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Terrorism, Homeland Security, Intelligence

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Essay 1. Define the “international terrorist threat” to U.S. national security that has arisen since the end of World War II. Why are these threats important for national security policy-makers to address? How has the international security community reacted to these threats? What role do conventional militaries have in responding to the threats, if any? How will this problem be resolved and when?

Since the end of World War Two, the terrorist threat has become harder to define but potentially much more lethal. The arms race of the 20th century has led to fears that radical organizations can acquire these arms and use them to highest effect against civilian populations. During the Cold War, the superpowers operated under the concept of “Mutually Assured Destruction”, a chilling realization but one that prevented war none the less.

Today the threat has changed. Terrorist groups are armed and financed more than ever before. Often, they operate out of an ideology that rejects pure reason. They do not fear death and “…do not always need a clear mandate or apparent cause for their crimes” (Ledlow, Community Preparedness and Response to Terrorism, 2005)

Defining the Threat

The scope of the international terrorist threat is inherently difficult to define. Terrorists may be part of wide networks or they may act alone. They may target infrastructure, technology, individuals or groups of people. Preventing any possible threat may not be possible. Preparing to react effectively is more possible. There are some particular areas of vulnerability officials are focusing on, however.

Biological attacks have the potential to cause massive loss of life. Treaties to ensure the destruction of potentially weaponizable biological agents were signed in the 1980s. By most accounts, the United States took action to destroy their agents, but the Soviet Union did not. “Not only had they [U.S.S.R.] not destroyed their bioweapons program, they had expanded it” (Clarke, Against All Enemies, 2004).

            The extent of the Soviet program is still not fully known. It is also not known how many samples may have fallen into the hands of hostile regimes or terrorist organizations.

Preparing for these attacks will involve a comprehensive strategy that integrates public and private facilities. United States health and security organizations are proceeding under the assumption that there are active, ongoing attempts to effectively weaponize harmful biological agents.

Greater controls over biotoxins have been put in place in recent years. The Department of Homeland Security, a federal bureaucracy established after the 9/11 attacks is working to integrate terrorism response services. “Seamless networks of private clinical and hospital labs working in concert with Public health laboratories are needed” (Ledlow, Community Preparedness and Response to Terrorism, 2005). The experience of Hurricane Katrina has shown that developing an efficient and effective response to catastrophic events is still a work in progress.

Another area of vulnerability is our nations infrastructure. Additional security measures have been implemented at power plants, water facilities and other vital locations. The effort to secure shipping and transportation links has been moving at a somewhat slower pace. Only a fraction of incoming ships are searched thoroughly. Federalized screeners are conducting more searches of passengers and baggage, but their effectiveness is still in question.

Computer networks are now an emerging focus for public and private officials. These networks are essential to our economy. As such they are inviting targets for terrorists. Terrorist groups have shown themselves to be computer savvy, using the internet as a promotion and recruitment tool. A lone hacker anywhere on earth can potentially produce a devastating impact on the American economy. The government has partnered with business to stay ahead of the curve on this issue, in some cases even hiring former hackers to help secure their networks.

Clearly, the prevention effort is not foolproof. Terrorism has been around for thousands of years and there are no prospects for its complete elimination. Its effects can be minimized through preparation and enlightened policies.

It is important for policy makers to address these threats both externally and internally. Internationally, the role of the military is somewhat limited. Policy makers must walk a fine line between attacking targets and inflaming terrorism to an even greater level. The military cant control terrorism forever. A more comprehensive approach targeting the root causes must be undertaken. As Richard Clarke puts it: “…we and our values needed to be more appealing to Muslims than al Qaeda is” (Clarke, Against All Enemies, 2004).

The Military Role

The role of the armed forces in this new type of war is still coming into focus. On foreign soil, the military has the capability to take out terrorist strongholds, provided that the intelligence reports they receive are accurate. A consensus is emerging that a more comprehensive effort is necessary. While military attacks can kill the ultimate

perpetrators of terror, behind these terrorists exists a support network. Kent Butts, et al., from the U.S. Army War College concluded that: “The center of gravity of this war is the people who provide safe havens, support and foot soldiers to terrorists” (The Military’s

Role in Addressing the Underlying Conditions of Terrorism, 2006).

Domestically, the role of the military has been more of a point of contention. Some argue that the military needs to be used to greater effect in assisting law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA), “Traditional opposition to criminal law enforcement by the armed forces may be outdated” (Ensign, Americas Military Today, 2004).

Critics of this suggestion argue that the framers of the constitution made a clear distinction between the roles of the military and domestic law enforcement. Entangling the two will inevitably lead to an erosion in civil rights.

The military effort, as a whole, cannot provide the complete answer to preventing and responding to terrorist attacks. Butts writes that: “The military element of power will rarely lead these efforts but it can provide substantial and, in certain situations, invaluable support” (The Military’s Role in Addressing the Underlying Conditions of Terrorism, 2006). Policy makers are moving toward greater integration of military, intelligence, foreign policy assets and domestic first responders.

Crafting Policy and Conclusion

Policy makers must take flexible approaches to fluid problems. The failure to do so could lead to more catastrophic effects. If the American people believe that the government cannot protect them, then that government could then be at risk. The social and economic effects of terrorism are potentially devastating, especially in a nation where the government may not be able to react decisively and effectively.

Resolving the terrorist threat completely is probably an unrealistic goal. Reducing the threat substantially should be thought of as a long-term goal. It is also a perpetual process. The 9/11 attacks showed us a new enemy. It is an enemy that patiently studies our strengths and weaknesses and waits for the time when we are most unprepared to strike. For those reasons diligent preparation will be necessary for the foreseeable future. 


Butts, Kent, Klapakis, Terry and Bradshaw, Art. (2006). “The Military’s Role in

Addressing the Underlying Conditions of Terrorism.” Center for Strategic Leadership – U.S. Army War College. Issue Paper; Vol. 05-06 (Jun.), pp. 1-4.

Clarke, Richard A. (2004). Against All Enemies: inside Americas war on terror. New

York: Free Press.

Ensign, Tod. (2004). Americas Military Today: the challenge of militarism. New York:

The New Press.

Ledlow, Gerald et al., eds. (2005). Community Preparedness and Response to Terrorism.

Westport, CT: Praeger.

Pillar, Paul. (2001). “Fighting International Terrorism: beyond September 11th.” NIC.

Retrieved 11/5/2007 from: http://www.dni.gov/nic/speeches_beyondsept11.html .

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