course corrections on his drone policy and Guantanamo Bay detainees
are important. Though the use of drones has been far more judicious and careful
than many believe -- I know from briefings I received as a member of Congress
-- they have inflamed world opinion against the United States, especially in
Muslim countries, and have served as a terrorist recruiting tool. So, too, the Gitmo facility -- a bad idea made considerably
worse because the case-by-case exit ramp for prisoners now considered ready for
release has been pulled up by the U.S. Congress. So, new constraints on drones
and redoubled efforts to repatriate prisoners are overdue.
But the impact these changes have on the terror threat in the United States
(and Britain, as we saw just this week) may disappoint. For one thing, though
the president now says he may support drone courts, the use of drones remains
extra-judicial. The executive branch is policing itself -- a scary proposition.
For another, some in Congress remain implacable on Gitmo and the "indefinite
preventive detention" nightmare may continue. Thus, both practices will still
yield B-roll for Internet and live radicalization efforts.
And there is another reason: Even with welcome changes, the decade-plus of
"U.S. wars," as well as culture wars, have fed a narrative that inspires
alienated immigrants and bigots to self-radicalize right here on U.S. soil. Former
CIA Director Michael Hayden calls this the "new normal": homegrown
attacks by people legally here. These folks only have to be right once: To
prevent them from acting, we have to be right every time. Impossible odds,
though there are four things we can do to manage the risk better: 1.) intervene in
the grey area between radical beliefs and violent behaviors; 2.) install redundant
layers of security at both hard and soft critical targets; 3.) instill trust
with communities where alienation is likely; and 4.) integrate a
whole-of-government approach that embodies U.S. values.
Intervening in the Grey Area Between Beliefs and Behavior
The Constitution protects the expression of radical beliefs under the First
Amendment. But when people are motivated by those beliefs to engage in violent
acts, they commit crimes punishable by law. The challenge is to identify and
intervene in the grey area between belief and action.
This was the point of the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism
Prevention Act, which I introduced in the House in 2007, and which passed twice
by an overwhelming bipartisan vote. The cornerstone of the bill was a
commission intended to study the problem of radicalization and how certain
beliefs incite someone to commit violence, as well as to ensure that profiling
would be based not on race or religion but behavior. Sadly, a misguided view
over privacy concerns by the civil liberties community blew up the bill when it
hit the Senate. Today, we're left with fewer tools than we need to stop the
next homegrown plot.
If revisited, a Homegrown Terror Commission could compile a list of
lessons-learned from large, well-funded police departments like the NYPD or
LAPD (where the concept of suspicious activity reporting began) as well as the
Department of Homeland Security's "See Something, Say Something" campaign. And
it could study the language and tactics used by al Qaeda's Inspire magazine
-- which was found on the computer of accused Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev's
widow -- to recruit terrorists and incite violence.
The findings from such a commission would improve effectiveness of existing
tools, too. In 2007, Congress created the Interagency Threat Assessment and
Coordination Group at the National Counterterrorism Center. The ITAC-G is a
team made up of firefighters, state and local police, tribal representatives, and
emergency medical personnel that analyzes and interprets intelligence that
could be useful to frontline personnel.
For example, when
local police found ricin in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2008, the ITAC-G
explained how to identify it to police departments across the country. ITAC-G
could also benefit from clear guidelines about suspicious behavior by
incorporating trends into threat alerts.
Canada has dedicated $10 million to the Kanishka Project, named after the Air
India plane that was bombed in 1985, killing hundreds of Canadian citizens. Research
supported by the project will increase Canada's understanding of the
recruitment methods and tactics of terrorists, which will help that country
produce more effective policies, tools, and resources for law enforcement. Why
can't we do the same?
Install Redundant Layers of Security
Airports and seaports employ multiple layers of security, some obvious to the
naked eye and some covert -- think metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs,
restricted areas, databases, etc. These layers provide redundancy in the event
that one system fails. But we also need more robust security at softer targets
like subway stations, hotels, public sporting events, and schools. Passive
measures like access control, perimeter monitoring, and random security checks
are sometimes all that's necessary to deter a would-be terrorist.
The Boston bombing demonstrated that video surveillance in the "public square"
-- around prominent buildings and at marathon finish lines, for example -- must
also be expanded. So-called "closed circuit TV" camera footage can be reviewed
in real time or after an attack to help local law enforcement identify unusual
or suspicious activity. The 2005 subway and bus bombers in London were quickly
captured because of video surveillance.
Instilling Trust with Communities
Homegrown terrorists are not all Muslim. They have been affiliated with those
on the far right (pro-gun, anti-abortion, pro-Nazi, or anti-Muslim) or far left
(animal rights or pro-environment activists).
Some police and
sheriff's departments successfully developed key relationships within Muslim
and other minority communities even before 9/11 -- and already have
longstanding relationships with other key community leaders. FBI field offices
did the same after 2001.
But we need to be
proactive rather than reactive. How are we working with community groups to
understand and identify the anti-abortion fanatic who plots to bomb the next
sporting event, as Eric Rudolph did at the Atlanta Olympics? What are lessons
from other countries with growing Muslim populations (think France, which
recently arrested three Chechens) that have done this well?
David Petraeus has said in relation to Afghanistan, "We can't kill or capture
our way out of an industrial-strength insurgency." The same applies to the
homegrown terror threat: We have to be creative and employ non-kinetic tools if
we are to have any hope of succeeding. Brute force -- and bending the law to
its limits -- won't help us find the kid in a basement, radicalized by an
What does a whole-of-government strategy look like? To start, it requires
leadership at the top. The president must use his bully pulpit to articulate
our values and interests. A positive narrative about what America stands for
can help counter hateful propaganda that often attracts and radicalizes
disaffected kids, whether in Yemen or Cambridge, Massachusetts. We do this by
living our values -- not by inflaming the hatred of people we need to persuade
by conducting so-called signature drone strikes and operating a prison that has no exit. Thursday's
announcement by the president about reining in our counterterrorism tactics is
a good start.
He must also demand agility from bureaucracies, and he must encourage the
Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Office of the
Director of National Intelligence, and other key agencies to be creative about
their approaches to mitigating this threat, and work more closely with state
and local governments before key holidays. Communication is key. Congressional
hearings revealed that the FBI did not tell the Boston Police Department that
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was on a terrorist watch list. Had it done so, Boston PD
might have been able to intercede earlier.
There's a role for businesspeople, too, as the owners and operators of
infrastructure that may be targeted by terrorists -- and that we need to make
more resilient. If something is suspicious -- like the purchase of a large
order of chemicals or fertilizer -- businesses will know first.
Security and liberty are not a zero-sum game. We either get more or less of
both. It is a testament to our resilience that, 12 years after
the September 11 attacks, a new Time/CNN poll finds that only four in
10 Americans say they are willing to give up more civil liberties to fight
terrorism in the aftermath of the Boston bombing.
Since 9/11, we've thwarted over 50 homegrown terrorists and missed only
four homegrown attacks. Curtailing tactics that inflame alienated populations,
while enhancing techniques that help us find those among us who are radicalized,
gives us far better odds of reducing risk.
John Moore/Getty Images