How did you come up with your project and why does it interest you?
I chose to pursue this research for several reasons. First, this past April ETA claimed it had completely disarmed after revealing the location of its weapons caches to both French and Spanish authorities. While this seems like a definite disarmament of the group, ETA has also been known to break ceasefires and end peace-processes in the past. Second, I am of Basque descent and have been raised to be proud of my Basque heritage so learning more about ETA was of personal interest to me as well.
Finally, last January, Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies co-hosted “What the New Administration Needs to Know About Terrorism & Counterterrorism” with the University of St. Andrews’ Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. The conference focused on several issues regarding terrorism, counterterrorism, and intelligence challenges for the new administration and served as the inspiration for my summer grant proposal. One of the lasting impressions left on me by the conference was Richard English’s comment that terrorism is currently not an existential problem, but depending on how countries address the issue of terrorist groups through counterterrorism measures, it could become one if inappropriately addressed. ETA may not be the terrorist organization it once was, but there are lessons to be learned from it and how Spain dealt with it, both good and bad. With so many experts looking at how to develop strategies to deal with, if not prevent new terrorist organizations, why not take away lessons from past organizations with similar goals and means of action?
How will this experience help you in your job search and career?
My research in Spain has already helped expand my opportunities and helped me land an internship at the Department of Defense focusing on the Iberian Peninsula. This experience has helped me further develop my area knowledge and specifically focus on Spanish terrorism and counterterrorism policies dealing with new and existing terrorist organizations, an area particularly highlighted following the most recent terrorist attack in Barcelona. While I have not focused on terrorism in my studies or aspired to a counterterrorism career, this experience has opened new doors and ideas for me. Additionally, this experience in Spain opened my eyes to new possibilities of working abroad in Europe and to a range of fellowship opportunities available that would allow me to focus on security issues of interest to me.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from this experience?
One of the biggest lessons I took away was how important it is to be open to getting nuggets of information from some of the most unexpected people or places. While I had planned on meeting with ETA experts to build my research, I obtained the best insights, information, and insider knowledge from unplanned encounters and conversations. Octavio Alberola, for instance, a native of Alaior in the Balearic Islands was a gold mine of information and stories. He and his family were exiled to Mexico following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War but in 1962, as a representative of the Spanish Libertarian Movement’s Interior Defense group he organized the failed assassination attempt against Franco in the Basque city of San Sebastian (Donostia in Euskara) in cooperation with ETA. His knowledge of the group, as well as his insights into the group's development under Franco and beyond, were invaluable. Mr. Alberola became a source by accident, and yet he happily provided me with his invaluable time and insight for my research. It was the accidental meetings like these that made my experience infinitely richer.