The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

9/11 10 Years Later: Terrorism, Terrorists and Threats

Commemorating 9/11 [Note: Some documents linked to the Homeland Security Digital Library may require a login. Sign in or create an account here] As the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks upon the Pentagon and the World Trade Center approaches, many organizations are releasing overarching perspectives of terrorism in the US. Ten Years After 9/11 from the 9/11 Commission Chairmen was released in March of this year. In May, the Heritage Foundation released data on four decades of Terror Trends. The War on Terror in which we have been engaged for the last ten years has defined American domestic and foreign policies as never before. The 9/11 attacks and the war combined have given birth to an entire academic discipline (terrorism and security studies) and created an industry dedicated to its analysis. The American people have been exposed to the phenomenon of "modern" terrorism for over forty years. This blog will reference significant documents from the HSDL collection to provide an overview of modern terrorism and its impacts before and after 9/11.



Pre-9/11 The U.S. experience with Middle East terrorism prior to 9/11 featured groups such as Abu Nidal, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Although not directly a threat (but still widely covered by the media), ethno-nationalistic terrorism was characterized by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, Ulster Defense Association and Basque E.T.A. Other ”Euroterrorists” included November 17th, Red Brigades and the Red Army Faction. We witnessed the assassination of Station Chief Richard Welch by the Greek Marxist group in 1975, the kidnapping of General Dozier in Italy in 1981, the bombing of the United States Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1982, the murder of U.S. Navy Diver Robert Stethem by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro and killing of Leon Klinghoffer, the Rhein-Main PX and discotheque bombings targeting U.S. military personnel and the loss of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. The following decade the American people faced the bombing of the Khobar Towers barracks, attacks upon the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the strike against the USS Cole. American response (where possible) was limited. Bombs were dropped on select targets in Tripoli in 1986 after intelligence directly linked the German attacks of the previous year to Libyan supported terrorists, and cruise missiles were launched against terrorist training camps and compounds in Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 for the U.S. Embassy bombings. The American level of response was commensurate to the criminal act and often constrained by political ("Cold War") realities. For a comprehensive list of terrorist activity by date see the "2011 Counterterrorism Calendar" . The detonation of truck bombs under the World Trade Center (1993) and outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City(1995) introduced a new dimension to terrorism: terrorists were among us and on our soil. Post-9/11 The sophistication and scale of the attacks on 9/11 dwarfed any of the previous incidents. It has resulted in governmental reorganization (as highlighted in 2002's "Assessing the Department of Homeland Security") unseen since the Great Depression and a shift in our national focus on a par with our entry into World War II. Of all the actions the United States has taken since 9/11 in the name of combating terrorism, none have been as significant as the deployment of troops into Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Our military footprint has increased dramatically in support of these operations and in response to the threat of terrorism in other regions. There is now a global consensus that terrorism is a threat to the safety and stability of every country. The perception of terrorism is no longer restricted to the aforementioned geographic regions nor is it confined to groups with defined and often limited objectives. In addition to domestic right-wing terrorists and radicalized "Islamists", the terrorist threat horizon includes operatives in ”bio-terrorism”, ”narco-terrorism”, ”eco-terrorism” and ”cyber-terrorism”. Some would say the threat from WMDs and the "dirty bomb" scenario via proliferation of nuclear materials has never been greater than it is today. Terrorism Is Multi-faceted We now face acts of violence against our interests abroad from transnational groups as well as attacks within or own borders by agents of the same - some of whom were born and raised as Americans. While the threat of Al-Qaeda remains clear (even after the elimination of Osama bin Laden ), our intelligence and law enforcement assets must still contend those who wish to carry on that legacy, while at the same time bearing in mind that there are potential Timothy McVeighs of the 21st Century in the making. Some argue that we are facing "The Second Wave" of right-wing, anti-government militia activity. While we contend with ”jihadist” terror in the form of a Ft. Hood shooter, we still must be vigilant for the Bacillus anthracis ("Anthrax") in the mail scenario and the "lone wolf" possibility. Whether the threat is foreign-born and directed from abroad or " homegrown"; it must be remembered that for every "successful" terrorist act on our soil since 9/11 , law enforcement has thwarted two dozen plots in the making. In May the Heritage Foundation listed “39 Terrorist Plots Foiled Since 9/11”, and this number has since grown. Domestic Impacts The Homeland Security Digital Library has a sizable number of documents which cover the debate on the balance of citizens’ rights with the nation’s need for security. This includes the question of the role of the military in domestic security and response to acts of domestic terror. These are questions which were born from the struggle against militants in the 1960s and 1970s but were relatively dormant until they re-emerged in 2001. See "Counterterrorism Since 9/11" for an in-depth examination of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Civil Liberties and the role of domestic intelligence is as divisive a topic today as it was in the opening days of the Patriot Act. The December 2010 House hearing report on Civil Liberties and National Security depicts the ongoing debate in the Capital. For those with full access to the HSDL, the library also has select lists of documents dedicated specifically to the pre-9/11 domestic threat , post-9/11 domestic threat , pre-9/11 WMD threat and post-9/11 WMD threat . For a list of key 9/11 related documents see the HSDL’s Featured Topic at https://www.hsdl.org/?collection/cluster&id=9 [access to the Featured Topic requires a login.] Additional blog posts in the HSDL "9/11 10 Years Later" series can be found here