"Countering the Changing Threat of International Terrorism"
By: The National Commission on Terrorism
Date: June 5, 2000
Source: "Countering the Changing Threat of International Terrorism," Report from the National Commission on Terrorism.
About the Author: The National Commission on Terrorism, a bipartisan body created by the United States Congress, released its report on June 5, 2000. The report warned of the increasing likelihood of terrorist attacks upon Americans and urged that the U.S. adopt a more aggressive strategy in pursuing terrorists. The commission recommended a more proactive counterterrorism policy, stronger state sanctions, and a better-coordinated federal counterterrorism response. Many of the commission's findings were not implemented until after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001.
As the United States became a world power in the years following World War II (1939945) Americans increasingly became the targets of terrorism. In the 1990s, the threat of attacks creating massive casualties grew. In an effort to prevent a surprise attack in the manner of Pearl Harbor, Congress created the National Commission on Terrorism ( NTC) in 1999.
The ten-member terrorism commission consisted of six members appointed by the Republican Congressional leadership and four by the Democratic minority. L. Paul Bremer, the chairman of the commission, had served as an ambassador at large for counterterrorism in the Reagan administration. In compiling its report, the NTC interviewed officials throughout the government, including at the State Department, Pentagon, National Security Council, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The NTC stressed that the U.S. needed to develop effective counterterrorism policies that also respected constitutional protections of civil liberties. The members argued that terrorists sought to provoke a response that would undermine the democratic system of government. They premised their investigations on the notion that the U.S. would be more likely to succeed in striking a balance between effective counterterrorism policies and respect for civil liberties through careful planning rather than a rushed response in the highly charged atmosphere following catastrophic attack.
Despite its emphasis on the protection of civil liberties, the NTC unanimously recommended that the CIA drop its human rights guidelines on the recruitment of terrorist informants. In 1995, the CIA established new procedures for the agency's case officers to seek approval before recruiting informants who may have been involved in human rights abuses. The guidelines were put in place following charges that the CIA knowingly hired paid informers among Guatemalan military officers suspected of involvement in political killings, including those of an American citizen and a rebel leader married to another American. The NTC had heard testimony that such guidelines made it difficult to recruit agents within terrorist groups.
International terrorism poses an increasingly dangerous and difficult threat to America
This was underscored by the December 1999 arrests in Jordan and at the U.S./Canadian border of foreign nationals who were allegedly planning to attack crowded millennium celebrations. Today's terrorists seek to inflict mass casualties, and they are attempting to do so both overseas and on American soil. They are less dependent on state sponsorship and are, instead, forming loose, transnational affiliations based on religious or ideological affinity and a common hatred of the United States. This makes terrorist attacks more difficult to detect and prevent.
Countering the growing danger of the terrorist threat requires significantly stepping up U.S. efforts
The government must immediately take steps to rein-vigorate the collection of intelligence about terrorists' plans, use all available legal avenues to disrupt and prosecute terrorist activities and private sources of support, convince other nations to cease all support for terrorists, and ensure that federal, state, and local officials are prepared for attacks that may result in mass casualties. The Commission has made a number of recommendations to accomplish these objectives.
Priority one is to prevent terrorist attacks. U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities must use the full scope of their authority to collect intelligence regarding terrorist plans and methods
CIA guidelines adopted in 1995 restricting recruitment of unsavory sources should not apply when recruiting counterterrorism sources.
The Attorney General should ensure that FBI is exercising fully its authority for investigating suspected terrorist groups or individuals, including authority for electronic surveillance.
Funding for counterterrorism efforts by CIA, NSA, and FBI must be given higher priority to ensure continuation of important operational activity and to close the technology gap that threatens their ability to collect and exploit terrorist communications.
FBI should establish a cadre of reports officers to distill and disseminate terrorism-related information once it is collected.
U.S. policies must firmly target all states that support terrorists
Iran and Syria should be kept on the list of state sponsors until they stop supporting terrorists.
Afghanistan should be designated a sponsor of terrorism and subjected to all the sanctions applicable to state sponsors.
The President should impose sanctions on countries that, while not direct sponsors of terrorism, are nevertheless not cooperating fully on counterterrorism. Candidates for consideration include Pakistan and Greece.
Private sources of financial and logistical support for terrorists must be subjected to the full force and sweep of U.S. and international laws
All relevant agencies should use every available means, including the full array of criminal, civil, and administrative sanctions to block or disrupt nongovernmental sources of support for international terrorism.
Congress should promptly ratify and implement the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism to enhance international cooperative efforts.
Where criminal prosecution is not possible, the Attorney General should vigorously pursue the expulsion of terrorists from the United States through proceedings which protect both the national security interest in safeguarding classified evidence and the right of the accused to challenge that evidence. . . .
The President and Congress should reform the system for reviewing and funding departmental counterterrorism programs to ensure that the activities and programs of various agencies are part of a comprehensive plan
The executive branch official responsible for coordinating counterterrorism efforts across the government should be given a stronger hand in the budget process.
Congress should develop mechanisms for a comprehensive review of the President's counterterrorism policy and budget.
Upon its release, the NTC report met with resounding silence. The commission's warnings about the likelihood of an attack on U.S. soil that would result in mass casualties were not widely covered by the media. Despite an earlier attack on the World Trade Center and the increasing number of attacks on U.S. citizens and U.S. targets abroad, most Americans did not consider that a foreign terrorist attack on U.S. soil was very likely.
In 2004, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (commonly called the 91 Commission) released its report examining the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This second commission on terrorism made no references to the first commission, but it did take note of government faults first identified by the NTC. At least sixteen of the nineteen alaeda hijackers of the planes that flew into the New York City and Washington, D.C. targets entered the country legally or remained in the United States on expired visas (immigration and temporary residence permits). The Immigration and Naturalization Service bore the responsibility to prevent suspected terrorists on the "watch list," a collection of databases from different federal agencies, from coming into the United Sates. The watch list, prepared primarily by the State Department, lacked access to FBI data. Contrary to NTC recommendations, government agencies were not cooperating in counterterrorism efforts by sharing information on a regular basis. No interagency comprehensive plan for counterterrorism had been put in place.
Following the findings of the 91 commission, the United States government began a wide-scale reorganization of the nation's intelligence services, immigration laws, and counterterrorism procedures. One of the major changes was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, a new agency charged with directing and facilitating communication on terrorism and security issues among various government agencies.
Flynn, Stephen. America the Vulnerable: How the U.S. Has Failed to Secure the Homeland and Protect Its People from Terrorism. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. New York: WW Norton, 2004.
Pillar, Paul R. Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Brookings Institution Press, 2001.
Report of the National Commission on Terrorism. "Countering the Changing Threat of International Terrorism." <<a href="http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/commission.html">http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/commission.html> (accessed July 4, 2005).