The U.S. Establishment’s preferred perspective on identifying potential terrorist activity is to go where they have found it before. From a practical sense, this makes general sense. But when we look at terrorism from a tactical perspective, rather than a challenge of extremist ideas, we cannot appreciate the fluidity and dynamic nature of terrorist threats and actors. To believe that terrorist threats are only in one area, creates very real and dangerous blind spots that can allow significant and deadly threats to catch us unaware. When we focus on the basis of terrorism as extremist ideas, we realize that the threat is literally everywhere, and that no one country and no one area is free from pandemic of extremist cancer that is in our society.
In January 1995, Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden began planning the “Bojinka plot” for what would turn out to be the 9/11/2001 airline terrorist attacks on the USA. By August 1996, Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden declared war on the USA. In mid 1995, however, Osama Bin Laden sought to leave Sudan and to gain asylum refugee status in the United Kingdom. Bin Laden had a number of followers in the U.K. at that time, and they worked to develop a formal application for asylum for Osama Bin Laden. The U.K. Conservative Party Home Secretary, Michael Howard, intervened on this and denied his application. But what if he hadn’t picked up on this? What if Bin Laden hadn’t been such a “famous” individual? What if his “extreme” views were simply considered “understandable geo-political frustration,” rather than the terrorism that they were?
A significant assumption made by the USA security community has been to focus on extremist recruitment in the Greater Middle East area, including tremendous commitment of armed forces to Afghanistan. But what we have known, for over 20 years, is that such an assumption of extremist havens only in the Greater Middle East area is very limited and short-sighted in terms of extremist havens. Furthermore, a focus on “foreign terrorists” can also leave the security community blind to extremist havens existing within the USA borders today, which has had opportunities to grow over the past 15 years.
In terms of jet airliner mass casualty attacks, the USA had another very near dangerous scare ten years ago in August 2006, which was readily forgotten as so many issues are. This was known as the “2006 transatlantic aircraft plot.” The dangerous foreign terrorist enemy behind this 2006 plot to attack cities across the USA was not in the Greater Middle East, but came from terrorists in the U.K. The British terrorists planned to detonate liquid explosives onboard seven transatlantic jetliners traveling from the UK to the USA and Canada. For those who don’t recall, it was this foiled 2006 terror plot, which is why American travelers have to regular separate out any liquids, shampoos, etc. from their carry-on luggage into small 3 ounce portions that can be readily inspected by the TSA. The terrorists had planned to use up to 18 suicide bombers and targeted British flights to Washington DC, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, and Montreal. They also considered attacks in Denver, Boston, and Miami.
The key terrorists arrested in the 2006 plot were BORN in Britain. They were guided by terrorists linked to Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and reportedly funded by phony charities intended to help victims of a Kashmir earthquake. The alleged ringleader, Rashid Rauf, a Briton of Pakistani descent was never prosecuted for terrorism in Pakistan. The reaction, rather than one of shame and shock, was of denial. Major UK media published articles that the terrorist arrests were phony allegations, and even former British Intelligence Officer called it a “fiction.” This was despite “martyrdom” videotapes discovered for 7 of the planned suicide bombers. While 24 were arrested, the UK only prosecuted 8 terrorists, who did not begin their trial for nearly two years. In the first UK trial, the British jurors found NONE of the terrorists guilty of conspiracy to blow up the aircraft. In a second later trial in September 2009, 3 of the terrorists were found guilty of conspiracy to murder, and in yet a third later trial in July 2010, three additional terrorists were found guilty. It took four years for the UK to punish a fraction of the terrorists who planned mass-casualty terrorism on American cities.
This is the reaction that USA had to a mass-casualty terrorist plot on U.S. cities from citizens of its “closest ally,” the U.K., with a very close “near miss” of terrorists’ whose plot got to an advanced stage, only some of which were actually prosecuted, and those that were prosecuted took years to receive punishment. In this specific case, the other U.S. “ally” of Pakistan could not find a way to convict ringleader Briton Rashid Rauf of terrorism, who eventually died in a drone strike. If this is where the USA was 10 years ago with our allies, where should Americans think they are today, with the growing infiltration of extremists throughout institutions and government agencies, and the numbers of ISIS terrorists who are increasingly appearing in U.K., European, and American cities?
