Terrorism: National Security Policy and the Home Front

By Stephen C. Pelletiere | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 3

TERRORISM:
HOW VULNERABLE IS THE UNITED STATES?

Stephen Sloan


Introduction.

If there is a “fog of war, there is probably a more dense “smog of terrorism, for the small nature of terrorist groups, their close interpersonal communications, and their predilection for soft targets of opportunity make it difficult to predict their future operations. Counterterrorism analysts must therefore peer through a very cloudy crystal ball when assessing the intentions, capabilities, and targets of existing and future terrorist groups. Life would be easier if, as when assessing a conventional army, analysts could pour over communications intercepts to discern orders of battle and make predictions based on the enemy's known doctrine and strategy. The problem of penetrating the “smog of terrorism” is further exacerbated by the fact that it is difficult to infiltrate terrorist cells to acquire the tactical information needed to prevent, or at least to mitigate, a potential threat or actual incident. The most sophisticated capabilities in the arsenal of technical intelligence are no substitutes for the HUMINT (human intelligence) capabilities that are needed to gather information on terrorists. The problem of predictive analysis is further complicated by the fact that even if terrorist organizations have an encompassing ideology-or what is at best a proto-strategy-it tends to be rather general in nature and directed at establishing a broad declaration on revolutionary action that may not provide a clear plan for action that can enable the analyst to have a foundation for assessing future terrorist operations. Furthermore, predictive capabilities are challenged by the fact that there is a whole range of potential new terrorist weapons and associated scenarios for destruction that create major problems for those responsible for identifying a new generation of terrorist threats. There are those in the field who sometimes long for the “good old days” when a “terror network” guided by Moscow could be blamed for bombings, hostage-taking, skyjacking and other forms of mayhem.

Given these conditions, one faces an onerous task in attempting to assess how vulnerable the United States is to future threats and acts of terrorism. Nevertheless, such an assessment can prove useful if it can assist the analyst and those responsible for countering terrorism to look beyond the immediate threats or the latest incident. In their contingency driven, highly pressurized environment, analysts must concentrate on the collection and analysis of what is primarily tactical, combat or operational intelligence. They often lack the time to deal with strategic threats, to veer from the current requirements for narrowly focused, tactical intelligence.

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