After the 9/11 and the anthrax attacks that occurred in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon the government and media of the United States saw a nuclear weapon on every containership coming into a port and a biological agent in every envelope. The Anthrax attacks were particularly frightening because they occurred soon after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 letters laced with anthrax began appearing in the U.S. mail. Five Americans were killed, 17 were sickened, and the nation was terrorized in what became the worst biological attacks in U.S. history . The threat of terrorists getting Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) was also used as a pretext for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The WMD threat is an especially difficult issue for policymakers because of the virtual impossibility of preparing in a comprehensive way for the huge variety of potential attacks and the many toxic and chemical substances that might be used . By focusing on what potentially is the most deadly but also hardest, attack to commit the United States is diluting the effort to combat terror by not focusing on other more viable threats. A nuclear weapon detonating in a U.S. city would cause massive casualties. The Threat of WMD use especially nuclear weapons is horrific with the effects being:
The energy of a nuclear explosion is transferred to the surrounding medium in three distinct forms: blast; thermal radiation; and nuclear radiation. The distribution of energy among these three forms will depend on the yield of the weapon, the location of the burst, and the characteristics of the environment. For a low altitude atmospheric detonation of a moderate sized weapon in the kiloton range, the energy is distributed roughly as follows:
50% as blast;
35% as thermal radiation; made up of a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum, including infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light and some soft x-ray emitted at the time of the explosion; and
15% as nuclear radiation; including 5% as initial ionizing radiation consisting chiefly of neutrons and gamma rays emitted within the first minute after detonation, and 10% as residual nuclear radiation. Residual nuclear radiation is the hazard in fallout .
Hiroshima after being attacked by an atomic bomb
Despite the horrific effects of a nuclear weapon on a city it is still difficult to obtain and detonate nuclear weapons. Terrorists have much easier options such as suicide bombings, conventional gunfire and bombing attacks as well as using chemical agents. The threat of WMD use especially nuclear weapons has caused the United States government to focus on preventing terrorist groups from acquiring and bringing nuclear weapons into the country. This strategy as well intentioned but it is has caused a loss of focus on the true capabilities and intentions of terrorists groups. The terrorist cells that have been arrested in the United States may have desired a nuclear weapon but so far none seem to have the means to acquire one. These groups however can cause mass casualties through the use of explosives. This was seen in the first attack on the World Trade Center and the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City which killed 168 people and until 9/11 was the worst incident of terror on United States soil. Since 2004 there have been 24 confirmed terrorist attacks in the United States . The attacks carried out in the United States actually reflect the methods terrorists are using and paint a better picture of capabilities of these groups. It is these methods and groups that should be the focus of domestic anti-terrorism resources.
Terrorist Attack Methods 2004-2009
Arson / Incendiary 11
Chemical / Biological 2
The focus on WMDs has taken law-enforcement and intelligence resources away from the more likely capabilities of terrorism. These policies have left the United States even more vulnerable to conventional attacks. Dirty bomb and chemical threats can be developed from hazardous material, yet over the past three years funds for secure disposal of these items has been drastically reduced. While only four people have been killed and twenty one wounded by terrorist attacks in the United States since 2004 the focus continues to be the constant worry over a nuclear detonation. When the focus should be on the known groups and their current capabilities if these groups can be rolled up now the chances of the acquisition of WMD will be diminished.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and the follow on invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq have ushered in a new age of terrorism. The United States and its NATO allies attacked Afghanistan and drove the Taliban and al Qaeda into Pakistan and other parts of the world. This attack and the world wide hunt for al-Qaeda has killed, captured, and disrupted the older cadres of the group. This older cadre consisted of Afghan war veterans and the younger men who took to the call of jihad after the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan. The third wave of terrorists which the United States and the world are combating now comes from the worldwide Diaspora of Muslims spread throughout the world. This group is made up of the children of émigrés or childhood immigrants themselves to the West. These under or un-employed young men are becoming self-radicalized from radical imams, literature, and the internet.
While the September 11, 2001 attacks forged a new united front against international terrorism that in itself will not help solve the problem. This united front against terrorism however faces difficulties when the terrorists are citizens or legal aliens of the country they are attacking. The Madrid train bombers for example were self financed and reasonably well to do, most were legal Spanish residents, and many were married with children. However they were radicalized by the internet and other media. This has been a focus of al-Qaeda and other groups. As-Sahab is Al Qaeda's technically sophisticated propaganda unit, responsible for the group's Internet videos and all other postings and communications. It is presumed to conduct its work from a hideout in northern Pakistan or southern Afghanistan, in close proximity to Al Qaeda's leadership. As-Sahab emphasizes Islamic theology in buttressing its calls to violence, and preaches that jihad is mandatory for Muslims. Messages also focus on maintaining Islamic unity in the face of psychological warfare tactics initiated by the United States and its allies. The United States also faces these self starter groups as several plots have disrupted in the last few years. These attempted attacks have not come from terrorist snuck into the country to perform attacks but from Muslim citizens, converts to Islam, and long term residents. In September of 2009 three legal U.S. residents were charged with lying to the FBI during an investigation and one was charged with plotting to set off a weapon of mass destruction, also another U.S. citizen was arrested for trying to detonate a truck bombing in Illinois. In Texas an illegal alien from Jordan was also arrested trying to detonate a truck bomb in Dallas. These domestic terrorists are the new face if Islamic terrorism.
Islamic terrorism is not the only terror issue being addressed by the United States currently. The right wing and single issue terror groups are also capable of launching deadly attacks. The largest being the attack on the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City which until 9/11 was the largest terrorist attack on United States soil. This attack was a shock to the United States as it was not committed by a Muslim sect but by a crew cut white man. This is not to say that Right Wing and Islamic groups are committing the most terrorist attacks in the United States. Single issue groups such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) has committed more than 600 crimes since 1996 and in 2002 stated it would “no longer hesitate to pick up the gun. ” Since 2004 the environmental groups have committed 11 acts of terrorism in the United States the most of any group that has been identified .
The United States faces several threats not only from trans-national groups such as al-Qaeda and Hezbollah but also from self radicalized Muslims and members of the far right and single issue groups. These threats have changed the way that Federal law-enforcement operates as the FBI is now focused on counter-terrorism. The FBI's overriding priority is to protect America from terrorism attacks. The FBI’s new counter-terrorism mission is to identify and disrupt potential terrorist plots by individuals or terror cells, freezing terrorist finances, sharing information with law enforcement and intelligence partners worldwide, and providing strategic and operational threat analysis to the wider intelligence community . The government’s reaction to the terrorist threat has also led some to believe that there has been a reduction in civil liberties with the passage of the Patriot Act. If there is another mass casualty attack that is generated from inside the United States there maybe a further call for an increase in law-enforcement and intelligence gathering powers in the United States. While terrorism was not new to the United States before September 11, 2001 and further attacks and attempted attacks have continued since, the publics’ and government’s attention has been sharply focused on the subject of terrorism. However the vision may not be a broad as needed as it seems to focus on one group, Islamic terrorism at the expense of others.
Since this was written the Ft. Hood attack took place as well as several more disrupted attacks.
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