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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

On 19th DHS Anniversary, HSToday Experts Reveal Security Challenges in the Year Ahead

The threat landscape has expanded and evolved across cyberspace, critical infrastructure, biological threats, and more.

On March 1, 2003, the Department of Homeland Security took its charge to protect the American people. In the years since, the threat landscape has expanded and evolved across cyberspace, critical infrastructure, biological threats, and more as a dedicated team of security professionals across various agencies and disciplines confronts new threat actors, worsening natural disasters, immigration challenges, global instability, threats to election security, drug and human trafficking, and more. Homeland Security Today asked our leaders and experts — many veterans of the department — to share their thoughts on security challenges in the year ahead.

Brock Long

Former FEMA Administrator

Over the last two decades, our nation’s threat landscape has drastically changed. Today, the threats we face are both natural and manmade and are increasing in complexity, frequency, and magnitude — and, unfortunately, no community is spared. While the prominence and professionalism of emergency management has evolved, the frequency of events has also rapidly expanded and stretched our collective capabilities. Over the past four years, more federal recovery dollars have been provided to disaster-impacted communities than were provided in the previous decade combined. In 2020 alone, natural disasters accounted for $74.4 billion in damages and losses nationwide, which is up 88 percent from $39.6 billion in 2019, and this excludes COVID-19, persistent cyber threats, active-shooter events, refugee housing, and other unexpected challenges communities faced in 2020. To meet the challenges associated with this evolving threat landscape, more consideration and priority needs to be given for planning, training, and exercise programs. Preparedness is a shared responsibility; it calls for the involvement of everyone, not just the government.

Moreover, it is an unsustainable moral hazard to continue rewarding dangerous behaviors that continue to stretch our nation’s disaster response and recovery mechanisms to the brink – rebuilding disaster-devastated communities ultimately costs much more than implementing stronger building codes, stricter land-use planning, and mitigation programs over time. While it is hard to predict when disasters will strike, it is possible to prepare and invest in resiliency to decrease future vulnerabilities, improve long-term recovery outcomes, and reduce overall disaster costs. Future laws and policies need to provide incentives to communities that implement proper insurance, building codes and land-use planning. Failure to act ensures that federal disaster costs will continue to rise, and poor behavior will continue despite the increasing frequency and magnitude of natural disasters.

Patricia Cogswell

Former Deputy Administrator, Transportation Security Administration

As I’ve noted in prior pieces, decisions to invest in protection measures are often swayed by perceptions of vulnerability to the threat, and therefore overall perception of risk. I am concerned that we continue to underinvest in countering certain threats, such as those listed below, because of that perception.

  • Cyber threat to critical infrastructure. We’ve seen certain critical infrastructure operators and others question whether their industry or company is specifically targeted – and, if not, what that means for their, or their industry’s, level of risk.  Russia and other actors have established and maintain persistent access to our nation’s infrastructure systems, from financial to energy. Critical infrastructure owners and operators must assume that Russia or other actors can rapidly reach their threshold for leveraging their access.
  • Mal/Mis/Dis-information. Experts have repeatedly warned that Russia and other actors seek to destabilize democracies, decrease rule of law, and impair our collective willingness to take action in response to their actions. The tools and operators are already in place, and regularly used; it will figure prominently in efforts by Russia, and others, to affect how the U.S. and our allies respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as future aggression.
  • Insider threat. Another longstanding threat, and one that can be greatly exacerbated by self-radicalization or influence from mal/mis/disinformation spread by Russia and other actors, as well as by traditional means. Insiders are also an important vector for cyber attacks, including attacks on critical infrastructure, such as transportation. Tensions from the current climate may decrease the time needed for an insider to go from recruitment or radicalization target to threat.
  • Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). UAS have been of concern for some time, from nation-state exfiltration of information regarding critical infrastructure and their protections to uses by a variety of threat actors that threaten major public events or result in airport shutdowns. UAS misuse is an everyday occurrence, with the potential to cause significant economic and physical damage.

The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine leaves no doubt as to the urgency and immediacy of these threats and, I would hope, clarify our perceptions of how vulnerable and at risk we are. Now is the time to increase investment and effort to counter these threats, mitigating the harm that could otherwise occur.

Brian Harrell

Former Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection at DHS

Attacks on critical infrastructure are designed to destabilize a country, promote a lack confidence in a country’s leadership, and they threaten the well-being of all its citizens. Russia would absolutely do this as part of their attack playbook. The Biden administration has rightly warned that this activity will not be tolerated. More importantly, the private sector has been monitoring the situation for weeks now in anticipation of a possible cyber attack.

