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March 31, 2010

Essay on Terrorism

Before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, most Americans thought little about counter-terrorism. Yet since the attacks, we as a nation have been on the verge of being obsessed with defeating terrorism. Under the leadership of President Bush, our government set out to actively eliminate terrorist groups. Any country harboring or aiding terrorism is a potential target. Currently, United States troops are deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq to fulfill this policy. These combat units are the tip of a spear, and in a sense, our first line of defense against terrorism. They are an integral part of our counter-terrorism efforts and are the most visible element. However, counter-terrorism is a team effort, and the team is very diverse. There are hundreds of civil, federal, and military organizations working together to combat terrorism. It is the purpose of this report to shed light upon these organizations and allow the reader to better understand the immense task at hand in countering terrorism and how these organizations are achieving that goal.

An old military adage states that to defeat your enemy, you must first understand him. This can be applied to the war on terrorism, but understanding terrorism is much more complicated than expected. For instance, there is no single definition of terrorism accepted by the international community. The United Nations cannot agree on a definition and accepts that it cannot do so. The complex nature of terrorism can be blamed for this. In fact, the labeling of an individual as a terrorist can depend on the observer. The Basque separatists in northern Spain are fighting to keep their culture intact and in some extreme cases, to create a sovereign Basque state. They occasionally use car bombs, kidnappings, and assassinations to try to break away from the Spanish government. To the Basques, this is a just fight for freedom, but to the Spanish government and people, this is a terrorist organization that poses an immediate threat. So essentially the definition of terrorism lies in the “eye of the beholder”. Despite the difficulty in defining terrorism, there are elements of terrorism that are agreed upon. Most would agree upon three basic components: the perpetrator, the victim, and the target of the violence. Another element of terrorism is scale. Early terrorism was very limited in scale. Groups did not have the ability to range very far in their attacks. Now we live in the age of globalization, and with the rise of globalization, terrorism has become an international phenomenon. Because of this, terrorism must be dealt with on an international scale. This leads into the importance of defining terrorism and agreeing upon that definition. Without common definition of terrorism, governments cannot create effective international strategies to deal with terrorism. In the United States, the Department of State has defined terrorism, and this definition has become our single, official definition. This definition of terrorism is given in Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.

INA serves as the criteria under which potential terrorist groups are judged. This section of the INA is given in Appendix B. So what exactly constitutes a terrorist organization? As we discussed earlier, one person may view an individual as a freedom fighter while another person would view the individual as a terrorist. The actual designation of a group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization or FTO is a complex undertaking. The first step in identifying potential FTOs is through worldwide intelligence gathering that is overseen by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the State Department or “S/CT”. The S/CT looks at not only whether or not the group has committed terrorist acts according to Section 212 of the INA, but also the planning and preparations for future attacks. After identifying potential “targets” the S/CT will gather all available information concerning the terrorist activities of the group and present this to the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury, decides to make the designation, Congress is notified and given seven days to review the designation, as mandated in the INA. Once approved, the designation will last two years. During the two years the Secretary of State can update the designation as required. After the two-year designation, the designation can be reinstated through the same process if the Secretary of State deems it necessary. On another hand, an Act of Congress can revoke any designation at any time.

Obviously defining what terrorism is and who terrorists are is a very daunting task. But by establishing the criteria that defines terrorism, it becomes easier for government agencies to focus their search for terrorist groups. This criterion essentially serves as a guideline. Once the entire process is completed, and the government has a defined terrorist group, they can then create policy and strategies to counter and eliminate the threat.

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