Last Wednesday a small group of at least 10 gunmen fanned out across the Indian city of Mumbai. In coordinated assaults, they attacked areas frequented by foreigners, killing indiscriminately and taking hostages. The one gunmen captured so far has reportedly admitted to authorities that he received training from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States that has long fought an Islamic insurgency in Kashmir. While the rationale and responsibility for the attacks are still under investigation, the incident is not unprecedented and does raise questions about U.S. domestic security.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has become a much “harder” target for transnational terrorists. Luck isn’t the reason the U.S. has not been attacked since that day. In many respects, U.S. counterterrorism programs are working — and not just at home, either. While there has been a flare-up of terrorism in India and the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, a recent report by the Human Security Project shows that, globally, the trend in transnational terrorist attacks and the appeal of the radical Osama bin Laden agenda have been declining for several years.
Nevertheless, it is unrealistic to believe that all homeland security efforts will deny every attack every time. In particular, armed assaults and vehicle-borne explosive attacks are tactics that are not beyond the reach of any modestly funded and committed terrorist group. Attacks similar to the ones in Mumbai have plagued Russia since the 1990s. In 1995, 100 civilians died after Chechnyans captured a hospital in Budyonnovsk. In October 2002, 100 captives died when Russian special forces stormed a captured theater in Moscow. And in September 2004, 334 hostages died after a well-armed group of Chechnyans invaded a school in Beslan. Even the United States has not been immune from the danger of planned armed assaults. For instance, in August 2005, a Pakistani national was arrested as part of a terrorism investigation into a possible plot to attack the Israeli consulate, California National Guard facilities, and other targets in southern California.
No administration can guarantee it will stop every attack everywhere. But if our nation assumes the offensive, the U.S. can take the initiative away from the terrorists, lessen their chances of success, and mitigate the damage they cause. Consequently, Washington should continue to:
- Maintain valuable terrorism-fighting tools established under legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act of 2008.
- Keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency as an integral part of the Homeland Security Department. When an explosion happens, the government cannot wait until it knows if the incident was a terrorist attack or an industrial accident. Rather, our nation needs to respond with alacrity, and that means taking an integrated “all-hazards” approach from the local to the national level.
- Enhance counterterrorism coordination with allies like India. Washington and New Delhi would both benefit by pooling their counterterrorism expertise and increasing joint activities to address regional and global terrorist threats.
Now is not the time to grow complacent about homeland security.
- Seeing President-elect Barack Obama as Santa Claus, mayors have descended on Washington asking for $90 billion spending plan to fund local priorities.
- Analysts say next year’s deficit could top $1 trillion and the economic rescue could cost $8.5 trillion.
- Legions of lobbyists are lining up to cash in on the $700 billion stimulus Democrats are promising to give away.
- Obama’s expected pick of Tom Daschle to be secretary of Health and Human Services contradicts his pledge to rid the White House of special interests.
- In light of new ethics charges, the Washington Post has joined the New York Times in calling for Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) to step down as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.