Terrorism by dictionary definition is described as the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons. Terrorism comes from decades of histories of deep national pride, religious disputes and what is seen as an intrusion upon Islamic holy grounds. Terrorist groups try to gain influence and power in order to affect political change on either a local or an international level. They make this possible through the publicity and fear that is generated by their violent acts. Throughout history terrorist groups have caused much devastation and damage, leaving a huge impact on the world. Terrorism is one of the leading problems in today’s society. The terrorist attack against the United States, on September 11th, 2011, clearly demonstrated the power and strength that terrorist groups possess.
The causes of these acts come from the instability, oppression, poverty and political alienation that the citizens of many Islamic-Arab nations face. As a result, the people of Afghanistan and many other Arab nations have generated a deep hatred for the United States going back over a hundred years. The American government and intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, now work harder than ever to prevent such horrifying acts of terrorism from re occurring, since they failed in the prevention of 9/11. “Terrorism is a complex problem: Its origins are diverse; and those who engage in it, even more so” (Reich, 1). The actions of terrorist groups, as well as terrorists as individuals, are complex. One must recognize that there is not only a single explanation for the act of terrorism.
The subject is very intricate and involves a huge diversity of causes and reasons that aid in the explanation and understanding of terrorism. In the book, Origins of Terrorism, Walter Reich examines the psychologies, ideologies, theologies, and the states of mind of terrorists in an attempt to better understand the realms of terrorism. Reich does not only work with terrorism studies itself but instead works within the realms of political science, Islam, history and social psychology to gain a more well rounded understanding of terrorism. Through recognizing the knowledge of these realms, Reich and other scholar’s state this information can contribute to the understanding of the ways in which terrorists view the world and behave in it. Terrorism can be explained as an expression of political strategy. Meaning that terrorist behavior is a willing choice made by an organization for specific strategic reasons.
These organizations are very radical political groups that determine that terrorism is the best course of action in accomplishing their political goals. “The practitioners of terrorism often claim that they had no choice but terrorism, and it is indeed true that terrorism often follows the failure of other methods” (Reich, 10). Failure to mobilize support from masses, lacking of utilization of military power, time constraints and unrealistic expectations cause radical political organizations to turn to terrorism. By choosing terrorism, group members and leaders, willingly accept the risks of challenging the government. The origin of terrorism is as old as humans’ willingness to affect politics through the use of violent acts. Terrorism dates back to first-century Palestine when a Jewish group fought and murdered the Romans and their collaborators who ruled over them. Terrorism went on to be classified as a modern phenomenon.
In the twentieth century terrorism was associated with the Italian Red Brigades, the Irish Republican army, the Palestine Liberation Organization and Perv’s shining paths among many others. Terrorism moved away from being based on state action and moved further into a larger aspect of attack against existing political orders. The result of this was due to the growing amount of ethnic nationalism within countries. Groups with strong ethnic nationalism were forming throughout the entire world. Then in the late 1960’s international terrorism became a prominent issue. Terrorism progressed from random killings to massive plans of attacks. Hijacking and bombing had become the favored and popular methods of attack. Organized groups had specific political goals that they carried out through theatrical, symbolic acts of violence. As the twenty-first century came around terrorism started becoming very religiously motivated.
Groups like Al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah come to mind as they justify their acts of violence on Islamic grounds. Terrorism was now not only being used for political reasons but for religious reasons as well. Religiously motivated terrorist groups are the most alarming terrorist threats in today’s world. The rise of Islamic radicalism and militancy began during the 1970’s in the Middle East region of the world. Islamist terrorism is based on the belief that U.S. foreign policy has killed, oppressed and harmed Muslims throughout the Middle East. This belief resulted in a tense relationship between the ‘West’ and the Arab and Muslim nations, creating a great amongst American society. Osama bin Laden was the founder of the most well known Islamic militant organizations called Al-Qaeda. His goal was to remove and end American military presence in the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, end American support for Israel, return East Timor and Kashmir to Muslim rule and overthrow any Arab regimes that he considered corrupt and insufficiently religious.
