Example Of Terrorism Is A Threat To Our Nation Essay
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The threat of terrorism is one that cannot be underestimated. It poses the single largest concern for security in our country now. Terrorism though is not only a United States concern, but also a worldwide problem. The growing incidences and changing face of this threat continue to pose a unique problem. This has necessitated changing responses, all aimed at evolving to combat this threat. However, before an attempt is made to look at these responses, we must first understand what terrorism is and its origin (O'Kane, 2007).The word terror is derived from the Latin word or phrase,” terrere” meaning tremble or frighten. This is then combined with a French suffix “isme” meaning to practice. Hence, terrorism can be described as to practice fear. The word was first used to describe the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. This was a campaign of violence, which resulted in up to 40,000 deaths in around one year. In modern day times, this word has come to describe the killing, usually for political reasons, of non-governmental players. There is no single definition of terrorism that is universally acceptable since most governments are reluctant to give one. However, various authorities and organizations have attempted to do this. For instance, one definition of terrorism is an act aimed at bringing about death to civilians to intimidate a population or compel a government to do or cease doing any act (Meierrieks & Gries, 2013). The FBI has also defined terrorism as unlawful use of force or violence against people or their property aimed at intimidating a Government or its populace to further a political or social objective. What is clear from this and many other definitions is that terrorism has is that first; terrorism involves the use of violence to invoke fear. It is also done in furtherance of a political, religious, or ideological goal. Thirdly, the violence is targeted at civilians or non-combatants (Houle, 2005). Finally, it is aimed at publicizing a group, a cause, or a person. This paper, therefore, investigates the threat of terrorism, its origin, development, and the evolutionary responses resultant from the development. It will address countermeasures in place to curb this threat with particular regard to border security, immigration, and customs. It also looks in detail at cyber terrorism as an emerging threat and why there is rising concern about cyber security. Measures in place to address it are also investigated.
Terrorism has existed for a far greater period than the name itself. The actions of Assurnasirpal, a king of Assyria, for instance, predate the French Revolution but are still terrorist acts. The king would brutally slay or even burn his enemies or captives. Another case is that of the Assassins of Middle Age Persia, a religious sect that fought the Ottoman Empire and employed terrorist acts including suicide killings and political assassinations. The name assassin was actually coined from them, due to their adeptness at stealthy attacks and their use of disguises and surprise killings. They supposedly perpetrated these acts in the name of Allah. The tactics continued to be employed until a name was finally appended to describe it during the French Revolution (O'Kane, 2007).
Terrorism gained international recognition with the 1934 drafting of a convention for punishing and preventing terrorism. However, apart from the 1946 bombing, by a Jewish terrorist group Irgun, of the King David Hotel, which claimed 91 lives, there were no major incidences of terrorism up until the 1970’s. It is in the 1970’s that terrorism again began to court interest. From the mid-1970 to the mid-1980’s, there was a sudden spike in the number and frequency of terror attacks. The nature of these attacks was a pointer towards a paradigm shift in terrorism. It has even been described as a revolution of sorts.
Whereas the previous brand of terrorism was aimed at specific targets, here was a new brand that was extremely indiscriminate. This new form of terrorism aimed at inflicting maximum casualties. It also did not appear to be bound to political demands but was more chilling and fearsome. Most scholars generally agree that the incidents that ushered in this new era were the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York and the Sarin gas attack on a Tokyo subway system in 1995 (Sandler, 2011). This new terrorism is characterized mainly by religious fanaticism and strict compliance. The predominant religion being Islam. Whereas the old terrorism was generally secular in nature, this new brand appears to be synonymous with religious fanaticism. The terrorists seem to promote some sort of sacred apocalypse where they aim to punish all non-believers. These terrorists believe that any state considered an infidel or apostate, must be exterminated. Case in point is the religious fanaticism of the Islamic Terror groups such as Al Qaeda, which wage war against the West, and particularly the United States, which they describe as an infidel country (Sandler, 2011).
This new age of terrorism has seen terror acquire a global face. This international terrorism transcends national boundaries, has some religious justification and is indiscriminate in its targets. It also makes use of weapons of mass destruction and relies heavily on modern technology. This modern technology is evident in the use of communication networks. They use these communication networks like the internet or satellite phones to create flexible organizational structures. Attacks can be planned without meeting physically making them hard to combat. These new terrorist groups also appear to have accessibility to finances. An example here is Religious extremist groups such as Al-Shabaab, which sourced finances through piracy off the Somali coast and through control of the charcoal trade in Kismayo. Another example is the Taliban of Afghanistan, which uses the Opium trade to source its finances. Donations from sympathizers also account for a large portion of these groups’ finances (Sandler, 2011).
