The Next Battle in the War on Terror
In the wake of the deadliest domestic terror attack since 9/11, the United States is being forced to reformulate its strategy as the war on terror changes terrain. Sayfullo Saipov drove a pickup truck down a bike lane in lower Manhattan, killing eight and injuring eleven. After ramming the truck into a school bus, he fled the vehicle, shouting “Allahu akbar,” before being shot by police officers.
The threat of radical Islamic terrorism is shifting from the intricate networks and cells that were used to carry out a plot as massive and complex as the 9/11 attacks. Now, smaller, but still devastating attacks are carried out by reckless, radicalized individuals or small groups. We’ve taken preventative measures domestically and abroad so that our architecture and arsenal are prepared to stymie another 9/11, but our defenses are lacking when it comes to U.S.-based radicals.
It may seem intuitive to impose a harsher vetting system on immigrants from Islamic-majority countries, but, in fact, that may not fix this problem. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the country of origin of immigrants appeared to be an “unlikely indicator” of their radicalization. Following that study, the DHS completed an intelligence assessment titled “Most foreign-born U.S.-based violent extremists radicalized after entering Homeland; opportunities for tailored CVE programs exist.” According to MSNBC, who verified and broke the story, the document reads, in part, “We assess that most foreign-born, U.S.-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States...limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of National Security concerns.”
Saipov, a 29-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan, may be a part of this category. If the intelligence report from the DHS has uncovered the underlying cause of these terror attacks, the primary concern of the United States is how to prevent this kind of post-immigration radicalization. While immigration restrictions may play a role in our strategy, our primary aim should be to discover how, when, and where American Muslims are being radicalized. Now, the United States must take the war on terror to a different battlefield and it must do so while preserving the liberties of its citizens.
Of course, this is harder said than done. Perhaps the easiest way to do so would be to monitor individuals’ online activity—but previous attempts by the NSA to surveil citizens have been met with much controversy. Because the Constitution was written in such a way as to protect liberty and limit the size of government, many citizens have questions and concerns about the government surveying any or all of its citizens. Many have raised concerns about the government targeting specific people or groups through surveillance. Simply the possibility—or threat—of being surveilled changes our behavior. Though calling surveillance techniques Orwellian has become a cliche, but the possibility of a government-controlled, technological panopticon is no longer the stuff of fiction. The means to do so have existed for a long time and, with the changing landscape of the war on terror, there is a possible reason to use them. Is this kind of surveillance possible without violating the due process rights of American citizens? Only time will tell.