when simply nothing else seems to work.It’s possible that the ‘f addishness’ of these programs (likely a view held not just by Neumann but others too) may ref lect little more than the short-term interests of some who study terrorism. In more than one program currently operational in Pakistan. not just desirable. T he more pressing challenge here is to bring about active partnerships much earlier in the process. Some of these boys were deeply committed and ideologically equipped. but there is much more to do. successf ul or otherwise”. T hat is not to say there have not been examples of outstanding research on these issues f rom a psychological perspective. and it rarely gets more serious than that. but an important principle is in identif ying a shared sense of priorities with mutually benef icial principles of engagement and its value made clear. no matter how ef f ective could ever be “the” answer to all participants even within a specif ic context but the point remains the same – discourse surrounding the presumed ef f ectiveness of these programs is one that is being driven not by empirical research into the programs themselves but commentary around what is assumed of these programs and what (we think) they do. If these programs are to have a f uture. Little surprise theref ore that much of that commentary. isn’t always precise. In recent years. there is f ar less concern about having a transparent set of psychological principles underpinning whatever temporary solution is called on to achieve a quick f ix. p. f ar earlier engagement between practitioners and academics would ensure that evaluation is not merely an af terthought taking center stage in def ending against negative publicity. It’s possible that Burke was ref erring to ef f orts to de-radicalize leadership f igures. journalist Jason Burke shared his concerns. we explain why terrorism risk reduction programs can expect a rough ride ahead. f orced to witness the beheading of soldiers. Undoubtedly. outcomes and their measures. In such cases. an apparent loss of popularity may not actually be a bad thing. It may also. Perhaps the most obvious complaint is the f act that ef f orts at evaluation tend to be expressed via prescriptive commentary (limited interviews with program representatives is typically the most one can expect) than data-driven empirical ef f orts closely tied to programmatic objectives. their methodologies. and to echo Gregory Johnsen (2012. however. that kind of engagement will likely prove necessary. considerable potential has become evident f rom discussions about terrorism in the context of f orensic psychology. data and other f eatures. no attempt is made to deradicalise the most committed extremists. but when it occurs it more of ten than not is delivered when considered ‘saf e’ to do so –when a program appears to be producing successf ul results. Yet they were all deeply committed and engaged in plots. Not only is meaningf ul access limited. particularly those…who were involved in serious plots. In an article published several weeks ago in the Guardian newspaper. but it is unrealistic to think that any program. and have prepared f or suicide bombing missions (with more than one changing his mind at the very last second). How that engagement might occur is unclear. seriously ref lect lack of meaningf ul access to those programs. In time. T he boys and adolescents participating in risk reduction programs: trained in f irearms and munitions. Yet we cannot escape a major bottleneck. while the majority was not.

it’s little wonder that the idea of terrorist de-radicalization remains so controversial when in the absence of transparency and in some cases even just getting basic f acts right. the challenges f aced by practitioners who staf f these programs border on overwhelming on a daily basis. and both cause extensive victimization of innocents. Of f enders f rom both areas are of ten highly motivated. with Routledge). — Professor John Horgan is at the School of Criminology and Justice Studies at UMass Lowell where he will also direct its new Center for Terrorism & Security Studies (launching 24 September 2013). T he inverse is undoubtedly true. not at the end. Given this and other pressing needs. T his essentially f ocuses on the maintenance of behavioral changes by anticipating and coping with the problem of relapse. Oxford University Press) and the forthcoming The Psychology of Terrorism 2nd Edition (due early 2014. socially challenging to deal with. To be f air then. And those partnerships will be unlikely to be meaningf ul without systematic engagement f rom academia. In a 2011 book chapter. T his has to be caref ully f orged through partnerships f rom the outset. In some cases this has led to the f ormation of child-centric risk reduction units. Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict and others. because. Children have increasingly been the target of terrorist recruiters f or years now yet the situation both in Pakistan and especially Af ghanistan is becoming more dire with each passing month. the more muddled the f indings tended to be.T here is considerably more to learn f rom areas that on the surf ace appear too dif f erent to be of use. It is possible that the process owes less to ideological ties and more to social bonds with f ormer comrades. In journalist Amanda Ripley’s original 2008 Time magazine article on de-radicalization. critically. Whatever we choose to call these programs. someone appears to “just do it”. where in the absence of any ideological commitment. considering the relevance of CBT strategies has to be another area f or f uture exploration. SOT Ps use Cognitive Behavior T herapies (CBT ) and f ocus on relapse prevention. . they will struggle to retain their once bright f uture if devoid of evaluation. Max Taylor and I argued that Sex Of f ender Treatment programs (SOT Ps) have much in common with programs to manage terrorist behavior. Outside a potentially distracting though self -inf licted media glare. We still know very little about what f actors contribute to terrorist recidivism and what we could otherwise term spontaneous re-engagement. He is Special Editions Editor of Terrorism and Political Violence and serves on the editorial boards of such journals as Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. CBT f rameworks of f er opportunities to develop empirically verif iable behavior change strategies as well as enabling systematic outcome assessment. A growing reality is the increased presence of children in these programs. we oversimplif y and embrace quick judgments about whether these programs are ef f ective or not. she said of attempting to decipher progress on terrorist psychology that the better the study. He books include Divided We Stand: The Strategy and Psychology of Ireland’s Dissident Terrorists (2013.