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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Security Threats to the United States in the Twenty Years Before September 11

Security Threats to the United States in the Twenty Years Before September 11

Any society will face both internal and external threats in a normal political environment. The United States faced external threats in the form of Soviet empire building, Islamic extremism, the Iran/Iraq War, and illegal immigration. Americans also faced internal threats from terror, organized crime, gangs, and crime in general.
External threats were less of an issue due to the capability of the United States to project force and punish those that would harm Americans. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. Fourteen aircraft carrier groups contained enough power for a very big stick indeed. We waged what is known as the “Cold War” across the world with the Soviets, spanning many fronts from Nicaragua to Afghanistan. The nuclear armed retaliatory capability of the United States prevented the Soviets from acting to directly harm Americans. Americans faced much less of a threat from Islamo-terror than did the Europeans, but Americans were still targeted in such incidents as the Achille Lauro and TWA. However, punitive strikes such as the bombing of Libya in 1985 kept such attacks directed primarily at Europeans who were more compliant in accepting such attacks. In contrast to today's policy, President Reagan did not trade five known terrorists for one known deserter as an “anti-terror” strategy, The war between Iran and Iraq presented an economic threat to America in the energy sector. The United States then projected it's naval power into the Gulf to protect oil supplies.
Internal threats were more of a danger to Americans. Terror groups from the Left to the Right carried out attacks, organized crime, gangs, and crime in general. Leftist terror groups were basically carry overs from the leftist terror of the 1960's. Such groups include the May 19 Communist Organization, The United Freedom Front, The Red Guerrilla Resistance, the Symbionese Liberation Army carried out bombings and other attacks. Rightist terror groups included yet another incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan, Christian identity groups such as the Army of God, and anti-government militias, such as those the FBI took action against in 1996; the Freemen Organization, The Mountaineer Militia, and the Washington State Militia (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996, pp.7-8). The first idenity based terror group were the Puerto Rican FALN and the The Organization of Volunteers for the Puerto Rican Revolution and the Macheteros. These groups did espouse a leftist view. Between 1980 and 1984, these groups committed the most acts of domestic terrorism within the United States (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1984, p.14). The second identity based terror groups were Jewish groups such as the JDL and the JDA. Islamic terror within the United States became a matter for public worry after the failed attempt in 1993 to bomb the World Trade Center. Bridging the gap between organized crime and terror are the narco cartels, which began as criminal enterprises that gradually started using terror tactics in Soth America against governments that sought to prevent their illegal trade ( See Pablo Escobar). Organized crime has posed a threat to America since the Black Hand in the first part of the 20th century. Gangs have been a criminal phenomenon since the classical Roman era, however, the gangs become a threat to our security as a whole when gangs began turf wars, not to protect their neighborhoods, but to control local drug markets.
The passage of time will create new situations. External threats have changed. The Soviet Union collapsed, and we went through a period of conciliation. The military has been gutted by combat troop reductions and purges of officers. The historically ignorant policies of this administration and it's “reset button” have allowed the Russians to perceive us as weak; the result was invasions of Crimea and then Ukraine. Islamist attacks on America have increased both in America and abroad as the result of an administration that refuses to publicly acknowledge acts of Islamic terrorism as such, and won't even use the term “Islamic terror”. With a lesser capability for using retributive force, and without the will to use it, external threats to the United States have increased. Appeasement is a historically proven method of failure.
Internal threats have evolved as well. Domestic leftist terror groups slowed down the rate of committing acts of terror as their members either went into jail or into positions of academic responsibility (Angela Davis, William Ayers, for example). The traditional leftist terror groups have been “replaced” by leftist groups operating under the aegis of environmental or animal protection “concerns”. Such groups include the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth liberation Front (ELF), and Revenge of the Tress (ROTT); these groups committed all terror attacks within the United States in the year 2000 (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2001, p.2) Defining right wing terror attacks is difficult because of the divergent goals that right wing groups have. Anti-abortion terrorists have committed assassination and arson attacks against abortion providers. Militia groups have grown since Mount Carmel and Ruby Ridge. Although Patriot movements have been characterized as terrorists (like some of the the anti-government militias have been), groups such as Oath Keepers and various III% have neither committed terror attacks nor have threatened to overturn the Constitution. Identity based groups such as the Puerto Rican or Jewish groups have become inactive. The New Black Panther Party, both racist and leftist, took over from the Black Panthers despite vocal opposition from the most prominent members of the latter (Mulloy, 2010, p. 218) . Narcotic trafficking cartels began to intensify terrorist actions, and an open war started in Mexico between the various cartels and the Mexican government, as well as between cartels. A cartel specialty group, los Zetas, was created from Mexican security specialists that defected to the cartels, eventually to acts as a cartel on it's own. There was not much change in the agenda of organized crime. Gangs have become more and have allied with cartels.
The Patriot Act has made some things easier for law enforcement agencies within the United States to perform their duty by increasing intelligence sharing; although there are some such as Seaman and Gardner that argue the “Patriot Act restricts, rather than expands, the government's power to fight terrorism” (Seamon & Gardner, 2005, p. 322). Another area of improvement is that terror within the United States was not highly publicized until the 9/11 attacks. Fears contends that “
smaller incidents were not generally made known or publicized outside a small circle of
policy, intelligence and law-enforcement officials so the general American public was able to
ignore the problem “(1995, p.11). A public that is aware of the threat against them is more likley to support the measures that are effective agansit those threats..


