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Updated January 3, 2007
This report examines international terrorist actions, threats, U.S. policies and responses. It reviews the nation's use of tools at its disposal to combat terrorism, from diplomacy, international cooperation, and constructive engagement to physical security enhancement, economic sanctions, covert action, and military force.
A modern trend in terrorism appears to be toward loosely organized, self-financed, international networks of terrorists. Increasingly, radical Islamist groups, or groups using religion as a pretext, pose a serious threat to U.S. interests and to friendly regimes. Of concern as well is the growing political participation of extremist Islamist parties in foreign nations. Also noteworthy is the apparent growth of cross-national links among different terrorist organizations, which may involve combinations of military training, funding, technology transfer, or political advice.
Looming over the entire issue of international terrorism is the specter of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Iran, seen as the most active state sponsor of terrorism, has been secretly conducting--and now openly seeks--uranium enrichment, and North Korea has both admitted to having a clandestine program for uranium enrichment and claimed to have nuclear weapons. Indications have also surfaced that Al Qaeda has attempted to acquire chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons.
U.S. policy toward international terrorism contains a significant military component, reflected in U.S. operations in Afghanistan, deployment of U.S. forces elsewhere for specific missions, and, according to the Administration and its supporters, the war in Iraq. Issues of interest to the 110th Congress include whether the Administration is providing sufficient information about the long-term goals and costs of its diverse strategy and whether military force is an optimally effective antiterrorism instrument when compared with other methods such as intelligence-enhanced law enforcement and pro-active public diplomacy.
Increasingly, a wide range of well-funded charitable and publicity activities of radical Islamist groups has led to broadened acceptance of extremist views in target populations. To the extent that nations fail to effectively address this "cold war of ideology," a growing proportion of the world's Moslem youth may grow up embracing extremist views that could ultimately lead to increased terrorism.
As terrorism is a global phenomenon, a major challenge facing policymakers is how to maximize international cooperation and support without unduly compromising important U.S. national security interests and options. Other significant policy challenges include: (1) how to minimize the economic and civil liberties costs of an enhanced/tightened security environment, and (2) how to combat incitement to terrorism, especially in instances where such activity is state sponsored or countenanced. This report replaces CRS Issue Brief IB10119, Terrorism and National Security: Issues and Trends, by Raphael F. Perl. It will be updated periodically.
Contents The War on Terrorism The Threat of Terrorism Trends in Terrorism U.S. Policy Response Framework Dilemmas U.S. Policy Tools to Combat International Terrorism Diplomacy/Constructive Engagement Public Diplomacy Economic Sanctions Economic Inducements Covert Action Extradition/Law Enforcement Cooperation Rewards for Information Program Military Force International Conventions Other Potential Policy Tools An International Court for Terrorism Media Self-Restraint Policy Reform and the 9/11 Commission Recommendations U.S. Interagency Coordination Framework and Selected Programs Overview Antiterrorism Assistance Programs Terrorist Identification and Screening Programs National Counterterrorism/Terrorist Screening Center Programs Department of State's Terrorist Interdiction Program (TIP) Assistance to Victims Programs Counterterrorism Research and Development Program Diplomatic Security Program Program Enhancement Issues and Options Allocation of Resources Public Diplomacy For Additional Reading Appendix: Defining Terrorism
The War on Terrorism
The Administration's response to the September 11, 2001 events was swift, wide-ranging, and decisive. After Administration officials attributed responsibility for the attack to Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda organization, there was an announced policy shift from deterrence to preemption, generally referred to as the "Bush Doctrine." (1) Given the potentially catastrophic consequences of terrorist attacks employing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Administration decisionmakers felt that the United States could not afford to sit back, wait for attacks to occur, and then respond.
The nation was mobilized; combating terrorism and crippling Al Qaeda became top national priorities. Preemptive use of military force against foreign terrorist groups and infrastructure gained increasing acceptance in Administration policy circles. A full-scale campaign was launched, using all elements of national and international power, to go after Al Qaeda and its affiliates and support structures. The campaign involved rallying the international community, especially law enforcement and intelligence components, to shut down Al Qaeda cells and financial networks.
A U.S. military operation was initiated in early October, 2001 against the Taliban regime--which had harbored Al Qaeda since 1996--and against Al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan. A total of 136 countries offered a range of military assistance to the United States, including overflight and landing rights and accommodations for U.S. forces.
As a result, the Taliban was removed from power, all known Al Qaeda training sites were destroyed, and a number of Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders were killed or detained. Since then, according to President Bush in his address to the nation on May 1, 2003, nearly half of the known Al Qaeda leadership has been captured or killed. Notwithstanding, top Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, as well as the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, apparently remain at large, and a resurgence of Taliban warlords and militia is reportedly occurring in Southern and Northern Afghanistan.
