Assessing Terrorism Threats to New Zealand: The Role of the Combined Threat Assessment Group

Author/s: Combined Threat Assessment Group (CTAG)
Published in National Security Journal, 27 November 2020

In addition to informing agency security settings, CTAG’s reporting is intended to support systematic consideration of counter-terrorism system priorities, and provide the basis for any public statements on the threat environment. Government agencies also draw on CTAG threat assessments to support risk assessment and risk management activities offshore, such as informing travel advisories and security planning for major events.

Despite attracting national prominence, CTAG threat levels are not intended as a public messaging tool, and a change in threat level does not necessarily require a specific response from the general public. As such, the decision to publicise the national threat level lies with the Government of the day. Any messaging to the public regarding forewarning of a terrorist attack should be part of a risk management strategy, informed by a threat assessment.

Concluding remarks

The threat assessments CTAG produces are an important part of the national security and risk management mechanisms of the New Zealand government in response to terrorism, as well as violent protest and violent crime (abroad). These assessments intentionally focus on actors who mean to physically harm New Zealand and New Zealand interests, and evaluate the nature of their hostile intent and capability to conduct their desired attack. This requires a combination of science and art; a clear methodology with a depth of subject-matter understanding and intuition. Despite their system-level value, threat assessments and their associated threat levels should not be misinterpreted as a conclusive statement about the vulnerability of New Zealand or its people and interests abroad. They describe a start point, not an end state.

This paper has focused on CTAG’s role in the national security system and its threat assessment methodology. The assessment of specific threats remains CTAG’s core function, but CTAG and New Zealand’s intelligence services must remain alert to the emergence of new forms of violent extremism. In recognition of its analysts’ understanding of the diverse drivers of terrorism and violent extremism in New Zealand and abroad, from 1 July 2020 CTAG expanded its focus towards identifying and analysing emerging violent extremist threats. These horizon-scanning ‘Insight’ reports are designed to support government agencies to consider responses and possible mitigations at the earliest opportunity.