Terrorism has been the biggest threat to US national security since September 11 2001, and the terror threat remains significant in 2016. Today, threats are diverse, and range from international terrorist organizations such as ISIL to home-grown, lone-wolf terrorists.
National Security Strategy
The 2015 National Security Strategy, released by the Obama administration, has “Combat the Persistent Threat of Terrorism” as a primary objective. It says that “the threat of catastrophic attacks against our homeland by terrorists has diminished but still persists.” It notes that our terrorist adversaries are spread throughout the world and include globally oriented groups like al-Qa’ida, and increasingly “regionally focused and globally connected groups,” such as ISIL.
In February of this year, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper US Intelligence Community’s (IC) Worldwide Threat Assessment to the US Senate Armed Services Committee, that showed the extent of terrorism around the world. The biggest threats he listed were ISIS and affiliated groups, Al Qaeda and affiliated groups, and Shiite groups with backing by Iran, to include Hezbollah.
In response to these threats, the US continues to be engaged in counterterrorism operations in several different countries. In Somalia, special forces have been using airstrikes against al-Shabaab, while also building up Ugandan counter-terrorism capabilities. In Afghanistan, drones are being used in support of Afghan ground forces to cripple the Taliban terrorist network. And the Department of Defense and coalition forces have been using drone strikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, under Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. The US also uses sanctions as a tool against terrorism, placing organizations, individuals and state-sponsors of terrorism on a sanctions list.
Terrorism at Home
But terrorism on US soil has also been a concern of national security experts. Already in 2016, there have been two deadly terrorist attacks in the US In June, a shooting in an Orlando gay nightclub left 49 people killed and 53 injured, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. The suspect, Omar Mateen, was an American-born citizen with Afghan parents, and the FBI claimed he had links to radical Islam. Less than one month later, on 7 July, Micah Xavier Johnson shot twelve police officers and two civilians in Dallas, Texas. Five officers died.
These two incidents had very different motives, but they were both violent, large scale attacks with a political motivation, which qualifies them as terrorist attacks. What they illustrate is the difficulty of managing and containing terrorist threats in the modern age, when a single man, acting alone, can cause such large scale death and panic.
A Growing Threat?
As of June 2016, DHS asserted that they have no specific and credible intelligence of terrorist plot to attack the US However, the DHS is still concerned that individuals inspired by terrorism may attempt to attack public events or places. In particular, the DHS is concerned about the use of the internet by terrorists to inspire individuals to their cause and incite violence.
In response to the growing homegrown terrorism threat, DHS and the FBI are working with state and local partners to increase security measures. This includes an increased law enforcement and security presence, particularly in public places and at large events. Law enforcement is ramping up searches on bags, adding more K-9 teams, and increasing the use of screening technologies. At the same time, the FBI is investigating any leads on potential terrorism-related activities in the US.
The Future of National Security
The demand for national security experts has never been greater than it is in 2016, but how can those not currently involved in politics help? One step that is becoming more available is the option to study diplomacy through diplomacy degrees. Institutions like Norwich University offer extensive training in the “ideology, psychology and strategies that fuel all forms of terrorism,” which is essential for developing the mindset to understand and counter terrorism. With this as an option for an education and career path, students will be better prepared to combat terrorism as the threat develops further in the future. They will also be able to better understand other issues on an international level, from commerce to conflict management.
2016 continues to be as big a threat to national security as it was 15 years ago. However, the US has become more aware and better equipped to protect against and combat the threat of violent, extremist terrorism abroad. The challenge going forward is to counter the more nebulous threat of terrorism that takes root and kills on our own soil.