Fears, K. P. (1995, December). The FBI and domestic counterterrorism: a comparative analysis (Thesis). Monterey, California. Naval Postgraduate School. Retrieved October 17, 2014 from https://calhoun.nps.edu/handle/10945/31309

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1984). FBI analysis of terrorist incidents and terrorist related activities in the United States 1984. Retrieved October 10, 2014 from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/120257NCJRS.pdf

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1996). Terrorism in the United States 1996. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terror_96.pdf

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2001). Terrorism 2000 / 2001. Retrieved September 19, 2014 from http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terror/terror00_01.pdf

Mulloy, D. J. (2010). New Panthers, old Panthers and the politics of black nationalism in the United States. Patterns of Prejudice, 44(3), 217–238. http://doi.org/10.1080/0031322X.2010.489732

Seamon, R. H., & Gardner, W. D. (2005). The Patriot Act and the wall between foreign intelligence and law enforcement. Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, 28(2), 319–463


The creation of DHS was a huge development as well; however, I don't think we have been as successful as we should have been.  There are too many agencies and too many areas where intel can be stovepiped.  There are still political considerations that hinder effective security operations.  I remember, but can't source at the moment, TSA announcing that women in hijabs or of Muslim appearance would not be searched as that was "profiling", while at the same time TSA had a public backlash in regards to the "groping" method they used to search everyone else.

The intersection of growth complex and interorganizational conflict comes into play here, and even translates into the local level.  I was at a seminar at the Orlando ACJS meeting,
Broadening Focus on Terrorism: The Role of Finance, Economics, and Organized Crime, and I asked the presenter Gen. Wilson (who had also been Chief of Police for Detroit) about the efficiency of local fusion centers.  He responded that the effectiveness of these centers was less than desired;  I won't state that the term "pissing contest" came into use ;)


Yes, tribalism in humans is a pretty basic impulse.  I think the problem will get worse as we move away from a central culture in this country.

Difference markers like race are obvious, but groups balkanize on all types of social differences from politics to music.  (i.e. "greasers vs soc's" in the book we had to read in HS...outlander?  outsider?  not outrigger)

A certain percentage of people will be extremist in their tribal identification;  the DOJ and FBI has slapped the Klan around 4 times (1870's, 1920's, 1960's, 1980's) bu they keep on popping up.

It's like terror or crime, not a problem you solve, but that a problem you manage by playing whack-a-mole once they have moved to a subversive or violent mode.


you make a great point when you link oil use/energy consumption with national security.  The economic security of the nation is often overlooked as a matter of national security.

Nando argues that "National security depends also on soft power, the ability of a country to generate and use its economic power and to project its national values" (2011, summary).  Allowing other countries to influence the energy sector of our economy weakens our ability to protect ourselves.

Nando, D. (2011). Economics and national security: Issues and implications for U.S. policy. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved April 23, 2015 from http://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R41589.pdf


Another threat was in 1975 at the LaGuardia Airport that killed 11 and injured 75, this threat is still unsolved to this day. A TWA airliner was hijacked by Croatian demanding that a manifesto to be printed out and given to them

rajneeshee movement placed salmonella in an estimated 5-10 different restaurants that served salad bars. This was a form of bio terrorism; this was one of the first that transpired on US soil.
(in italics not mine - need further research)

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