Challenges to Combating Domestic Terrorism in the US

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25th Mar 2019 Security Reference this

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Combating Domestic Terrorism: A Problem-Solution Analysis

Abstract

The biggest problem faced today in United States Homeland Security is combating both domestic terrorism and lone wolf terrorism. This report will focus on the problems faced today by United States Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in combating domestic terrorism, while providing solutions on how to counter this growing threat to the safety of America. This report utilizes scholarly peer reviewed sources from accredited professionals with knowledge and experience in the study of terrorism; in conjunction with an interview with Ann Phillips, who is an assistant professor of Security Studies and International Affairs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, holds a Juris Doctorate in Law from the University of Florida, worked at the Attorney General’s Office for 20 years, and is knowledgeable in Constitutional Law. When addressing terrorism, there are three common motivations to terrorism that need to be considered, which are political, religious, and ideological. Among these motivations are four common elements; the criminal use of force or violence, an intent to intimidate or coerce, the targeting of the innocent civilian population, or that it furthers a political, economic, religious, or social objective. These motivations and elements must be countered in the war on terrorism, while also ensuring the civil rights and liberties of the citizens are protected. Terrorism is a real and serious threat to the world we live in. The issue of combating these threats is a continuous and ever evolving process which we must be prepared for.

Introduction

Overview

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was founded in 1908. They have a significant history and a great deal of experience dealing with terrorism. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed. The DHS brought together a myriad of different agencies, including the FBI. The purpose was to allow the different agencies to enhance communication and allow intelligence to flow more freely between them. There have been many obstacles to overcome since the formation of the DHS. This is due to regulations and sometimes simply the unwillingness of agencies to share information. The result of this can be devastating should vital information about a terrorist attack slip through due to the gap in communication.

Statement of Problem

The biggest problem faced today in United States Homeland Security is domestic terrorism and in part, that of the lone wolf terrorist. A lone wolf can be difficult to detect before an attack. This is because a lone wolf is an individual who commits violent acts in support of a group, movement, or ideology, but does so alone without having communication with, or actually being a member of the group, making difficult or impossible to predict a potential threat.  This lone wolf style attack was witnessed in the Boston Marathon bombing. The FBI had indications of the attacker, Tsarneav, being a possible threat, but they failed to relay that information to the Boston Police Department (BPD). Had they done this, both the FBI and BPD could have coordinated an effort to more closely monitor Tsarnaev’s actions to confirm his true intentions before the attack occurred, possibly preventing or mitigating the damage. One of the most important aspects of detecting and stopping a lone wolf is communication.

Objective

The FBI has come under harsh criticism regarding counterterrorism and stopping known suspects before they commit acts of violence such as the Orlando Florida Pulse nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen. This problem-solution analysis report will provide the FBI with details of current counterterrorism surveillance, vetting, and tactics, while providing methods for improvements to keep America safe and maintaining the rights of the people under the United States Constitution.

Scope

This report will focus on the following areas:

  1. The FBI, who they are, what they do, and how they came to be.
  2. Understanding terrorism and how it works
  3. Challenges and considerations in the fight against terrorism
  4. Provide methods for improvements of current measures and proposing new methods

The primary limitation involved in this report is staying within the bounds of the Constitution when creating, proposing, and implementing new methods of counterterrorism within the United States.

Research Methods

This report will utilize peer reviewed sources from accredited professionals with knowledge and experience in the study of terrorism. Additionally, I will be interviewing a subject matter expert who has experience with both terrorism studies and the U.S. Constitution, Ann Phillips. The insight these credible sources provide will help me give an informed and educated report on terrorism and the counter measures against it. Through this I will be able to provide details on how and why the counterterrorism measures were created and how effective they have been. I will also be able to give an educated report on possible improvements that can be made to the existing system.

Conclusion

Terrorism is a real and serious threat to the world we live in. The issue of combating these threats is a continuous and ever evolving process which we must be prepared for. By analyzing how and why terrorist attacks occur, and the effectiveness of the measures created against them, we can learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. By doing so, we can create a better plan for countering and deterring terrorist threats, making for a safer America.

Data Analysis

Federal Bureau of Investigation’s History in the United States

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon; though the names for it may have changed over time, terrorism has been occurring for hundreds of years around the world. Around 1908, the United States had grown enormously and saw a need to combat the domestic terrorism and violence growing in a new generation of professional law breakers. As stated by the FBI, “There was hardly any systematic way of enforcing the law across this now broad landscape of America. And nationally, there were few federal criminal laws and likewise only a few thinly staffed federal agencies like the Secret Service in place to tackle national crime and security issues” (FBI, n.d.). One issue was the rise of anarchism and these anarchists were in a way the first modern day terrorists. The first incident happened in 1901 at the hands of an Ohio man named Leon Czolgosz. After losing his job he turned to the writings of anarchists like Emma Goldman. He traveled to Buffalo where he bought a revolver, then shot a visiting President McKinley in the stomach. McKinley died several days later where vice president Teddy Roosevelt took the oval office.