Russia maintains a range of offensive cyber tools that it could deploy against Ukrainian networks — from low-level denials of service to destructive attacks targeting critical infrastructure.

A massive 2015 nation-state attack on Ukraine struck the utility’s control center, taking out 30 distribution substations and leaving 230,000 residents without power for about six hours. A similar attack took place about a year later, in 2016, so we have seen this tactic before.

Steve Karoly

Former Acting Assistant Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Office of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis

From a transportation security perspective, the threat landscape hasn’t radically changed over the past few years. We continue to see ominous indicators that terrorists abroad still view the U.S. transportation system as a very attractive, high- value target. What has changed is that the U.S. transportation security enterprise must not only focus on detecting terrorist actions from overseas, but also on preventing domestic terrorism. This adds a level of complexity to the already complex transportation security landscape. Additionally, the threats are not limited to the aviation system but to all sectors, including surface transportation, such as freight rail, light rail, and mass transit, as well as pipelines.

Because the U.S. transportation system is a highly interdependent structure, a single attack on one node ripples throughout the entire transportation enterprise. Terrorists try to exploit the weakest link within the system. Their weapons of choice are increasingly low cost and easily accessible, and their tactics are trending toward providing less risk to the perpetrator. While transportation security professionals still have to focus on longstanding dangers like explosives being smuggled aboard an airplane, train, or passenger ship, they now also face new physical threats like drones, as well as virtual threats such as cyber terrorism.

Insider threats also pose a great risk. Security professionals must be vigilant against terrorists who try to recruit individuals who work in a transportation system that employs millions of people. These bad actors target transportation workers, pipeline workers, airline and airport workers, vendors, and subcontractors, and attempt to use them to carry out attacks against the system. Identifying these threats is a daunting task due to the sheer number of people involved and the many forms that these attacks take. The most obvious is the malicious insider who unintentionally provides physical or virtual access to a bad actor or shares information about security policies and procedures, as well as vulnerabilities. The most common threat is also the hardest to detect: a careless insider who unintentionally makes a mistake, such as not following security protocols, that exposes the system to outside threats.

Tom O’Connor

Former FBI Special Agent, Joint Terrorism Task Force, and former president of the FBI Agents Association

Over the past several years, domestic terrorism has been the most active terrorism threat facing the American public. 2022 will be no different. The threat is changing from white supremacist violent extremist to a mix of anti-government/anti-authority violent extremist. This has been referred to as a “salad bar” of extremism: multiple ideologies mixing together with social media-based conspiracy theories and disinformation/misinformation to spin extremist narratives.

The continued polarization of the American people and communities around the globe is pushing more to extremes. As extremist ideologies become more mainstream the potential for lone offender small cell violence is very real. The impact of disinformation and misinformation being pushed by foreign adversaries is real. As we watch Russia invade Ukraine, we hear some cable TV hosts supporting Russia. This is echoed by some political figures both active and former. History has shown that the UNITED States has bonded together during times of conflict. As we watch and read the news, we see that is not the case today. Political power appears to be more important than holding a United front against evil.

In 2021 many topics have added to the anti-government following. The war in Afghanistan, which ended very badly, along with the continued rhetoric surrounding the 2020 elections and the perception of government overreach related to pandemic vaccinations and masking is pushing an increase in anti-government/anti-authority beliefs. Political figures are capitalizing on these issues to bolster their followers. As we move closer to the 2022 midterm elections, and the rhetoric continues, the potential for violence is very real.

The counterterrorism community needs to have an eye on both domestic terrorism and international terrorism as the world quickly becomes very unstable.

Sandra L. Stosz

U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral (ret.), former Deputy Commandant for Mission Support and Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy

The U.S. faces monumental challenges in 2022. Threats from outside our borders, such as illegal immigration, and on a more global scale, the posturing of China and Russia, are certainly front and center. Threats inside our borders, such as wanton lawlessness and the associated disturbing surge in violent crime, are eroding public safety. Then there’s climate change. And the list goes on.

Despite that dire outlook, my biggest concern is a more subtle one that I believe is the root cause of bigger problems: it’s the state of education in our country. Inequality starts in the classroom, in grades K-12. To a great extent, the social unrest and division wracking the U.S. stems from the effects of that inequality. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the performance gap between the highest performing and lowest performing students is increasing. That’s bad for society. People who are not equally prepared to participate are never going to achieve equal outcomes, regardless of social engineering that often serves to further divide.

