The color-coded alerts are gone, but terror plot warnings are now seen as an inevitable part of the holiday season. With al Qaeda on its heels, the U.S. faces a real but weakened threat, experts say. Counterterrorism and law enforcement officials work tirelessly and have scored important successes over the last year. Since the very purpose of terrorism is to instill fear and provoke overreaction among the public, an America that refuses to overreact, rush to judgment or give in to fear is an America that defeats terrorism - at the holidays and throughout the year.
Ten years ago America and the world were shocked by the most horrific foreign attack on U.S. soil in our history. In the decade since we have learned a great deal about ourselves, about how to handle the terrorist threat and about what works and doesn't work in combating terrorism.
As Norwegians struggle to make sense of last Friday’s tragic terrorist attack, a debate has broken out in the U.S. about speculating before the facts are in, about connections among different kinds of extremists, and even about what terrorism is. Experts with decades of experience in journalism, counterterrorism and trauma management have a common message: terrorists’ goal is to instill fear. Responses that heighten fear, choose scapegoats and re-traumatize the public do more to achieve the terrorists’ ends than to keep Americans safe. We can choose alternatives – and we can support Norwegian leaders as they respond to this tragedy with determination not to let extremist violence change who they are.
As the holiday season approaches so does an increased concern over terrorism and security. As we saw yesterday with the disruption of a plot in Baltimore and a similar instance last month in Portland, the challenge of terrorism remains. To address this challenge, a comprehensive strategic approach that combines vigilance at home with effective partnerships abroad, along with a commitment to our values, is necessary. However, some politicians have chosen to promote divisive and harmful demagoguery that instead only hurts America's interests. As American counterterrorism and law enforcement officials work tirelessly to protect America's security, it is important to remember that the American people have an important role to play in remaining resilient and to reject this fear mongering. By refusing to succumb to the paralysis of fear, American resilience will continue to be central to preventing terrorist plots - either carried out or disrupted - from becoming truly successful.
Yesterday, the State Department issued a travel warning for countries in Europe in light of information revealed around a string of terrorist plots, apparently in their early stages. This information was obtained from a German national captured in Afghanistan. The administration has responded at the highest levels, partnering around the world to track the plotters while coordinating among agencies at home - at the same time disrupting al Qaeda operations by killing Abdallah Umar al-Qurayshi, a senior al Qaeda commander, in Afghanistan last week. But every American has a role to play as well - by choosing resilience over fear and overreaction. As Fareed Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post, "if we are not terrorized, then the attack didn't work." As our government takes steps to disrupt a plot, we can choose by our reactions not to let terrorists pull victory from the jaws of defeat.
Today, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairman and co-chairman of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, spoke with a panel of terrorism and homeland security experts, about the status of terrorism nine years after the tragic 9/11 attacks. The conveners of the event, the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Security Preparedness Group, are also releasing a report by Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman, two of the world's foremost experts on terrorism and al Qaeda. The report outlines the changing nature of al Qaeda's strategy from large scale 9/11-style attacks to a more "diversified" approach that seeks to overwhelm its adversaries with small-scale attacks and cause overreaction from America both at home and abroad.
This weekend, America will mark the nine-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Experts agree that much is going right in the struggle against terrorism: extremist groups are under pressure and counterterrorism efforts have "reduced the overall threat from what it was a few years ago." Yet at home our airwaves are flooded with a narrative of overreaction, intolerance and fear that runs counter to America's resilience and undercuts the strength of our society. The recent wave of Islam-bashing not only runs counter to core American principles, but also our security interests. General David Petraeus said this weekend that a planned Koran burning in Florida "put[s] our troopers and civilians in jeopardy and undermine[s] our efforts to accomplish the critical mission here in Afghanistan." The broader issue of Islam-bashing that we have seen in recent weeks - particularly from fringe conservative political leaders - also feeds into the ‘clash of civilizations' meme that al Qaeda promotes and uses as a recruitment tool. Taliban propagandists have called the rhetoric "a gift." We can best serve our security, and honor the memory of those who died, by soberly reflecting upon our strengths and challenges - not giving into the hysteria that terrorists seek to promote.
This weekend marks the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. King opened this historic speech with a ringing definition of the values Americans aspire to: "When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir." The vicious anti-Islamic rhetoric of recent weeks has raised damaging questions in the U.S. and abroad about whether some political leaders remain committed to those values for all Americans, regardless of race, creed or origin. A long list of national security experts has joined religious and legal experts in expressing concern that this rhetoric is counter to American values, social cohesion and constitutional principles - as well as to our national security interests. Yet, extreme conservatives - most notably Newt Gingrich - have continued to use fear mongering and Islam-bashing as a political tool. But a strategy of fear is a political loser. In fact the strength and resilience of the American people is one of America's greatest weapons in the face of actual threats, and holding true to American values is the foundation of that.
As the Senate prepares for its August recess, in New York terrorists are brought to justice. Just yesterday, suspects from a 2007 terror plot against targets in New York, including at JFK International Airport, were convicted of terrorism charges. It is likely that these men will serve life in prison starting in December. This law enforcement success, which began under the Bush administration, demonstrates that law enforcement is a crucial component of a comprehensive counterterrorism policy. The success of such a policy, which disrupts plots against the U.S., also requires fortitude and resilience, and not falling victim to fear. Unfortunately, extreme conservatives have resorted to the promotion of a climate of fear in our public debate about terrorism and have in turn abandoned basic American values such as the rule of law and religious tolerance. The recent uproar by such conservatives in their opposition to the construction of a community center two blocks from Ground Zero is a clear demonstration of this fear-mongering. Yet Americans are resilient to both terrorist acts and fear-mongering, and as Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen put it this morning, opponents of the construction of the center have shown that they oppose American values, because "When it comes to convictions, they have none at all."
Late last night a suspect in the failed Times Square car bomb attempt was arrested. The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, is a naturalized American citizen of Pakistani descent who recently returned from a trip to Pakistan. Already giving information to police, Shahzad says that he worked alone, and authorities have not yet uncovered any international connection. The arrest demonstrates how military, intelligence and law enforcement partnership -- all the tools in the toolbox -- is the best way to combat terrorism. Americans can be very proud of the men and women who work on the front lines to keep us safe.