An International Counter Terrorism Strategy

September 11, 2001 changed the way the U.S. views the world. It has fundamentally altered the way the government views threats from abroad. From the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, our sphere of intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism has expanded exponentially.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has fundamentally changed its approach to law enforcement. The focus has shifted from evidence collection and prosecution to pre-emptive intelligence collection and plot detection. They created the National Security Branch in order to specifically target terrorist threats. Additionally, since 9/11 the FBI has doubled the number of agents and analysts assigned to its national security mission from 3,537 to 7,933.

Just this year, the DHS conducted a national exercise that tested existing protocols and addresses the challenges in preparing for and responding to a cyber-incident that has virtual and real-world implications. They also have the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, which works 24/7 to watch and warn of potential threats.

The USA PATRIOT Act vastly expanded the powers that the Federal Government has to combat terrorism. The full name is the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” The provisions include steps to deter money laundering, broaden the authority of law enforcement to monitor foreign terrorist threats, improve border security and expand the list of crimes considered terrorist activities. Some of the steps aimed to increase surveillance authorize roving surveillance, which allows a court order to be issued to allow law enforcement authorities to intercept all of a person of interest’s communications regardless of the medium. It also expands the authority to monitor electronic communications such as email and web site activity. Additionally, the Act creates delayed notification for search warrants, meaning that a terrorism suspect’s house may be searched without the person present, before the person is notified of the search.

Another provision of the act involves National Security Letters (NLS). This allows the FBI to secretly demand information from communication service providers, such as phone companies and ISPs. Recipients of NSLs are subject to gag orders which forbid them from revealing the existence of the demands. Basically, the letters require whatever service provider to release information about their customers, such as IP addresses, website activity, phone call records, etc. There is no requirement for a court to order a search warrant based on probable cause standards. This provision also includes the installation of Pen Registers and Tap and Trace devices which collect information about phone calls or internet communications going through any point, such as one of the internet routers. This has drawn criticism from personal privacy advocates as the authority to gather these vast swaths of information simply requires that the “information likely to be obtained by such installation and use is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.” In 2006, the Office of the Inspector General conducted a review of the FBI’s Use of NSLs as part of the 2005 reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act. The report found over 1,000 instances of NSLs being misused by the FBI between 2002 and 2006. Also in the 2006 reauthorization was the change that public libraries will no longer be subject to NLSs.

Another result of 9/11 was the housing of terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba. Since 2002, 779 people have been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. Of them, 600 have been transferred to other countries and 169 remain. The prisoners are subject to different rules than U.S. citizens in civilian prison and are tried by military tribunals. Congress made changes to the tribunal system in 2009. Before that, the prison received criticism for harsh treatment of prisoners including waterboarding and other measures to extract information, which some considered torture.

The ultimate effectiveness of these expansions is a very subjective matter, and it will be years before the effect on the threat of terrorism is fully known. The main argument in their favor is that there has not been a successful terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Whether this is the result of the expanded intelligence network, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or enhanced civilian awareness is up for debate. What is known is that 9/11 had fundamentally changed the way America views national security.

Additional Resources

U.S. Office of the Inspector General A review of the FBI’s Use of NSLs:

How Stuff Works How the USA PATRIOT Act Works:

EPIC USA Patriot Act:

How Stuff Works How Carnivore Worked:

The New York Times Guantanamo Bay Naval Base:

FBI Testimony:

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