I believe there are three problems with our education system that we must solve if we are to continue our role as a world leader and live up to the promise of our national motto, e pluribus unum or “out of many, one.” Those problems are the politicizing of our education system, the lack of technology solutions for learning in our classrooms, and the seemingly universal push for K-12 students to aspire to college over other equally viable options.

Politicizing our Education System

The highest priority should be to take politics out of the classroom and put students first. We need governing entities at the state and local level to implement programs and policies that set standards and hold both teachers and students accountable for performing to meet or exceed those standards. We need to broaden our perspective and support innovative charter schools and private schools that better meet the needs of many students and their families, particularly in areas where public schools underperform. To improve our public schools across the board, we need teachers who have the training, motivation, tools, and compensation to best serve their students’ needs and make America’s school system the gold standard of learning.

The COVID disruptions have grievously affected students, particularly those in K-12. Those who will suffer the worst are the ones who most need the classroom time for both education and socialization. They are often the students denied access to classrooms by powerful teachers’ unions whose foremost mission is to serve their members’ interests. We need to change that dynamic, because teaching is arguably the most important job in America. We as a society should provide our teachers the pay and training commensurate with their critical roles.

The COVID crisis has brought the U.S. to an inflection point in education. Students from the U.S. are performing at a lower level than many of their peers in other industrialized nations on an international assessment developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. We can’t afford to slip further behind. Instead of focusing on divisive social issues, our schools must double down on teaching children the academic fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Lack of Technology Solutions for Learning

A second problem is the lack of and/or disparity of technology solutions to enable learning. More innovation is necessary to cope during challenging times like we’re experiencing with COVID, and to best prepare students for the technology-based future that awaits them. Access to broadband is critical, and it’s a positive development that the recently-passed infrastructure bill contains approximately $65 billion to improve internet access to underserved areas. But it’s not enough to provide technology solutions that will benefit students. Teachers need to be trained on new technology and be comfortable using it in the classroom. Otherwise, no level of resources thrown at the problem will be effective. Teachers need the skills and tools to embrace technology and excite their students to yearn to learn.

Emphasis on College over Vocational Training and Certificate Programs

Finally, we need to change our narrative about preparing children to be productive members of society. Higher education is extolled, whereas vocational training and certificate programs are given short shrift. Yet there are many students who are gifted with skills, personalities, and perspectives that make them well-suited for a trade or vocation. Imagine the talent, creativity, and discipline it takes to be a carpenter, an information technology specialist, a stone mason, or a dental assistant, to name just a few. Those fields offer interesting, rewarding work.

Unfortunately, many young people are steered toward a college degree program, when they may be better suited for something else. To accommodate these students, colleges come up with a wide range of degrees to suit most any desire. Those degrees, however, may not translate to post-graduation employment, while leaving the student crushed with debt.

In some countries, students in high school are evaluated based on their potential and desire, and are tracked into either college or vocational training. I’m not sure that’s the right answer for the U.S., but we certainly need to give equal consideration to each option. That’s a necessary shift that will help students achieve their full potential, and produce the workforce needed to move America forward.

Unfortunately, the problems with education in our country are enormous. But we can’t ignore them. Knowledge is power, and education is the great equalizer. We need to get this right for our children, and for our future.

Greg Marshall

Former DHS Chief Security Officer

At present, the United States faces very real national security threats from a variety of sources. The following items, I believe, illustrate the threat landscape and pose the biggest challenges on the security front in the year ahead.

First, a dramatic change in U.S. immigration policies have allowed an estimated 2 million foreign nationals from multiple countries to enter our nation via the southwest border. A large portion of the 2 million who entered illegally are estimated by Border Patrol officials to have entered the United States undetected. Known as “got-aways,” common sense dictates that potential terrorists and common criminals are among those who eluded capture. By any measure, this is a clear threat to national security.

One associated issue related to the border crisis is the importation of illegal drugs and fentanyl by foreign criminal organizations. “Provisional data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicate that there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 12-month period ending in April 2021, an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before,” reported CDC. Increases in overdose deaths from opioids, synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) and methamphetamine, and cocaine were cited by the CDC. These facts add to a clear threat to national security.