Roosevelt appointed Charles Bonaparte as his second Attorney General. Bonaparte soon learned that he had little ability to handle the current tide of crime and corruption and he had no squad of investigators to call his own. Bonaparte created his own force of investigators. He quietly hired nine Secret Service investigators along with another 25 of his own staff and formed a special agent force. The FBI states that,

“On July 26, 1908, Bonaparte ordered Department of Justice attorneys to refer most investigative matters to his Chief Examiner, Stanley W. Finch, for handling by one of these 34 agents. The new force had its mission: to conduct investigations for the Department of Justice. So that date is celebrated as the official birth of the FBI” (FBI, n.d.).

Though originally called the Bureau of Investigation, it wasn’t until J. Edgar Hoover became director that the Bureau of Investigation was given additional powers and law enforcement capabilities. Thus, in July of 1935, it was formally renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose priorities are fighting crime and protecting the United States from terrorist attacks.

The FBI’s Role in Counterterrorism

The role of counterterrorism within the FBI is led by the National Security Branch (NSB). The NSB states that their efforts are to “detect, deter, and disrupt terrorist threats to the United States and its interests. We continue to identify individuals who seek to join the ranks of foreign fighters traveling in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and also homegrown violent extremists who may aspire to attack the United States from within. The terrorist threat against the United States remains persistent and acute, and preventing terrorist attacks is the FBI’s top priority” (FBI, n.d.). The FBI created the NSB in response to a presidential directive. This directive sought to establish a National Security Service that “would combine the missions, capabilities, and resources of the FBI’s counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and intelligence elements under the leadership of a senior FBI official” (FBI, n.d.). The NSB uses these resources to neutralize terrorist cells and operatives, dismantle extremist networks, and cut off financing and other support provided by terrorist sympathizers. Their goal is to eliminate the risk of terrorism both domestically and internationally.

Understanding Terrorism and its Motives

To create effective counterterrorism measures, the motives behind terrorism must first be understood. Under Title 22, Chapter 38 US Code, § 2656f (d)(2), terrorism is defined as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents” (Office of the coordinator for counterterrorism, 2005). Terrorism can be broken down and further explained by Ann Phillips, who is an assistant professor of Security Studies and International Affairs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. According to Phillips, there are three common motivations to terrorism that need to be considered, which are political, religious, and ideological. Among these motivations are four common elements; the criminal use of force or violence, an intent to intimidate or coerce, the targeting of the innocent civilian population, or, that it furthers a political, economic, religious, or social objective (Phillips, power-point 2017). By understanding these motivations and elements, a more comprehensive plan can be made to counter the underlying issues before they become a serious threat.

When addressing these motivations, it is important to note that one stands out from the others, and that is politics. All forms of terrorism has some kind of political motivation behind it because the core objective of a terrorist act is to create a change. Tom Quiggin is a Senior Researcher at the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University and is also a court qualified expert on terrorism. In his article, Terrorism As Politics By Other Means, Quiggin writes that, “Terrorism is, as a rule, a violent methodology of politics, pursued by the weaker party. It normally fails to meet its objectives” (Quiggin, 2010). The reason behind this methodology is because the group does not have a widespread influence to further their campaign. The terrorist group may justify their actions through religious or ideological terms, they always have a political agenda behind them. The group will typically cast their grievances in a religious light whether these grievances are real or imagined. However, there is always a political nature involved which may express issues such as political corruption, colonialism, or economic oppression.

The Structure of Terror

All terrorist organizations share a similar structure regardless of their diversity in motive, sophistication, and strength, which is depicted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The Structure of Terror (CIA, 2003)

At the base of the structure, there are three common motives being political, religious, and ideological. Other underlying conditions include poverty, corruption, and ethnic strife which can create opportunities for terrorists to exploit. Terrorists use these motivations and conditions to justify their actions and expand support. This is a fundamental problem because they believe these conditions are a legitimate means to use terror, which is what enables terrorism to develop and grow. Moving up the structure, the CIA states that the international environment is what “defines the boundaries within which terrorists’ strategies take shape” (CIA, 2003). This is the problem open borders create. It provides terrorists access to safe havens, certain capabilities, and other support. This leads to states who, through ignorance, inability, or intent, provide a physical base the terrorists need in order to operate. These states that offer safe havens provide terrorists with two main types of aid, one of these being physical, meaning safe houses, training grounds, etc. and the other being virtual by providing reliable communication and financial networks. Once a haven is established, the terrorists can solidify their organization and expand, plan, train, and conduct their operations. The leadership at the top of the structure provides the direction and strategy of the organization. According to the CIA, “The leadership becomes the catalyst for terrorist action. The loss of the leadership can cause many organizations to collapse” (CIA, 2003). However, some organizations are able to recover and promote new leadership should the old one fail.

