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There has been heightened security at Parliament since the terror attacks in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ

Managing risk before it’s too late

Experience has shown that it tends to take a tragedy before governments implement enhanced security measures.

Following the events of Christchurch, John Borland, a former Queensland Police detective who worked in the area of intelligence and counter-terrorism, suggests New Zealand needs a more proactive mindset to manage the threat of violent extremism.

Interviewed in the April/May issue of New Zealand Security Magazine (NZSM), Mr Borland said communities generally focused on “risk” from outside and failed to look within. “From my experience in the Queensland Police Counter-Terrorism unit, I investigated as many cases for ‘homegrown’ risk as I did for international risk, so I strongly believe the focus should be more reflective of this.”

Society also needed to erase the “white noise” of extremist attacks and look at the core issue of the influence of the internet on those with poor mental health.

Having read the manifesto linked to the Christchurch mosque attacks, Mr Borland said he had no doubt there had been an international influence on the offender’s mindset. “Even researching material on the internet provides this avenue for international influence.”

The attack was similar to many video games available on the web, which raised the question of whether or not games normalised such behaviour.

Technology was “our worst enemy and greatest weapon” in the war against terrorism, he said, and there was no excuse for not having adequate screening processes to identify those at risk of being involved in violent ideologies.

“Data trails and social media make it easier than ever to gather credible intel, so, if the government hasn’t implemented adequate strategies of this nature, the community should ask why not.”

He suggested that New Zealand should consider simplifying its terrorist threat levels to just “high risk” and “unknown risk” because “low risk” created a false sense of security.

The Government needed to be proactive, he said. That could include more education around encouraging vigilance within the community, creating a seamless online reporting platform and establishing resources to “develop intel and to triage community reports”.

In the same issue of NZSM, Richard Shortt, a national security policy adviser and former Combined Threat Assessment Group manager for Police and the NZSIS (NZ Intelligence Security Service), was reported as saying he was confident that Police and NZSIS were aware of online forums providing outlets for extremist ideas and hate speech that needed monitoring.

However, he said, saying things online might not be sufficient to put a person into a security case file or warrant resources for further checks. “The bar for that is high, as it should be. I am sure questions will be asked about how effective our current monitoring of social media is, and whether the current legislative arrangements permit appropriate oversight by security agencies,” he told NZSM.

The events in Christchurch were also a reminder of the need for a well-resourced, well-led and lawfully guided security regime, he said. “Some who decry NZSIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau (and to a lesser extent NZ Police) may now wish to pause and reflect on their positions,” he said.

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