As Americans have seen in the past year, case of case of ISIS terrorist activity and supporters have been uncovered throughout Europe and the U.K. The approach by U.S. institutions and Establishment media to suppress such reports for political partisan goals will further have an inevitable blowback of undermining trust by many Americans in the credibility of such institutions on this problem. But we have seen in cities throughout Europe, ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks using guns, knives, axes, bombs, throughout France, Germany, and Belgium, with other attacks thwarted in other parts of Europe and the U.K. When the narrative has been that restricting access to guns would stop such “lone wolf” terrorism, we have seen ISIS terrorists use knives, axes, and now, as in Nice, even trucks to commit terrorist attacks. Many of these attacks, as we have seen with other ISIS attacks around the world, have been in low security areas: public concerts, restaurants, trains, public street gatherings, as well as airport terminals. We have also now seen apparent plots for car bombs near Christian churches in Europe. Furthermore, we have seen ISIS individuals traveling easily throughout countries in Europe to evade law enforcement authorities.
The obvious question should be: if such extremists are willing to commit terrorist acts in the Europe and U.K., why will keep them from committing such terrorist acts in the United States? Our primary assumption is that we will stop all of such terrorist using watchlists provided to airlines for transatlantic travel. But what about those that are not on such “watchlists”? We know that terrorists involved in the Brussels airport terrorist attack, including individuals with airline security clearances. One bomber worked at the Zaventem airport for five years. We also know that a number of extremists and ISIS supporters have worked at other European airports.
While in the past, the American security focus has been on the Greater Middle East, a coherent strategy to protect the American homeland from extremist threats from “allied countries” depends largely on watch lists and intelligence. As we have seen from a number of attacks in Europe, not all of those associated with these attacks are part of some “list” of extremists, and the assumption that these tactics alone will address this issue is a false hope, dependent largely on luck.
We have had no serious reassessment of our security relationships with the U.K. and Europe, and USA continues a relationship with Pakistan as if Osama Bin Laden didn’t find haven there for nearly 10 years. Our foreign policy and counterterrorism experts continue to tell us not to “worry” about these relationships, and we regularly share counterterrorism intelligence with these allied nations. Our experts believe this approach will continue to work based on tactics to combat terrorism developed 15 years ago, as if the world has remained static. (It hasn’t.)
Hopefully, the experiences of the past several years in the U.K. and Europe will create a new environment for such allied nations to reconsider weakness on extremist threats. However, when it comes to security issues, each nation will have to recognize, until there is a more common understanding on a coherent “war of ideas” regarding extremists and terrorists that every nation needs to prioritize its own national security interests. For example, a more robust security position will have to consider visa requirements for countries not previously requiring visas, during periods of security threats, and it would imprudent not to have such contingent policies and positions in place for rapid implementation.
In the case of ISIS, UK, and Europe, between 5,000 and 7,000 of ISIS terrorists in Syria arrived from Europe, and about 800 from the United Kingdom. A number have been returning to the UK and Europe, and Europol is expecting thousands of ISIS terrorist recruits to be in Europe. Currently, there are least 30 to 40 known active ISIS terrorist at large in Europe, and as the numbers show, that is a small fraction of the number that will be there.
Let us hope that it will NOT take new tragedies for the American people to recognize that there is a need for a new relationship with other countries, based on their ability to manage extremist and terrorist threats in their country, a shared willingness to use our shared human rights to defy the extremist roots of terrorism, and their ability to keep terrorists from being exported to the United States or other countries. We have not really begun a serious discussion on this issue yet. In the meantime, extremists from nations around the world have funneled into Syria and Iraq for terrorist training with ISIS, and many are returning back to U.K., Europe, the United States, and other countries.
