Terrorism has been a long-standing problem of globalization, with radical militant groups inflicting coercion upon civilians to push for political, social and religious goals. Arguably, however, terrorism has reached its zenith in recent times when the September 11, 2001 (9/11) attacks in the United States (US) happened. The intensity of the attacks cast the image of the US as the most powerful nation in the world into serious doubt, considering the fatal breach of security involved (Kean, 2004).
Undoubtedly, 9/11 shook the US towards creating new strategies to counter future cases of terrorism. However, there is an understanding that the US, as with all other nations in the world, should not just take off from one incident in creating counterterrorist efforts. Therefore, this study attempts to identify key areas in which the US could focus on for improving its security prospects against future terrorist attacks. Does international terrorism serve as a greater threat for the US than domestic terrorism, or is it the other way around? What factors should the US consider in creating its counterterrorist strategies in light of 9/11? Does the US federal government need additional powers to counter terrorism? The foregoing questions serve as among the guides for the main concern this study seeks to address.
Assessing International and Domestic Terrorism as Threats to the US
Before coming up with an assessment on whether international terrorism is more threatening than domestic types, it is important to distinguish the two from one another first. International terrorism involves the commission of terrorist acts in a nation by non-natives. In other words, a terrorist attack committed by foreigners in a particular nation is a clear manifestation of international terrorism. In international terrorism, terrorist groups usually make use of their linkages with their terrorist allies and other organizations in order for them to conduct their attacks. International terrorists share common interests ranging from religious beliefs, political aspirations and social goals.
Nations sympathetic for, or antagonistic against acts committed by terrorist groups help characterize international terrorism, thereby involving a complex web of networks engaged in funding, weapons procurement and all other types of support. Domestic terrorism, on the other hand, usually has grassroots underpinnings, taking off from the premise that people attack their own nation due to particular demands. The fact that domestic terrorist groups rely on either themselves or other similarly placed groups justifies the absence of the international factor, which involves linkages from different parts of the world (Bergesen and Lizardo, 2004; Campos and Gassebner, 2013; Friedman, 2012; Khan, 1987).
Lack of connections from other parts of the world primarily makes domestic terrorism relatively less threatening compared to international terrorism. The damage caused by 9/11 and subsequent terrorist acts around the world made visible the intensity of the threat international terrorism brings. Coordination between multiple parties – various terrorist organizations from different nations, in this case, is prevalent among manifested cases of international terrorism. Al-Qaeda, for instance, became largely successful in conducting international terrorist attacks due to its supportive connections in the form of other terrorist organizations and other bodies. Furthermore, the tangled strings of both domestic and international laws cause the US to have a harder time in dealing with international terrorists. The US, for instance, could not just convict terrorists in an outright fashion, but rather it has to abide by written rules and practices of both international law and the states holding sovereignty over them. Domestic terrorists, on the other hand, could only execute various facets of their operations within one area or nation only. Logically, there is a higher chance that the US government would catch and eliminate threats coming from domestic terrorists first rather than those committed by international terrorists, given that they operate only within a single national jurisdiction (Bergesen and Lizardo, 2004; Campos and Gassebner, 2013; Friedman, 2012; Kean, 2004; Khan, 1987).
Nevertheless, domestic terrorism remains a threat the US should reckon, despite the higher intensity international terrorism brings. For the US government to learn how to manage the complexities brought by international terrorism, it should learn how to manage domestic terrorism first. After all, what many domestic terrorists aim is to stir political instability at home. Domestic terrorist attacks undermine the legitimacy due to the US government; the more it continues, the more it could seek to destroy government agents for the achievement of its goals. Furthermore, the mere occurrence and sheer damage domestic terrorist attacks inflict could influence the greater growth in international terrorist activities. Soon enough, any unmitigated domestic terrorist group could soon convert itself into an internationally placed one if its operations at home become bigger and more attractive for the strategic interests of international terrorists. In this case, it becomes important for the US government to fight both international and domestic terrorism, despite the stronger impact of the former (Bergesen and Lizardo, 2004; Campos and Gassebner, 2013; Friedman, 2012; Khan, 1987).
