For the purposes of this chapter, terrorism is defined as the use of indiscriminate violence for a political purpose by an individual, group, or state against noncombatants. The victims of terrorism are generally those whom the Western moral tradition describes as innocents. Terrorism's purpose is to make a political statement or to create a climate of widespread fear that will lead to a desired political result.
The lines separating terrorism from general violence are far from impermeable, which presents a host of problems for analysts and policymakers alike. It is common for a government to label as terrorist any group that opposes it by force of arms, even if that group's activities are focused against military personnel. To categorize any kind of illegal violence as terrorism, however, is ill-advised. It diminishes the true seriousness of terrorism's immorality and illegality by lumping it with offenses less morally serious, and thereby enhances the credibility of the false adage, "One man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter."
Narrowing the definition of terrorism can be helpful in efforts to combat terrorism by strengthening the moral and political consensus against it. When terrorism is defined as narrowly as suggested above, it is easier to understand why terrorism is always wrong, regardless of who practices it or on behalf of which cause it is wielded. No cause, however noble, justifies the deliberate use of indiscriminate violence against innocent people.
The term terrorism is sometimes applied to the indiscriminate use of violence by a government against its own civilians, or during war, against another state's population. Prior to the Second World War, for example, it was common to speak of air raids against cities for the deliberate purpose of targeting civilians as terrorism. And in recent decades, critics have described the crimes of Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin and Pol Pot as state terrorism. It is sobering to reflect that in the course of the twentieth century, more human beings have perished at the hands of their own governments than have been killed by enemy weapons. This chapter does not discuss the use of indiscriminate violence by a government against its own population.
Several trends are reshaping terrorism in the late 1990s. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European bloc has deprived terrorist groups of substantial financial support, sources of training, and sanctuary on which they had depended in the 1970s and 1980s. Political settlements in such countries as El Salvador, Nicaragua, and South Africa, as well as progress in the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, have deprived a number of terrorist groups of political support and put still others on the defensive. As a result of these settlements, and the end of the Cold War, states such as Cuba and Nicaragua no longer support terrorist groups, either because they do not want to or can no longer afford to. States such as Libya and Iran, which still support terrorist groups, are on the political and diplomatic defensive and are far more careful to disguise their pro-terrorist activities than they were in the 1980s. The Western powers have been fairly successful in isolating these states and making it clear that this isolation will end only when they cease to support terrorism.
Special operations forces in action.
While the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc deprived many terrorist groups of weapons, training, and sanctuary, the chaos that has broken out in large parts of the world since those events is a matter of concern. By the mid-1990s, large sections of Central Asia and the Balkans had become mired in political strife and ethnic warfare. This chaos could become fertile ground for terrorist groups in the future.
Throughout the Muslim world, a resurgence in fundamentalism could enhance terrorist activity (see the chapter on Middle East radicalism). Although the advocates of a holy war against the West remain a minority, they will likely be a powerful source not only of ideological zeal but also of financial and military support for a few small but highly dangerous terrorist groups based in the Middle East and North Africa.
The capacity of a single individual or small group to acquire the technology with which to wreak havoc on the fragile infrastructure of urban civilization is growing at a frightening pace. With the growth of research centers throughout the world (for example, in China, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina), knowledge about weapons technology is becoming widespread. The disintegration of the Soviet Union produced several thousand unemployed nuclear scientists whose future activities and affiliations are impossible to predict or control. Political turmoil and widespread corruption in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakstan could lead to the surreptitious sale of nuclear devices to a terrorist group or to a state that supports terrorism.
The technology for producing biological weapons is also advancing rapidly.
The ease with which such weapons can
be made in facilities ostensibly devoted to legitimate pharmaceutical and medical research will make it difficult to keep biological-warfare agents out of the reach of terrorist groups. Less spectacular but equally sophisticated forms of technology, such as advanced communications, global positioning systems, high explosives, and Stinger missiles, are also becoming more accessible to terrorists.
