The Next 9/11: What's the Next Impossible Terror Threat?

U.S. Army soldier during Exercise Sky Soldier 16. Flickr/U.S. Army

The 9/11 Commission Report warned of an “imagination gap.” We’re still two steps behind global terrorism.

The dual challenge of identifying which soft targets to harden before terrorists strike, while concurrently designing a counter-narrative that dissuades prospective militants from joining Al Qaeda or ISIL before they commit attacks, illustrates the gravity of the imagination gap; the inability to imagine the crude ways in which unconventional weapons—such as planes and trucks—could be used to terrorize targets of everyday life—including skyscrapers, restaurants and nightclubs—reflects the unsustainability of the current defensive strategy. Unless U.S. counterterrorism officials study the evolution of the terrorism trajectory and use it to imaginatively forecast what transnational terrorists will weaponize next, they risk misdirecting critical resources as the threat shifts yet again.

If President Trump is serious about combating terrorism, he will need to encourage his team to read the “signals” of propaganda and trace the terrorist threat into the future by imagining the unimaginable. Only then can the United States move its counterterrorism strategy onto the offensive line.

Jacqueline R. Sutherland is the Terrorism & Asymmetric Warfare Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). She is also a security-focused Senior Analyst at The Chertoff Group and serves as a non-resident Counterterrorism Fellow at the London-based Asia-Pacific Foundation, through which she is regularly interviewed as a counterterrorism expert on international news shows. She holds a Master's in International History from the London School of Economics.

Image: U.S. Army soldier during Exercise Sky Soldier 16. Flickr/U.S. Army