Strategies of the US against Terrorism
The US Department of State (DOS) has laid out its strategies to counter terrorism through the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism issued in 2006. The DOS divided its counterterrorism strategies into long and short-term approaches. For the long-term approach, the DOS specified the need to “advance effective democracy”, recognizing that alienation from political participation, misplaced grievances, misinformation and justification of murder, collectively known as tyranny, stand as among the main tenets characterizing motives behind terrorist attacks. Democratic values serve as the solutions to the foregoing characteristics of tyranny, with the effective proliferation of those seen as the most effective way to remove attitudes leading to terrorism. Short-term approaches include prevention of attacks coming from terrorist networks, disallowance of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), support from rogue nations and national control to terrorist groups.
On a socioeconomic scale, the aforementioned short-term approaches could work well for the US in that it could choose to alter trade channels and international relations terrorist groups deem strategic. Brute force through military action could not work alone in weakening terrorists; socioeconomic factors are strategically influential for the US in terms of advancing its counterterrorist goals. With military action as a standalone mechanism against terrorism, the US might overlook crucial factors that would cause more damage and lesser guarantee that terrorists would fail. Using socioeconomic strategies such as cutting off possible supply routes of WMDs and hindering political opportunities from benefiting terrorists is, indeed, an integral part of US counterterrorism strategies. Pinpointing potential terrorist allies through similarities in history and culture proves effective for the US in terms of stopping the relations of the former with terrorists (USDOS, 2006).
Additional Legislation and Amendments to Present US Counterterrorism Laws
Whereas counterterrorism measures fall under the ambit of maintaining national security, related laws have not failed to stir controversy. The 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, better known as the so-called “emergency measure” to 9/11, is still effective to this day. Despite its controversial provisions, the USA PATRIOT Act found its duration extended up until 2015, superseding all amendment proposals filed before Congress. The following are some of the controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act (ACLU, 2009; Kerr, 2003):
Also known as the “roving John Doe wiretap”, Section 206 of the USA PATRIOT Act stands as unconstitutional as another violation of the searches and seizures doctrine. Section 206 allows the government to survey wiretapping on random people in random circumstances. The absence of a target person or a specific purpose for doing so stands as a direct violation of the searches and seizures doctrine, which requires the government to state its full reasons for wiretapping particular personalities in relation to a certain event related to national security. The lack of a requirement to name a certain personality for surveillance makes the USA PATRIOT Act highly vulnerable for abuse. Therefore, Congress must seek to amend Section 206 in line with the doctrine on searches and seizures, or else it becomes viable for the Supreme Court to strike it down as unconstitutional (ACLU, 2009; Kerr, 2003).
Under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the government has the privilege to confiscate any object that may find relevance to any ongoing investigation of terrorism cases. Section 215 does not make express mention of the constitutional right against unauthorized searches and seizures and the provision itself appears to show no effort for authorization other than the fact that any agent of the government may find any object relevant to any terrorism investigation. In short, Section 215 appears as a direct violation of the searches and seizures doctrine; not even security measures against terrorist attacks justify firmly the rationale behind any confiscations made under it. As per amendment, it is important for Congress to stick firmly to the searches and seizures doctrine by making Section 215 as reasonable as possible through adding measures that would enable the government to exhibit suspicion towards objects in a more reasonable manner, and not just through mere hunches. The government should continue to practice its duty to extend care in assessing the relevance of obtained objects to terrorism before conducting any searches and seizures for the provision to become constitutional. Express additions to the wording of the provision related to the aforementioned recommendations work best for ensuring that it stays in line with the Federal Constitution (ACLU, 2009; Kerr, 2003).
Section 6001, 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act
While Section 6001 of the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act has not found any substantial usage by the government yet, nevertheless an active loophole that could serve abusive tendencies. The surveillance of people who are not citizens of the US and who are not members of foreign organizations boils down to downright discrimination. There are no reasonable criteria justifying the need to monitor the activities of non-US citizens staying within the US, much more any of their affiliations. Thus, it is only proper for Congress to repeal Section 6001 before the government or any of its legitimate bodies invokes it abusively (ACLU, 2009; Kerr, 2003).