The communications, transportation, energy, financial, and health-care infrastructures that support millions of people in urban centers worldwide are unusually susceptible to disruption by terrorist acts. It is not difficult to imagine the catastrophic consequences that could result from the spraying of biological-warfare agents throughout a large city from a truck or small plane piloted by terrorists, the launching of missiles against a nuclear reactor, or the detonation of a small nuclear device in downtown Tokyo or New York.
In the 1970s and 1980s, serious terrorism was international. Those organizations involved in terrorism, regardless of their base of operations, received large infusions of foreign support. In the mid-1990s, governments are increasingly turning their attention toward domestic terrorism, that is, terrorist activities carried out by domestic groups with little or no international sponsorship. The most destructive terrorist act in U.S. history was the April 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, whose alleged perpetrators were tied to domestic right-wing organizations. Also in 1995, Japan barely escaped a calamity of massive proportions when members of Aum Shinrikyo, a religious cult, set off a nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway system. In Colombia, terrorist acts sponsored by the Medellin and Cali drug cartels and by left-wing guerrillas continue to disrupt the country's political and economic life and result in hundreds of deaths annually.
From the viewpoint of U.S. interests, it is most accurate to see terrorist groups as covering a broad spectrum. At one end are foreign terrorist groups whose activities are targeted against U.S. allies or personnel abroad. At the other are domestic terrorist groups or individuals, such as the Unabomber, who receive no foreign support. In the middle are groups inspired by a foreign ideology and tied to persons residing in the United States, and that support terrorist attacks on U.S. territory. A prime example of the latter was the conspiracy that placed a bomb on the lower parking garage of one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City in February 1993. The perpetrators had extensive links to Islamic fundamentalist groups in the Middle East. Though primitive, the bomb was quite powerful, killing people and injuring several hundred. The event was described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as "the largest improvised explosive device that's been in the U.S. since we started doing forensic explosive investigations in 1925." A second example of domestic terrorist groups with strong foreign connections are the extreme right-wing militia groups that advocate terrorist acts and that have extensive ideological and financial connections with German neo-Nazi groups.
For the U.S., the potential impact of terrorism is highest in the Middle East, because of that region's political volatility and the weight of American interests involved. One example of such terrorism, but by no means the only one, is that directed against the Arab-Israeli peace process. In addition, terrorism remains active in other areas, such as the Andean nations (primarily Colombia and Peru) and Northern Ireland. Besides geographic-specific terrorism, vigilance is advisable against new and more deadly forms of terrorism, as illustrated by the use of chemical weapons by the Aum Shinrikyo group in Japan.
As a global superpower with thousands of troops continuously deployed around the world, the United States needs to address the threat posed to these forces by terrorist groups eager to humiliate the United States and reduce its influence in sensitive regions. The June 25 terrorist attack against Khobar Towers military complex in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. airmen, illustrates the serious dangers involved in this threat. The terrorists identified themselves as part of a radical Islamic group that wants to cleanse Saudi Arabia of Western influences and rid the country of what they describe as foreign occupiers. They used a bomb variously estimated at 5,000 to 20,000 pounds. Most of the victims of the explosion died as a consequence of shattered glass from blown windows. Until the attack, the Khobar Towers complex had been a high-visibility installation that housed about half of the 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. A similar attack against an American-run military training center in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, using a much smaller 200-pound bomb, killed five Americans in November of 1995.
The Khobar Towers attack revealed the vital importance of taking seriously the terrorist threat and implementing preventive measures against it. A September 1996 official report issued by former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Special Operations Forces, Gen. Wayne Downing, faulted the base commander at Khobar Towers for ignoring ample warnings about the likelihood of terrorist attacks. Prior to the incident, intelligence analysts notified the base commander that terrorists in the area had the capability and intentions to target U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia and that the Khobar Towers complex was one of the highest priority soft targets in the region. A few simple precautionary steps, such as moving the perimeter fence around the apartment complex a few hundred yards further out and installing Mylar sheets over apartment windows, could have deterred the terrorists or reduced substantially the effects of their attack.
