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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Terror and the Government

In our chapters on bureaucracy and national security, as well as others, we discuss the government response to terrorism. On this anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a report from the Bipartisan Policy Center makes for disturbing reading:
It is fundamentally troubling, given this collection of new threats and new adversaries directly targeting America, that there remains no federal government agency or department specifically charged with identifying radicalization and interdicting the recruitment of U.S. citizens or residents for terrorism. As one senior intelligence analyst lamented, “There’s no lead agency or person. There are First Amendment issues we’re cognizant of. It’s not a crime to radicalize, only when it turns to violence. There are groups of people looking at different aspects of counter-radicalization. [But it] has to be integrated across agencies, across levels of government, public-private cooperation”118 -- which, unfortunately, it is not. America is thus vulnerable to a threat that is not only diversifying, but arguably intensifying.

Our long-held belief that homegrown terrorism couldn’t happen here has thus created a situation where we are today stumbling blindly through the legal, operational, and organizational minefield of countering terrorist radicalization and recruitment occurring in the United States. Moreover, rather than answers, we now have a long list of pressing questions on this emerging threat, on our response, and on the capacity of the national security architecture we currently have in place to meet it.

On the threat. What do we do when the terrorists are like us? When they conform to the archetypal American immigrant success story? When they are American citizens or U.S. residents? When they are not perhaps from the Middle East or South Asia and in fact have familiar-sounding names? Or, when they are self-described “petite, blue-eyed, blonde” suburban housewives who, as Colleen LaRose, a.k.a. JihadJane, boasted, “can easily blend in”?119

On our response. Who in fact has responsibility in the U.S. government to identify radicalization when it is occurring and then to interdict attempts at recruitment? Is this best done by federal law enforcement (e.g., the Federal Bureau of Investigation) or state and local jurisdictions working closely with federal authorities? What is the role of state and local governments? Is it a core mission for a modernized, post-9/11 FBI? Or for the Department of Homeland Security? Can it be done by the National Counterterrorism Center, even though it has only a coordinating function and relies on other agencies for intelligence collection, analysis, and operations? What is the role of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in homegrown terrorism and recruitment and radicalization? Will coming to grips with these challenges be the remit of the next FBI Director given the incumbent's impending retirement?

On our current national security architecture. Despite the reforms adopted from the 9/11 Commission’s report and recommendations and the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, have terrorists nonetheless discovered our Achilles’ heel in that we currently have no strategy to counter the type of threat posed by homegrown terrorists and other radicalized recruits? Did “the system work” on May 1, 2010, when Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate explosives in Times Square? Or was a lot of luck involved because of the plot’s rushed nature? And finally, can we deter al-Qaeda and its affiliates and associates from attacking in the U.S.? If even a “hard target” like New York City continually attracts terrorist attention, what does this tell us about vulnerabilities elsewhere in the country?

118 Interview with NSPG []Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group], 8 July 2010.
119 Quoted in Carrie Johnson, “JihadJane, an American woman, faces terrorism charges,” Washington Post, 10 March 2010