March 17 marked the 25th anniversary of the terrorist attack against the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, with a death toll of 22, in 1992. The explosion that destroyed the diplomatic headquarters became one of the biggest international terrorist attacks perpetrated in Argentina, along with the attack on the AMIA Jewish association in 1994, which caused 85 deaths.
Despite the gruesome nature and scale of the attacks, those responsible for the tragedy remain free. In addition to the human costs, these events have left a void in effective police response, with neither of the incidents contributing to the development of a national counterterrorism strategy. Probably, the problem is the irrelevance of terrorism for politicians concentrated in providing rapid responses to issues that are perceived as more pressing, such as the economy. Coincidently, Argentine media has historically failed to broadcast a holistic view of terrorism, its causes and consequences, most of the time focus on conjectural analysis (in the best of cases).
Security strategies are designed to be sustained over time in the form of State policies. They determine the objectives of a nation in this particular field while foreseeing the proper allocation of resources. At the same time, strategies require to monitor and evaluate processes, correcting deficiencies and eventually, reporting results. These tasks represent a huge load of work for politicians, who usually have no expertise for the post they are appointed to and tend to migrate between bureaucratic positions in the executive and legislative areas, depending on political tides. Meanwhile, the Federal staff responsible for crafting these policies tends to receive a cold response from decision makers when policy inputs demand an effort that transcends an instantaneous political payoff. As well, technocrats schooled in Argentina and abroad usually lack of the necessary perception of politicians electoral needs. This is probably one of the major causes why intelligence reports tend to “take a nap” in dusty shelves.
The combination of a disenfranchised society with the cause against terror, an unprepared political class, and the lack of a National Counterterrorism Strategy, results in a fertile breeding ground for future attacks.
In 2006, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body dedicated to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing demanded the country to abide by the organism’s standards.
Argentina responded by modifying the Criminal Code through Act No. 26,268 which introduced changes to Act No. 25,246 on Concealment and Laundering of Criminal Assets. This complicated process of reforms evolved into a body of regulations that falls short in addressing terrorism as a whole. According to Act No. 26,268 and the Argentine Criminal Code, terrorism is catalogued as an attack to Public Order.
Likewise, both instruments establish a number of requirements for an activity to be regarded as being explicitly “terrorist.” It is necessary to count on evidence that an illegal association whose purpose is, to terrorize the population or to compel a government or an International organization to perform an act or refrain from doing so, as long as it meets the following characteristics:
It has a plan of action for the propagation of ethnic, religious or political hate, and is organized within an international operational network with the intent to use weapons of war, explosives, chemical or bacteriological agents or any other suitable means to endanger the life or integrity of an indeterminate number of people.
One of the problems with this definition is that rules out the modern characteristics of terrorism as a phenomenon and as a tactic of waging war, such as the decentralized operational modes of modern terrorist networks, the influence of radicalized individuals through social media and the diversified agenda underpinning terrorist attacks.
A successful national security strategy against terrorism does not stem-out of legislative bodies. Moreover, the sole creation of antiterrorist divisions within Federal Security Forces represents a “half-way there” approach if these instances are not complemented with a strong epistemic community working on the study and analysis of terrorism with a problem-solving approach, away from the sterile and exclusively academic approaches that characterize a big part of Argentina’s field of study.
Epistemic communities are not spontaneously generated either, as their development requires the interaction of several actors ranging from Civil Society and grass roots associations to multilateral organizations. There are multiple examples of communities of researchers working closely with governmental agencies in issues of terrorism. Some of the most advanced research centers are located in the Washington DC area, London, Saint Andrews in Scotland, Oslo, Stockholm, The Hague, Madrid, Ankara, Tel Aviv, Singapore, Jakarta, in Indonesia and Melbourne, in Australia. Nevertheless, Argentina still lacks a network of experts with recognized expertise and knowledge in this particular domain working closely in the promotion of research and activities that would help decision makers in defining problems, indentifying solutions and assessing policy outcomes.
The generation of a virtuous intelligence cycle to nurture the different decision making instances across the government, requires more than negotiating information agreements with other countries or abiding by the rules of international bodies. An improvement in security policing requires a number or reforms in Argentina. Primarily, its Security Forces need to concentrate more on strengthening their capacity locally, especially in terms of education and talent management. As well, the intelligence community should open itself to inputs from experts in the academia, moving away from the futile secrecy that characterizes these institutions in the country. Finally, the political classes should bear in mind that social media and globalization have turned almost any organization into a possible target.
Therefore, politicians should start asking themselves: what is the cost of concentrating on short-term issues disregarding long-term goals in terms of international security and which would be the cost of the next attack?