In response to the incident, the Defense Department decided to move all American personnel out of Khobar Towers to a remote Saudi air base 50 miles south of Riyadh. The move raises broader questions about the best way to protect U.S. forces overseas. Proponents argue that placing U.S. forces in faraway isolated locations in the host country makes it easier to protect them and also reduces their visibility and hence their symbolic value to terrorists. If few people can see the forces or are even aware of their existence, an attack against them is of limited value to terrorists, who value publicity and symbolism highly. But critics of this strategy wonder whether placing the forces in such isolated compounds does not actually increase their risk of being targeted and attacked by terrorists willing to run the risks. Moreover, the isolation may also detract from the forces' deterrent role if the U.S. is seen to be less able or less willing to respond in a crisis.
The bombings of the World Trade Center in February 1993 and the Oklahoma City Federal Building in April 1995 highlighted the growing dangers of terrorism within the United States itself. At the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, thousands of U.S. domestic law enforcement personnel worked closely with the U.S. military to avert terrorist attacks. The one incident that took place, a bomb explosion that cost several innocent lives, does not appear to have been the act of international terrorists.
One of the key targets of individuals or groups seeking to carry out terrorism on American soil is U.S. civil aviation which transports tens of millions of Americans every year. One of the individuals implicated in the bombing of the World Trade Center, the 28-year-old Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, was convicted in September of 1996 of masterminding an elaborate plot to blow up twelve American jetliners in East Asia in the space of a few days in January 1995. Had the effort succeeded, thousands of innocent people, including many Americans, would have died. Considered a genius by most counter-terrorism experts, Yousef developed a low-cost nitroglycerin-based bomb virtually impossible to detect with the technology used at most airports. He may be the prototype of a new type of terrorist being produced in vast numbers by the Middle East; young, full of religious and ideological zeal, technically skilled to a high degree, and determined not only to kill Americans overseas but also to bring terrorism to the American heartland.
U.S. and Saudi military personnel survey the damage to a U.S. facility caused by an fuel truck explosion near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, June 25, 1996.
In reaction to the growing concern about terrorist attacks against U.S. civilian airliners, Congress in late 1996 approved a package of anti-terrorist measures proposed by President Clinton. The measures, which will cost $1 billion a year, include installing new bomb-detection equipment for screening baggage; expanding Customs Service resources for air security; doubling research spending and the number of security agents for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); giving the FBI more agents and money for domestic intelligence; and a plan, controversial with many civil-liberties groups, to develop computer systems to profile and identify passengers with suspicious travel patterns or criminal records. The package also included studying the feasibility of adding chemical tags to explosives and increasing security at the federal government's infectious disease research laboratories.
Meanwhile, a number of experts have sounded the alarm about a new terrorist threat, in the form of a "cyber attack" on the nation's most critical infrastructure systems, such as telecommunications, electrical power, gas and oil storage and transportation. As these systems become increasingly dependent on computer and information technology, they are becoming highly vulnerable to computer-based attacks such as logic bombs and viruses wielded by terrorists or foreign powers. In response, President Clinton created in late 1996 an inter-agency Commission on Critical Infrastructure Problems to assess the threat and develop strategies for dealing with it. Because most of the potential targets are in the private sector, the task of protecting them will require addressing complex legal, regulatory, and technical issues as well as close cooperation among many government agencies, and between government and industry.
While the Middle East peace process has moved forward considerably in the 1990s, it remains in danger of unraveling as a result of terrorism. Two powerful terrorist groups--Hamas and Islamic Jihad--have actively sought to destabilize Arab-Israeli relations and sabotage the peace process. Both receive extensive assistance in the form of money, weapons, training, and sanctuary from Syria and Iran.
Founded in 1987, Hamas seeks the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state ruled by Islamic theocratic law. It has carried out numerous acts of violence against civilians in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Like many other terrorist groups, Hamas is tied to and supported by a network of religious, political, educational, and charitable organizations that share its ideology and political objectives. These organizations themselves do not engage in terrorism and some provide humanitarian services. For that reason, action against them poses difficult political issues. However, without their support, Hamas could not survive. Hamas also receives substantial support from Iran. According to U.S. government statements, in the early 1990s, Iran provided Hamas with at least $30 million and agreed to train thousands of Hamas fighters.