The changing nature and evolution of these terrorist groups to a point where they have become global and directly target the United States has directly influenced the U.S policy on terrorism. The evolution of these terrorist groups has in turn forced the evolution of government policies and approaches toward terrorism. Some of these changes in strategy have been pronounced whereas others have been subtle. Yet other changes have been improvements on already existent systems. These changes and responses have gained particular prominence since the September 11, 2001 attacks. These attacks brought into sharp focus the counterterrorism measures that the United States had in place. There are three primary areas of focus for these counterterrorism responses: border security responses, immigration responses and customs responses (Houle, 2005).
Before 9/11 attacks, the intelligence community was not focused on disruption of terrorist travel. This was with the exception of known individual terrorists. The terrorist watch list, despite being a powerful tool for prevention of terrorist entry, was also underused. In the 1990’s, despite the FBI having a cache of information on global travel tactics of terrorists, this information was rarely shared with the CIA unit that produced the Redbook, which was the handbook of known terrorists used by the law enforcement agencies to screen travelers. This was because the CIA was not involved in the analysis of terrorist travel at that time. However, they had the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) program, which helped foreign countries improve their watch lists. Foreign authorities used the technology to share information with the US on terrorists appearing on their borders. The CIA used this information to go after individual terrorists and not to do an analysis of their travel methods. Meanwhile, terrorists were getting smarter, and Al Qaeda had even established a passport office and was training its operatives in document forgery. This allowed them to travel virtually undetected. The State Department was another important player in this. Besides maintaining the terrorist watch list, it also handled visa applications. Whereas a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States, it states that the individual’s eligibility to travel there for a stated purpose has been reviewed. Visas can be either immigrant or non-immigrant. Immigrant visas are strictly statute regulated and only a specified number can be issued. This is not the case for non-immigrant visas, which are unlimited in number. Before 2011, a visa was not required for each person to enter the USA. This requirement was waived for US and Canadian citizens and those of 27 other mainly European countries. All nineteen hijackers who were involved in the 9/11 attacks, however, entered the US on non-immigrant visas (Houle, 2005).
Before September 11, the visa application process was generally the same worldwide. Applicants would present their passports, alongside completed visa application forms and photographs at the embassy or consulate and then pay the non-refundable fee. The consular officer would then assess it and decide whether to issue or deny a visa. Each application had to go through the Consular Lookout and Automated Support System (CLASS) databases. This was a computerized check, which tagged anomalies such as previous visa application rejections. It also checked against TIPOFF, one of the databases under CLASS, for known or suspected terrorists. An applicant was then required to appear for a personal interview, although this requirement was often waived. If a visa application was unsuccessful, the CLASS system noted this and the reasons for the denial (O'Kane, 2007).
Before the Department of Homeland Security was created, consular officials and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials administered the immigration law. However, these groups were hardly ever in communication as their duties were independent of each other. The INS determined the length of stay and admissibility of a visa holder independently, at the point of entry. Consular officials did not receive information from the INS on visa holders who overstayed their visits or who were denied entry at points of entry. The state department was also hampered by inadequacy of funds as most resources were channeled towards safeguarding embassies. The February 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center radically changed the State Department’s operations. This happened when it became known that the spiritual leader of the group that carried out the attack, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, had obtained a visa from the US embassy in Sudan (Houle, 2005). This was despite his being a known extremist who was on the terrorist watch list at the embassy. The officer responsible for checking had ignored to check this as he felt the aged Sheikh did not present a threat.
The incident prompted a policy change, for example, the Visas Viper program intended to enhance interagency communication about terrorists who should be on a watch list. All diplomatic posts had to form committees that sat quarterly and comprised of intelligence agents, law enforcement agents, and state department officials. However, the former two were reluctant to provide sensitive information to the State Department, hence stifling the program. Another result was the passing of a bill, which allowed the Department to keep funds raised through issue of machine-readable visas to non-immigrant applicants. These funds were used to upgrade computer systems for example by creating a consular communication system, the Consular Communication Database (CCD) that was both worldwide in nature, and operated in real time (Meierrieks & Gries, 2013).
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is empowered by the Immigration and Naturalization Act, to determine who may enter, stay or must be removed from the USA. Prior to September 2001, the INS hence welcomed people deemed desirable to the USA and ejected those deemed undesirable. Immigration inspectors at land, air, and sea points of entry processed these applications. In addition, Border Patrol agents enforced immigration law at US border points against lawbreakers. Immigration services officers, on the other hand, processed benefits for asylum seekers, refugees, immigrants, as well as temporary visitors. However, the three roles or functions were answerable to two different chains of command. This created a management problem that dragged the service back and hampered development, particularly technology wise.