However, as too many find out the hard way, the worst blindspots are usually those that are too close for you to see. For the United States, the worst blindspots on terror are not in the Greater Middle East, not in U.K. or Europe, but right here now in cities in the United States. Outside of very limited law enforcement-centric tactics, there really is no overall strategy to deal with American extremists and terrorists, other than vague and general calls for outreach and rejection of violent extremism.
The U.S. terrorist problem in challenging blind spots is even more complex than Europe, with a growing number of anti-human rights extremists in a number of areas. We have no real human rights-based approach to challenging extremists and terrorists in the United States yet. With a human rights-based approach, you are not just looking for “one tactic” or “one group” of potential terrorists, but you are challenging anti-human rights extremists across the board. The guideline for a human rights-based approach to challenging terrorism is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which rejects anti-human rights extremist by race, gender, religion, and other identity group.
Regarding American “blind spots” on “unpredictable” terrorist attacks, mature human rights activists and groups like R.E.A.L. have been documenting and challenging anti-human rights group and extremism. We simply do not have the support for such efforts as part of a coordinated anti-terrorist effort, because Establishment counterterror experts view that terrorism is about tactics, not ideas. But this failure to challenge anti-human rights extremists prevents the U.S. authorities from consistency in challenging such extremism as:
— White supremacist terrorism, such as the Dylann Roof terrorism attacking a Charleston Church, and killing black Christians. We have warned and provide detailed cases, lists of organizations, and other groups on R.E.A.L.’s website regarding such group, and documented details of threats. We have challenged such extremist groups, including in-person protests in defense of human rights.
— Sovereign Citizen and anti-government terrorism, including the attacks in Oregon and elsewhere around the country. We have identified the extremist views and challenged their anti-human rights views that they believe gives them the right to attack our human rights of safety and security based on their extremist violent ideology.
— ISIS style and Islamist extremist terrorism, as we have been warning about since 2001. We have provided a human rights-based approach to challenge extremist groups and individuals. When the Foot Hood terrorist appeared at a university conference where we spoke, we defied the views that extremist terror can be justified and defended our human rights for against extremists over and over again, across the nation, challenging Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other groups. Our consistent challenge has been to the human rights aspects of the extremist views, and calling for consistency on human rights.
— Nation of Islam and black supremacist terrorism, such as the recent police shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Tennessee. R.E.A.L. has also uncovered extremist links and inspiration to by statements from hate group Louis Farrakhan. R.E.A.L. has pointed to the anti-human rights extremist views of Farrakhan since 2009, and documented links to Farrakhan’s extremist anti-white hate group views, and how such extremist incite terrorism among others. In the most recent Baton Rouge terrorist attack, we documented how calls by the NOI and Farrakhan to use violence against police, including symbols of guns and weapons, predated that attack. We also have pointed to the violence by the Black Panther extremist organization in seeking to disrupt public events.
The U.S. cannot continue to afford such “blind spots” when it comes to growing extremist and terrorist threats. While our blindness on threats from “ally” nations remains an issue, the even greater issue remains the challenge to dealing with such extremist threats in the United States.
For example, in an analysis of the Twitter traffic in support of ISIS, the top countries have been our ally Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and number four…. is the United States of America.
FBI Director James Comey told national media in December 2015 that the FBI has identified ISIS terrorist cells or people in the process of “radicalizing” in all 50 states. R.E.A.L.’s own public source research has confirmed known ISIS terrorist presence in the following 24 U.S. states and 1 territory: Washington DC, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington State, Wisconsin. There is no doubt to R.E.A.L. that this public documentation of ISIS infiltration throughout half of the states in United States — is merely a fraction of the depth of real infiltration.
