Watch the news for just an hour and you’ll find evidence of the nation’s collective attention on terrorism in recent months. Terrorism is defined as intentional acts that threaten human lives—and violate federal or state law. The goal of terrorism is generally to intimidate or coerce to inspire desired behavior in a civilian population; stimulate change in government policy; and disturb the government through mass destruction, assassination or other means. To boil it down, terrorism uses fear as a weapon. Almost 18,000 people worldwide were killed in terrorist attacks in 2013—which is up 61% from 2012. And 2015 was a year that saw unprecedented terror attacks on civilians linked to or inspired by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) [viii].
"There are five primary US government agencies that work to combat terrorism. It can get confusing in terms of who does what, so we’ll try and break it down for you as simply as possible." Click to Tweet!
Let’s look at how American government organizations are working together to fight against these destructive forces, both internationally and domestically.
Which Government Entities Fight Against Terrorism?
There are five primary US government agencies that work to combat terrorism. They include: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the US State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and the US Department of Treasury. It can get confusing in terms of who does what, so we’ll try and break it down for you as simply as possible.
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Let’s start with the DHS, which focuses on protecting the American people from terrorist threats and counteracting threats before they actually happen [iii]. The role of the US State Department is to work with other federal agencies, intelligence agencies, international law enforcement, and the private sector to prevent terrorism against America—both overseas and on our soil [iv]. If you watch crime shows or movies, you’re probably somewhat familiar with the CIA, which focuses on collecting important intelligence, analyzing it, and leading covert operations as sometimes directed by the President [v].
"So how is the government responding to the threat of ISIL? In September, 2014 President Obama announced the formation of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, which includes 65 partner countries." Click to Tweet!
The NCTC, as the name implies, serves as the primary agency with a focus on integrating and analyzing all intelligence that is related to counterterrorism—with the exception of info that’s exclusively focused on domestic terrorism [vi]. Finally, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence focuses on safeguarding financial systems against using money in illegal ways, and combats rogue nations, terrorist-funders, and other threats to national security [vii]. It’s important to remember that police officers, detectives, and other criminal justice professionals also work to stop terrorism as well.
How is the Government Tackling Global Terrorism?
The atrocious acts of terrorism that ISIL is inflicting on a daily basis are constantly being reported in the news in almost any medium you absorb it. And it’s likely that the horrible coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, which were inspired by ISIL, are still fresh on most people’s minds. ISIL’s attacks on civilians outside of Iraq and Syria have expanded in recent years. In fact, from December 15, 2014 to January 8, 2016, there were more than 60 major global attacks that were either directed by ISIL or committed by people inspired by the organization—of those, three were carried out in the US. That includes the attack in San Bernardino, California where a radicalized married couple shot and killed 14 people, in an act that is believed to be inspired by ISIL [ix].
So how is the government responding to the threat of ISIL? In September, 2014 President Obama announced the formation of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, which includes 65 partner countries committed to:
- Providing military support to partners
- Impeding the flow of foreign fighters
- Stopping ISIL's financing and funding
- Addressing humanitarian crises in the region
- Exposing ISIL's true nature [ix]
"Although the media tends to focus more on the dangers of international terrorist organizations, domestic terrorism in the US is a very real threat. There’s no way to predict how effective these organized efforts will be in the face of terrorism threats to come. But these government agencies will continue to work hard to detect, prevent, combat, and respond to terrorist threats in order to protect the American population and values." Click to Tweet!
For the last four years, the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) has also worked to rally expertise and resources to identify and address important civilian counterterrorism needs. And, in early January of 2016, the US Government announced a new initiative from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice created to help prevent radicalization and extremism at home and internationally: the Countering Violent Extremism Taskforce (CVE) [xi]. On a related note, the State Department is also in the process of creating a Global Engagement Center to empower the voices of international partners both in and outside of government—and senior White House officials are meeting with representatives from Silicon Valley to discuss ways to combat cyberterrorism and violent extremism online. [xi]
How is the Government Combatting Domestic Terrorism?
The DHS defines domestic terrorism as any act of violence that endangers human life, or could potentially destroy critical infrastructure or key resources, committed by a group or individual based in the US without direction or inspiration from a foreign terrorist group [xii]. Let’s unpack that definition. The key distinguishing factor here is that domestic terrorists operate without involvement from foreign terrorist groups, such as ISIL. Although the media tends to focus more on the dangers of international terrorist organizations, domestic terrorism in the US is a very real threat.
To that point, in October 2015 the DOJ announced the creation of the Domestic Terrorism Council in response to a number of violent attacks and plots against the US, which were motivated by extremism including racism, bigotry, anti-government views and anarchy [xiii]. The DOJ reported that over the last 5 or 6 years, more people died in the US from attacks by domestic extremists than by attacks associated with international terrorist groups—illustrating a very real problem that needs to be addressed [xiv]. Some of the types of domestic extremist and hate groups the council is focusing on include white supremacists, neo-Nazi organizations, anti-government militia groups, and the growing “sovereign citizen” movement [xiv].
President Obama also recently announced new Executive Orders to help reduce gun violence—which could potentially help counteract both domestic and international terrorism. These include measures to help keep guns out of the wrong hands through the background checks system; better enforcement of existing gun laws; and increased mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system [xiv]
There’s no way to predict how effective these organized efforts will be in the face of terrorism threats to come. But these government agencies will continue to work hard to detect, prevent, combat, and respond to terrorist threats in order to protect the American population and values.
The content in this article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not imply any endorsement or approval from any government agency or entity.
[i]fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/terrorism/terrorism-definition [ii]visionofhumanity.org/#/page/our-gti-findings [iii]dhs.gov/prevent-terrorism-and-enhance-security [iv]state.gov/m/ds/terrorism/ [v]cia.gov/about-cia/cia-vision-mission-values [vi]nctc.gov/ [vii]treasury.gov/resource-center/terrorist-illicit-finance/Pages/default.aspx [viii]nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/17/world/middleeast/map-isis-attacks-around-the-world.html [ix]state.gov/s/seci/ [x]state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/09/247368.htm [xi]whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/08/statement-nsc-spokesperson-ned-price-updates-us-government-efforts [xii]dhs.gov/topic/countering-violent-extremism [xiii]justice.gov/opa/speech/assistant-attorney-general-john-p-carlin-delivers-remarks-domestic-terrorism-event-co [ix]whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/05/fact-sheet-new-executive-actions-reduce-gun-violence-and-make-our