The Cycle of Jihad

Figure 2: The Cycle of Jihad (Jenkins, 2006)

The United States Approach to Counterterrorism

Events that Created New Counterterrorism Measures and their Tactics

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 put into action the president and congress to introduce “House Resolution 3162 – Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001” (Sensenbrenner, 2001). Congress created ten titles in the PATRIOT Act, those titles being:

Areas of Consideration When Combatting Terrorism

Subject Matter Expert: Ann Phillips, Terrorism and Constitutional Law

When addressing the issue of terrorism and its prevention by law enforcement in the United States, the civil rights, liberties, and protections under the Constitution must be abided by. In a personal interview with an expert in constitutional law, Ann Phillips, she stated that a large area of debate is what rights to give terrorists. The debate encompasses whether we should try terrorists as criminals where they would receive all the protections a normal defendant would receive, whether they should have their own special class, or if they should be treated as a prisoner of war and receive the level of rights associated with it. The problem is that the Executive branch and the Legislative branch of the government would have to come together to decide how to treat terrorists. This includes whether the terrorist is a US citizen or not or whether the act of terrorism occurs on US soil or not, as long as the terrorist act is against America. This decision must be made, as a nation, on how the treatment will be implemented (personal interview, April 18, 2017).

Conclusion

Terrorism is a real and serious threat to the world we live in. The issue of combating these threats is a continuous and ever evolving process which we must be prepared for. By analyzing how and why terrorist attacks occur, and the effectiveness of the measures created against them, we can learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. By doing so, we can create a better plan for countering and deterring terrorist threats, making for a safer America.

Recommendations

Radicalization and motivation are the biggest problems in preventing terrorism. Radical terrorist groups such as ISIS, use propaganda to recruit or motivate individuals to join their cause. When an individual can relate, sympathize, or share the same ideologies as the radical group, they are more likely to be influenced to act with, or act on behalf of the group in the name of their cause. The main channel of communication ISIS uses to broadcast their propaganda is through the internet. Law enforcement restriction of this means of communication is impossible for two main reasons; the first being that is would be a violation of the First Amendment to the freedom of speech. The second is that the internet would be too vast and most likely too costly to restrict anyway. However, as Brynielsson et al. stated,

There are several behavioral markers that can be used to identify individuals likely to cause radical violence. These markers are listed as leakage, fixation, and identification. Leakage is the communication to a third party of an intent to do harm to a target. Fixation is an increasingly pathological preoccupation with a person or a cause. Identification is the desire to be like an influential role-model or identification with a group or larger cause. These behavioral markers can be used as indicators supporting that someone intends to commit a terror attack. (2013)

These markers must also be objective and adaptable in order to identify and correct errors to prevent someone from being wrongfully accused. Some of this process must be automated to capture all the information, but must be checked by an analyst to ensure accuracy and relevance.

Monitoring all of the internet and everyone on it would certainly cross several lines and be a violation of civil rights and liberties. One way to go about identifying possible lone wolf radicals is to correctly identify and monitor individuals who are active on known radical websites. This alone is not enough to determine if someone has any intent to cause an act of terror. To further investigate the intent of the individual, it is important to analyze the content of their online posts and texts. Through these texts there can be several key words or phrases that indicate the level to which the individual has or has not become radicalized. This is where the behavioral markers come into play. To what extent does the individual identify with a radical group or person? Do they have a positive or negative stance or connection to their object of focus? How strong is their fixation to the cause? This can be identified by a significant increase in how often they mention their object of focus and any key words used. Finally, should the individual have the actual intent to commit an act of terror, they will often leak their intentions or plans which can be intentional or unintentional. Brynielsson et al. states that a notable characteristic of lone wolves is that they will announce their views and intentions in advance, such as in the case of many school shooters announcing their intents on social media. Their intent will include verbs such as “..will..”, “..am going to..”, or “..should..”, accompanied with the violent action (Brynielsson et al., 2013). Through the use of these markers and behaviors, it is possible to better identify an individual with the potential and intent to commit an act of terror.

