Good morning, and greetings from Washington, DC. The Soufan Center is one of the leading international organizations focused on counterterrorism, and I congratulate you on once again putting together an excellent agenda for this year’s Global Security Forum. While I regret not being able to join you in person, I am sure this session’s esteemed panelists are in good hands with Peter’s skillful moderation. I also want to thank our Qatari hosts, with whom the United States – and particularly the Counterterrorism Bureau – have enjoyed strong cooperation for many years.
As we consider the evolution of the Global Security Landscape over the past year, it is useful to consider how the past informs the future. In the 20 years since 9/11, the United States has developed a robust national security infrastructure that has successfully prevented further attacks on the scale of those we saw on September 11
But the terrorist threat has evolved and metastasized over the years, and our efforts to counter it will necessarily continue to evolve and adapt as well. The Biden Administration has highlighted three core counterterrorism principles that will drive our efforts.
First, the Administration is committed to keeping pace with the changing landscape through a clear-eyed recognition that the terrorist threats we faced in 2001 are not the same as the threats we face today. The threats of tomorrow will also undoubtedly pose new challenges, and we must remain flexible and agile to meet them.
The rise of racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism, or REMVE, is a stark reminder of how quickly the landscape can change. According to the FBI, REMVE actors who advocate for the superiority of the white race were the primary source of lethal extremist attacks in the United States in 2018 and 2019. The UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee reported a 320 percent increase worldwide in what it termed “extreme right-wing terrorism” in the five years prior to 2020. We are all familiar with the deadly attacks in Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom that were tied to REMVE actors.
The transnational linkages between and among REMVE individuals and groups are troubling. These individuals are increasingly connected, online and across borders, and are sharing ideas, ideologies, and tactics.
The challenges presented by the REMVE threat today are clearly different than the ones presented by al-Qa’ida fifteen years ago. The lack of clear command and control structures and the prevailing use of sophisticated encryption technology and cryptocurrencies make these semi-formal networks challenging to identify and disrupt.
Fortunately, many of the tools we’ve developed over the years to counter ISIS, al Qa’ida, and other regional and global terrorist groups – from sanctions to watchlisting to prosecution – are threat neutral and we are applying them to the emerging REMVE threat.
For example, in 2020 the United States designated the Russian Imperial Movement a terrorist organization. Employing these terrorist designations – sometimes referred to as “naming and shaming” – enables us to expose and isolate organizations and individuals and disrupt their terrorist activities, including by limiting their access to the U.S. financial system and facilitating certain U.S. law enforcement actions. In addition to our designation, Finland, Germany, Greece, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom also banned, sanctioned or otherwise restricted other REMVE groups and individuals in 2020.
In addition to applying time-tested tools, we have also adapted our approaches to meet this changing threat. For instance, we are leveraging international platforms such as the Strong Cities Network to build awareness and political will among local governments about the REMVE threat. Through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, we have introduced international government and law enforcement officials to strategies used by the U.S. Government and private sector to prevent attacks on public gathering places and other soft targets, such as houses of worship, which can be targeted by REMVE actors. We have also increased awareness among foreign audiences by amplifying the testimony of “formers” through speaker programs. These are individuals who were previously involved in REMVE, have realized the error of their ways, and are now uniquely qualified and motivated to dissuade others from becoming radicalized to violence
We have also developed more tailored guidance for counterterrorism practitioners on how to most effectively address the REMVE threat. We worked closely with the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ) to produce a criminal justice practitioners’ manual for REMVE that was released in the summer of 2021. The IIJ will use this guide in training courses for judges, prosecutors, and other law enforcement personnel.
The Biden Administration’s second core counterterrorism principle is the need to integrate our global counterterrorism efforts into the broader range of evolving national security challenges – from countering cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, to managing pandemic disease and bio threats, to strengthening an international system based on democratic values..
We acknowledge that addressing these challenges will require us to make hard choices about priorities and resources. We remain laser focused on countering the most dangerous threats to our country and protecting the U.S. homeland from terrorist attacks. However, in light of a more diverse array of terrorist threats and other global challenges, international cooperation to counter terrorism is now more important than ever.. A few key lessons learned in the fight against ISIS illustrate this point.
A successful CT approach is one that actively involves and includes our many partners and allies around the world. The 83-member D-ISIS Coalition is an excellent example of a multilateral CT platform that leverages the tools and capabilities of countries around the globe against a common enemy. As we look to confront the expanding ISIS networks in the continent of Africa, D-ISIS Coalition members have recognized this is a threat we must tackle together and that we must fight global problems like terrorism with global solutions. The Coalition will also leverage its experience and expertise against the ISIS-Khorasan threat emanating from Afghanistan.
The international effort to prevent terrorist travel is another key lesson resulting from the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters traveling to Iraq and Syria to fight for ISIS. The development and adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2396 in late 2017 has paid tremendous dividends in making the world a safer place. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to build upon such successful initiatives.
Finally, the third core counterterrorism principle espoused by the Administration calls for a greater investment in a broad set of tools and capabilities, including diplomacy, development, and prevention efforts that leverage international partnerships and capacity building to avert threats before they become imminent.
The Administration is committed to using diplomacy as our first line of defense, and to using our military only when necessary to disrupt imminent threats to our nation. To respond to threats before they become imminent, we need a sustainable approach flexible enough to detect, identify, and respond to threats before they reach an inflection point that threatens the United States or its allies and partners.
In a more resource constrained counterterrorism environment, we also need our partners to take on a greater share of the CT burden. We recognize that some countries do not yet have the capabilities needed to play a significant counterterrorism role. Where appropriate, we will help them bolster their ability to tackle terrorist threats on their own and will also seek to leverage our more capable partners to contribute to providing funding, training and expertise to key front-line states.
At the State Department, one outstanding example of our efforts to build partner capacity is the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, a signature counterterrorism initiative of the Obama-Biden Administration, launched in 2015. The CTPF has yielded significant, real-world results.
CTPF-trained units around the world have uncovered and disrupted terrorist plots and brought terrorist leaders and operatives to justice. Through CTPF and other CT Bureau funding lines, we have trained prison officials on the management of terrorist inmates, strengthened the connectivity of countries in Africa and the Middle East to INTERPOL databases, and provided the cutting-edge PISCES border security system to numerous partners.
One recent example is worth highlighting. In 2020 we helped establish the first international Joint Terrorism Task Force in partnership with the FBI and Kenyan law enforcement and intelligence services. That investment is already paying dividends and will be doing so for years to come. JTTF-Kenya has already enjoyed excellent success in its brief history, including assisting with the identification and deportation of a U.S. citizen who flew to Kenya after joining the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
The United States is also one of the top contributors to the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund – known as GCERF – the global fund that supports prevention efforts in countries such as Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria, and North Macedonia. Instead of international donors stepping over each other to support their own projects in these countries, they are pooling their resources together to support bottom-up solutions to radicalization and recruitment to violence. We thank our host Qatar, in particular, for being a strong partner and supporter of GCERF.
In conclusion, the evolving terrorist landscape requires flexibility and a continued commitment to working together to effectively prevent radicalization and terrorist violence. While the lessons we have learned over the previous decades will play a key role moving forward, we must remain vigilant and able to adapt quickly if we are to successfully meet the threats of tomorrow.
Thank you again for the invitation to share some thoughts with you today.