A changed terrorist threat landscape since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 means the Obama administration and Congress should implement a number of changes to U.S homeland security practices, including designating a single official within the Homeland Security Department to be in charge of countering violent extremism, says a report from the Bipartisan Policy Center Homeland Security Project.
According to Fierce Homeland Security the report released Sept. 9, notes that the domestic violent jihadi threat has shifted from plots directly connected to foreign groups to plots by individuals “who are merely inspired by them.” The potential of such lone wolves to inflict mass casualties is limited, the report says, despite individually tragic episodes carried out by them, such as the Boston Marathon bombing.
Lone wolves are difficult to detect due to their few, if any, connections to known terrorist groups and typical lack of known criminal activity. But no agency owns the counter-radicalization portfolio. “If no one is directly responsible, few effective or coordinated actions are likely to be achieved,” the report says. As a result, the Obama administration should designate an assistant secretary for countering violent extremism within DHS, it adds.
It does note, based on data collected by the New America Foundation, that the number of jihadist extremists indicted in the United States has declined over the last few years. The number of individuals indicted for plotting attacks within the United States went down to three in 2013, compared to 12 in 2011. However, indictments aren’t a perfect measure, the report says; Tamerlan Tsarnaev of the Boston bombing would have likely been indicted were he not killed before the legal process could start. Indictment charges can also vary from state to state, and the year of the indictment doesn’t always reflect the year of an extremist’s activity. The number of incidents has actually remained steady at about 1 per year from 2009 and 2013, the report says, “though not all of them have been lethal.”
Other report recommendations include creating an independent investigative body similar to the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate domestic terrorist attacks and find out how attackers evaded law enforcement. Also, Congress should hold a series of hearings on U.S. counterterrorism strategy and review the Authorization for the Use of Military Force law, it says. It should also put the CIA drone program on a more sound legal footing, the report adds.