The UK mounted a multi-nation naval exercise to sail the Black Sea, as international tension rose a Russian destroyer shot across the bow of one of the UK’s warships; U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots after a close encounter with Iranian vessels; Hezbollah’s German presence grows despite terrorist designation; The Russians enlarge their Artic military presence; US-UK Warn of new worldwide Russian cyberespionage; Biden has leveled meaningful sanctions against Russia and is drafting and considering more; An attack by drones on Iran’s centrifuge production facility in Karaj caused major damage, and with all this upon us, American’s in huge numbers, clutching their vaccination passports, began the rush to airports. The nation, as of late June and early July, started to stare at a map of the world, trying to anticipate who would “hit” us next? As noted below, I have been writing about terrorism since 1990, and for almost the entire time I reached out to the international community to discern their secrets and understand their thinking’s. Today, this tact is the Wrong Direction to Look and More.
Just prior to 1990, I sought a sabbatical from my law school, as I became interested in what I then considered mundane questions concerning the act of terrorism. All to the dismay of Dean David Trager, the then Dean of Brooklyn Law School: “Who studies that craziness?” At that time those interested in terrorism were a handful of academics studying the history of political and religious violence. There was little if any writing, let alone analysis as to the then current state of terrorism, its structure and impact. For the next four decades my focus has been just that: terrorism/counterterrorism/national security as it has arrived at our door step all seemingly from abroad. In the 90s, I spent time at INTERPOL (did a study for them) in Lyon, France, then worked with the head of their Counter-terrorism division, a seconded FBI agent, and spent time in Jerusalem with the counter-terrorism advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel. Time has changed all that focus.
Our greatest danger of a terrorist attack, at this very moment comes from within our boarders by our “fellow-Americans”. Those people who live down the block. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, by Timothy McVeigh, who detonated a truck bomb outside a federal building, killing 168 people with scores of children, remains the deadliest homegrown terrorist attack in American history. But it was an aberration at that time.
In early spring of this year, DHS reported that the US intelligence community has increased its “development, production, and sharing of intelligence and other actionable information central to countering domestic terrorism, which now poses the most significant and immediate terrorism-related threat to the United State.” Then in mid-May the DHS reported: “Today’s terrorism-related threat landscape is more complex, more dynamic, and more diversified than it was several years ago. “ Then it posted: “Violent extremists may seek to exploit the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions across the United States to conduct attacks against a broader range of targets after previous public capacity limits reduced opportunities for lethal attacks.” It then went on to state: “Historically, mass-casualty Domestic Violent Extremist (DVE) attacks linked to racially- or ethnically-motivated violent extremists have targeted houses of worship and crowded commercial facilities or gatherings” . Some terrorist advocates, via social media and online platforms, have outlined their plans for a race war with the premise that civil disorder would rip thru local communities, one after the other, to provide them the opportunities to engage in extended violence and to further their ideological and social objectives.
When combining these prior statements, the overall message can be no more clearly stated—or frightening—domestic terrorism, here, now. This is what our nation faces. At the outset let’s be clear; ransomware attacks, like Colonial Pipeline or a massive meat processor, are not terrorist’s attacks. Nor am I thinking about the overused term “Militias”—those created by some self-appointed civilian group, who like the sound of the word, whose definition is neither clear nor precise nor created by a legitimate act of a governmental agency. I am not referring to II Amendment of our Constitution which permits a well-regulated “Militias” that are governmentally created or those that are established and sanctioned by a state.
Not coincidental, almost simultaneously with the warnings from our own intelligence community, London’s Metropolitan Police have said that as the COVID risk dwindles in Europe, warnings should be issued across Europe of renewed terrorist threats as they witnessed an increase movement of extremism and of ISIS or as some refer to as “Daesh”. With all this, we appear to watching the rebirth and growing influence of the defeated Islamic State, as they fester in their refugee camps. They have, within the last few weeks, have attached LEDs to buses that pass thru crowded districts.
