By: Anthony D’Amato, Columnist
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
There was a time in the not too distant past when policymakers in both parties thought that America was on the verge of defeating terrorism. Some people believed that since al-Qaeda was on the “run and bin Laden is dead,” we would soon live in a world where terrorist organizations no longer threatened our society. [i] Unfortunately, the recorded increase in global terrorist plots and the emergence of ISIS have both demonstrated how naïve some of us were just a few years ago. Today, we are not only witnessing the rise of fearsome terrorist organizations capable of causing widespread death and destruction, but we are also “witnessing the largest global convergence of jihadists in history.” The movement of approximately 25,000 foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq makes it more difficult for governments to dismantle recently formed terrorist groups, and less likely that authorities will be able to prevent every foreign fighter from returning home and plotting against their fellow citizens. [ii] In the age of unprecedented global connectedness and mass communication, we have to formulate a strategy on disrupting foreign fighter travel in the 21st century. Policymakers can start this critical process by examining the findings of the Homeland Security Committee Task Force’s Final Report on Combating Terrorism and Foreign Fighter Travel.
In this report, issued in September 2015, a bipartisan committee found, among other things, that America has neither implemented a national strategy to prevent jihadists from traveling overseas nor offered adequate support to local initiatives trying to deter radicalization. According to the authors of the report, America has improved its ability to detect and thwart attempts by terrorists to enter the country, but it has not succeeded in stopping American citizens with nefarious intentions from leaving the country to join a terrorist group. Although numerous agencies have designed programs and projects specifically aimed at limiting terrorist travel, there does not appear to be “an overarching strategy to coordinate them.” This lack of coordination among agencies may be giving jihadists loopholes to exploit. To address this potential weakness, the report recommends that the president eliminate any duplicate or overlapping programs, and provide to Congress a national strategy to combat terrorist travel. [iii]
In addition to recommending that the government evaluate the efficiency of existing programs, the report also calls for a comprehensive review of how Congress allocates resources in the effort to intercept terrorists traveling abroad. [iv] If the government continues to invest resources in programs that might resemble and overlap one another, it may not be able to fund community initiatives that can stop the cycle of radicalization in the beginning stages. A strategy that includes nongovernmental partners such as Countering Extremism Project and the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE) can encourage communities to report suspicious activity to law enforcement agencies. Members of the Homeland Security Committee want security officials to identify and confront aspiring jihadists before they arrive at the airport. Online recruiters for ISIS are engaging young men and women in their homes via a computer screen. It is not enough for government officials to simply wait at the airport to see who shows up.
We must change our mode of operation to counter the challenge of terrorist travel. The problem that lies before us is one that requires a comprehensive strategy that must constantly be reassessed in light of new developments and technology. While the Homeland Security Committee report does not offer any lasting solutions to the crisis we are in, one thing is certain: if we keep doing what we are doing, we will most certainly be further away from that vision of a world without terrorist organizations than we were a few years ago.
[i] Fred Lucas, “Obama Has Touted Al Qaeda’s Demise 32 Times since Benghazi Attack,” CNS News, November 1, 2012, accessed October 13, 2015, http://cnsnews.com/news/article/obama-touts-al-qaeda-s-demise-32-times-benghazi-attack-0.
[ii] Homeland Secuitty Committee Task Force on Combating Terrorism and Foreign Fighter Travel, https://homeland.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/TaskForceFinalReport.pdf, pg. 6
[iii] Homeland Secuitty Committee Task Force on Combating Terrorism and Foreign Fighter Travel, https://homeland.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/TaskForceFinalReport.pdf, pg.23
[iv] Homeland Secuitty Committee Task Force on Combating Terrorism and Foreign Fighter, https://homeland.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/TaskForceFinalReport.pdf Travel, pg. 34