The Service had a number of counterterrorism specific inspection practices. For one, there was the automated TIPOFF name check system. This was a terrorist watch list database with names of potential and known terrorists. It had been available since its development in 1991. Behavior was also used to identify and isolate potential threats. This was despite the fact that the inspectors had not received training on suspicious activity or terrorist travel patterns. The forensic document lab was also another counterterrorism measure in use. It helped immigration inspectors with training on how to identify legitimate and forged travel documents. Some measures were introduced due to the occurrence of terrorism activities. For instance, the fact that a key conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing had been a student who had extended his visit period led to the development of a foreign student compliance mechanism. This made use of a biometric student identification card for use during visa application and throughout the students stay. This system was successful, but ultimately, political pressure led to its collapse. Legal measures, such as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act were also passed. These established structures such as the Alien Terrorist Removal Court whose operations were however hampered by the lack of cooperation between the INS and the FBI. Another stumbling block was also the passing of new immigration laws, which eliminated the necessity for the special court.
Post-2011, responses have been many, and these have centered on the implementation of the post-9/11 report. One such response has been the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. This centralized the operations of the various organizations, which had been in existence into one large organization that was tasked with the responsibility of protecting the US from the threat of terrorism. Another response has been the development of an information sharing security strategy to ensure both known and unknown threats are identified. Another response has been the introduction of the Visa Security Program to vet those applying to travel to the US. Another measure has been the signing of Preventing and Combating Serious Crime Agreements with 18 countries. These agreements are aimed at enhancing the sharing of information between these countries about potential terror threats (Sandler, 2011).
Yet another response has been the establishment of federal entities such as the Terrorist Screening Center and the National Counterterrorism Center. The role of these entities is to analyze data in order to identify and better anticipate the travel patterns of modern day terrorists. In a similar vein, the Transportation Security Administration gas been established and charged with ensuring that no threat is posed by foreign students studying aviation. The TSA matches government watch lists and performs background checks. It also does immigration status checks. Through measures such as Secure Flight, DHS prescreens all passengers flying within, to, and from the US against government terrorist checklists. New technologies also help in screening of all baggage against all threats posed by both metallic and non-metallic objects (Sandler, 2011).
As the US and other countries continue to race into the information age, a new threat has emerged. This potential source of conflict has come to be known as information warfare. Most critical infrastructure in the western world is networked through computers. Hence, a potential cyber terrorism attack is a major cause for alarm. As technological advancements continue to be made, and we continue to become more dependent on information technology, so does our vulnerability increase. This allows terrorists the chance to assault systems such as air traffic control and defense systems. Thus, the concern about terrorism is genuine and founded on a real threat. Despite this existing concern though, the media has sensationalized the issue so much that it seems blown out of proportion (Ching, 2010).
However, it is important to understand what we mean by cyber terrorism. Cyber terrorism refers to those electronic attacks initiated either internally or externally from cyberspace especially the internet. These attacks must be intended to cause terror for them to be classified as such. The objects of such an attack may include severe damage to the operational capacity of a target. Cyber terrorism is particularly attractive in this regard since it offers the terrorists a low cost and very effective solution to perpetrate their activities. If critical institutions are targeted, for example, air traffic control, it may cause things to slowly stop. Cyber terrorism can also aim to tarnish the reputation of an organization or alliance. This can be accomplished through defacement of websites and spreading malicious rumors about highly respected institutions (l'Europe, 2007).
Yet another aim may be to prove a point to their own followers. Cyber terrorists can sometimes attack an organization to show the world that they possess the capability to inflict damage on their targets. A large number of people continue to remain unconvinced by the potential of cyber terrorism. Thus, these attacks may be borne out of a need to prove their prowess to the world. This malicious intent could cause catastrophic damage.
There are a number of methods that can be employed to deal with this threat. Such measures can include. Implementation of a cyber-terrorism control treaty. This treaty should be enforceable by an international organization, for example, the United Nations. The treaty should forbid the use of cyber arms like viruses and worms for terrorism. It should also empower coordination of an International Cyber Terrorism Police Network. Another method that can be employed to check cyber terrorism is that of a Cyber Terrorism Police Treaty. All members of the Cyber Terrorism Control Treaty would sign this treaty. The unit would act like an Interpol of sorts, investigating international cyber terrorism. It could also facilitate and coordinate the extradition of suspects (Ching, 2010).
The third method that can be applied to limit cyber terrorism is the use of open source software. The advantage of open source, as opposed to closed source software, is that it allows bugs to be easily fixed. Thus, it is far much safer. This type of software prevents Trojan horse codes being hidden in secret codes. Examples of open source software are the Linux Operating System. Another example is Open Office Suite (Ching, 2010).
Ching, J. (2010). Cyberterrorism. New York, NY: Rosen Central.
Houle, M. (2005). Terrorism. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.
l'Europe, C. d. (2007). Cyberterrorism. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.
Meierrieks, D., & Gries, T. (2013). Causality between terrorism and economic growth. Journal of Peace Research , 91-104.
O'Kane, R. H. (2007). Terrorism. Harlow: Pearson Longman.
Sandler, T. (2011). Introduction: New frontiers of terrorism research: An introduction. Journal of Peace Research , 279-286.
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