Conservative estimates are that approximately 250 Americans have successfully gone to join the ISIS terrorist movement in Syria and Iraq, and the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee states that “several dozen” Americans have successfully returned from ISIS to the United States. This committee also states that there have been 177 arrests of terrorist supporters since 9/11/2001. In 2016 alone, there have 26 people arrested in 13 states for a combination of terrorist charges including: plots to attack USA, overseas travel, financial support, weapons charges, ad lying to authorities. What this demonstrates is the tip of the iceberg as to how the level of terrorist and extremist infiltration in the United States. While we can focus on the Greater Middle East in assuming that threats come from that area of the world, we must not lose sight of the current terrorist threat inside the United States today.
Most of the U.S. counterterror tactics are dependent on an army of “informants” (reportedly a network of 15,000 according to the National Public Radio),” electronic surveillance, and the ever-reliable public sources on the Internet where stupid extremists baldly self-incriminate themselves on Twitter and other social media. The problem with this dependence on tactics is that the counterterrorism community genuinely believes these tactics are “working.” Certainly, the tactics have captured a number of poorly educated and slow-witted extremists, who are have the stupidity to self-incriminate themselves on the Internet, or who are readily entrapped by informants, or “Confidential Human Sources” (CHS).
In 2016, R.E.A.L. has attempted to catalog some of these cases of Americans arrested and convicted of support for the ISIS terrorist movement, with R.E.A.L. posts on Twitter and Facebook using the tracking hashtag of “#AmericanISIS.” Most of these have been arrested, based on informants and stupidity on the Internet.
Over the past year, if they had been disciplined and successful, such American ISIS terrorist movement supporters would present a very different picture of the terrorist threat in the United States today:
— Washington DC – Nicholas Young – who was a Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) police officer, responsible for the safety of thousands of daily passengers whose lives were in daily jeopardy, while a 6 year investigation was conducted on him. Despite his plots for murder and kidnapping, Young was only prosecuted for providing material support in buying gift cards for ISIS
— Hollywood, Florida – James Gonzalo Medina – plot to attack a synagogue
— Rochester, New York – Emanuel L. Lutchman – plot to attack restaurant
— Houston, Texas – Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan – ISIS material support
— Minneapolis, Minnesota: Khaalid Adam Abdulkadir, threatening to kill an FBI agent (Minneapolis has been a source for 15 ISIS supporters)
— Minneapolis, Minnesota – Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame – plot to shoot down planes at Minneapolis airport, worked at airport as baggage handler
— Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – Jalil Ibn Ameer Azi – plot to assassinate the prisdient
— Rochester, New York – Mufid A. Elfgeeh – plot to provide ISIS material support
— Baltimore, Maryland – Mohamed Yousef Elshinawy – material support to ISIS and plot to attack USA
— Rutherford, New Jersey – Nader Saadeh – support to ISIS
— Akron, Ohio – Terrence J. McNeil – soliciting the murder of U.S. military personnel
— Aurora, Illinois – Jonas Edmonds – plot to attack U.S. base supported by cousin Hasan Edmonds
— Bolingbrook, Illinois – Mohammed Hamzah Khan – plot to join ISIS
R.E.A.L. recognizes that this is but a small fraction of the total ISIS threat currently in the United States today, and typically the less intelligent and easily arrested figures.
In November 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee stated that the “vast majority of the 900 active homegrown extremist investigations involve links to ISIS.” Most Americans don’t even have any concept that there ARE 900 active “homegrown extremist infestations,” let alone that many involve the ISIS terrorist movement.
Due to the blind spot in counterterror tactics by “experts,” the belief is that we can solve this problem with informants, surveillance, and intelligence. If we know of 900 active homegrown extremist investigations, mostly regarding KNOWN ISIS terrorist supporters, most of whom are likely to be publicly incriminating themselves on the Internet, the question that Americans should really be asking themselves on this blind spot is “how many thousands of actual ISIS terrorist supporters are in the United States today?”
Our counterterror establishment does not want to answer that question, just like it does not want the Establishment media to use the word “terrorism” or report on “terrorism.” But denial won’t make this issue go away. The problem of terrorism in the United States is so much bigger than what the political and counterterrorist establishment wants the public to realize, we simply cannot be dependent only on the blind spots of limited tactics, without a strategy for a human rights challenge to extremism. Dithering and appeasement of extremism over 10+ years has simply allowed the extremist problem to grow too large to use the tactics of 10-15 years ago, and simply hope for the best.