Islamic Jihad, a movement that drew its inspiration from the Iranian revolution of 1979, is more extremist than Hamas. Based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, this group considers itself part of the larger Islamic Jihad movement that originated in Lebanon in the 1980s. Like Hamas, its goal is to destroy Israel and remove all Western influence from the Middle East. Its victims have included large numbers of Israeli civilians as well as numerous Western hostages. Perhaps its most spectacular terrorist act to date was the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 32 people and injured 252. The U.S. Department of State has maintained that Iran had advance knowledge of the plan for this attack and was probably involved.
In late 1995 and early 1996, as negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) moved into high gear and a Syrian-Israeli settlement seemed closer, Hamas and Islamic Jihad stepped up their terrorist activities in Israel. They hoped that attacks against civilians would incense the Israeli public and swing votes to the hard-line Likud Party, thereby stopping Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation in its tracks. The terrorist attacks in Israel during an eight-day period in FebruaryMarch 1996 may have contributed to the victory of the more hard-line Binyamin Netanyahu over Prime Minister Shimon Peres in May 1996.
For more discussion of instability within Middle Eastern countries due to Islamic radicalism, see the chapter on Middle East radicalism in the troubled states section. On the issue of inter-state conflict between Israel and Arab countries, see the chapter on Arab-Israel conflict in the section on significant regional contingencies.
Middle Eastern terrorists have some prospects of influencing state policies, e.g., by undermining the Arab-Israel peace process. In quite a different category are fanatical groups operating in stable societies with no prospect of causing social unrest.
There is the troubling prospect that such fanatics may become more deadly in the future. The March 20, 1995, nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system demonstrates the dangers: 12 people were killed, and more than 4,000 were injured. The attack was the work of a fanatical Buddhist sect, Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth), headed by His Holiness the Master Shoko Asahara. The group has attracted between twenty thousand and forty thousand adherents, including many scientists, engineers, and other well-educated individuals. The charismatic Asahara, who is partially blind, founded the sect with his wife in the mid-1980s. He considers himself to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and believes that Armageddon will occur in 1997. The accompanying cataclysmic events will include war between the United States and Japan and the use of chemical and biological weapons against Japan. Asahara ran unsuccessfully for the Japanese Diet in 1990. After his defeat, he concluded that the sect had to resort to extremist methods. He wanted the cult to become an independent nation within Japan--a goal that would require the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and advanced technologies to protect it from the Japanese police and military.
The sect became wealthy as a result of numerous business ventures, including some of dubious legality. It developed a network of influential friends in the Diet and several political parties. It carried out proselytizing activities, business ventures, and political operations in Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia, and the United States. During the chaotic period that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union, Asahara found Russian officials, mafia businessmen, and military officers eager to do business. The cult maintained compounds in several Russian cities well known for their military research-and-production facilities. Cult documents retrieved by Japanese police contained price quotes for Russian nuclear devices. The cult also began efforts to mine uranium in Australia and import it.
Cult scientists designed a plant for the mass production of Sarin, a nerve gas. Sarin is so toxic that a dose equivalent to one ten-millionth of one's body weight is fatal. Cult scientists were also involved in the production of other chemical agents, such as Tabun, VX, mustard, and cyanide compounds. The cult was also eager to develop biological weapons. Its leaders traveled to Zaire to observe the results of the deadly Ebola virus and to explore the possibility of isolating it for use in weapons. The cult had a laboratory for the production of biological agents, and in 1995 released some anthrax from the window of a Tokyo office building as part of an experiment.
Navy diver prepares to resume his dive during recovery
operations on the TWA Flight 800 crash site.
The incident in the Tokyo subway system demonstrates that agents capable of mass destruction are readily available to terrorist groups. While the effort was not a success and its leader was caught, the circumstances beg at least two questions: Is it only a matter of time before another group succeeds where Aum Shinrikyo failed? And what can countries that are vulnerable to terrorism do to overcome the problem?
