Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Domestic terrorism

The evidence presented to the Manukau District Court on the Tuhoe Terrorists or 'Guerillas in the mist' revealed in the Dominion Post this morning quite clearly shows that these people were modelling themselves on Al Qaeda or the IRA.

Even if the apparent ease with which authorities monitored their rather teenage enthusiasm for mayhem indicates that these people were always more of a threat to themselves and their friends and family than they ever were to society the fact is that the intention to terrorise New Zealand was there.

Why?

There is a world of difference between the business violence of criminal gangs and the anarchic violence of terrorists. Criminal gangs are essentially into making money by pushing the edges of civil society. But without the boundaries of civil society they are out of business. If cannabis were legalised the criminal gangs would soon lose their market share to well-heeled corporates. Criminal gangs rely on the Police to keep the rest of society in line so they can maximise their advantages at the boundaries.

By contrast terrorists like the IRA, INLA, RAF, the Nazis, Hamas or El Qaeda are at war with the state. They will mimic criminal gangs in their methods but their objective is not to get rich and retire (like Michael Corleone) but to destroy the soveriegn organisation of a nation and replace it with another. They are fundamentally opposed to some of the structures on which the United Nations rests.

The motivation of criminal gangs is simple: greed, anger and lust, are the main deadly sins. But the motivation of terrorists is almost always based on a belief that negotiation with a state is impossible. That the only way to bring the state to negotiate is to kill people and blow things up.

Why do Tuhoe believe they cannot negotiate with the Crown?

Well the fact is the Crown has been cynically stiffing Maori since Labour came to power in 1999. The Treaty negotiation process started by Doug Graham has stalled and Labour has allowed the treasury to deliberately exploit the delays to the State's advantage. The good will which existed in the 90s has evaporated to a rather deep frost and Maori are bloody angry.

The good news is Maori are not really interested in terrorism. It is obvious that these would be terrorists were penetrated by informants and skeptics a very long time ago. These informants and skeptics were obviously crucial to planting the bugs that gathered the evidence presented in court. Some of these informants may be Police informants anyway, while others were simply scared by the enormous stupidity of trying to start a guerilla war in their own back yard.
But the bad news is there is no indication that the Government has learned a thing from this unusual conspiracy. To date its sole reaction has been to propose increasing the powers of the Minister in charge of the SIS (The PM) and amend the fatally flawed terrorism legislation it pushed through. None of this addresses the issue.

Look at it this way. If the terrorists had got off the ground and you were given the job of eliminating them how would you go about it?

The nation with the most success in defeating terrorism is Great Britain. It defeated the Malay insurgents, the Yemeni insurgents in the Aden and the IRA/INLA.

How?

In every case it simply made not fighting more profitable than fighting. In the case of the IRA/INLA it was more the success of the Bertie Ahern government in attracting direct inward investment to the Republic than the success of MI5/6 and the Paras that stopped the bombings and killings. In the other two cases the counter-insurgency force combined rapid armed response and enlisting local support (in a way the Americans so spectacularly failed to do in Vietnam) to deny the terrorists the hearts and minds support they desperately needed.
So if your mission had been to deal with Tuhoe terrorists one of the most important steps you would have to take would have been to isolate them by providing an alternative form of hope.

One could say that such a step plays into the hands of terrorists, but in fact it doesn't. Terrorists are people who want to spread terror. They like bombing and killing. They will only get support if it seems (in the famous phrase of Margaret Thatcher) There IS No Alternative. If there is an alternative to the bitter business of civil war most people will opt for it.

This is where the role of the executive and the guardian of the constitution (and commander of the defence force) need careful consideration.

In my view the defence force has a legitimate role in combating terror - homegrown or otherwise. Its role is the big stick. The role of the Police, however should be to be the ones who talk softly. The Police should not be playing stormtroopers. The only time you need anyone with automatic weapons and body armour is when someone is actually shooting people. If they are terrorists then the armed forces are the experts and should be called upon.

How does one distinguish between criminals and terrorists? In my view it is actually quite simple. Terrorists are illegally armed with military style weapons such as machine guns and including biological weapons (that kill stock, crops or their biological support structures), WMDs, Molotov cocktails and bombs. Criminals are armed with illegal pesticides, pistols, shotguns and hunting rifles. The difference is the terror of indiscriminate mass murder or economic sabotage instead of criminal murder. If you have equipped yourself with weapons of mass murder you are a terrorist. This cuts through all the legal palaver about who formed an intent to do what when and how. It means Police deal with assassins with hunting rifles and the military take down anyone armed to carry out indiscriminate killing. Certainly this might make terrorists of criminal gangs but frankly I cannot see why anyone would want to argue for the right of the Mongrol Mob to carry machine guns or make fertiliser bombs. Similarly while the executive may consider assassinations terrorism the average person regards has little patience with "l'etat, c'est mois" type declarations and regards them as simple murder of one individual by another.

However the guardian of the constitution should only deply the big stick when the state is actually threatened and, moreover, should also consider removing the chief executive if their policies are contributing to the instability. Their interest is solely to preserve the state as an institution.

There is no doubt that terrorism is a new kind of warfare that requires a very deep reconsideration between the rights of citizens to dissent and the ability of the state to preserve the rule of law. New Zealand is not alone in being tested in this regard and there should be a good deal more debate about it than there has been to date.