All posts by Dr Helene Lavoix

Dr Helene Lavoix (MFin Paris, MSc PhD Lond), Director and Senior Analyst, is the founder of The Red (team) Analysis Society and a political scientist (International Relations) specialised in Strategic Foresight and Warning (SF&W) for conventional and unconventional security issues. She is the author of “What makes foresight actionable: the cases of Singapore and Finland” (confidential commissioned report, US government, November 2010), “Enabling Security for the 21st Century: Intelligence & Strategic Foresight and Warning” RSIS Working Paper August 2010, “Constructing an Early Warning System,” in From Early Warning to Early Action, European Commission, ed. DG Relex, 2008, “Detailed chronology of mass violence – Cambodia (1945 – 1979),” Online Encyclopaedia of mass violence, 2008 and the editor of Strategic Foresight and Warning: Navigating the Unknown, ed. RSIS-CENS, February 2011; etc. More on academia.edu. Listed on the public list curated by LSEImpactBlog: @LSEImpactBlog/soc-sci-academic-tweeters.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 192

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals…

Read the 26 February scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. 

The information collected is crowdsourced. It does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 192 – Denying the Islamism of the Islamic State

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

Read the 19 February scan  

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – The focus this week stems from the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism currently held in Washington D.C. (see White House Fact sheet).

First, in a very “Washingtonian” way, the summit leads to the publication of a host of reports and articles, as think tanks, newspapers, researchers, experts and pundits try to have their voices heard by policy-makers, some of them having been crowd-sourced here and worth checking and reading.

Second, the summit forces the various actors to face an issue that had been pregnant, but in a rather unsaid way, since at least the start of the US-led coalition strikes on the Islamic State. President Obama categorically refuses to state that the war and the focus of the summit is on “radical Islam”, or on “Islamism” (if we take both notions as equivalent), and the extremism it could breed, or more exactly on the Salafism practiced by the Islamic State. As a result, all reference to any kind of Islam, indeed any religion, are removed (see again, for example, the White House fact sheet). As pointed out in the Weekly featured article: “

The summit “will not focus on any particular religion, ideology or political movement and will, instead, seek to draw lessons that are applicable to the full spectrum of violent extremists,” White House national security spokesman Ned Price told Yahoo News. (Olivier Knox, “Obama’s ‘Crusades’ controversy highlights war on terrorism’s rhetorical minefield”, Yahoo News).

As a result, the summit will try to fight ideas and beliefs-based dynamics and goals with materialism and materialistic solutions… thus being completely prey to a specific ideology (stemming from modernity and modernisation, e.g. Max Weber and its “disenchantment of the world”, see Stanford Encycopediae of Philosophy), ironically! We are nowhere close to find even the beginning of answers if this programme is respected.

Followed from Obama declarations a very strong debate in the U.S. fought across actors, who position themselves for or against this approach, through their articles and reports.

Interestingly, it would seem that this refusal to consider specific religions echoes a similar phenomenon taking place at least in France. Following the atrocious beheading of twenty-one Egyptian Christian Copts in Libya, both France (click on links to access official statement) and the U.S. failed to mention that the victims were Christian Copts. The U.S. statement even emphasizes it is a “wanton killing of innocents”, and that “ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds.  It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity.” On the contrary, the European Union, did mention the victims were Christians, but killed “by terrorists.” The U.K., for its part, underlined both the real quality of the victims and of the perpetrators, “recognising that violent Islamist extremists pose a threat to both countries [Britain and Egypt].”

Whoever has read a transcript – if not watched the video considering the high degree of horror carried by the images – of the Islamic State psyops video on the mass assassination, which is titled “a message signed with blood to the nation of the cross” is in no doubt that those killed were not selected randomly but killed because they were Christians. The full transcript by Michael S. Smith II- but with images – can be found on Downrange. For those who wish to avoid the images here are some extracts:

The people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian Church. (showing the victims) “All praise is due to Allah, the strong and mighty. And may blessings and peace be upon the ones sent by the sword as a mercy for the worlds.”… “O Crusaders, safety for you will be only wishes, especially when you’re fighting us all together. Therefore, we will fight you all together, until the war lays down its burdens, and Jesus, peace be upon him, will descend, breaking the cross, killing the swine and abolishing jiziyah. And the sea you’ve hidden Sheikh Usama bin Laden’s body in, we swore to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”…”And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him.” (Michael S. Smith II, “IS in Libya threatens Rome” Downrange).

