For nearly a year, the Obama Administration, including current Homeland Security Secretary nominee Jeh Johnson, claimed that the core of al-Qaeda is “degraded, disorganized and on the run.” But at a recent Heritage event, senior research fellow Lisa Curtis emphasized the danger of ignoring the hybrid nature of terrorism and warned that the threat has diffused into regions and cultures not previously seen. These organizations no longer depend on a core hierarchy but operate as independent, regional affiliates who subscribe to al-Qaeda’s radical ideology.
The panel—which included Representative Michael McCaul (R–TX), Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, and Frank Cilluffo of the Homeland Security Policy Institute—agreed that this development is partially due to a lack of U.S. global leadership. The panelists also addressed the disjointed and reactionary approach of the current Administration, a subject discussed in previous Heritage reports. McCaul noted that this inconsistency is harmful to U.S. allies and warned that this Administration’s lack of vision makes U.S. partners in the Middle East feel abandoned and tempted look elsewhere to secure their national interests.
The Obama Administration’s counterterrorism (CT) strategy fails to recognize this sad truth. The panelists unanimously supported realigning official rhetoric with on-the-ground reality.
The panel also agreed that terrorists already make wide use of cyberspace and are slowly adding cyber skills to an already extensive toolkit of coercion and violence. Zimmerman warned that cyber warfare is “the new frontier” for terrorists and urged the U.S. to take a proactive CT approach. In addition, Cilluffo suggested the U.S. government use jihadist websites as a tool to expose the radical ideology’s bankruptcy and hypocrisy.
Indeed, these are just some of the adjustments needed to improve President Obama’s current CT strategy. Apart from maintaining partnerships, Congress and the executive branch should maintain key intelligence capabilities, wisely use special operations forces, and partner with private entities to create an effective program to counter violent extremism.
Overall, the panel agreed that terrorism is not on the decline and that the Obama Administration should shift its rhetoric and strategy if it wants to protect the U.S. homeland.
Brett Ramsay and Paige Haynes are currently members of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.