Analyst: Anti-terror centre’s dual role may be hard to fulfill

isisPETALING JAYA: A counter-messaging centre (CMC) to fight violent extremism in Malaysia seems to have a dual role that could be hard to fulfill successfully, an analyst has said.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi reportedly announced earlier this week that the CMC, managed by the police, had started operations a month ago.

He was quoted as saying the fight against terrorism is expected to yield better results now that the CMC is fully operational.

“The CMC was created to monitor social media for any suspicious activities and information related to the Islamic State (IS), whether it is perpetrated by Malaysians, foreign terrorist fighters or extremist organisations in the country,” Zahid was quoted as saying by Singapore’s Straits Times.

Patrick Blannin, a counter-terrorism and intelligence analyst at Australia’s Bond University, said the report had explained the CMC’s strategic role as also being a source of information to assist in the creation of intelligence.

“Time will tell whether its counter-messaging label is justified,” Blannin told FMT.

“Will it disseminate counter-narratives to offset online propaganda, and if so, will it be effective?

“The CMC will need to be viewed as a legitimate source of information for this counter-messaging strategy to work.

“Legitimacy is hard to establish if the CMC is, at least operationally, an information gathering mechanism.”

On whether the CMC should not be used for intelligence gathering , Blannin said the centre could be both but not overtly.

“Moreover, the metrics for ‘success’ need to incorporate its dual role,” he explained.

“The CMC may succeed as an information gathering mechanism but fail as a counter-messaging tool, and/or vice-versa. We must examine the government’s strategic objectives for the CMC.”

Blannin added that the definition of a successful counter-terrorism measure is one that achieves its intended objectives without negatively affecting any other measure deployed at the same time.

On the question of whether other countries separate these two roles or put them together in one entity, Blannin said it is not that they “are” separate, but they should be “seen” to be separate.

“Moreover, counter-messaging generally is a strategy-oriented diplomatic tool and thus is directed by the foreign ministry, whereas intelligence is a tactical-oriented law enforcement/military tool which is directed by the relevant departments,” he said.

“Additionally, counter-messaging should be viewed as a proactive anti-terror measure rather than a reactive counter-terrorism measure.

“The question is not should they be combined, rather, can they be combined to achieve the policy objective, and, does the government have a legacy of effective inter-agency cooperation.”

Zahid, who is also the home minister, said the centre was needed to prevent recruitment, planning or even incidents of violent extremism.

“The series of successful arrests of militants by the police previously came before the centre began its operations. We can expect better results now,” he said.

He said it is easier for the authorities to share intelligence with domestic and international agencies such as Aseanapol and Interpol thanks to their increased preparedness.

The CMC will collaborate with the Malaysian foreign ministry and the King Salman Centre For International Peace to “ensure all eyes are on such activities,” said the report.

“I’m satisfied with how the centre is being managed,” Zahid was reported as saying.

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