Table of Contents
September 11, 2001, terrorist attack signaled a significant escalation in the movement toward extremely destructive terrorist attacks that started in the 1980s. Before the September 2001 attack, the truck bombings of French and US military barracks in Lebanon on October 23, 1983, was the deadliest terrorist attack. The growing trend in destructive attacks further reflects a growing trend toward highly indiscriminate targeting by international terrorists where a significant proportion of the victims of terrorist attacks today are civilians (Hoffman, 2006). From the 1980s, the US has experienced extensive terrorist attacks whose magnitude, destruction, and intensity appears to escalate. The threat of terrorism is a constant concern for both government and citizens of the US. This paper examines the issues the US will face with regard to terrorist threats. The landscape of terrorist threats in the US will shift significantly in the future, including the proliferation of domestic terrorism, as well as exploitation of technological advancements.
In the future, terrorist attack tactics may advance to exploit points of weaknesses, such as those against attacks involving active shooters, or screening for weapon concealment. Terrorists avoid attacks that can be hampered by effective countermeasures and instead pursue attacks that exploit vulnerabilities. For instance, suicide operations such as the 2009 Fort Hood attack appear to target the country’s lack of experience and capacity to respond effectively to simultaneous attacks (Neumann, 2009). The suicide attack on Fort Hood involved tactics comprising of active shooters where police cordon off the area and await assistance from paramilitary response units. Such attacks present significantly minimal consequences than emerging catastrophic chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) attacks, or attacks involving improvised explosive devices. However, such active shooter attacks have a significantly greater chance of succeeding. Notably, responding to such conventional terrorist attacks can potentially be problematic for first responders given the possibility of secondary attacks targeted at them (Hoffman, 2006). Also, terrorists may adopt innovative strategies for concealing explosive devices. Notably, as the country adopts new countermeasures to undermine vulnerabilities, terrorists will also increasingly come up with new concealment methods to adapt to established countermeasures. As such, as the concealment tactics of terrorists evolve, this will require emergency managers, as well as first responders to readjust screening procedures.
Furthermore, terrorist attacks appear to be evolving towards inflicting mass casualties. For instance, terrorists may increasingly target commercial aircrafts despite the establishment of advanced security systems at airports. Technological advancements will potentially increase the access of terrorists to disastrous CBRN weapons. Also, there is a high probability that global terrorism perpetrated by Islamic groups may cease to be the principal terrorist threat to the country. This is primarily so considering the history of terrorist threats in the US, which demonstrates that Islamic terrorist groups may become less substantial, or potentially dissipate in future (Neumann, 2009). The nature of the vast majority of extremist Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and ISIS will potentially subside in the face of substantial threat. The rationale for this position borrows from the futility of the groups’ efforts to attain strategic objectives and transition into legitimate political groups. In essence, these groups are unlikely to attain their fundamental objectives of establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate or overthrowing regimes under the significant Western influence in the Middle East.
Another potential future trend concerning terrorism in the US involves the growth of homegrown violent extremists. There is a significant growth in the incident of the radicalization and recruitment of American citizens and permanent residents to take part in Islamic terrorist activities (Hoffman, 2006). Various factors are likely to further impair the capacity of the US to respond effectively to homegrown terrorist threats. Significantly, the federal response to such threats is majorly problematic given the limited legal capacity of certain federal counterterrorism tools, especially those exploited by the intelligence community, as the as the Department of Defense. The country’s legal systems may disallow these institutions from employing these tools against American citizens and residents.
Also, there is a growing threat from alternative sources of domestic terrorism. Groups with agendas focused on issues such as white supremacy, abortion, the environment, and animal rights will likely provide an alternative source of domestic terrorism in the US (Hoffman, 2006). Significantly, increasing domestic terrorist threats may divert resources and attention from natural catastrophes. As such, it will become increasingly critical for federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security to identify citizen and resident radicalization, as well as establish measures to interdict the recruitment of citizens and residents. Additionally, there will be a greater need for the engagement of state and local public safety officials, especially police organization, in dealing with terrorist threats.
Some factors underscore these shifts in trends in terrorist threats. The greatest factor involves the shifting role played by the individual. The growing trend in this area concerns individuals increasingly affiliating with other like-minded persons to establish communities with shared ideologies. This trend may enhance the radicalization of US citizens and residents in the future. The Internet continues to play a central role in establishing and maintaining social bonds that are essential for radicalization and recruitment, as well granting an unlimited avenue through which radicalization and recruitment can take place (Neumann, 2009). Technological advancements are also responsible for the growing explosion of self-radicalization, which involves individuals actively looking for terrorist organizations. Without a doubt, terrorist attacks perpetrated by radicalized US citizens and residents are likely to be successful and catastrophic given the capacity of terrorist organizations to connect remotely to radicalized individuals and supply tactical suggestions, as well as resources.
Also, the growth of global interdependencies will play a central role in expanding the significance of terrorist threats in the future. Transnational organizations, including those of a legal, criminal, and terrorist nature continue to enjoy greater reach given the advancement of globalization. The expansion of global connections will provide greater opportunities for terrorist organizations to expand their scope and membership, thereby posing a greater threat to the security of the US (Hoffman, 2006). Additionally, globalization will increasingly provide terrorist organizations with independence from former state sponsors.
On the other hand, technological innovation, as well as a dependency will greatly advance terrorist threats and attacks. While technological advancements, such as software developed to pinpoint valuable intelligence information can serve as effective countermeasures against terrorism, they can also benefit terrorists by enhancing their access to CBRN materials and advanced systems such as guided missiles (Neumann, 2009). Furthermore, future technological advancements could significantly increase the access of terrorist groups to radicalized US citizens and residents. Growing universal access and exploitation of information will be a major factor in terrorist attacks in the future. The proliferation of social networking websites provides the public will instantaneous access to gruesome images and information concerning terrorist attacks. At the same time, these technologies provide terrorists with the capacity to monitor the actions of emergency responders. This information can be invaluable for terrorists if a secondary attack is also part of the plan.
The country is currently looking for a recovery mode that includes effective articulation of potential targets, including risk areas and vulnerabilities. The recovery mode also involves an initial warning concerning the incident of a terrorist attack, usually through a 911 call. Increased training and awareness regarding terrorist events will allow first responders to recognize whether a terrorist event has occurred. The recovery mode also involves initial detection of terrorist threats and attacks where state and local first responders identify unusual events and detect terrorism incidents. Detecting CBRN terrorism events involves recognizing similar symptoms or unusual events. The unpredictability of CBRN requires that first responders are protected from the agendas before treating victims. Effective recovery also includes investigating and containing hazards through initial assessments of hazards caused by terrorist attacks (Hoffman, 2006). This involves alerting relevant local, state, and federal authorities to contain the hazards. In conclusion, changing attack approaches and tactics will require emergency managers, as well as first responders to adapt their response tactics. This involves coming up with systems that ensure that emergency personnel does not become additional casualties in terrorist attacks. Growing terrorist threats continue to compete with natural catastrophes for emergency attention and management resources (Neumann, 2009). There is a need for local, state, and federal authorities to establish measures that pay close attention to both natural disasters and terrorist threats. On the other hand, it is highly likely that domestic terrorism will increasingly become more threating than Islamic extremism, thereby expanding the counterterrorism responsibilities for local, state, and federal emergency stakeholders. Furthermore, the technological landscape will be a key factor in influencing the nature of terrorist threats in the future.
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- Hoffman, B. (2006). Inside terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Neumann, P. R. (2009). Old and new terrorism: Volume 4 of understanding terrorism. Cambridge: Polity.