Amaryllis Fox, who worked in counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for a little under a decade, told Grapevine that the visible presence of police with guns does not decrease the risk of a terrorist attack, and can in fact increase that risk.
Amaryllis Fox has been sharing the lessons she learned while working in the intelligence community with the world at large in numerous talks and interviews, emphasising that open communication and information reduces misunderstandings that lead to military conflicts.
In an extensive interview to be published in Grapevine next week, we asked Amaryllis for her expert opinion on recent news that the Reykjavík area police would be more visibly armed at large public gatherings as a terror deterrent.
“I’m a very vocal challenger of ‘security theatre’ and the presence of weapons and militarization in domestic life,” she told us. “We see this kind of charade that goes on ostensibly to both make people feel more secure, and to deter those who would attack, and yet we don’t see any evidence that there is a huge deterrent effect. … On the subject of making the public feel more secure, they may in fact do so, but I think to society’s peril. The idea of making the community feel safer by taking an action that not only doesn’t make it safer but may in fact put it at greater peril is really dangerous. Because it requires a kind of high level, systems level analysis, it can often go years without being called out as a contributing factor to terrorism rather than a securing measure.”
Visible guns increasing risk
When asked to elaborate, Amaryllis told us that both academic research and experience on the ground has shown that just the visible presence of weapons can increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack.
“Exposure to weapons or militarized security infrastructure that suggests others in your presence might have weapons, triggers the reptilian brain in humans to feel that they are in a dangerous environment, and they therefore should and can behave in a way that would be appropriate for a war zone,” she said. “Which, of course, leads to more violent tendencies than the psychological cues that we see in a society that’s not militarized and doesn’t have a lot of these security perimeters in place. When we don’t see weapons on a regular basis, and the social cues that we do see suggest that we’re living in a peaceful environment, our reptilian brain follows suit, and tends to be less drawn to violent methods to resolve disputes.”
A peaceful, open society is less likely a target for terror
Better deterrents against terrorism, Amaryllis says, includes abstaining from foreign intervention and to have a free and open society.
“It’s a multi-pronged approach that has worked in the areas where we’ve seen the risk of terror diminish,” she said. “Countries that have very low risks of terror in today’s environment tend to be those that are not involved in foreign intervention in sovereign states outside of their own. Se we see Iceland, Switzerland, and Japan do very well in diminishing their exposure to terrorist targets. One other contributing factor is the openness to dissenting points of view in the media. The common refrain that we hear from fighters and terror suspects following arrest and detention is the sense of overflowing frustration and eventually violent rage at foreign intervention in their state, and the lack of ability to voice what originally are more mainstream concerns that, when bottled up and not given a voice in the media and the national conversation, become more and more marginalized, more and more radicalized, and eventually more and more violent. So the greater the sense of listening to one another, opening the national conversation to as many perspectives and contributions as possible, and respect for international norms and laws around foreign military intervention – those have really been the strategies that we’ve seen have the most success in diminishing exposure to the terror threat overseas.”
The full interview with Amaryllis Fox will be published in the next issue of the Reykjavík Grapevine