Al-Qaeda is the most innovative and dangerous terrorist group that has ever existed according the American government and all other countries that have been victims of terrorist acts. It has been known to engage in suicide attacks, kidnappings, hijackings and recruiting new members through the Internet. Al-Qaeda’s operating network consists of a multinational, stateless army, and a radical Sunni Muslim movement calling for Jihad. Jihad is an important religious duty of Muslims that involves the protection and keeping of the Islamic faith. In the book, The Age of Sacred Terror, authors Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon provides essential insight into the thinking of bin Laden and his followers. Benjamin and Simon talks about bin Laden’s first televised interview with Peter Arnett in March 1997. During his interview he complained and stated, “the truth is that the whole Muslim world is the victim of international terrorism, engineered by America at the United Nations. We are a nation whose sacred symbols have been looted and whose wealth and resources have been plundered.”
Bin Laden continued to state, “If their people do not wish to be harmed inside their very own countries, they should seek to elect governments that are truly representative of them and that can protect their interests” (Benjamin, 147). Bin Laden gave the people of America a clear warning that he is planning an attack and a war against them. Osama bin Laden issued and signed his second fatwa on February 23, 1998, as the leader of Al-Qaeda. A fatwa is a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a religious law specialist on a specific issue. Through the issue of bin Laden’s fatwa, he gave the USA an indictment on the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and the Middle East. He blames America for occupying lands of Islam and intervening in Middle Eastern affairs. Bin Laden’s goal was to get rid of any Americans getting in the way of his radical Sunni movement. By issuing his second fatwa, bin Laden declared was on the West and Israel.
Al-Qaeda also released a video later that year declaring war on the United States and the West as well. After bin Laden had declared war, bombings were carried out on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. There was also an attempted bombing of Los Angeles International Airport and then the USS Cole bombing occurred in October 2000. On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda attacked the United States once again. This attack not only crushed American ideologies, but also took away the feelings of security that had taken hundreds of years to build. To plan and successfully execute the September 11th attacks, Al-Qaeda terrorists worked for years within the United States using Islamic organizations to coordinate and build their networks. In the book, American Jihad, Steven Emerson tells the story of the terrorists who sought to destroy the United States from the inside. Emerson states, “Operating in our open society, with freedom of speech and assembly and with only casual oversight from the FBI, the CIA, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the worldwide network of militant Islamic organizations has finally been able to coordinate” (Emerson, 3).
The idea that terrorists were working within the United States seemed unimaginable, but the attacks of 9/11 proved that it was possible. Bin Laden organized and set up a network of “cells” in Tucson, Arizona; Brooklyn, New York; Orlando, Florida; Dallas, Texas; Santa Clara, California; Columbia, Missouri; and Herndon, Virginia. He understood that if he recruited U.S. citizens it would help him in his terrorist efforts because they would be allowed to travel freely throughout the world. By having an American passport his followers would not be detected or questioned whether they were a part of or members of a terrorist group. Bin Laden “made efforts to recruit United States citizens… in order to utilize the American citizens for travel throughout the Western world to deliver messages and engage in financial transactions for the benefit of Al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups and to help carry out operations” (Emerson, 153).
Bin Laden was obviously successful in his attack on America, which demonstrated not only to Americans, but also to the rest of the world what great threat terrorism can be to humanity. The success of terrorism depends on the existence of a mass media, which will create and spread the feeling of fear throughout the world. As a result, the attacks of September 11, threw America into a full waged war against terrorism. Military efforts were sent to abroad to Afghanistan and the Bush administration increased domestic efforts in order to prevent future attacks. New ideas and reforms needed to be put in place. American citizens did not understand why the CIA, the biggest intelligence agency in the world, could not prevent such a large scaled terrorist attack from happening. “The CIA was designed to… “Connect the dots.” Yet it failed to penetrate sufficiently with human intelligence agents or to fathom analytically with sufficient clarity the Al-Qaeda 9/11 conspiracy that lead to the slaughter of some 3000 individuals on U.S. soil” (Russell, 18).
“The terrorists that intelligence must uncover and track are inert objects; they are living, conniving strategists. They, too, fail frequently and are sometimes caught before they can strike” (Hoge, 146). The intelligence system failed and in order to understand this failure one must understand that the strategic role of intelligence in decision making of foreign policy has been a neglected field of study. The outrage of the intelligence failure forced the Bush administration to fall to political pressure. The administration accepted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation to the create DNI post. This post was to serve as the president’s chief intelligence advisor and oversee the entire intelligence community, including the CIA. The root cause of the failed penetration of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 plot, by the CIA, has to do with their failure to marshal the resources that work against Al-Qaeda, which were corresponding with the threat.