“Defunding the police” and bail reform efforts across the nation have caused rapid spikes in violent crimes and offender recidivism, specifically related to shootings, aggravated assaults, murders, and carjackings. Criminals commit crimes, are apprehended, charged, and almost most immediately released back into the community without bond to continue committing crimes. This problem is exacerbated by major city district attorneys who are unwilling to prosecute crimes. Citizens no longer feel safe.

Police officers are being ambushed and killed in numbers not seen in many years. This has led to severe shortages in law enforcement staffing across agencies, which means fewer officers to force-multiply with federal agencies to protect the nation. This fact illustrates an obvious threat to national security and a degradation to our overall quality of life.

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, approximately 124,000 people have been evacuated to the U.S. According to a GOP Senate memo on the issue and multiple media reports, roughly 82,000 Afghans who were evacuated to the United States from Kabul in August were not properly vetted before they entered our country. Instead of conducting traditional in-person interviews as part of the vetting process, government officials chose instead to rely solely on criminal and terrorist databases to identify potential threats. The GOP memo described the process around these screenings as “reckless.” In the weeks following the evacuation, the Department of Homeland Security flagged 44 Afghan evacuees as potential national security risks, according to the Washington Post.

In the fall of 2021, law enforcement agencies in northern Virginia increased police presence around congested public areas after an Afghan-refugee related ISIS threat was made against malls and shopping centers in the Metro D.C. area. Since that time, reports indicate a number of Afghan refugees have disappeared within the country, posing a potential threat.

Externally, I see China, Russia, and Iran remaining as our most pre-eminent adversaries, especially on the cyber front. The war between Ukraine and Russia will negatively affect the world economy, especially as it relates to the supply and costs of energy. There is a common belief among many national security experts that China will move on Taiwan in the near term, further exacerbating the world economy and negatively affecting the United States.

Cyber threats (internally and externally) to the U.S. will likely continue and grow, especially when you consider national events combined with the internal climate of unrest we face in this country.

John Sullivan

Lieutenant (Retired), Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department; Instructor, Safe Communities Institute, University of Southern California

The security horizon for 2022 is characterized by threat convergence. Multiple threat vectors and actors will challenge the seams between domestic and foreign security issues. This convergence operates on several levels. First it involves a convergence between foreign and domestic actors. These entities include both competing states and non-state actors. These states include those involved in Great Power Competition such as Russia and China. In the case of Russia, we can’t avoid the repercussions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its threats to European states seeking closer relations with NATO. In the case of China, we see the ongoing erosion of liberties in Hong Kong, atrocities directed against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and strategic competition in the South China Sea and broader Indo-Pacific region. The competition in the Indo-Pac could trigger conflict in the Philippines and ultimately a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

All of these situations are amplified by the use of hybrid conflict — including hybrid warfare and threats — covert action, and information warfare. The use of hybrid means — including intelligence and influence operations to sow internal division among its competitors — is a hallmark of contemporary hybrid warfare. Hybrid warfare involves the interaction between conventional and irregular means. The use of proxies: both state and non-state actors — such as transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and criminal armed groups (CAGs) — challenges the seams between conflict and crime. Money laundering, terrorism, criminal insurgency, disinformation, and election tampering become ‘unrestricted warfare’ means eroding public trust and the perceived legitimacy of state institutions. Global, networked extremists sow division across traditional ideological lines. These include right-wing, left-wing, single-issue, and criminal actors serving as proxies or seeking their own advantage. The traditional left-right divide is now better characterized as the divide between authoritarian and democratic actors. Finally, the divide between physical and cyber space is bridged by the rise of the ‘metaverse’ and other technological developments. Artificial intelligence, drone swarms (including the use of artisanal improvised aerial bombs), and cyberattacks yielding kinetic physical effects are now part of our adversaries’ armamentarium.

This converging threat envelope requires developing new, integrated national and homeland security capabilities. Foreign and domestic threats are converging in ways that challenge the distinctions between foreign and domestic intelligence, crime and war, as well as physical and cyber. This yields a complexity that is exacerbated by bureaucratic and political competition. Climate stress leads to migration offering opportunities for adversarial exploitation of xenophobic fear and racism. New approaches are needed to negotiate the metastasizing threat and conflict landscape. These approaches should bridge gaps between the federal government and states, the police and military, and foreign and domestic intelligence while tolerating dissent, respecting liberties, and strengthening democratic values. Finally, we must recognize the paradox of complexity: our adversaries will present us with several challenges. We don’t have the luxury of handling one threat at a time. Intelligence revitalization and reform is a necessary first step toward recognizing and managing these dynamics. Threat convergence demands an agile, adaptive, whole-of-nation approach.

