Defending the homeland and its citizens is the chief responsibility of any government. Throughout the history of the United States of America, threats have continually changed. Each has brought a new challenge to government leaders as they strive to know how to best confront each threat. Today, the challenges persist. With both successful and foiled plans for Islamic extremist terror groups over the last few decades on both United States’ soil and her interests, it is evident that America has become an active target by these terror groups. The United States must continue to prepare and take an active role in maintaining active counterterror activities within its borders to maintain strong homeland security.
The terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 were a vital turning point in America’s mission of homeland security; however, it was not the first terror attack from Islamic extremists. Since the fall of the USSR and its threat of war, terrorism has been steadily growing across the Western nations. Islamic extremists do not hold a monopoly on acts of terrorism. As this class has studied, terrorism thrives in nearly every part of the world. The British Isles, parts of Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Latin America and North America have all seen acts of terror in modern times. However, Islamic terrorist groups have a unique trait about them: their willingness to take terror around the world.
In contrast to Islamic groups, when studying most other terroristic type groups, it is expected to see them stay in a general area. For example, the IRA from Northern Ireland is not seen forming cells in the United States, Latin America or Africa; nor do the Chechens leave the area they are fighting. Further, though narcoterrorist groups are active as they ship illicit drugs around the world, they do not use their tactics against other nations. On the other hand, Islamic terror groups are seen around the globe carrying out their jihad.
The events on 9/11 were by far not the first Islamic terror attacks on America; however, they seemed to perpetuate a slew of attacks around the world. This led to an unprecedented national security change in planning and operations when it became clear that much was needed to begin to combat and avert other acts of terrorism on American soil. The post-9/11 era of national security has seen many changes and upgrades to the government’s mission to maintain safety in America. Though the post-9/11 mission embraces both foreign and domestic types of terrorism, the need to focus on international terrorism is evident.
As the United States geared up for the beginning of the War on Terror, it was clear that strategies were also needed for the homeland. With intelligence pointing to “sleeper” cells already embedded in the country, and learning how the terrorists made it into the United States, the evidence was that the current guidelines were not enough. The Bush Administration sought to eradicate many of the issues by enacting bold new ways to deal with these evolved threats. This Act has done much to increase both the efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement’s strategy.
The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (PATRIOT) Act of 2001 paved the way for many changes that increased the success of counterterrorism measures. Among its strengths, the Act breaks down the walls of separation between departments. Communication is a much needed quality to counterterror operations. It prods governmental agencies to share information on potential threats. This is a vital key in counterterrorism.
Looking to the Middle East was as far as government leaders needed to look to see what the future of unchecked terror could look like. They did not have to invent the wheel. In his article on Islamic militant tactics, Youssef Aboul-Enein expresses the need for strong cooperation and communication within a nation’s security infrastructure (Aboul-Enein, 2005). Drawing off strategies developed from such nations, communication within governmental agencies was seen as vital. Part of the post-9/11 strategy involves the implementation of the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). These unique multiagency groups that are scattered around the country help insure the united strength of the nation’s counterterrorism force.
The physical world has been augmented by the recent addition of the Internet. It has opened up another way to interact with other people. The Internet has also strengthened the efficiency by which infrastructure can be maintained. From banks and the stock market to electrical substations and transportation management systems, the Internet links everything together. Further, it allows technological savvy people from around the world to touch just about any system they desire. This means, that while sitting safely in a cave in Afghanistan, a cyberterrorist would be able to try his hand at hacking America’s electrical grid. All the while, a large group of cyberterrorists in Iran could commence a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack on financial institutions. A strong counterterror strategy must also incorporate cybersecurity.
The Heritage Foundation’s counterterrorism task force cites another reason why the United States should put a high priority on the online world when dealing with counterterror. “The Internet has become an invaluable tool for global terrorism used for propaganda, gathering intelligence, fundraising, recruiting, [and] planning operations…” (Heritage, 2011). The Internet is quickly evolving into “home base” for terror groups. Before, it was much more difficult to radicalize people into jihad. It would take a radical imam teaching those willing to hear him. Today, even those simply curious can quickly find propaganda on the World Wide Web. This seems to be how the first Fort Hood shooter, Hassan, was radicalized.
Stirring up followers and planning attacks has become much easier; however, the greater terror groups rely on the Internet, the more intelligence can be gleaned. The National Security Agency (NSA) plays a vital role on this front within the national security mission. First, gathering intelligence is critical. The NSA has helped FBI, CIA and military foil many attacks since 9/11 (Zuckerman, Bucci, Carafano, 2013). This is a vital link in the counterterrorism strategy. If proper safeguards are not in place in regards to the Internet, there is much ground that terror groups can use to their advantage.