National Security Vis-à-vis Constitutional Rights
Clearly, there is no doubt that terrorism, international or domestic, stands as a serious national security problem of the US. The presence of elements that would coerce civilian populations and derail public and private institutions from working properly towards political and religious ends is definitely a concern the US should focus on solving, especially because of its sensitive economic and political position that has worldwide reaches. Having established itself as a leader in international affairs, the US stands to lose significantly if it fails to provide the necessary mechanisms for eliminating terrorism. The US stands to fail in terms of maintaining its alliances if its political and economic institutions begin to crumble due to failure to mitigate terrorism (ACLU, 2009; Kerr, 2003).
However, the US stands an equally daunting task to take – that of preserving its image as an arbiter of democratic values. The US goes around capitalizing on democracy in its continuous mission to maintain at the helm of international relations, expressly saying that it is the form of government ensuring lasting peace and freedom. Therefore, there is an understanding that the US is duty-bound to preserve the integrity of the very values it promotes not only within its boundaries but also to the rest of the world as well. To continue becoming a model of democracy, the US should make it a point to withstand the phenomenon of terrorism without harming its virtues (ACLU, 2009; Kerr, 2003).
Given the foregoing findings, it is highly apparent that the US is still on its way to combat terrorism in the most effective and efficient manner possible. As terrorism is a phenomenon of 20th-century globalization, it remains a puzzle as to how the US would maintain democratic values such as human rights in the face of compelling national security situations. One might think at first that comprehensive surveillance of all people staying within the boundaries of the US is a viable solution for the nation to solve the terrorism problem, seeing that it becomes much easier to detect the people harboring terrorist motives. However, a closer perusal of the situation reveals that the US may incur tendencies of abuse related to such manner of surveillance. Verily, it is inevitable that human lapses would cause clean intentions for surveillance to fail towards abuse.
Therefore, the aforementioned provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, alongside many other similar provisions and laws related to counterterrorism that may require amendment, should stick more closely to the democratic virtues espoused by the US in its federal constitution and its whole body politic. Any opportunities open for abuse against the federal constitution should not find due allowance under US law. Rather, policymakers should make it a point to stick closely to the tenets of the federal constitution when creating laws that are of intense national interest, particularly on national security. No matter how compelling the situation may be, policymakers should keep as their job to create the best counterterrorism laws that would not justify exemption of any democratic right conferred by the federal constitution. After all, standing against the challenge of terrorism requires the need to stand firm to tightly held values that stand contrary to the interests of terrorists. Policymakers should think of the fact that the aim of terrorists is to impose changes unto its targets for them to gain steps closer to their goals. Therefore, if the US wishes terrorists their failure, it should stand by the democratic ground it has long espoused and promoted (ACLU, 2009; Kerr, 2003).
Terrorism, regardless of whether it is international or domestic, stands to impose negative effects on the US as a nation. Whereas international terrorism emerges as the more complicated variant, domestic terrorism also deserves attention from the US government. Verily, the impact of terrorist attacks international terrorist groups could inflict may cause greater damage, but the fact remains that many domestic terrorism groups tend to grow towards clamoring for international support. Therefore, the US should also devote its focus on eliminating domestic terrorism in order to stunt the growth of international terrorist groups. Apart from that, the US should stick to its goals of upholding democracy as its long-term approach against tyranny fostered by terrorism, while taking consideration of crucial socioeconomic factors alongside military action to combat terrorist attacks strategically.
Lastly, the US government should make it a point to align its counterterrorist policies with the democratic values contained in the federal constitution and its entire legal system. Doing so would entail consistency and integrity in maintaining the status of the US as an important international political and economic actor while effectively and efficiently eliminating terrorism at the same time. Admittedly, the US still has a long way to go in forming solutions to remedy a relatively new political phenomenon. Yet, if the US keeps its integrity strong in terms of the values it protects, then it will surely steer itself to the right direction.
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