References

Brynielsson, J., Horndahl, A., Johansson, F., Kaati, L., Mårtenson, C., & Svenson, P. (2013). Harvesting and analysis of weak signals for detecting lone wolf terrorists.Security Informatics, 2(1), 1-15. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.libproxy.db.erau.edu/10.1186/2190-8532-2-11

Central Intelligence Agency. (2003). National strategy for combating terrorism. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/news-information/cia-the-war-on-terrorism/Counter_Terrorism_Strategy.pdf

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (n.d.). Brief history. Retrieved April 6, 2017 from https://www.fbi.gov/history/brief-history

Jenkins, B. M. (2006). True grit: Five years after 9/11. RAND Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/periodicals/rand-review/issues/summer2006/truegrit3.html

Madsen, J. (2004). Suicide terrorism: Rationalizing the irrational. Strategic Insights, 3(8).

Office of the coordinator for counterterrorism. (2005). Chapter 1 — Legislative requirements and key terms. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/45323.htm

Pape, R. (2005). Dying to win: The strategic logic to suicide terrorism. Random House.

Phillips, A. (2017). Terrorism & intel. Unpublished manuscript.

Quiggin, T. (2010). Terrorism as politics by other means. Global Brief. Retrieved from http://globalbrief.ca/blog/2010/10/13/terrorism-as-politics-by-other-means/

Sensenbrenner, J. Jr. F. (2001). USA PATRIOT act of 2001. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/107th-congress/house-bill/3162

Appendix

Personal interview with Ann Phillips

Q: What do you see as the biggest threats or issues or obstacles facing U.S. Homeland Security?

A: Trying to figure out what rights to give terrorists. There has been a lot of debate on whether or not we should try terrorists as criminals and they should receive all the protections that a normal defendant would receive, or that they have their own special class, or whether they should be treated more as a prisoner of war and they should receive that level of right. Until we can get a consensus on how the US wants to respond to that and what kind of protections we want to provide, we’re not going to be able to come up with a solution.

Q: Aside from the treatment of terrorists, what do you think are the biggest threats to the US? Either the threat crossing our borders and coming into the US, or the threat already within?

A: I think they’re an equal threat because you have enemies from without and enemies from within, and you have the enemies outside affecting the enemies within. With the rules that the United States has involving free travel, or the ability to come in and out of our country and cross our borders, we can have anybody at any time come in and out. So, with the radicalization occurring of our own homegrown terrorists, I don’t think you can stop looking at either place.

Q: So, immigration and our borders are a big consideration or obstacle on this threat?

A: They’re definitely a consideration, but again you have to back to the basics of what does America want to look like? What do they want their rule of law to look like? What’s more important? Coming up with the laws, it’s security versus privacy, it’s security versus rule of law. How secure do you want to be? What rights do you want to give up? What kind of country do you want to be in order to be secure? Do you want to change who we are fundamentally and the rights that are provided under the constitution in order to be secure? Or do you want to find a different way to protect America, but still remain true to the constitutional values that we’ve had for over 200 years?

Q: What is your opinion on the threat of the lone wolf terrorists such as the Boston bombing or the Orlando shooting?

A: It’s a tremendous threat because you can’t ferret them out the way you can a more traditional terrorist being guided by a larger cell or larger group. If they’re acting independently, the typical traces that you would find, the intelligence that would be out there doesn’t exist for the lone wolf terrorist. It’s a much harder discovery because it’s a much smaller needle in the haystack that you’re looking for. Add in to that people who mental illness who need a place to put their anger, or someplace to hide under to utilized to justify their actions, and you have a hard time with the lone wolf terrorist.

Q: Do you see any potential solutions to this problem?

A: Solutions are going to come with the increased ability to find intelligence on them and to come up with a path forward with agreement from politicians. Good luck getting that, but once America figures out how they want to treat terrorists and how they want to respond to that and what the rule of law is to cover that, then I think the path forward will be a little bit more clear.

Q: When considering the constitution and their treatment, would there be a difference in how a citizen is treated versus how an illegal immigrant or “refugee” is treated?

A: I think if America wants to hold itself out as a leader among nations of global power, then I don’t you can have that difference. I think that if there is sufficient evidence against a particular person, you can put that in our standard Article 3 courts and meet that burden, provide them with all the due process, and I think the world can then look at America and say you’ve convicted that person fairly. I think as long as America wants to hold itself out in that manner, I think you need to treat the citizens and non-citizens similarly when you try them. A lot of it comes down to what America’s values need to be. What we as Americans, what the politicians want America to look like to the rest of the world. Do we want to be a leader, or do we want to change the values we have based upon the threat that we’re facing?

Q: Do you know who would have to collaborate to standardize these laws? What are your ideas about how this would happen?

A: The Executive branch and the Legislative branch would have to come together as to how they want to treat terrorists. Whether they’re US citizens or not US citizens. Whether the act of terrorism occurs on US soil or not, as long as it’s against America. We have to decide as a nation how we want to do that. The Article 3 court is really set up already, that judicial branch has already been set up and the rights that apply already exist. We would just have to decide whether we’re going to plug them into those rights or not.

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