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Cilluffo and Daniel Rankin 1 urge adoption of a flexible, comprehensive and coordinated strategy to fight terrorism. The events of 11 September have transformed America, American attitudes, and the world in which we live. The United States can no longer rely on the protection of the two oceans that have historically shielded its country and people. The terrorist attacks brought home the fact that, since the end of the Cold War, threats have become more complex and far-reaching.

Instead of facing a single, predominantly military threat capable of wiping out the entire nation and the world , we are faced with a myriad of threats, smaller in magnitude and harder to see and counter. Because these new threats are by their nature dynamic, amorphous and moving targets, efforts to combat them must be flexible, comprehensive and coordinated.

Terrorism does not emanate from one country, one religion, or even one group, but from networks that span the globe from East to West and North to South, irrespective of national boundaries. It is a transnational threat that requires a transnational response. The attacks against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center may have been carried out on US soil but the shockwave continues to echo around the world. How now are we to respond? How should the United States act to protect itself, its interests and its allies? What should our goals be in the short term?

And what should they be in the long term? The response must be holistic. Organisation, cooperation and coordination are the keys to successfully dealing with this problem. Initially, we must look at how we wish to formulate our responses and then focus efforts on marshalling the world's resources to mount a cohesive global response. Indeed, many of our efforts must involve other nations and organisations in order to be effective.

From Islamic State victim to terrorist hunter - Masoud's list - DW Documentary

Engagement with these nations is critical for anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism endeavours, where cooperation and understanding provide the keys to success. Critically, such cooperation works. The Jordanian authorities, for example, helped save countless American lives during the millennium celebrations by preventing planned attacks on American and other tourists in the Middle East. Despite current emphasis on non-state actors, it is important to continue to pay attention to state actors or state-sponsored actors. This is because they still pose a threat and they can share information, technologies and capabilities with non-state actors.

Fighting terrorism

Indeed, a recent report on biological weapons by the National Intelligence Council stated that more than a dozen states are known to possess or are actively pursuing offensive biological capabilities. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the so-called "rogue" states feature on this list. It is difficult to generalise about state intentions, development or possible use or delivery of weapons of mass destruction WMD because they differ from state to state.

While it is true that greater resources to develop these weapons are available to state actors than non-state actors, usage by states remains constrained to an extent by the possibility of retribution and retaliation. The same does not tend to apply to non-state actors.

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Traditionally, terrorism has been a political tactic, used by its practitioners to bully their way to the negotiating table. It has been a low-cost, high-leverage method that has enabled small nations, sub-national groups and even individuals to circumvent the conventional projections of national power. However, some of today's groups, motivated by radical religious or nationalist beliefs, no longer seek a seat at the table, but would prefer to blow it up and build something else in its place.

The best example of this is Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaida organisation. In effect, Bin Laden is the chief executive and chief financial officer of a loosely affiliated group of radical terrorists, who share resources, assets and expertise, and who can come together for an operation and then disperse. Al-Qaida is simply the most visible head of a hydra. Over the years, terrorists have become expert at using conventional weapons, such as explosives and firearms, to maximum effect.

These have been and will continue to be their preferred weapons. They are cheap, easy to obtain and use, do not require extensive scientific capabilities to produce or employ, are "low profile" and hard to defend against.


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Moreover, terrorists are increasingly innovative in their methods of employing these weapons, and those methods have become more lethal. Terrorists have also shown an increased interest in obtaining and using weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, Bin Laden has publicly pronounced that he considers it his religious duty to obtain them. The use of chemical weapons would be devastating but does have limits.

The effects of a chemical agent are immediate, but it is possible to turn victims into patients by rapidly administering antidotes. The use of radiological or nuclear weapons by terrorists is less likely.

The process of research, development and deployment of these weapons by non-state actors is extremely complex. The infrastructure required is difficult to hide or move - particularly for a non-state actor - and there are numerous ways to detect their development using existing methods and technologies. The danger here is that terrorists could either be given materials or weapons by a sympathetic state, could steal them from a poorly guarded facility, or could even buy them from a disgruntled or poorly paid guard or scientist. Biological weapons give greatest cause for concern.


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  • There is a significant difference between biological and other threats because with a biological attack it may not be possible to work out when, where, or how it was launched for some time after the event. The added complexity of the biological threat lies in the highly infectious nature of many of its agents - such as diseases like smallpox or the plague - which multiplies the initial effect exponentially if allowed to spread through a population.

    Fighting terrorism

    These "silent killers" cannot be seen, do not announce themselves until symptoms arise, and the onset of those symptoms is often delayed until long after the initial exposure. This uncertainty, in contrast to the visible, finite explosion of a bomb, can cause considerable panic and paranoia, in addition to fatalities.

    These infectious agents best demonstrate the importance of building a system that not only provides options for a single threat but also tools to handle a variety of possibilities. As the threat is multifaceted, so too must be the defence. The nightmare scenario is that of a terrorist organisation using a combination of attacks, or that of a state actor and non-state actor working in unison.

    This could be the release of a toxin in a shopping mall, coupled with the blowing up of a power plant to deprive an area of energy and hacking into the phone system to stymie communications. A lowtech, high-tech combination is a dangerous possibility, for while Bin Laden may have his finger on the trigger of an AK, his nephew may have his finger on a computer mouse. This simple, but horrific example demonstrates the need for an integrated, comprehensive approach rather than one trying simply to isolate and counter a single threat.

    The events of 11 September and the subsequent anthrax attacks have shown that, in addition to maintaining vigilance on traditional fronts, greater attention and resources must be paid to the terrorist threat. Prior to 11 September, there was no consensus on what constituted the primary threat to the United States. Some thought it was terrorist attacks against US military installations abroad, others believed it was the rise of China, another faction a North Korean attack on South Korea and another, a rogue state firing a missile at the United States.

    Even now, while there is consensus on terrorism being the overriding threat, there is some dissent on what form it might take. The public is overwhelmingly concerned with biological attacks, specifically anthrax. As a result of these concerns and the fact that its own employees were targets of anthrax attacks, Congress has focused on biological agents.

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    The Pentagon, by contrast, is primarily concerned with protecting its personnel abroad and with a possible inter-continental ballistic missile attack. Despite these differing perceptions, it is important not to focus solely on one aspect of the problem to the detriment of capabilities in others and consequently invite attacks in those areas where we are the least prepared.

    In moving forward, it is important to find answers to a series of difficult questions.

    Are our existing structures, policies and institutions sufficient? And what has been done right and what needs improvement? The time has come for a cold-eyed assessment and evaluation of current approaches that considers and appreciates what has worked, what has not worked and what has not been adequately addressed. Only then is it possible to go on to the next step of crafting an effective counterterrorism strategy.

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    While Bin Laden may have his finger on the trigger of an AK, his nephew may have his finger on a computer mouse. While WMD terrorism is a crosscutting phenomenon, government is organised vertically. Clearly, government must adapt to be able to cope and manage the myriad of multi-dimensional issues that WMD terrorism poses.

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