top of page

Improvised explosive devices and public intelligence

Image credit: Pixabay (Flickr: CC0 License)

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are effective tools for terrorism. Terrorists recognise that IEDs are inexpensive, accessible, easily assembled and equip any extremist with a superior capacity to subjugate fear and terror. Accordingly, the use of IEDs against civilians has become a global method of terror for international terrorist actors, with IED terrorist attacks occurring in 85 different countries between 2011 and 2016. For these reasons, attention must be paid to those most vulnerable to IED terrorism and how to ameliorate their protection.

Using IEDs, violent extremists deliberately abuse public life as a resource to negotiate socio-political concessions from the state. Terrorists strategically target civilians as they harbour no kinetic defences, lack the ability to identify IEDs or extremist behaviour and have the power to influence parliamentary decision. This presents civilians as the most desirable targets for international terrorists and the most vulnerable to IED terrorism.

Accordingly, the Action on Armed Violence IED Monitor states that between 2011-2016, vehicle borne IEDs cost more civilians lives and injuries than all other weapon launch methods combined. The same report states that between 2011-2016, IEDs have caused injury or killed 133,317 civilian and armed actors, of which 81 percent were civilians and 86 percent of the so-called Islamic State’s IED attacks claimed civilian lives.

If the clear majority of IED terrorism occurs against civilians, the civilian arena must know about IEDs and understand the surreptitious extremists to plant them. Civilian education on IED terrorism, as a form of strategy, would serve to illuminate society on the behaviour symptomatic of potential IED terrorism and how to counteract it. Public knowledge about IED terrorism could enable civilians to detect IEDs and IED extremists, foresee vulnerabilities in target security and apply effective situational crime prevention techniques to civilian institutions. If civilian services exercise a strong awareness of IED terrorism, this would help to prevent of future IED attacks against civilians.

IED intelligence enables civilian areas, prone to IED terrorism, to collectively apply a form of anti-IED tactic through public awareness. Public awareness of IEDs and clandestine agents of terrorism would remove a degree of anonymity from public spaces and increase the risk of detection for terrorists. As mentioned above, this makes sense to provide the civilian arena with such intelligence, as civilians are the most vulnerable, advantageous and prone target of IED terrorism.

However, this line of thought leads authorities into the conundrum of public knowledge. What intelligence should the public have access to regarding IEDs and IED terrorism? While the importance of removing such intelligence from civilian domains is obvious, it is unlikely to be attainable. Public knowledge on the various indications, characteristics or functions of IEDs however, must be highlighted.

For instance, if a civilian can recount to a response team what features they saw, smelt or heard in regards to the potential IED, this will significantly increase the success of response teams and reduce the risk to civilian life or infrastructure. Furthermore, civilian intelligence in cooperation with emergency services, could nullify the threat of IED terrorism. For example, if a member of the public reports to have witnessed a phone-like feature affixed to a suspect object, law enforcement can use a frequency decoder to selectively restrict the radio frequency in that area and potentially interdict the ignition signal sent by the extremist’s mobile phone. To do this however, the civilian must know and be aware of what those components are to report them.

Although open source intelligence avenues exist, the dissemination of anti-IED terrorism techniques and information needs educators. The education of such issues needs programs, teachers and technology that represents an epistemological authority, provides ontological knowledge and provides the civilian arena with kinetic anti-IED techniques.

It must be highlighted that public audiences have available the relevant courses, teachers and security technology to educate themselves on IED terrorism. For example, in the Untied States, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Bombing Prevention offer a Counter-IED Training Course; in Singapore, the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research presents anti-IED intelligence and techniques to rooms of private companies, government representatives, military personnel and public audiences; and in Australia, Keyless Access Security is an innovation of civilian security technology which enables the user to remotely use non-static, non-physical security systems. If advanced and invested, the public’s erudition and ability to counter potential IED attacks, could provide a solidified and re-enforced front against violent extremists.

Anti-IED education programs, conducted in collaboration with law enforcement, government, military, private company and public representatives, would significantly help civilian actors to counter future IED attacks. Interoperable programs of public education on anti-IED techniques does not compromise civilian life, but instead improves the collective ability to detect and protect themselves from IED terrorism. If such knowledge about IED terrorism was explicitly and directly shared with the right individuals, this could potentially reduce the yearly death toll of IED terrorism to zero.

Jade Hutchinson holds a Bachelor in International and Sociology Studies from the University of Wollongong and is undertaking a Master of Counter Terrorism at Macquarie University.

bottom of page