Countries, private sector must work together to tackle terrorism: Ex-US homeland secretary Michael Chertoff

Former US secretary for homeland security Michael Chertoff giving his opening speech at biennial regional security conference Milipol Asia-Pacific, held at the Marina Bay Sands Sands Expo and Convention Centre. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Terrorism is no longer about the fight for territory but a fight for the hearts and minds online, and tackling it requires greater collaboration between countries and the private sector, former US secretary for homeland security Michael Chertoff said in a visit to Singapore on Tuesday (April 2).

Mr Chertoff, who was United States secretary of homeland security from 2005 to 2009, said extremism today has evolved into "inspired terrorism".

"It's the case where someone gets online and they basically try to exhort or inspire people to carry out attacks with very little preparation and, frankly, very little training or skill, using any kind of weapon at hand," he said in his opening keynote speech on the first day of the biennial regional security conference, Milipol Asia-Pacific, at the Marina Bay Sands Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

"These attacks are not going to bring down the foundations of society, but the multiplicity of the attacks creates a sense of instability and inspires further kinds of similar terrorist activity."

As these attacks are typically difficult to detect, one way that the authorities could prevent them is to work with community groups, mental health advocates and other social services to identify those who may be more susceptible to being radicalised and turning violent, said Mr Chertoff.

He predicts that the appeal of extremist groups of all kinds, including radical right-wing groups, is likely to increase as the world becomes more globalised and automated.

This call for collaboration was echoed by other security experts at the three-day conference, such as Mr Khoo Boon Hui, former Singapore police commissioner and former Interpol president, as well as Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin.

In his speech, Mr Khoo, chairman of Milipol Asia-Pacific, said technological breakthroughs are increasingly being exploited for harmful intentions.

For example, social media is widely used by terrorist organisations to create animosity between different factions in society for the goal of recruiting fighters, radicalising lone wolves and fund-raising.

"Despite differences in our working style, systems and culture, we can and must collaborate to solve our regions' unique challenges and complexities," said Mr Khoo.

In line with this spirit, Mr Amrin said Singapore and France have renewed their Strategic Cooperation Plan for another three years to deepen collaboration in key areas, including counter-terrorism, cybercrime, border security and crisis management.

He said: "No one organisation, group or country has the ability or expertise to resolve or manage the challenges that lie ahead of us in a rapidly changing, increasingly interconnected world.

"There is strong impetus and imperative for all of us to remain open to dialogue (and) partnerships at various levels, and achieve better outcomes collectively."

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