The threat posed by Islamist terrorism continues to grow both at home and abroad, according to a panel of experts that met at The Heritage Foundation on July 22.
The rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) has resulted in a surge in terrorist activity across the Middle East. Just as strikingly, it has also prompted an uptick in domestic terror plots against the U.S. homeland this year. Law enforcement officers have already foiled a total of 10 terrorist plots in 2015, making it the most active period since 9/11. All the attacks, moreover, have been inspired or directed by ISIS operatives.
Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, joined Heritage policy analyst David Inserra, former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III and former Homeland Security adviser Kenneth Rapuano to discuss the upswing in terrorist activity and its implications for U.S. national security.
All the panelists agreed that the strength of Islamist terrorism lies in its radical ideology. Would-be terrorists, said Representative McCaul, are inspired by “an evil and twisted ideology that drives vulnerable minds into unconscionable acts of violence and hate.”
ISIS leaders are increasingly using modern technology to fan the flames of terror and recruit new followers and supporters. Inserra, who analyzes homeland security and cyber security at Heritage, noted that “ISIS is very effective at using social media and other online tools.” He added that social media has become “a tool that ISIS is using to display its message…that it is a caliphate in possession of real territory that it can defend and even expand.”
Terrorists utilize platforms such as Twitter to broadcast their message around the globe. ISIS leaders are also believed to use Internet “dark spaces,” where encryption barriers can successfully block law enforcement and other individuals. ISIS has been successful in gaining support within the U.S.: Many of the attempted attacks this year have been attributed to U.S. citizens, and the FBI is currently investigating a host of homegrown plots in all 50 states.
During the discussion, the panel members also expressed concern over the current situation in the Middle East. To end terrorism at home, it was suggested that the U.S. embrace a more aggressive strategy in rooting out and eliminating ISIS. The U.S. should take a lead role in the fight against Islamist terror, coordinating with allies and compelling them to take action.
Finally, there was a broad consensus that U.S. law enforcement can and should do more to halt the spread of radical Islam in local communities. An agency within the Department of Homeland Security must be assigned the lead role in countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts.
By increasing CVE coordination among federal, state and local forces, officers on the ground will be better able to gather information from community leaders and transmit it to the proper authorities.
Terrorism has indeed “gone viral” around the world—and that includes the U.S. homeland.
Ryan Spaude is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.