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TerrorismIntelligence analysts warn of emerging “ungoverned spaces”
There already exists a lot of research on the topic, but intelligence analysts are warning that the salience of “ungoverned spaces” is rising as a result of developments in two areas. ISIS (in Syria and Iraq) and Boko Haram (in Nigeria) operate as overseers of large swaths of territory, but bring chaos and savagery to the areas under their control. These territories now function as terrorist havens, but they could soon become “external operations platform” from which attacks on the West could be launched.
There already exists a lot of research on the topic, but intelligence analysts are warning that the salience of “ungoverned spaces” is rising as a result of developments in two areas.
As NBC News reports, ISIS (in Syria and Iraq) and Boko Haram (in Nigeria) operate as overseers of large swaths of territory, but bring chaos and savagery to the areas under their control.
Mike Leiter, the former director of the National Counter Terrorism Center, told the news service, “It’s certainly a problem and an area that the U.S. government is particularly challenged in addressing.”
The main worry of intelligence services is that because the areas controlled by the two organizations now function as terrorist havens, they could soon become “external operations platform” from which attacks on the West could be launched.
In response, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has begun more closely to monitoring twelve countries in which the potential for ungoverned space exists. Included on this list are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Mauretania, Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia.
“The big question is, are these ‘sharia states’ inward-looking or launch points for international terrorism?” asks David Phillips, a director at Columbia University’s Center on Human Rights. “I would count them (ISIS and Boko Haram) as inward looking, not capable of launching an attack on New York, not having the financing, more ideologically committed to jihad and development of military skills. That is a different level of threat.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saw it differently, however, when he said that ISIS is “beyond anything we have seen,” and that the group could pose a greater threat in the long-term than al Qaeda. Added to this is the view of other counterterrorism experts that the longer these spaces remain ungoverned, the more robust the terrorist infrastructures within them that could be created.
This threat could lead to military operations by the United States in these areas, but as Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University, pointed out, the U.S. intelligence community does not have the best track record of predicting developments in areas such as theses.
Ultimately, more analysis will offer more knowledge and insight, making security services better prepare for the next wave of terrorism, consisting of new actors operating from new places.