The terrorist activities of drug organizations and guerrilla movements in the Andean region, while less significant strategically than those of the Middle East, are still of some weight. For a decade, terrorism has kept Colombia on the edge of political chaos. The drug cartels and the guerrillas have retarded Colombia's economic development, and thereby that of the Andean region as a whole. Moreover, the Colombian government has been unable to crack down effectively on the cartels' activities, leaving them free to continue their export of billions of dollars of illegal drugs every year to the United States, where these drugs have wrought social havoc on an unparalleled scale.
In addition to bribery and other ordinary forms of corruption, the drug-traffickers use terrorist attacks to eliminate or intimidate judges, politicians, and well-known figures from the public or private sector that oppose them. They have also targeted American citizens and U.S. government civilians involved in counternarcotics efforts, and have carried out attacks against civilian airliners. Their combined economic clout is considerable, with total assets probably in the $10 to $20 billion range. This wealth gives them access to sophisticated communications technology, and in the future it could give them access to highly sophisticated military technology that they could employ against U.S. government personnel or civilian airliners in retaliation for American counterdrug operations.
The government of Alberto Fujimori in Peru continues its successful effort to eradicate the Shining Path guerrilla movement, which in the early 1990s was spreading terror throughout Lima and much of the countryside. By 1994, Shining Path, which less than a decade earlier had been the most dangerous terrorist movement in the Western hemisphere, had been crippled. It may never recover its former power.
Terrorist groups have been attempting to derail peace processes in Northern Ireland. In February 1996, following slow but continuing progress in Anglo-Irish talks over the future of Northern Ireland, the radical wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a series of bombings designed to push the British government into more sweeping concessions and to bait the Protestant Unionists into a terrorist retaliation. Extremists within the IRA fear that an Anglo-British agreement will render them irrelevant if Northern Ireland becomes dominated by the advocates of reconciliation.
Terrorism against Americans is likely to increase from several sources:
Many terrorist acts, while reprehensible, have few strategic consequences. Howerver, a few have extensive political and military repercussions by increasing tensions among states or pushing a state toward a particular domestic or foreign policy. An important case was the terrorism in Israel in 1995/96--the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an extremist Israeli and the bombing campaign by extremist Palestinians--that were major factors in the election victory in Israel of a government less enthusiastic about the peace process as pursued by its predecessor. If the Arab-Israeli peace process fails, it would be a strategic defeat for the U.S.--a defeat caused in no small part by terrorism. So terrorism can, at times, have significant impact on governments.
The U.S. has an obvious interest in the physical protection of its citizens and their property. Americans appear to regard terrorist attacks as particularly disturbing crimes.
As a related matter, the U.S. has interests in stability, peaceful conflict resolution, the rule of law, and the freedom of innocent civilians from attack. Therefore, the U.S. has an interest in constructing an international consensus that terrorism is an unacceptable, irrespective of the underlying political motivation. That is, no matter how serious the grievance, a turn to terrorism is unacceptable.
Whenever a terrorist attacks a U.S. target (be it civilian or military) America's reputation suffers in the eyes of many around the world. The implication is that the United States is not as strong, or as skillful, as America wants the rest of the world to believe it is. This is especially the case in cultures where reputation and the appearance of power count for much. In many non-western cultures, a successful terrorist act against the United States is seen as evidence of U.S. weakness and vulnerability and as an incentive to attempt similar acts that will discredit American power. If the United States is not strong enough to protect its own people or its own forces, doubt may be created about it ability to protect its allies or punish its enemies in faraway regions of the globe. As a result, terrorism can weaken relations with allies by initimidating or blackmailing a particular country into distancing itself from the United States or denying the U.S. access to particular facilities.
The U.S. approach to combatting terrorism distinguishes between antiterrorism and counterterrorism. The former refers to defensive measures used to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and property to terrorism. Since the mid-1970s, for example, the U.S. government has invested billions of dollars to make U.S. embassies and military installations abroad and federal buildings at home less vulnerable to terrorist attack. Through tighter security measures, such as the use of identification badges, access to government buildings has been restricted.
