By:Camron Moore Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:City Exhibitions and Special Events
Stopping Terrorism Through Transnational Security Cooperation
Al Qaida and the Taliban are not the only terrorist threats that people in the Western Hemisphere face. In fact, it is the drug cartels along the Mexican border, the FARC in Colombia, the ELN, the AMIA, and the AUC who also perpetuate regional terrorist activities, including bombings, arms smuggling, money laundering, and human trafficking. Moreover, parts of the hemisphere are experiencing surges in Islamic fundamentalism perpetuated by Hamas and Hezbollah.
In fact, in 2000, Latin America experienced 193 terrorist attacks – almost half of all world attacks combined – prompting embassy closings and security warnings. Then 9/11 occurred and things changed. On September 10, 2001, there was a lack of transparency between local, state, federal and international security entities. For the most part, no one was talking to each other or sharing information. The Organization of American States denounced the attacks and called for “hemispheric cooperation to combat this scourge.” Today things have become more transparent, but there is still a long way to go.
During the Biennial of the Americas, in front of 750 citizens, the Center for Empowered Living and Learning explored transnational security within the hemisphere with security specialists from throughout the hemisphere. Moderated by former Colorado U.S. Senator and current Vice Chair of the U.S. Homeland Security Council Gary Hart, the panel explored issues surrounding global interdependence, community engagement, and information sharing. Hart said, “Terrorism is not just a national threat, but is an international threat.”
"Terrorism is not just a national threat, but is an international threat." - Gary Hart
The esteemed roundtable participants included William R. Brownfield, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia; General Victor Renuart (Ret.), Commander of U.S. Northern Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD); Oscar Morales, Colombian native and executive president of the One Million Voices Foundation; and Ralph Basham, former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They all agreed with Gary Hart's words.
Citizen Engagement to Stop Terrorism
In an unlikely banter between roundtable panel members, there was a spirited dialogue about citizen engagement and acceptance of terrorist activities. Basham asserted that, “We have become complacent in the U.S. because we only have periodic issues.” General Renuart agreed. He said, “Our consciousness as a nation is finite. We want to solve the problems and get on with life.”
Morales, the creator of One Million Voices Against FARC and leader of the largest anti-terrorism demonstration in history, concurred. He said, “We (Colombians) watched the news and saw terrorist actions and all we did was complain.” Instead of standing idly by, Morales mobilized marches against FARC using social media platforms like Facebook. In less than a month, more than 400,000 volunteers and some 12 million people in 200+ cities and 40 different countries marched against the FARC terrorists. Morales said, “I found technology and decided to speak out against these terrorist actions. Now the civil societies are saying ‘We won’t take it anymore!’ “
Planning and Collaboration Are Key
Morales mobilized marches against FARC using social media platforms like Facebook. In less than a month, more than 400,000 volunteers and some 12 million people in 200+ cities and 40 different countries marched against the FARC terrorists.
Ambassador Brownfield said the hemisphere needs a long term plan to conquer terrorism. “Terrorism is not a 60-minute football game. If the host government does not buy in, there can be no long-term solution to terrorist problems.” He should know – he has served in some of the most volatile countries in the hemisphere - including Venezuela from 2004-2007 and in Colombia since 2007. He went on, “One size does not fit all. You need different plans for different terrorists.”
The back and forth discussion continued at a moderate pace until General Renuart said that transnational security cooperation is essential if peaceful-minded countries are to win (whatever that means) the hemispheric war on terrorism. He maintained that we must have coalition building, cooperation, and communication. “Threats don’t look at a watch – we must develop coalitions with patience. Unless we work collaboratively, we are not going to get at the root of terrorism,” Renuart said.
Basham echoed the General Renuart’s sentiments and went further to comment that U.S. intelligence officers are a bit arrogant in how they collect and distribute intelligence. He said, on 9/11 the U.S. intelligence community began to share information with Mexico, Canada and other partners in ways that they would have never considered on September 10th. But, he stressed, the U.S. needs to do a better job in its intelligence and information sharing at the local and state levels since that is where the majority of terrorism detection occurs. Currently, officials often do not receive the intelligence information. He said, “Sharing information with state and local law enforcement is very difficult. Who can you give the information to?” Brownfield concurred but pushed for additional transparency.
Leaving the discussion, there was no way anyone felt that the world was a tranquil place and participants all realized that national security has become interdependent on global security.
Morales and Brownfield agreed that if countries all work as a team in terror-threatened areas success can be achieved. Brownfield said, “Success is the absence of crisis and the absence of problems. In Colombia we have seen success .” Morales reiterated that without the collaboration that now exists between the public and the diplomats, "we would have never seen success in Colombia." They both said that Colombia has been an excellent learning experience for the entire hemisphere in how to deal with terrorism, prevent terrorism, and rally public support for the efforts.