Search This Blog

Monday, June 17, 2024

The Terrorist Threat

 Graham Allison and Michael Morrell at Foreign Affairs:

Testifying in December to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, [FBI Director Christopher] Wray said, “When I sat here last year, I walked through how we were already in a heightened threat environment.” Yet after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, “we’ve seen the threat from foreign terrorists rise to a whole nother level,” he added. In speaking about those threats, Wray has repeatedly drawn attention to security gaps at the United States’ southern border, where thousands of people each week enter the country undetected.

Wray is not the only senior official issuing warnings. Since he became commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in 2022, General Erik Kurilla has been pointing out the worrying capabilities of the terrorist groups his forces are fighting in the Middle East and South Asia. These include al Qaeda, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and especially Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), the ISIS affiliate that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Christine Abizaid, the outgoing director of the National Counterterrorism Center, described “an elevated global threat environment” while speaking at a conference in Doha last month. And in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee just last week, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaking about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the United States, said that the “threat level . . . has gone up enormously.”


Observable trends add weight to these officials’ concerns. Most important is the growing number of both successful and foiled attacks. According to the Global Terrorism Index, deaths from terrorism increased by 22 percent from 2022 to 2023. This year has already seen the two large ISIS-K attacks in Iran and Russia. And were it not for the outstanding work of German intelligence and police, the list of successful acts of terrorism in the past few months would have been longer. German authorities arrested foreign nationals who were allegedly planning attacks on the Cologne Cathedral late last year and the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm in March.

Foiled plots inside the United States should be the ultimate wake-up call. In April 2022, the Justice Department charged an Iranian government official based in Tehran with attempting to hire a hit man to assassinate former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton. The following month, the FBI reported that it had thwarted the plans of an Iraqi national living in Ohio to smuggle four people across the southern border to assassinate former President George W. Bush. Most recently, the FBI—as part of the Biden administration’s effort to convince Congress to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—shared declassified intelligence with Politico showing that the agency had stopped a plot to attack critical infrastructure in the United States last fall. According to the FBI, the organizer inside the United States was in regular contact with a foreign terrorist group, had identified specific targets, and had made sufficient preparations to put the plan into motion.