Terrorism in Southeast Asia

There is little question that the rise of IS has dramatically changed the security landscape in Southeast Asia. This is particularly interesting considering the diverse political and social landscapes in the region.  Nonetheless, the threat of terrorism in Southeast Asia is not new and continues to mutate and evolve.  Thus, authorities’ adaptability and innovation are critical to countering such an evolving threat.

In 2014, a formal IS wing for terrorism in Southeast Asia, known as Katiba Nusantara, was established. In addition to planning attacks, they drive recruitment, dissemination of radical ideology, and training for IS.  The organisation’s training ground is in Indonesia. One reason it is so dangerous at present is that as IS loses territory, Katiba Nusantara will manage the returnees, bringing instability to the region.  They will have gained military experience and will be more armed with radical ideology and propaganda tactics to foster the building of networks at home.

In the past two years, we’ve witnessed a string of terror attacks in the region. The IS-inspired attacks in Jakarta in January 2016 were not unlike those witnessed in Europe the same year with the target of a crowded shopping mall rhyming with the IS-affiliated attack on London’s Borough Market or Barcelona’s La Rambla.  Similarly, the 2016 IS-affiliated attack in the Philippines killed 14 and wounded 70 at a crowded market, prompting President Duterte to escalate security measures.[1]

[1] See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/isis-islamic-state-davao-ph…

The appeal for IS among the Southeast Asian Muslim community varies by country. For instance, in Malaysia and Singapore, religious and ideological elements are most important. In Malaysia, the UNMO-led political system has contributed to the growth of religious conservatism and seeks to derive its legitimacy from its perceived religious integrity.[1]

In Indonesia, on the other hand, religion has remained somewhat more moderate, despite the long presence of a radical fringe. Kinship networks and group rivalries are more important in driving IS recruitment. Additionally, Indonesia’s radical Islamic establishment, Jemaah Islamiya, which was responsible for previous terror attacks in the Country, has publicly denounced IS due to ideological differences.

Governance of the Sulu Sea is another critical security weakness in the Southeast Asian region. These lawless waters have facilitated the movement of militants and terrorists. Alongside this, the area has developed its own breed of a vibrant economy mainly reliant on human and arms trafficking.[2]

States are undoubtedly taking the threat seriously and investing considerable resources towards security.  Malaysia has arrested 250 terror suspects between 2013 and 2016[3]. Since the 2002 Bali Bombings, the Indonesian Government has grown its counterterrorism capabilities, in particular its preemptive security apparatus. The country’s terrorism laws have been amended to aid authorities’ enhancement of preemptive (rather than purely reactive) capabilities.

For more information on security matters in the APAC region, contact Panoptic Solutions. We tailor risk assessments, threat assessments, and travel advice to you, your family, or your company. Fill out our contact form or e-mail us at info@panopticsolutions.com.

Security for Australia’s Former Prime Ministers

The assault on Tony Abbot from a campaigner brings our attention to the question of security for former PMs in Australia. Currently, they are not provided with permanent executive protection/close personal protection, or security details. At least in this incident, it is clear that Tony Abbot was under-protected.  The intoxicated assailant could easily have had and used a weapon.  Though not in the PM’s office, former PMs remain highly political symbols. This is likely true even if they are not involved in the public political discourse, unlike Tony Abbot.

While this incident underscores the reality of the risks former PMs face, it is somewhat unclear if they should be provided with tax-payer-funded, permanent security details. The Australian Prime Minister’s office tends to change frequently which would make a lifetime, publicly-funded security a significant financial burden and may also make it less necessary, assuming shorter-tenure equates to less post-office risk.[1]

Executive Protection & Security for Former PMs

In the United States, all former US presidents and First Ladies receive the lifetime protection of the Secret Service, though significantly scaled-down from time in office. One of the main justifications for this expenditure is under national security grounds. Due to their knowledge of national security secrets (without CIA training) and highly symbolic nature, their kidnapping by a foreign government or non-state actor would undoubtedly be national security catastrophe.  The same could be true for Australia’s former PMs, though the risk calculus may differ.

In Canada, security for former PMs equates to a drastic reduction in protective details, regardless of if they have a particularly public life.  This can be scaled up when there is a threat. When leaving office, the duty is transferred from the Prime Minister Protection Detail to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Divisional VIP Protection.[2] The issue is somewhat complicated in Canada due to the failure of official security to fully protect former PM Jean Chrétien from threats on two separate occasions (including a protest pie thrown in his face).[3]

Within Australia, one of the main reasons permanent security for former PMs is not provided is due to a limited number of appropriately trained Close Personal Protection Federal Police and the large cost to the taxpayer of increasing this resource.

This may provide a role for private security contractors with specific military, law enforcement, or diplomatic security experience similar to those employed and contracted within Panoptic Solutions executive protection teams to take up the job.  The high cost of AFP personnel is likely due to their extremely high training requirements and the lack of private-sector competition to bring down the price of all associated costs.[4]

Similar to other countries, former PMs could be provided with a scaled-down security detail from a private security firm, both protecting them from threats like those faced by Tony Abbot, and likely costing a fraction of the tax-payer dollars of a permanent Close Protection AFP detail.

For further information about executive protection in Australia and Asia-Pacific, fill out the Panoptic Solutions contact form or email info@panopticsolutions.com