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?
Implementing a Whole-of-Government Strategy
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 Internet connection.
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.