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EXCLUSIVE: Q&A With Frank Spano – Executive Director & Founder Of The Counterterrorism Institute

March 07, 2016

A Look Inside the World of Private Counterterrorism:

An American Military News exclusive interview with Counterterrorism Institute Executive Director, Frank Spano

Intriguing, amorphous, and shrouded in secrecy; the world of private counterterrorism continues to develop as an increasingly-effective, and often lethal, response to the growing threat of global terrorism. American Military News had the chance to sit down with the man at the tip of this spear, Counterterrorism Institute Executive Director Frank Spano, for an exclusive peek behind the curtain.



AMN: Thank you for taking the time out of what we’re sure is a busy schedule to speak with us. With the state of the world today, people are more and more familiar with conventional government and military counterterrorism, but you’re involved in the far less well-known private counterterrorism sector. What can you tell us about it, and how does it differ from the more conventional methods?

FS: Even the best-funded government sector counterterrorism programs have their limitations. For better or for worse, the highly-regulated environment in which they operate often makes it difficult for them to be truly effective; particularly within the domestic intelligence, terrorist finance, and counterterrorism environments. Private counterterrorism organizations – like The Counterterrorism Institute – serve to bridge that gap while providing additional outreach and engagement opportunities to allow the general public to become actively involved in making a difference.

AMN: We understand that your organization is quite a bit more than might meet the eye, can you tell us a bit more about the less-public parts of your operations?

FS: While each organization differs slightly in its focus, The Counterterrorism Institute divides its operations along what we believe are the two steps to effective long-term counterterrorism.

First, the more private side is that we focus on addressing the current threat through the heavily leveraged use of technology, such as our CTI OmniscientTM and CTI Omniscient BlackTM cyber-intelligence and counter-cyberterrorism platforms, as well as more direct action operations in coordination with our global network.

Second – and perhaps most importantly – the public side of our operations works with professionals, scholars, school-aged children, and the general public to identify and address the many vacuums and voids in society where radicalization and violent ideology thrive. Many people in the nonprofit world talk about their “paycheck” – that is, the moments that make all the hard work, long hours, and little to no pay totally worth it. For me, this is my “paycheck.” Seeing someone’s eyes light up when they realize they can make a difference means the world to me and our team.

AMN: Terrorism is an all-encompassing issue, and one that can easily seem overwhelming to the general public. What can everyday people do to make a positive difference in the fight?

FS: You know, it’s so easy to see terrorism as this big unwieldy beast that can only be defeated through massive application of force. Don’t get me wrong, we can and should do bad things to bad people, and bring the fight to the terrorists with unquestionable commitment and a clear bias for action. But the average person can also make a difference; and it’s easier than one might think. You see, just like we mentioned earlier, the key to long-term success in this fight is reducing the opportunities for violent ideology to radicalize the next generations of would-be terrorists. By recognizing that this doesn’t just happen in faraway lands, and by finding the opportunities to get involved in eliminating apathy, increasing education and awareness, and providing options for so many people who see terrorism as the only viable path, each and every one of us can make a positive difference.

AMN: With this being an election year, and national security being such a hot-button issue, how does the election outcome or political climate affect your operations?

FS: One of the great benefits of being a private entity is that we can operate as we see fit within the widest variety of political environments and systems. As a matter of fact, the Institute is a nonpartisan organization, and we have found that political rhetoric, broken political systems, and longstanding transnational grudges do far more to stand in the way of providing global solutions to what is unquestionably a global problem.

AMN: What does the road ahead look like for private counterterrorism in the fight on the domestic and international fronts?

FS: Counterterrorism is unquestionably the fight of our lifetime. We must continue to work together to find global solutions for this global problem. We mustn’t be afraid to call it like we see it, and to take decisive action against this committed and increasingly-radical enemy. Cyberterrorism will continue to grow as a threat to critical infrastructure, financial markets, and even private individuals. We must remain proactive, engaged, and aware of the changing threats as we work to eliminate the current terrorists and to prevent the radicalization of those to come. As for The Counterterrorism Institute and the world of private counterterrorism, we will continue to do our part, and will continue to bring the fight to the enemy no matter where they are found.

An Air Force Veteran, former federal agent, and professor, Mr. Spano is a recognized subject matter expert in counterterrorism, cyber-intelligence, counter-cyberterrorism, and national security law. To learn more about The Counterterrorism Institute, or to get involved, visit their website at