On September 11, 2001 I was in my 11th month working as an operations officer for the CIA. I remember everybody’s initial feelings of shock and disbelief, which were quickly replaced by an intense determination to locate those responsible and bring them to justice. Accompanying it was a tireless drive to stop anything like the 9/11 attacks from happening again. Fifteen years later, the CIA and our other security, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies are still operating as though it is September 12, 2001. Their efforts have prevented another foreign-planned terrorist attack inside the United States from taking place.
Since 9/11 the terrorist threat has become much more dynamic, fluid, and widespread. It has become necessary to identify and combat non-state actors with violent animosity toward the U.S. wherever they might exist.
We are not just chasing Al Qaeda out of the mountains of Tora Bora. Terrorists have expanded both their territorial presence and their non-material presence. By this I mean the global Jihadist movement has morphed into a millennium-style, modern day ideological fighting force. We need to do a better job combating it as such. Defeating ISIS on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria will not alone eradicate the threat they pose to us or to our allies.
A number of initiatives to combat extremist ideology have begun in Europe, and even in the U.S. to a certain extent. But much more needs to be done. There is the domestic element that should focus on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts at the local level. This would involve a partnership between government initiatives and community leaders to ensure members of the community are not vulnerable to extremist ideology propaganda.
The House Homeland Security Committee has already taken a number of actions to support these efforts, including Chairman Michael McCaul’s Countering Terrorist Radicalization Act. This bill supports CVE efforts at the Department of Homeland Security and authorizes the department to include former terrorist testimony in their CVE programs. I also introduced a bill titled the Foreign Fighter Review Act, which directs the president to conduct a review into the number of people who have joined or attempted to join terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria from the United States. While both bills have passed the House of Representatives they await action in the Senate.
Then there is the international element which needs to focus on countering the extremist narrative on the global scale. ISIS’s presentation of the U.S.’s involvement in the Middle East over history is obviously nonfactual. Nevertheless their videos circulate widely without challenge, and are therefore effective recruitment tools. That needs to change.
This is not the first time the U.S. has engaged in an ideological battle. The entire Cold War was a struggle between the U.S.’s values of freedom and liberal democracy, and Soviet-style communism. That war took decades to complete. We can expect this ideological battle to be even longer. We can expect it to be more difficult because the enemy is less straightforward. We can expect it to demand even more of our nation’s innovative talents. So too can we expect it to be a heavier burden on our American values, without which the character of our nation cannot survive.
We have learned much over the last 15 years about our enemies and about ourselves. There is no doubt in my mind we will emerge victorious from this war.
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