It seems that every day Americans are confronted with the threat of terrorism. Some people deal with great anxiety and even post-traumatic disorder as horrible psychological effects of terror. The constant threat of terrorist attacks is real; however, the aim of terrorists is to disrupt society and cause widespread panic that cripples their enemies. Terrorists want the populace to fear their very existence.
Title 22 of the U.S. Code, Section 2656f(d) defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
We must learn how to better combat the terror and terrorism our enemies use to further their political and social goals. I strongly believe good knowledge is power, so allow me to share some information about the threats of terrorism.
In her Security Studies Program Seminar presentation (February 2008) “What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat,” Louise Richardson, Executive Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, stressed the importance of acquiring knowledge about terrorism.
Even though there is no single explanation for terrorism, terrorists have primary and secondary motives including the following:
- Primary motives include the achievement of autonomy or secession by nationalist groups or the replacement of secular law with religious law by religious groups
- Primary motives are generally not common across all groups
- Secondary motives are common across all kinds of groups
- The three R's
- Sometimes personal, more often revenge for community with which terrorist identifies
- Terrorists see themselves as playing David to the state's Goliath; see state as the aggressor
- Publicity is a central objective, but also glory for the individual and the cause
- Committing a terrorist act can enhance social status for individual attackers, whereas for a terrorist leader it can lead to national and global renown
- Terrorist attacks demonstrate the existence of a resistance and its strength
Two important ideas Richardson discusses are the ability to have patience with reactions to terrorism and to keep proper perspectives. She claims being tough on terrorism is not the same as being effective, and, so many worry too much about being labeled “soft” on terrorism. Yet, Richardson contends the U.S. should focus on what is effective instead of what looks “tough.”
The philosophy questions the policy of declaring a “war” on terrorism because it is not effective to declare a war on a tactic. Indeed, terrorism is a tactic. Richardson believes the U.S. should readjust its goals to contain the threat from terrorism rather than making a war on it.
- This policy on terrorism should be guided by 6 principles
- Have a defensible and achievable goal (cannot eliminate terrorism, can contain it)
- Live by your principles (the example of George Washington during the Revolutionary War and the treatment of POWs)
- Know your enemy (intelligence assets are key)
- Separate terrorists from their communities (since they are dependent on that support)
- Engage others with you in this campaign (both international community and moderates in key countries)
- Have patience and keep perspective (the U.S. is not more endangered now than during the Cold War)
It is sorely evident that fighting terror (and terrorism) is a matter of limiting risk, channeling risk, and containment. Ian Lesser, head of the German Marshall Fund, which strengthens transatlantic cooperation on regional and national challenges in the spirit of the Marshall Plan contends: “On one hand, citizens expect to be kept safe from terrorism by a functioning and capable state. But on the other, completely eradicating terrorism — just like with violent crime — is simply unrealistic.”
"The United States cannot conduct an effective long-term counterterrorism campaign against al Qaida or other terrorist groups without understanding how terrorist groups end," said Seth Jones, lead author of the RAND Corporation study (2008), a nonprofit research organization. "In most cases, military force isn't the best instrument."
The comprehensive study analyzed 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006 and found the most common way that terrorist groups end -- 43 percent -- was via a transition to the political process. However, the possibility of a political solution is more likely if the group has narrow goals, rather than a broad, sweeping agenda like al Qaida possesses.
The second most common way that terrorist groups end -- 40 percent -- was through police and intelligence services either apprehending or killing the key leaders of these groups. Policing is especially effective in dealing with terrorists because police have a permanent presence in cities that enables them to efficiently gather information, Jones said.
Military force was effective in only 7 percent of the cases examined; in most instances, military force is too blunt an instrument to be successful against terrorist groups, although it can be useful for quelling insurgencies in which the terrorist groups are large, well-armed and well-organized, according to researchers.
Among the other findings, the study notes:
- Religious terrorist groups take longer to eliminate than other groups. Since 1968, approximately 62 percent of all terrorist groups have ended, while only 32 percent of religious terrorist groups have done so.
- No religious terrorist group has achieved victory since 1968.
- Size is an important predictor of a groups' fate. Large groups of more than 10,000 members have been victorious more than 25 percent of the time, while victory is rare when groups are smaller than 1,000 members.
- There is no statistical correlation between the duration of a terrorist group and ideological motivation, economic conditions, regime type or the breadth of terrorist goals.
- Terrorist groups that become involved in an insurgency do not end easily. Nearly 50 percent of the time they end with a negotiated settlement with the government, 25 percent of the time they achieved victory and 19 percent of the time, military groups defeated them.
- Terrorist groups from upper-income countries are much more likely to be left-wing or nationalistic, and much less likely to be motivated by religion.
(Jones, Seth G. and Martin C. Libicki. “How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa'ida.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2008.)
In a new report (2016), Tactical Approach to Counter Terrorists in Cities (TACTICS), a project funded by the European Commission, aims to create a more effective counter-terrorism system to be used in urban areas across European countries. The project was commissioned in light of the increased threat of terrorism in European cities.
The TACTICS project team has developed a technology-ready concept that could support counter-terrorism operations across European countries.
As part of the project, RAND Europe developed five counter-terrorism policy recommendations based on the analysis:
- Deploy appropriate counter-terrorism technologies that enhance decision making, but pay attention to the evolving technology landscape.
- Establish partnerships with all levels of national government, law enforcement agencies, private sector security companies and local authorities, while also collaborating with international partners and allies.
- Where possible, engage with the public, the media and local communities when deploying new counter-terrorism technologies, such as surveillance systems.
- Carefully consider the extent to which data collection and data sharing during a counter-terrorism operation are proportionate, necessary and justified.
- Identify and address any potential privacy issues as early as possible before introducing new counter-terrorism technologies.
(Richard Warnes. “New Research Finds Counter-Terrorism TACTICS for European Cities. RAND. Effective Analysi: Effective Solutions. March 31, 2016.)
Over the past several years, the Obama administration has begun to formalize a so-called “disposition matrix” for suspected terrorists abroad: a continuously evolving database that spells out the intelligence on targets and various strategies, including contingencies, for handling them. Although the government has not spelled out the steps involved in deciding how to treat various terrorists, a look at U.S. actions in the past makes it possible to reverse-engineer a rough decision tree for certain types of suspects.
Use the interactive flow chart here: http://www.brookings.edu/research/interactives/2012/wittes-byman-terrorist-threat-flowchart