The effectiveness of antiterrorist precautions, however, is limited, and the number of potential targets is vast. The funds and public will to make all of these targets invulnerable are lacking. Hence, antiterrorist efforts must be complemented by counterterrorist efforts. These are offensive measures to prevent, deter, and respond to terrorism. Counterterrorism has an unquantifiable, but very real, deterrent effect on prospective terrorists.
While counterterrorist forces are superbly equipped and trained, their use is substantially limited by political constraints. During any major terrorist crisis abroad, the United States must consider the risks and costs associated with deploying U.S. military personnel. Chief among these are the potential loss of American lives, damage to the credibility of U.S. allies, and serious political opposition from U.S. allies and friends. Special counterterrorist forces cannot be used recklessly. They are a powerful instrument that is wielded only after much careful deliberation.
The United States has the world's most capable counterterrorist forces. Those of Israel, Great Britain, and Germany follow closely behind. U.S. counterterrorist forces are part of the larger special operations forces, which have approximately twenty-nine thousand active-duty personnel and an annual budget of $3 billion. The portion of these forces and budget devoted to counterterrorism is classified information. However, DOD is confident that Congress will continue to fund the counterterrorist mission at appropriate levels.
Counterterrorist units train for a wide range of activities, including intelligence gathering, rescue operations, and direct attacks. These forces have been used in response to a number of terrorist incidents overseas. At the domestic level, they have provided support to antiterrorist forces of law-enforcement agencies and the U.S. Department of Justice. DOD policy prohibits the divulging of any details about these forces or their use. DOD willingly allows other entities to take the credit for successful efforts for which its counterterrorist forces have been responsible, both at home or abroad. Any advantages that might accrue from publicizing these successful exploits are more than outweighed by the benefits of denying U.S. enemies information about how these forces operate.
Military responses to terrorism are not limited to the use of special forces. One noteworthy example was the April 1986 air strike carried out by the Reagan administration against Libya. The mission caused a number of civilian and military casualties and extensive damage to Libyan government, military, and intelligence facilities, and endangered the life of Colonel Mu'ammar Ghaddafi himself. It was launched in retaliation for a number of Libyan terrorist actions, including the bombing of a Berlin discotheque popular with U.S. service personnel.
The attack did not deter Libya for long. In December 1988, operatives from Libya bombed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Amid concern over the return of the perpetrators, DOD Secretary Richard Cheney advocated that the 1986 military operation be repeated, only to be convinced by his advisers that diplomatic and economic sanctions would be preferable. While the sanctions have had their limitations, they have probably been more damaging to Ghaddafi than a one-time military strike would have been.
The United States has used sanctions and the denial of loans and technology against terrorist states. Some restrictions, such as an aid cutoff and votes against loans from multilateral banks like the World Bank, are required by law against all states on the Department of State's list of terrorist-sponsoring governments. Other restrictions are adopted on a country-by-country basis.
The U.S. prefers to apply economic pressure in coordination with other countries, since otherwise, the targeted state can substitute third-country sources for U.S. technology and loans. The most broadly supported economic sanctions against terrorism have been those on Libya. Following the failure of the Libyan government to surrender two of its prominent officials indicted for the four hundred murders caused by the bombing of Pan Am 103 and the bombing of a French airliner from the UTA company over Chad, the UN Security Council imposed a range of restrictions on Libya in 1992, which were then made tougher in 1994. However, the U.S. has been unable to convince either the UN or key allies, such as Italy, to agree to tighter restrictions. The costs to the Italian economy would be high, and Italy has little political interest in the Pan Am case, tragic though it was. In fact, Italy has traditionally avoided confrontation with Libya in order to maintain economic ties with the North African state and to avoid triggering Libyan terrorist attacks within its borders. Not satisfied with the pressure on Libya or Iran, the U.S. Congress unanimously adopted a 1996 law mandating U.S. retaliation against foreign firms that do substantial business in Libya or Iran. However, the president was given wide latitude for flexible application of the U.S. retaliation, in recognition that counterterrorism must be balanced against other U.S. interests, including the preservation of an open international economic system.
