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The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies Program on Terrorism and Security Studies brought key alumni to Washington D.C. from April 30 to May 4 to better understand the global counterterrorism fight while sharing best practices and strengthening a network focused on defeating terrorism. The Program on Terrorism and Security Studies 18-12 resident course begins on June 27. (Marshall Center graphic by Dr. Stan Jones/ Elizabeth Pfotzer)

By U.S. Army Maj. Josh Southworth and Christine June
Public Affairs Office
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (June 6, 2018) – The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies Program on Terrorism and Security Studies brought key alumni to Washington D.C. from April 30 to May 4 to better understand the global counterterrorism fight while sharing best practices and strengthening a network focused on defeating terrorism.

“We develop our program to directly meet Office of the Secretary of Defense and German Ministry of Defense guidance,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. James Howcroft, director of PTSS. “This alumni event directly answers OSD 2019 Combatting Terrorism Fellowship Program Guidance to broaden our CTFP alumni base’s global reach and networking opportunities”

Alumni that attended were selected to ensure this event would have a direct impact on the global counterterrorism fight, said Howcroft.

Each selected alum submitted a proposal outlining how this event would benefit them in their current and future assignments as well as what insights they would share with U.S. officials. Howcroft then selected 39 participants from 34 countries including alumni from other DOD Regional Centers.

‘Saved Lives across the Globe’

The Marshall Center coordinated visits and discussions with senior international engagement and CT officials from OSD, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Joint Staff, Federal Bureau of Investigation, State Department, Department of Homeland Security, National Counter Terrorism Center and the Staff Director on the Congressional Committee on Homeland Security.

One of these coordinated visits were with Special Agents Thomas F. O’Connor and Jean K. O’Connor, both with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, discussed their experience in collecting evidence after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack at the Pentagon. Both agents are PTSS alumni. Thomas O’Connor attended PTSS in 2011, and Jean O’Connor attended PTSS in 2012.

“These leaders in the Security arena excel in their fields,” said Thomas O’Connor. “The PTSS Alumni network is like no other in the Security and Counterterrorism field. These professionals, by collaborating on a common goal and training with a common purpose, have saved lives across the globe.”

This enabled the alumni to learn and share from discussions with these senior officials, but also provided the opportunity to give U.S. decision makers CT practitioner insights regarding their countries’ experiences and their perception of the U.S. role in the effort, said Howcroft.

“I think the most important feature of the workshop was that it provided a platform for American practitioners and decision makers from the counterterrorism community to more accurately communicate, with their global counterparts from among the alumni present, the U.S. perspective on CT-related issues and policies, particularly in regards US foreign policy in countering terrorism, and the rationale behind it.” said Dina Raffle, a PTSS alumna and lecturer at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. “In an era of fake news and information warfare, directly communicating with governmental representatives working the CT field from other countries is crucial for the provision of accurate information; coming directly from the source so to speak.

“The workshop also provided an opportunity for alumni to deliver their own perspectives, as well as their countries' priorities and concerns with regards counterterrorism cooperation,” she said. “The dialogue that took place, as well as the views that were shared, during the workshop, are crucial to enhancing the respective partner countries' understandings with regards what is being done, what remains to be done, and what countries can and do contribute by way of resources and expertise.”

Howcroft said that participants gained a new appreciation of the wide range of U.S. agencies and resources involved in the CT mission and how better to coordinate and communicate upon their return home.

“They developed a deeper understanding of U.S. techniques on how to collaborate and share CT information from the strategic to the tactical level,” he said. “They learned about the role of congressional oversight of executive CT focused agencies to help ensure that CT efforts were conducted effectively and in concert with protection of civil liberties in accordance with the rule of law.”

The Importance of CT alumni events

The Marshall Center typically conducts two CT alumni events annually.

“These events focus on a specific topic and bring back alumni to share their lessons learned or best practices,” said Howcroft.

Recent topics have featured presentations given by alumni that focused on: returning foreign fighters, prison radicalization, the role of women in CT, and a FBI co-hosted event on the use of social media by both terrorists and CT professionals.

Howcroft said that his PTSS team will take the findings from these events and generate a Security Insights paper that is shared with alumni and key stakeholders within the German and U.S. governments.

The Way Forward

The event in Washington provided tangible evidence to stakeholders of the global, strategically-relevant CT practitioner network the Marshall Center produces, said Howcroft.

The event allowed PTSS alumni to interact and learn directly from senior policy makers and CT experts who would otherwise be unable to attend alumni functions. These meetings with senior officials left a powerful impact on the alumni of the U.S. role, commitment and investment of the CT effort. It enhanced and renewed individual connections and the PTSS alumni network as a whole.   

The next iteration of the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies resident course begins on June 27.

This five week course will bring together around 75 CT practitioners from around the world to learn, share and connect with other experts. Howcroft said this resident course will further strengthen a global network focused on defeating terrorism.