After Orlando: How to Confront the New Face of Terror

Image: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Air Force.

Responding to the latest trends in terrorism.

Again, the best measures would focus on individuals rather than on classes of people.

It is vital to integrate efforts to stop terrorist travel within the larger context of the national counterterrorism effort. The United States must maintain essential counterterrorism tools. Support for important investigative tools is essential to maintaining the security of the United States and combating terrorist threats.

Methods of Radicalization

The role of the internet and social networking is difficult to fully assess. Without question, these individuals use the digital platforms like many others interested in extremist content. Terrorists use the internet for a range of activities, from fundraising to propaganda, recruiting, planning, intelligence gathering, surveillance and operational planning. They also seek to have conversations that can’t be monitored, moving to the “dark” web (using encrypted tools) or the “deep” web (employing sites not indexed by conventional online search engines).

But whether the internet plays a significant or determinant role in radicalization and operationalizing terrorist intent is debatable and certainly varies from case to case.

Other responses call for ramping up Countering Violent Extremism programs. Frankly, there is reason to be skeptical of broad-brush government-run CVE. Programs are particularly problematic here. The size of the radicalized population in the United States attempting terrorist attacks is small. Individuals radicalize for reasons that are different, and often complex. Law enforcement is better off targeting suspected individuals with traditional counterterrorism and law-enforcement methods.

Generic CVE programs make no sense. Programs must be narrowly targeted and clearly defined, with clear goals, metrics and responsible oversight—and there ought to be a clear national-security priority. Islamist terrorism is the only terrorist threat today that rises to that level. Any program, if truly needed, should be limited to Islamist-related terrorist activity and focused on diminishing the threat of terrorist activity as defined by statute (as opposed to any other form of public activity or expression). Such programs should be focused to deal with particular threats as opposed to a general information campaign with appropriate review and sunset provisions to ensure the programs are used only as long as they effectively support law-enforcement activity and are needed.

More important than CVE per se are community outreach programs. They remain a vital tool. The United States should facilitate strong community outreach that empowers community policing and intelligence-led policing practices. Such capabilities are key to building trust in local communities.

The Case for Thoughtful Action

Over time, as the investigation unfolds, there maybe new aspects of the Orlando attack that prompt reconsidering existing measures. Further, it always makes sense to carefully review proposals that have been introduced before and see whether trends of the threat against the United States over time––not just in light of one attack––warrant renewed consideration.

This approach calls for careful deliberation.

Merely doing something won’t make America safer. Doing the right thing will. And that is the best way to stay one step ahead of the enemy.

A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research on foreign policy and national security issues.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Air Force