As the data reveals, terrorism events in the U.S. are now soring to new heights. The vast majority executed by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim groups and those few who label themselves as “just anti-government-grievance” driven. The number of all domestic terrorism attacks peaked last year, with most coming at the hands of those who overtly support the white supremacy ideology and those influenced by foreign terrorist and political groups of the far right. Their victims are, as my former colleague Dick Farrell would say, “non- discriminational” –Blacks, Jews, immigrants, LGBTQ, Asians and anybody else who “looks different” from the attacker or is a member of a different religious institution. Kenneth Robinson, pastor of Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte — one of several Black churches that has been attacked— said some his members remain apprehensive—“Trauma is a way of life…” The data reveals that over the past six years, 16 mosques and 13 synagogues were attacked or threatened by extremists on the far right .The bold headlines during late May underline the spike in antisemitism connected with hate speech and violence. Asian women are openly attacked on the street. The scope of today’s terrorism threat and the scope of the new battlefield is more complex, fluid, more diversified, more jarring in its tone then it was not too many years ago. It feels closer to home and more dangerous.
In general terms, the international terrorist threat to U.S. interests, as noted by some commentators can be divided into three categories: the radical international jihad movement, the formalized terrorist organizations, and state sponsors of international terrorism. Each of these categories represents a threat to U.S. interests abroad, but, more importantly, and today in the United States. The most serious international terrorist threat to U.S. interest’s today stems from Sunni Islamic extremists, such as Usama Bin Laden and individuals affiliated with his Al-Qaeda organization And we have statutes that address those issues. But today the focus must be on the domestic threat, whether it be the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers or Three Percenters or the hundreds, yes hundreds of other domestic violence groups. The domestic terrorist is our present day greatest threat. That fact that since Jan 6th, the far-right groups are beset by internal leadership turmoil and financial stress should not be relied upon to minimize either our understanding or appreciation of their potential for extreme violence.
The January 6 insurrection at the Capital could be viewed as a raucous national convention of terrorists groups and the wanna-be terrorist, each trying to outdo the other in the volume of insults they could hurdle and violence they could inflict. People died. Police were permanently injured. And incredibly, there are people who deny the reality of the event. Equally, or maybe more important was the clear failure of intelligence to warn the appropriate authorities prior to the Jan 6 insurrection. The FBI director has failed to answer for that failure. But the failure goes beyond the FBI.
Looking to see who are the most aggressive actors—one need only look to the CSIS database as one of the best public sources of information about domestic terrorism incidents. What is particularly troublesome is that more involvement in far-right attacks and plots are by military service members, veterans and current and former police officers, some of whom participated in the riot at the Capitol. FBI Director Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 2. “The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon.” As far back in April 2009, Department of Homeland Security intelligence assessment held–“Right-wing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda”. Biden’s homeland security adviser, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall , believes that most terrorists are lone actor: “there is no top-down “ leadership.” I do not believe that is totally accurate and misleading. There are groups of persons loosely connected with the same aim or target of their hatred and vitriol that coalesce for a terrorist strike without a formally appointed or agreed upon leader who would organize and put a plan into formal operation. They are as dangerous, and in some cases more dangerous, as the more formalized groups.
This month the President issued a 32 page memo that sought to coordinate efforts across the government in law enforcement. He called for new spending at the Justice Department and FBI to hire analysts, investigators and prosecutors; greater information-sharing between the federal government and state and local enforcement partners, as well as with tech companies. What it didn’t do is to suggest or propose what has been lacking for years: a national criminal terrorist statute. We have no federal terrorist statute, even as the FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told Congress that the bureau had made “close to 500 arrests” in connection with the Capitol insurrection attack. Wray has said that the total number of domestic terrorism investigations increased to 2,000 from 1,400 at the end of last year.
It is incomprehensible that at this stage in our history, with the dramatic rise of domestic terrorism we have no federal criminal statute to charge the domestic terrorist. Law enforcement is forced to fall back on other laws and statues not initially designed to address the violence of the domestic terrorist. Why?