Ajit Maan, Ph.D.

Founder and CEO, Narrative Strategies LLC,

One of the most glaring threats to homeland security is that of disinformation produced by our adversaries and aimed not only at our voting demographics but also on our military and police forces. “Force Protection” should include efforts to harden the targets of Narrative Warfare being conducted against our security forces.

All levels of our citizenry should be aware not only of who our adversaries are, but also be able to recognize adversarial narratives in action, and their incongruity with our own national narrative as embodied in our founding documents. We ought to recognize, for example, the emerging national identity narrative of Ukraine (which has already won the narrative space) as consistent with our own and recognize opposition to it as a threat to our own values as Americans.

By defending itself the way it has so far (kinetically and otherwise), Ukraine has not only strengthened its national fiber but has also managed to put the “Mother Russia” narrative out of its misery. But let’s be clear, Ukraine’s dominance of the narrative space is not rhetorical; it is not a based on “themes and messages.” It is based on meaning and identity. That is what makes it a foundational narrative victory.

In defending our own homeland against those who sow seeds of distrust in our institutions of governance, it is the narrative space that we need to protect and project.

Paul Cobaugh

Vice President, Narrative Strategies

In support of my colleague Dr. Ajit Maan’s comments regarding false narratives and the threat to the nation when unaddressed, I believe false, adversarial narratives supported by mal-, mis- and disinformation are our most significant threat. We cannot successfully unify to address any threat if we don’t proactively address the information weapons utilized by our foreign and related domestic enemies.

Currently, within the Department of Homeland Security, it is CISA’s MDM team that is charged with building resilience from mis-, dis-, and malformation, or MDM, and foreign influence activities.

This cannot be done by solely CYBER means nor by sharing printed or digital products with partners. What’s required is a narrative-centric messaging to defeat malign influence, which is all tied to adversarial narratives.

The U.S. must adopt narratives based on our national values. Narratives deliver meaning, not simply facts. Narratives are successful because audiences are delivered the meaning of facts. Narratives require narrators. Narrators are key to delivering meaning to all U.S. audiences. We cannot expect a handful of key leaders to be the only narrators. This is the responsibility of leadership, in and outside government and, most importantly, in a sustained campaign.

Counter-narratives alone do not work. A narrative strategy requires a compelling set of voices in the narrative space and includes, at a minimum, proactive and counter-narratives. This is likely the most critical vulnerability in the entire U.S. national security community.

Steven M. Crimando

Founder and principal, Behavioral Science Applications

When considering the challenges ahead in the new year, it is important to remember that humans play a role in every aspect of homeland and private-sector security, emergency management, and business continuity. Whether applied to cybersecurity, violence prevention, the ongoing pandemic, or any other concern, humans, and therefore human behavior, pervades nearly every aspect of homeland security. Just as every other critical infrastructure sector is dependent on electricity, every part of homeland security affects and is affected by behavioral factors. As a cross-cutting element across the entire field, it is critical for homeland security professionals to have a keen understanding of human behavior in general, and changes affecting the human behavior-homeland security nexus, in particular.

People are worked up and worn down; they are already on edge due to a mixture of psychological whiplash, pandemic fatigue, and uncertainty about almost everything in the near-term. Social and political tensions are running high, and it seems everyone from school board members to flight attendants are at risk of being punched out by someone consumed by frustration and anger. The American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey reports that nearly 50 percent of adults reported significant deterioration in their mental health since the beginning of the pandemic. This is playing out in a range of adverse behaviors, including violence to self and others.

Research on post-pandemic mental health effects suggests a dramatic increase in the need for mental health services even well after the disease is controlled. For example, research in the UK by the National Health Service and Centre for Mental Health predicts that levels of demand for mental health help will likely reach two to three times that of current capacity within the 3- to 5-year post-pandemic window. Follow-up studies of other public health emergencies have typically arrived at the same result: the impact on mental health continues long after the physical threat has passed, and in many cases continues to grow worse for several years after. It is foreseeable that the mental health impact of the pandemic may linger for years, even decades after the medical risk abates.