Regardless of the agency tasked with counterterror, there is a distinct strategy that is shifting the focus counterterror. It is a fresh view of terrorism that has not been used before. It is responding to the new intensity that terrorists are showing in their work and effort. This new strategy involves viewing terrorist acts as acts of war rather than merely criminal acts. This brings with it some detractors within the United States. Pinning war acts on a person keeps them out of reach of many of the civil rights that United States citizens have grown to enjoy. In an age when lawyers and judges are defining society, such a thought seems outrageous; however, it is evident that Islamic radicals have changed the face of terror. Gone are the days of SWAT teams raiding hostage situations as terrorists demand the release of imprisoned criminals. Instead, attacks on citizens have begun to look more like a war zone than a criminal act.
Offensive operations to eliminate the threats to the United States and its assets have been primarily a military operation. As the United States has the unique ability to take the offense to other parts of the world, the military is a clear choice. By using new technology such as drone strikes, America has made it clear it views terrorists as engaging in war activities and does not extend judicial proceedings to such. These extra-judicial means have increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the United States’ strategy (Kurtulus, 2012).
The success of the counterterrorism progress in the United States takes on a tangible element when there has been over sixty foiled attacks that have been made known to the public (Zuckerman, Bucci, Carafano, 2013). It is remarkable that so few terror attacks have happened within America post-9/11. This speaks to the ongoing work of the counterterror taskforces that continue to refine their abilities to secure the homeland. Since the onset of this era, the major legislative change came with the PATRIOT Act, as discussed earlier. This has given law enforcement the tangible tools needed to combat terrorism. It is the belief of this author that this Act has patched the legal holes needed to strengthen the United States’ national security infrastructure and that at this time, legislative actions would not facilitate its effectiveness any further.
Many believe that the PATRIOT Act fails to strike a balance within national security and civil liberties. Much of the opposition revolves around the way the Act interprets the Fourth Amendment. It is true that in some respects the law takes a rather unusual approach on the traditional interpretation of search and seizure laws, however, the type of people being investigated must be considered. Often trained in counter-intelligence tactics, would-be terrorists should not be mistaken as common criminals. They do not fit into established categories. It proves difficult, therefore, to use standard criminal investigation practices for such trained and equipped people.
Throughout its life, the PATRIOT Act has had many legal cases brought against it. The strength and fortitude the Act has exhibited securing civil liberties have allowed it to pass Constitutional muster; not one provision within the Act has been deemed unconstitutional. Further, all evidence gathered by means of the Act’s provisions have proved admissible in courts throughout the United States. This speaks to the “testament [of] the Act’s limited applicability” for specific national security issues and its ability to continue to help maintain homeland security (McNeill, 2001).
The PATRIOT Act’s authority, however, does extend past America’s borders. America has two basic choices when dealing with terrorism on the international stage: military or diplomatically. We have seen both used. It has become clear that both are needed. Socio-economic sanctions have their place on the global fight against terrorism; however, this does not always work to our advantage. Such strategies were in place in many places around the world prior to 9/11. Sadly, this proves that those who talk through violence often only listen to military action in return.
With the ever evolving tactics by terrorists, the need for the United States to constantly move forward is clear. This does not necessarily mean that with every new attempt on the country, government must put new regulations and laws into effect. The government cannot possibly regulate terrorist activities out of existence. They are already illegal acts. Neither should the American people be made to suffer limitations on liberty due to the illegal acts of others. Therefore, giving more powers to law enforcement when there is a failure to stop an attack is certainly not the answer. Simply put, there is no such thing as being 100% secure (Harman, 2013). The strength in America’s counterterror mission deals with the mitigation of targets. This comes down to risk management.
Soon after 9/11, threat assessments indicated that dams were a high value target to terrorists. In the weeks after 9/11, both law enforcement and private security companies quickly began putting plans into place that would mitigate the threats. To date, there has been no major terror attack against a dam. This illustrates the ability for counterterrorism personnel to use the power already invested in them to succeed at a mission rather than looking for ways to expand their jurisdiction. This does not mean that there will not come a time to necessitate such an expansion; however, there is no indication that there is a need at this time.
Though counterterrorism is a government responsibility, this author does not believe that the government and law enforcement should tackle this mission single handedly. The security and protection of the United States should be a responsibility of every American. Rather, when a threat is detected, the response of citizens is to not get involved and leave it up to law enforcement. Though this is usually the best course of action when dealing directly with a threat, it has calmed Americans into a sense of complacency, expecting law enforcement to detect and handle the situation themselves. This is due in part by “many of the counterterrorism measures passed by legislators involving highly aggressive tactics” (Brown, 2007). This has brought a rift to community and law enforcement cooperation. Aggressive tactics have their place. Nevertheless, strong support from the community can build inroads to greater community awareness where aggressive planning will never go.
