IST's Forster fosters conversation on terrorism at NATO conference

Jennifer Cifelli
June 09, 2016

Amid growing concerns about lessening the global threat of terrorism and violent extremism, a new conversation between previously unlikely allies is emerging, thanks in part to Peter Forster of Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and his colleagues at the NATO/OSCE Consortium Combating Terrorism Working Group (CTWG).

At the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) conference last March in Jahorina, Bosnia, Forster helped lead discussion between governments, civil organizations and NGOs to discuss counterterrorism from varying angles.

The CTWG, whose goal is to bring academics, practitioners and government officials together to develop policies concerning counterterrorism strategy and tactics, is an international group representing approximately 40 countries.

“We’ve been working on policy papers together in a range of subjects for about eight years, seeking to answer questions ranging from how terrorist groups recruit, to how terrorist groups are financed to how these groups utilize the internet,” said Forster, associate dean for online and professional education for IST.  “Recently though, in the past two years, countering violent extremism and the need to identify individuals in society who are at risk for radicalization, either online or in person, has become a major concern of the Department of Homeland Security.”

Forster said a major concern for law enforcement, in addition to avoiding attacks — either in the U.S. or abroad — is to stop individuals from moving to countries such as Syria or Iraq as Islamic State group recruits, often returning to their home countries ready to carry on the fight and perpetrate violence.

To aid law enforcement’s efforts to counter such actions, the CTWG, whose work is funded by the U.S. and German governments and an entirely volunteer staff of co-chairs, including Forster, brings high-ranking members of government and civil organizations together to explore the challenges of a multitude of scenarios that might arise in at-risk communities. In this way, organizations such as local law enforcement, clergy and school administrations have worked together and built trust long before intervention becomes necessary.

To do this, the CTWG created a series of case studies designed with Bosnia’s unique circumstances in mind, encouraging the participants to engage in discussion that can be used in the future as guidelines for addressing and correcting violent activity.  

“In Bosnia, which is still very much a post-conflict society, the pain that’s come from that conflict is still right beneath the surface. So we had people in this meeting who lost loved ones, and we’re trying to bring them back together despite some deep seated anger,” said Forster of the Bosnian conference. “It’s a delicate balance; we don’t want to focus on one specific culture or religion, but it’s important to keep the discussion relevant.”

According to Forster, the CTWG has been perfecting the formula so that similar discussions can occur throughout the world, especially in partner countries, or new and non-NATO members. Their next conference is planned for Albania in September 2016. Meanwhile, their findings become policy papers and are shared with the Department of Defense and NATO to combat counterterrorism.

Last Updated June 09, 2016