Whether the risk comes from someone spiraling up with anger and frustration related to the political climate, their employer’s or school’s position on vaccines and masks, or slowly reaching their breaking point due to the seemingly never-ending pandemic, there is no shortage of grievances that may propel an individual on their way down the pathway to violence. The risk of “grievance-based” violence has been articulated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the most recent summary of homeland security risks, noting that the current environment is flush with potential grievances. Some of those will likely be directed at the workplace and educational settings.

In its past mission statement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate set a goal to “know our enemies, understand ourselves; put the human in the equation.” Leaders must keep their eyes on the horizon since the convergence of these factors is likely to play an important role in the threat landscape for 2022 and beyond. A focus on the human element in security and emergency management will be critical to meeting the challenges ahead.

Ardian Shajkovci

Co-founder and Director, American Counterterrorism Targeting and Resilience Institute 

Beyond enduring militant jihadi threats in the United States and internationally, violent right-wing extremism and often overlooked far-left movements are likely to continue to pose significant threats and remain the top national security discourse in 2022. Violent extremist content and dis- and misinformation online stemming from but not limited to such groups and movements have reached a critical mass in recent years, necessitating pragmatic responses to restrain access to social media platforms of those openly enticing and spreading hateful rhetoric and violence, on the one hand, while also ensuring space for public debate on contentious issues amidst the current polarized political climate, on the other.

While censorship and other regulatory-centered restrictions aimed at targeting extremist content and dis- and misinformation online remain noble and complementary to other CT-P/CVE efforts, the somewhat exclusive focus on such efforts in recent years may have been misplaced and misleading. Additionally, the trending political and media discourse on regulating extremist content on social media seems to have disproportionately been centered on mainstream social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, largely ignoring small- to mid-sized alternative social media platforms. Put differently, tracing extremist content and mis- and disinformation may require a better understanding of the entire social media ecosystem, a cross-platform probing and analyses namely, to discern signaling behavior among users and the tracing of the content flow across the ecosystem as a whole.

Lastly, technological accidental, inadvertent impact on the spread of hateful and violent rhetoric online will likely warrant further attention. Given the rampant social media consumption in recent years due in part to COVID-19 related movement restrictions — likely trends to persist into 2022 — targeted and often aggressive advertising practices by social media organizations may likely continue to aggravate the already politically divisive masses. Careful assessments on the part of social media companies are needed to discern the extent to which their algorithmic composition may potentially intensify or reinforce user engagement, often leading to radicalization, profoundly polarized discourse, or user migration toward extreme content at a pace they are unlikely to sustain long-term.

Jeffrey D. Simon

President of Political Risk Assessment Company, Inc., Visiting Lecturer in the UCLA Department of Political Science, Author of ‘Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the the Growing Threat’

Lone wolf terrorism will remain the biggest threat to homeland security in the year ahead. There is a current lull in attacks, but that is misleading. There have been many times in our history where a decline in the number of incidents led to a feeling among the public and policymakers that we had turned a corner in the battle against terrorism, only to find later that this was not the case. This occurred in the early 1990s when American hostages came home from Lebanon and the threat of hostage-taking and hijackings subsided. But then terrorists set off a truck bomb at the World Trade Center in 1993, demonstrating that the United States was vulnerable to terrorist attacks at home. Another lull in terrorism occurred for a couple of years until the federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed in 1995. Then yet another lull until the 9/11 attacks.

Terrorists, and particularly lone wolves who often fly under the radar, can strike anytime, anywhere and it is impossible to provide security everywhere, all the time. The terrorist threat also has never been just about numbers. Whether statistics on terrorism show things are improving or getting worst, a single, major terrorist attack can have repercussions throughout government and society. That is what separates terrorism from all other types of conflicts.

Since lone wolf attacks can be perpetrated by a wide range of actors cutting across the political, social, and religious spectrum, it is always risky to focus on just one type of movement or cause as presenting the greatest threat. Security officials will also face a new problem this year, namely, how to overcome complacency on the part of the public. In addition to the lull in attacks that is making people feel the worst is over, there is also a sense of invulnerability in the post-COVID environment. Having survived the pandemic and finally being able to resume normal life, the last thing the public wants to think about or worry about is being a victim of terrorism. Security alerts or advice on what people can do to remain safe from attack may therefore fall upon deaf ears. Dealing with that problem will be part of the security challenges facing officials in the coming year.


The views expressed here are the writers’ and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected].

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Homeland Security Today
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.
Homeland Security Today
Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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