Whoever has read any of the psyops product by the Islamic State or watched any of its video, or followed the war in Iraq and Syria or Libya is in no doubt about their religious aims.

Why, thus, are we faced with such a denial from at least France and the U.S.? This attitude is all the more absurd and incomprehensible that, Egypt not only recognises the risks created by an extremist Islam, for example when its President al-Sisi courageously addresses the Al-Azhar Islamic University in Cairo with his “We Must Revolutionize Our Religion” (Memri transcript, 28 December 2014). Meanwhile Egypt also recognises Christian Copts as part of the national community by declaring a week of national mourning (e.g. Hana Levi Julian, 16 February 2015, The Jewish Press). Neither Jordan nor Egypt hesitate to ask the U.N. to lift the arms embargo on Libya to fight an extremist Islam. So far, it seems that only Qatar strongly protested against Egyptian retaliatory strikes in Libya (Tunisia however opposes intervention). Most states where Muslims live are part of the US-led coalition to fight the Islamic State. We should not either forget that the first victims in terms of numbers of the Islamic State are Muslims and that they are those on the front line fighting it. Thus, this denial of reality does not make any sense.

Removing an absolutely crucial component of an enemy’s worldview, strategy, and as a result tactics and operations is at best absurd, at worst dangerous. It will hinder analysis as many will not dare to go “against” governments, and potentially stop proper answers, notably those that are not military, but must be endeavoured, as pointed out, for example, in the latest National Security Network report (see the Weekly). It also puts populations even more at risk as, without doubt, the Islamic State will want to have its message heard and will send it again and again, in its horrific way.

Finally, it is also a loss opportunity, to show that all faiths and “non faiths” can join and work and fight together against a common enemy, whatever its beliefs.

Could it also be a weak signal, if nothing changes, that the American leadership of the US-led coalition might become, with time, imperilled?

Economy – To the uncertainty regarding Greece, the Euro and Europe we already underlined last week, we can add new, or rather continuing, bad news regarding Japan.

Energy and environment security – Dr Daum identifies a renewal of interest for nuclear energy, despite controversies, as “some prominent environmental veterans are leading a discussion about nuclear power as a climate change solution.  This includes a renewed discussion about Nuclear Power in Australia.” Meanwhile, “Wind energy is on the increase. Yet, this energy is not without problem either as an article this week discusses how the design of some wind turbines might be selectively killing migratory bats”.

He also points out that “in addition to green house gasses, very short-lived substances (VSLS), which are not controlled by UN treaty, and whose increasing concentrations might impact the ozone layer (Science Daily).

On the politics of climate change, “The International Institute for Environment and Development noted that progress at the climate talks in Geneva has been a good start for the upcoming climate talks in Paris and may result in a fair deal for developing countries.”

Tech & Weapons – Notably, an interesting article (with a glitch in the link which should actually be this one http://passcode.csmonitor.com/planx) explains what is Plan X, or the Darpa (Pentagone) 4 years programme to give “cyberwarriors “instantaneous knowledge of the fact [their] network is being attacked.”

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Update – Islamic State Psyops – Dar al-Islam 2 and Dabiq 7

(update of “The Islamic Pysops – A Framework“, which sets the stage for our series on the Islamic State psyops, their targets, aims, as well as the mindset behind them.)

The Al-Hayat Media Center started producing a new magazine with France as target audience, Dar al Islam, at the end of December 2014. The second issue has been released yesterday, most probably at the same time as Dabiq 7 (dates of release identified from Islamist fora and twitter threads).

dar al islam, ISIS, psyops, Islamic State, ISIL, DaeshDar al-Islam #2: Qu’Allah maudisse la France, 12 February 2015 (pdf from archive.org) – Issue focused on the January attacks in France.

Dar al-Islam #1: L’Etat Islamique étend son territoire, 22 December 2014 (pdf from archive.org).