It could be argued that the restrictions on Libya have been successful, even though they have not brought to justice those responsible for the Pan Am and UTA bombings. As best as can be determined, Libya has not engaged in state-sponsored terrorism since the imposition of the sanctions.
If the sanctions on Libya are the counterterrorism measures that have enjoyed the broadest international support, those on Iran have had the least such support. While the U.S. argues that economic pressure is the only practical way to get Tehran to withdraw its support of terrorism in the Middle East, European governments claim that sanctions only further isolate Iran from the international community, strengthen the more hawkish elements within the Iranian leadership, and weaken the influence of those elements interested in improving relations with the West.
No antiterrorism barrier or counterterrorist force is powerful enough to deter a sufficiently zealous and skillful terrorist. For these reasons, intelligence remains a highly useful instrument for fighting terrorism. The FBI collects intelligence on prospective domestic terrorist groups and engages in efforts to penetrate counterintelligence operations. The Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA have begun to devote larger resources to foreign terrorist organizations and their impact on U.S. security.
Collecting intelligence against foreign terrorist groups is fraught with political and human risks. There are several ways to do it, each of which has different limitations and special advantages. One method is to employ foreign operatives. Because they are well-acquainted with the culture, they may be particularly useful for penetrating a foreign terrorist group; however, they may also be less reliable than U.S. operatives. A second method is to hire a citizen of the United States, preferably a retired U.S. military person with well-honed survival and combat skills. The usefulness of such an individual will be limited by cultural and ethnic factors. A third option is to use U.S. military personnel, such as special operations forces. Because of the high political risks associated with such a mission, this option is used sparingly. Lastly, it is possible to gather large, though not always adequate, amounts of intelligence using technical means. These operations carry the lowest level of political risk but are dependent on the enemy's willingness to communicate through channels susceptible to technical interception and decoding.
In assigning responsibility for combating terrorist activity, Washington distinguishes between domestic terrorism and foreign terrorism. The former is the preserve of the Department of Justice and the FBI; the latter is the responsibility of the DOD and the CIA. Given the spectrum of terrorist activities under way in the 1990s, this distinction is increasingly outmoded and unsustainable. While these agencies already cooperate extensively, much more progress needs to be made in integrating their efforts.
Differences in bureaucratic culture and perspective affect the way the agencies approach terrorism. The Department of Justice and the FBI view terrorism primarily as a criminal activity. DOD and the CIA, by contrast, focus on it as a national-security threat. Such distinctions may be unnecessarily rigid. Most terrorist acts have a political purpose, and for many terrorist groups and the foreign organizations or states that support them, terrorism is an act of war and an instrument of politics. These are the areas with which the national-security community is most familiar. At the same time, many terrorist acts abroad fall within the scope of U.S. criminal law and the jurisdiction of this country's courts. This is the realm in which the criminal-justice agencies must take the lead.
Given the complex nature of terrorist activity, a single coordinated approach may be more effective. Key agencies--such as the FBI, CIA, and DOD--could collaborate to develop imaginative counterterrorist strategies, programs, and technologies. Collaboration would avoid duplication and inefficiencies and lead to the formation of a comprehensive, national approach. Activities could be subject to periodic review by the National Security Council. To complement this collaborative approach, it would be appropriate to broaden relationships with foreign allies and friends, especially in the field of intelligence.
While different mechanisms have been proposed for achieving such a approach, none is free of shortcomings. For example, encouraging the Department of Justice to take the lead might result in insufficient attention being paid to the international dimensions of terrorism. Giving the lead to DOD would not be popular among those who, for valid constitutional and political reasons, want the U.S. military employed only outside U.S. borders, except in the gravest of emergencies. A number of senior military officers share these concerns, though for somewhat different reasons. They believe that training the U.S. military for domestic counterterrorism might weaken their focus on foreign threats, diminish their overall capacity, and even result in abuses of power and corruption.
As terrorists become more creative and better able to wield ever more devastating capabilities, the U. S. government may also have to step up its funding for newer technologies, to encourage the search for more imaginative strategies with which to prevent and deter terrorist attacks.