The need for industry intelligence gathering on eco-terrorism

With the rise and impact of eco-terrorism, industry needs to gather more intelligence to help it combat the threats. The Impact has reported how the FBI view eco-terrorism as the biggest domestic terror threat and the wide-ranging disruption caused by the Extinction Rebellion group is just one example of how climate issues can have a big impact.

According to foreignpolicy.com, “Climate activists certainly have a central grievance — a catastrophic, existential grievance that is supported by scientific research. Visit any of the environmentalist websites or blogs and you’ll find an endless run of protests, demos, marches, and planned civil disobedience.

At Insight Intelligence, we are not saying organisations like Extinction Rebellion are eco-terrorists per se or commenting on the issues surrounding climate change. The point is that someone wishing to damage an organisation’s reputation, production or revenue can use environmental issues as a platform to achieve it.

The potential impact of eco-terrorism is hardest felt on large corporates, especially in the energy, resources and insurance sectors as well as all levels of government. Information spreads more quickly that the fastest bushfire and has no respect for boarders, time zones or even thorough fact-checking.

The activities of eco-terrorists are typically two-fold. Firstly, from a direct perspective like organising demonstrations aimed at crippling commerce. Secondly, high-jacking communications surrounding an event, such as bushfires, and providing disinformation to cause damage.

The Guardian on 12 Jan 2020, ran a report on the Australian bushfire emergency and disinformation campaigns that resulted from it. The article stated, “Two pieces of disinformation stand out from the rest: that an “arson emergency”, rather than climate change, is behind the bushfires, and that “greenies” are preventing firefighters from reducing fuel loads in the Australian bush. Queensland University of Technology senior lecturer Timothy Graham, an expert in social media analysis, took a sample of tweets from the hashtag and analysed them for characteristics typically associated with bots and trolls. His findings suggested a clear “disinformation campaign.”

With the myriad of information and risks facing organisations, one of the major challenges is how to gather, analyse and act on intelligence efficiently. Insight Intelligence has developed a tested process that draws on its military intelligence know-how to help organisations manage their risks more effectively.

We recommend organisations take a three-step approach to industry intelligence gathering:
1. Develop a profile of likely threat sources – individuals, groups and relevant topics to the organisation such as coal mining or plastic packaging usage.
2. Gather information – through human intelligence tracking of individuals, monitoring published media content and social media conversations.
3. Analyse and distil information into a relevant, actionable report.

The organisation is then armed with the understanding of the information to enable it to develop an appropriate response. This may include further tracking of individuals and specific online conversations to discussions with authorities on dealing with planned protests. Typically, much of the action plan is focused around combating disinformation campaigns that threaten to ruin reputations, production, revenue or the broader economy.

In summary, it is important for organisations and governments to separate the risks of eco-terrorism from debates around climate change ideology. The need for industry intelligence gathering is an important risk management and mitigation exercise to respond to threats posed by individuals and groups. The threats are very real, need investigating and an appropriate response developed, to prevent an organisation damaging threat becoming a reality.

This post was written by Mario Bekes