Dabiq #7: From Hypocrisy to Apostasy: The Extinction of the Grey Zone (21 Feb 2015: Pdf availble now here – removed from archive.org for content related issues: pdf from archive.org – heavy file 89.4MB), 12 February 2015. – note that Dabiq is also available in epub and kindle format (!)

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 191 – Minsk and the Probability of War

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

Read the 12 February scan  

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – In terms of major issues, increasingly, one week looks very much like the next, as matters get entrenched. However, within each issue, problems emerge, evolve and sometimes coalesce.

Joseph Nye, in his small but excellent book Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History, wrote in a part aptly named The Funnel of Choices:

“Events close in over time, degrees of freedom are lost and the probability of war increases. But the funnel of choices available to leaders might open up again, and degrees of freedom could be regained…. ” (p. 68)

This is exactly what we witnessed today in Minsk, a few degrees of freedom were regained by the leaders as the agreement was signed (see the scan for a choice of various media’s reporting on the agreement, as well as the text – in Russian, use Chrome for translation or read unofficial English translation by Slavyangrad.org).

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 191 – Minsk and the Probability of War

The Islamic State Psyops – Ultimate War

The dreadful burning alive of the captive Jordanian pilot by the Islamic State and its video broadcast by Al-Furqan Media Foundation, as well as the reactions it succeeded in eliciting, such as Jordan’s retaliations (e.g. ISIS Study Group, 3 Feb 2015; BBC News, 6 February 2015), show once more the crucial importance to fully consider the Islamic State psyops as they are completely part of the war it wages and of the order it thus aims at establishing.

These psyops, beyond the influence they aim at generating (see “A Framework“), offer us a way inside the Islamic State and its Khilafah’s worldview.  Understanding the latter is crucial is we want to fight the Islamic State victoriously, because its belief system and induced actions impact all other actors, be they Jihadis or not, affiliated to the Islamic State or not. This is thus the second part of our analysis of the Islamic State’s worldview and of its impact (part 1 “Worlds War“).

We shall first show that the Islamic State’s belief-system deeply questions and changes the perception of what is domestic and what is foreign, then that it destroys the very notion of civilians and non-combatants. We shall then draw conclusions regarding the type  of war that is emerging as a result of the Islamic State’s Weltanschauung (German philosophical concept referring to the deep underlying conception of the world held by one or many actors) – with potential tremendous impact for us in terms of vision, strategy and warfare – knowing that those findings will need to be refined and eventually revised as the war unfolds and as actors evolve and change.  Continue reading The Islamic State Psyops – Ultimate War

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 190 – The Islamic State, Puppet Master of Emotions

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – This week was overwhelmingly dominated by three main issues, the horrendous burning alive of the Jordanian pilot by the Islamic State, its use as psyops products, and more largely the war against the Islamic State, the never abating tension between North America and Europe on the one hand, Russia on the other, along the Ukrainian conflict (with an unusual number of videos on the situation within Ukraine) and the showdown between the new Greek government and the EU (see more details in the economy section, although the potential impacts go much beyond the economy).

Before to review in detail the interpretations of the murderous execution of the Jordanian pilot to try to make sense of it, we shall point out three articles that are of particular interest. First, Khalil al-Anani underlines crucial dynamics taking place notably within the Muslim Brotherhood, “The ISIS-ification of Islamist politics” (Washington Post). Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 190 – The Islamic State, Puppet Master of Emotions

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 189 – Why an anti-Russian “Western” Foreign Policy?

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – With the return of war to Eastern Ukraine, we are witnessing an interesting effort by some authors to try to make sense of a US-led foreign policy and analysis of the world that does not appear to make sense to them, besides, of course, the host of usual anti-Russian articles.

The articles in The American Interest  (“Putin’s World: In It To Win It” by Walter Russell Mead) and Salon (“Distortions, lies and omissions: The New York Times won’t tell you the real story behind Ukraine, Russian economic collapse” by Patrick Smith), although each with their own points, have in common an interrogation regarding the current extremely anti-Russian and anti-Putin policy, notably as far as Ukraine is concerned. Their effort at finding a rational answer somehow echoes Mearsheimer’s attempt at making peacefully and rationally sense of the same issue by using International Relations theory in Foreign Affairs (Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault” Sept Oct 2014). Similarly, Robert Jervis, the famous International Relations scholar, father of the study of perceptions in world politics, when surveyed by Foreign Affairs (Who Is at Fault in Ukraine? Nov 2014), strongly disagreed with the fact that Putin was responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 189 – Why an anti-Russian “Western” Foreign Policy?