Other than informants, stupid terrorists self-incriminating themselves on the Internet, the primary U.S. counterterrorist tactic for identifying and stopping homegrown terrorism is largely based on cliche slogans “If you see something, say something,” and simple luck. As anyone in any area of security knows, luck is not a strategy. Yet when it comes to stopping extremists, reliance on luck and dependence on the incompetence of terrorists are major component of the U.S. tactics today.
Furthermore, the U.S. counterterrorism and security policies are based primarily on recognizing a flow of “foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs).” To the extent that homegrown terrorists in the United States provide a documented link to the ISIS terrorist movement (for example), which can be proven in a court of law, beyond a reasonable doubt, then there is a partial method to deal with homegrown U.S. extremists and terrorists. The FBI has benefited from the ISIS terrorist movement’s use of social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter), which allows U.S. homegrown, native extremists to create a documented case to prove such links. To the extent law enforcement can prove such links to FTOs, they have a way to document such cases and to move forward.
Yet in the most recent terrorist attacks in the United States, San Bernardino, Philadelphia, and Orlando, such documented links to specific FTOs were not available to readily predict and stop such terrorist attacks. For all of our informants, surveillance, and tactical maneuvers, these had no impact on the most recent and deadly ISIS terrorist attacks in the United States.
In the December 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack, the U.S. Government and even federal law enforcement was reluctant to even use the word “terrorism” in describing the attack, until days later, when ISIS proudly took responsibility the terrorists supporting its movement. The San Bernardino killers from the ISIS terrorist movement waited until the last minute, after the attack, to publicly declare their allegiance to ISIS, and managed to find time to destroy their links and contacts.
In January 2016, a Philadelphia police officer, was shot by a man in the street approaching his police vehicle with a gun. The man who repeatedly shot this police officer stated he was doing so on behalf of the ISIS terrorist movement. After the attack, initial government response was to deny any such linkages. When another witness publicly came forward with more details on this aspect of the case, an initial federal investigation into the reported ISIS link was started a week after the attack. The investigation on that aspect became very quiet on this issue, as soon as media interest on the topic was diverted.
In the Orlando terrorist attack in March 2016, which resulted in the death of nearly 50 Americans, the ISIS terrorist had been under watch for some time, but since there was no proof of a specific criminal link to a FTO (which could stand up in a criminal court), there was nothing that law enforcement felt it could do. Even after the attack, a combination of a government and law enforcement in denial, as well as an Establishment media as co-conspirators of denial, there was a concentrated effort to rationalize any possible motive to the ISIS movement terrorist, other than his stated, recorded motive to a 911 caller that he was committing this act on behalf of ISIS. Once again, the ISIS movement managed to humiliate the U.S. government by taking credit for the terrorists attack, and despite a concentrated effort of denial, the government as eventually forced to recognize they had another “homegrown” ISIS terrorist attack. But the effort to deny and obfuscate the facts on this case was so strong, the Department of Justice tried to redact all references to ISIS in the published 9/11 call transcript on this case.
In none of these cases were documented links to FTOs readily discernible, or an ongoing effective link to traditional, known “terrorist cells” or groups apparent to law enforcement. While there were some reports on the Orlando ISIS terrorists links to extremist movements, the federal law enforcement felt they were insufficient to warrant any further investigation and action.
Just like we have blind spots about parts of the world that we don’t want to believe are a threat, we have an even more determined blind spot about an unwillingness to recognize our blind spot about terrorists native to the United States. While the USA has dithered without a “war of ideas” strategy and limited law-enforcement centric tactics in the USA for the past 15 years, a new generation of extremists and terrorists have been raised and are growing up in the United States around us. While we have been vigilantly watching the terrorist havens from the Greater Middle East, we have been oblivious to terrorist havens being built in our own nation.