Washington, D.C. – A new report released by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Homeland Security Project today found that the most imminent threat to the United States is from individuals who are radicalized over the Internet, often inspired by al-Qaeda’s jihadist message. While these lone wolves might not be able to kill in mass numbers, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Fort Hood slayings show that alienated persons influenced partially by online messaging can cause great damage.
The report, Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment, provides a comprehensive review of al-Qaeda and its affiliates and provides legislative and executive recommendations on how best to counter the threat and protect the homeland. The report was authored by several members of BPC’s Homeland Security Project, which is led by former 9/11 Commission Co-chairs former Governor Tom Kean and former Representative Lee Hamilton.
As the U.S. weighs possible action in Syria, the report urges the executive branch to track the flow of arms to jihadist fighters in the region, as well as to incorporate lessons learned from the Boston bombings into its current emergency-response plan to ensure a more measured reaction to tragic but small-scale terrorist attacks.
“This assessment finds that the United States faces a different terrorist threat than it did on 9/11/2001. The borders between domestic and international terrorism have blurred, and the U.S. adversaries are not only organizations, but also individuals. To best protect the homeland, we need to develop defenses against a more diffused threat posed by radicalized individuals, in addition to organized groups,” said Gov. Kean. “The Bipartisan Policy Center’s report is intended to evaluate the current domestic and international threats and provide recommendations to help lawmakers and the administration counter those threats.”
The report also makes several recommendations to Congress, including reforms to the CIA drone program. Congress should use the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 as an opportunity to review the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), and should create an independent investigative body—similar to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)—to investigate terrorist attacks in the U.S., explain how the attackers evaded law enforcement, and identify the lessons to be learned.
“It has been twelve years since the attacks on 9/11. Political leaders from both parties should renew their focus on counterterrorism strategies to ensure that our current approach matches the threats of today,” said Rep. Hamilton. “Congress should hold a series of public hearings to discuss where the U.S. stands in its counterterrorism strategy. Those hearings would be an opportunity to evaluate if our nation is absorbing the institutional lessons learned over the past decade, to analyze if the government is allocating resources to the right places, and most importantly, to determine what is missing from our strategy.”
The report was authored by: Peter Bergen, Director of the National Security Program at the New America Foundation; Bruce Hoffman, Director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University; Erroll Southers, Associate Director of Research Transition at the Department of Homeland Security’s National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) at the University of Southern California and former FBI special agent; and former CIA Operative Michael Hurley.
“Al-Qaeda has embraced a strategy that transformed it into a decentralized, networked, transnational movement, rather than the single monolithic entity it was on the eve of 9/11. This strategy was undoubtedly the result of necessity; U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the wake of the 9/11 attacks largely obliterated al-Qaeda as an organization,” said Bergen.
The new assessment builds on three previous reports released by BPC’s Homeland Security Project: a 2010 analysis that highlighted the increasingly homegrown nature of the terrorist threat, a 2011 report that offered practical recommendations for preventing violent radicalization in America and a 2012 report that offered recommendations to counter online radicalization. The Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment is the first in an annual series of threat assessments.