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 188 – Beyond the Positivity Mindset, the Islamic State and a Map

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – Foreign ministers of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State are meeting in London, as “much more [than air strikes] needed to be done”, according to British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. According to the BBC, the aim is “to find ways to halt the flow of recruits to IS, cut off its funding and “tackle the underlying narrative”. In the meantime, the successes of the coalition’s strategy are also emphasized, as is regularly stated by most governments, including by U.S. President Obama in his State of the Union address.

Yet, facts on the ground tend, to the least, to question this relative optimism, even if governments officials are careful to use cautious words and statements, as shown, for example, by the excellent updated maps published regularly on Pietervanostayen website (and accessible each in a large format) and made by Thomas van Linge (@arabthomness). We are displaying here the 15 January versions of the maps together (approximately merged), rather than separately with Iraq on the one hand and Syria on the other, as it better reflects the reality on the ground, and helps perception. The merged version (click here to access a larger merged map) notably shows the probable impossibility of dealing with the Islamic State if considering the Iraqi battlefield only and thus underlines the very real complexity of having to consider the Syrian diplomatic quagmire on top of war.

map Iraq Syria 15 jan 2015 sc
Merging of the two 15 January 2015 maps by Thomas van Linge – @arabthomness – from Pietervanostayen website

Considering the various allegiances to the Islamic State, and the various wars and fightings taking place from West Africa to Pakistan, as abundantly documented in the crowd-sourced articles, the same mapping effort needs to be repeated on a larger scope.

Undoubtedly, the various state instances, notably military and intelligence, involved within the coalition use such maps.

But then, would it not be time that governments (understood in the European sense of the word, as distinct from state), if they truly want to do much more than strikes, in a successful and meaningful way, including when trying to stem the flow of foreign fighters, as they most certainly know the situation on the ground, stop first the “communication” tack according to which everything must be positive and reassuring and nice, and only specific parts of the truth are told? True enough, their discourse could be part of a real need for secrecy and of counter-psyops operation, rather than part of PR and politician communication. Yet, in both cases, in the age of the internet, anyone can work out that such a message is just, at best, not exactly representative.

Systematically emphasising and hyping only what is positive is likely to backfire in many different ways, from loss of legitimacy to polarization to adverse cognitive impact on all actors, including analysts, who can always fall prey to the fear to tell the truth.

Even if we are not yet there (at least from the point of view of some in the coalition, as Syrians and Iraqis, or Lebanese, or Jordanians among so many others would probably say and feel in their everyday life otherwise), could we imagine Churchill making similar statements during the Blitz or when Singapore fell to Japan, which did not stop then a remarkable use of decoy and propaganda, true enough before the existence of the internet?

Alternatively, a better, but more pessimistic, reference might be the speech “Air Parity Lost” given by Churchill at the House of Commons on  2 May 1935 (everything being equal, as the problem here is not evidently loss of air power):

“Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

Meanwhile, check also a number of articles on Ukraine considering the tensions that just flared up again, with, as apparent major difference, compared with the pre-Minsk agreement period, an American and European political class that might be less inclined into following Ukrainian statements regarding alleged open Russian aggression in the Donbass, as peace is of primary import, on the contrary from many mainstream media. Tensions however remain.

Economy – An excellent article by Dr Odette Lienau from Cornell University on her latest book explaining why “It’s time we reconsider(ed) the principle that states must always repay their sovereign debt” (LSE Blog). It also points out the dangers for understanding to fail to pay attention to the meaning and construction of norms as well as to history.

Energy and environment security – Dr Keith Daum more particularly pointed out the need to monitor “how the appointment of Magnusdottir as Minister of the Environment of Iceland might influence the agreement Iceland signed with China last year to allow increased access to the Arctic. It is important to watch how this appointment may alter or clarify the current political pathway.”