Terrorists have shown their methodical planning that goes into an attack. Just like no law enforcement agency, no matter how large, should be expected to gather enough information to prevent every robbery or domestic violence, so they should not be expected to gain enough intelligence of the next terrorist attack (Brown, 2007). Inasmuch as local law enforcement pride themselves as being the only agency to be constantly on the streets of public America every day of the year, their numbers are finite. It is only responsible to request assistance from the communities they patrol. “The public is the most effective partner a law enforcement agency has in identifying and apprehending unknowns subjects…the more [law enforcement] shares with the public, the more they’re going to be able to help you” (Brown, 2007). It should be, therefore, a strategy of terrorism task forces to look for ways to incorporate their region’s community whenever possible.
The advancement of technology has made this easier than ever before and much more effective. Unfortunately, the government has not taken advantage of these advancements. After the national security coloring alerts were taken out of circulation, the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) was put into effect in 2011 (DHS, 2011). Since that time, it seems to be all but forgotten by the Department of Homeland Security. Its social media cites have never been used and it has never had an update on its website since its original posting. The government is failing to incorporate its greatest asset into the counterterrorism mission.
Terrorism has propelled the United States into a different era as the twenty-first century continues to dawn. It has caused the federal government to rethink strategy and risk assessments and better prepare for needs of the country. State agencies have followed suit. As it became clear that the threat is greater than one agency or state, so also did it become clear that coalitions among states and the federal government was needed. However, terror groups such as al-Qaeda have a fluidity to them that allows them to adapt to new coalition strategies (Cronin, 2010).
Indeed, the suggestions of this paper might be out of date by tomorrow. Whether from a foiled terror plot or a successful attack, counterterrorism is an extremely fluid mission. It takes the coalitions from local, state and federal agencies along with international partners to keep ahead of the curve that is Islamic extremist terrorism. And al-Qaeda and other terror groups are not gone. In a United States House of Representatives subcommittee hearing last week, it became clear that for strong homeland security to continue, the federal government must stay tuned to the “threat posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the Middle East and Africa” (Phillips, 2014). With greater anarchy than ever before in Middle Eastern countries, terror groups are gaining a foot hold which can give them a greater protection in their own homeland. In other words, the security of the United States’ homeland is dependent on the insecurity of the terror groups bent on attacks on America.
It is vital that the counterterror mission remain active within the United States to maintain strong homeland security. Terrorism is an ever evolving threat and America must meet each tactic with strength and courage. This demands a strong performance from law enforcement and intelligence agencies; h. However, this cannot be done without the support of the American citizens. Counterterrorism is a joint venture between America and its people. United America will persevere.
Aboul-Enein, Y. (2005). Retired Egyptian counterterrorism expert speaks on Islamic militant tactics. Infantry, 94(2), 19.
Brown, B. (2007). Community policing in Post-September 11 America: A Comment on the concept of community-oriented counterterrorism. Police Practice & Research, 8(3), 239-251. doi:10.1080/15614260701450716
CRONIN, A. (2010). The evolution of counterterrorism: will tactics trump strategy?. International Affairs, 86(4), 837-856. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2346.2010.00915.x
DHS (2011). National Terrorism Advisory System. Retrieved April 14, 2014, from www.dhs.gov/ntas-public-guide
HARMAN, J. (2013). The second decade after 9/11: should our homeland security response be different?. Vital Speeches Of The Day, 79(7), 222-224.
Heritage (2011). Do we need a counterterrorism task force? Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/08/a-counterterrorism-strategy-for-the-next-wave
Kurtulus, E. N. (2012). The new counterterrorism: contemporary counterterrorism trends in the United States and Israel. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 35(1), 37-58. doi:10.1080/1057610X.2012.631456
McNeill, J. B. (2011, February 10). The PATRIOT Act and the Constitution: five key points. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/02/the-patriot-act-and-the-constitution-five-key-points
Phillips, J. (2014, April 14). Al-Qaeda: “spreading like wildfire”. Retrieved from http://blog.heritage.org/2014/04/14/al-qaeda/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social
Zuckerman, J., Bucci, S. P., & Carafano, J. J. (2013, July 31). 60 Terrorist Plots Since 9/11: Continued lessons in domestic counterterrorism. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2013/7/60-terrorist-plots-since-911-continued-lessons-in-domestic-counterterrorism