The CIA did provide the president with a strategic warning about the attacks but it would have been much better if they had access to the Al-Qaeda related information that the FBI had collected. The CIA has also failed to produce spies that are needed to reveal the plans and intentions of America’s enemies. The focus should be put on what can be done to improve intelligence rather than recap evidence of what the CIA did and did not do. Spending more money on intelligence agencies will not necessarily improve American security. Intelligence could be improved by the collection of more important information, the building up of human intelligence throughout the world and recruiting more and better spies. If the American government wants to protect its citizens, property, liberty and interests from attacks of terrorist groups then dramatic reforms need to happen. These reforms would hopefully give the president access to the enemy plans and tactics.
“The systematic failures of American strategic intelligence and the CIA since its inception have been obscured by the political and emotional impulse to examine each and every incident of intelligence failure in isolation and not to put them together into a larger context with other intelligence failures that shared the same root causes” (Russell, 27). Nonetheless, America was in an overall agreement that changes in the American intelligence systems were necessary. The United States Department of Homeland security was created in November 2002 as a new cabinet level agency. This department was responsible for the reorganization of the U.S. federal government. Government bureaucracies dealing with military functions and security were also reorganized. In October 2001, the USA Patriot act was signed into effect reducing the restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ ability to search medical, financial, telephone, e-mail communications and other records.
It also eased the restrictions on gathering foreign intelligence within the United States. The Patriot act also gave the Secretary of the Treasury more authority to closely regulate financial transactions, involving foreign persons. Immigration authorities and law enforcement could now detain and deport immigrants that were suspected of being affiliated with acts of terrorism more easily. Author Richard K. Betts suggested, “The National Security Agency (NSA), the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), and associated organizations can increase “technical” collection – satellite and aerial reconnaissance, signals intelligence, communications monitoring – by buying more platforms, devices, and personnel to exploit them” (Hoge, 148). A Terrorist Finance Tracking Program was actually created to in order to monitor the movements of terrorists’ financial resources. However, the New York Times newspaper leaked this information, which ended the project.
The National Security Agency instead set up an electronic surveillance program that studied telecommunication use by suspected and known terrorists. All the laws and reforms that removed restrictions on governmental authority are notionally good for the overall prevention and protection against terrorism. In certain perspectives the removal of governmental restrictions is advantageous to American security. However, political interest groups have stated that because these new laws remove restrictions on governmental authority, they violate the civil liberties of the American citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the first legal challenge against the Patriot Act. It claimed that the Patriot act violates the rights of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment and the right to due process. It is a violation because the Patriot act grants the government the right to search a person’s private property without having to inform them that they are being investigated. Former President Bush stated that the Patriot Act helped convict more than two hundred suspects of being involved with acts of terrorism.
On the other hand, the figures of the Justice Department show that there have been complaints of abuse of the Act from about 7000 people. The real question one must ask oneself is if the governments’ unknown investigations are worth the price of freedom and protection from terrorism. “The deaths of 3,000 people on American soil at hands of a ruthless adversary along with the CIA’s profound misreading of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities are the latest and greatest and in a long string of U.S. intelligence failures” (Russell, 149). The United States government has heavily concentrated on improving intelligence through bureaucratic approaches. Fighting the war on terrorism became a huge challenge for the United States. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 caused enormous devastation and damage to all the citizens of America.
September 11 will never be forgotten as it has left a huge impact on the world. Al-Qaeda is a very serious threat to the United States but there will most likely be many more in the next generations to come. “The United States needs to rectify the substantial shortcomings in human intelligence collection operations if it is to deal successfully with issues of war and peace in the future” (Russell, 168). The protection of America is in the hands of the government and the intelligence agencies. Terrorism will not end on its own, therefore Americans need to be prepared for what the future has to bring. Terrorism has been around for centuries and will probably always be around. The question is how to handle it and keep it in check. There will always be extremists working against the governments in the world.
Courtney from Study Moose
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