He then outlined a number of articles addressing the problem of dissenting opinions on climate change and the need to consider them, beyond one’s initial position. “First, NOAA recently published information that 2014 was the warmest year on record. However, Dr. Roy Spencer had an alternative analysis and also deserves to be read, notably because he has some basis for that disagreement. Meanwhile, an article this week pointed out the potential biases from omissions of data, while another stressed how challenges, such as those related to the oceans can be overstated. For the ICCP, NOAA and other narratives to stay resilient, it is important to address dissension in the open, acknowledging what is useful and using data to show errors in analysis.”

Science – Some interesting conclusions regarding the ability “to predict the future” as identified by the still ongoing “geopolitical forecasting tournament” organised by the U.S. Intelligence are summarized in Quartz “Some people really are better at predicting the future. Here are the traits they have in common”: part gift, part work and proper methodology, as well as team work.

Tech & Weapons Two articles stand out this week. First, one on “New method to generate arbitrary optical pulses” (Science Codex), which could have impact on laser-based weapons. Second, Google’s massive investment in SpaceX (NPR) not only enhances the odds of seeing an “Internet Access For All” but has also multiple potential impacts, from the spread of propaganda and mobilization to remain with a current topic, to the overall area of space security.

Ebola – A potentially unfavourable piece of information emerged this week, regarding the genome of the current Ebola strain. The virus mutated compared with the previous epidemic, which might question the usefulness of the various drugs being currently prepared. As a result, the uncertainty surrounding the epidemic and its potential futures increases. According to the WHO latest situation report, we now have a total of 21689 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of EVD and 8626 deaths … reported up to the end of 18 January 2014.”

Read the 22 January scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Islamic State Psyops – Worlds War

The world is increasingly racked, and with an ever wider geographical scope, by “Jihadis” attacks of various if not complex origin. To name only some of the most reported and latest cases, we faced attacks in Belgium, Canada, Australia, and lately France – with aftermath in Germany (11 January 2015The Telegraph). In Lebanon we had an attack in Tripoli (10 January 2015, BBC News) and the north of the country seems to be plunging into war. In Pakistan we remember the 16 December attack on a Peshawar School (BBC News, 13 January 2015), while the overall situation is increasingly unsettled and a former Taliban group, Khorassan Shoura, renewed its allegiance to the Islamic State in January 2015 (The Long War Journal, 13 Jan 2015). In Nigeria, two attacks were carried out by children suicide bombers on 10 and 11 January 2015 (The Guardian, 12 January 2015), and part of the northeast of the country seems to be now lost to Boko Haram,  affiliated to the Islamic State, while the conflict spreads to Cameroon (e.g. BBC News, 13 January 2015). In Saudi Arabia, we had an attack on border post on 5 January 2015 (Alessandria Masi, International Business Time). Meanwhile, the war heightens in Libya, which also has its own Islamic States actor (see forthcoming post in our series on Libya), reignites in Yemen (Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 12 January 2015), and does not relent in Iraq and Syria.

Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh
Still from the video “Although the disbelievers dislike it”, Al-Furqan media foundation, 16 November 2014.

In this light, and beyond the apparent diversity of origin of the attacks, it has become all the more urgent to understand the world as the Islamic State sees it, and in which way that worldview and related psyops and actions impact all other actors, be they Jihadis or not, affiliated to the Islamic State or not. This is crucial if we want to foresee what may happen, warn about it, and fight the war against the Islamic State at best.

Continue reading The Islamic State Psyops – Worlds War

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 187 – Freedom of Speech, the Other, and War

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – In the aftermath of the Jihadi attacks in Paris during the second week of 2015, a crucial debate surrounding freedom of speech is emerging. It is not only a philosophical and intellectual debate. It mobilizes populations across the world and can divide populations within countries, as show the exchanges on the social networks on the topic. It is translated in diplomatic terms, as show the decision of the Kingdom of Morocco not to participate to the march in Paris on 11 January, the 14 January reactions in the Middle East to the new issue of Charlie Hebdo, or the comments found in Russia and denounced in the West on the topic, and has the power to sour relationships between those who insist freedom of speech is a crucial foundation of their values and their democracy and those who feel deeply injured by its exercise. It can be used to mobilize and arm populations, notably by hostile powers, as the latest video by Al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula claiming the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, or as the Islamic State psyops video from Wilayat al-Raqqah show (see more generally all related videos on Jihadology.net) .

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 187 – Freedom of Speech, the Other, and War