On March 19, 2003, after an intensive military buildup in the Persian Gulf, the United States launched the war against Iraq, at the time one of seven nations on the State Department's sponsors of terrorism list, with an attack on a suspected meeting site of Saddam Hussein. President Bush, in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address, had emphasized the threat posed to world security by a Saddam Hussein armed with weapons of mass destruction and stated that Iraq "aids and protects" the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. (2) After a swift military campaign, President Bush announced on April 15, 2003 that "the regime of Saddam Hussein is no more." Saddam Hussein was arrested by U.S. personnel December 13, 2003, near his hometown of Tikrit.
In addition to U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. forces have been dispatched to Yemen, the Philippines, and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia to train local militaries to fight terrorists. In FY2002 and FY2003, the Administration sought and received funding (subject to annual review) for U.S. military aid to Colombia to support the Colombian government's "unified campaign against narcotics trafficking, terrorist activities, and other threats to its national security." Similar authorization was granted for FY2004-FY2006. Previously, such assistance had been restricted to supporting counternarcotics operations in Colombia.
A February 14, 2003 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism gave added emphasis to the role of international cooperation, law enforcement and economic development in countering terrorism. (3) In the context of this campaign, the United States has stepped up intelligence-sharing and law enforcement cooperation with other governments to root out terrorist cells. (4)
Experts believe that terrorist cells are operating not just in places where they are welcomed or tolerated, but in many other areas as well, including Western Europe and the United States. According to Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003 (Patterns 2003), as of January 2003 an aggressive international law enforcement effort had resulted in detention of approximately 3,000 terrorists and their supporters in more than 100 countries and in the freezing of $124 million in assets in some 600 bank accounts around the world, including $36 million in the United States alone. (5) On June 2, 2003, the G-8 leaders publicized plans, subsequently implemented, to create a Counter-Terrorism Action Group to assist nations in enhancing their anti-terrorism capabilities through initiatives including (1) outreach to countries in the area of counter-terrorism cooperation, and (2) providing capacity building assistance to nations with insufficient capacity to fight terrorism. (6)
An encouraging sign in the anti-terrorism struggle has been the apparent willingness of certain previously recalcitrant states to distance themselves from international terrorism and/or development of weapons of mass destruction. Libya renounced its WMD programs on December 21, 2003, and has cooperated extensively with the United States and the international community in dismantling those programs. Sudan, in cooperation with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, has arrested Al Qaeda members and "by and large" shut down Al Qaeda training camps on its territory.
In contrast, Iran, according to the Department of State, remained the primary state sponsor of terrorism in 2005 and has been actively conducting a longstanding nuclear development program, raising concerns in the international community that Iran's nuclear ambitions extend well beyond nuclear research, with direct implications for a host of ongoing terrorist activities. (7)
In order to stave off punitive action by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, Iran, on December 19, 2003, signed an agreement to suspend its enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and to allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities. Intensive inspections, however, revealed likely violations of its suspension obligations, hence in late 2005, the IAEA Board of Governors voted to call Iran into noncompliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on July 31, 2006, giving Iran a one-month deadline to comply with demands for halting enrichment, or face possible sanctions. (8) Notwithstanding, Iran insists on the "right" to continue its enrichment program under the label of "nuclear research," ostensibly for its energy industry. (9) Iran did not comply with the demands of the Resolution, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) dated August 31, 2006 (Gov/2006/53). (10)
The Threat of Terrorism
Increasingly, international terrorism is recognized as a threat to U.S. foreign, as well as domestic, security. Both timing and target selection by terrorists can affect U.S. interests in areas ranging from preservation of commerce to nuclear nonproliferation to the Middle East peace process. A growing number of analysts expresses concern that radical Islamist groups seek to exploit economic and political tensions in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Jordan, Pakistan, and other countries. Because of their avowed goal of overthrowing secular or Western-allied regimes in certain countries with large Moslem populations, such groups are seen as a particular threat to U.S. foreign policy objectives.
Facing the possibility that a number of states might reduce or withdraw their sponsorship of terrorist organizations, such organizations appear to be seeking and establishing operating bases in countries that lack functioning central governments or that do not exercise effective control over their national territory. For example, on November 17, 2003, the Washington Post reported that Al Qaeda affiliates were training Indonesian operatives in the southern Philippines. In general, the gray area of "terrorist activity not functionally linked to any supporting or sponsoring nation" represents an increasingly difficult challenge for U.S. policymakers. (11)
Terrorists have been able to develop their own sources of financing, which range from NGOs and charities to illegal enterprises such as narcotics, extortion, and kidnapping. Colombia's FARC is said to make hundreds of millions of dollars annually from criminal activities, mostly from "taxing" of, or participating in, the narcotics trade. Bin Laden's Al Qaeda depends on a formidable array of fundraising operations including Moslem charities and wealthy well-wishers, legitimate-seeming businesses, and banking connections in the Persian Gulf, as well as various smuggling and fraud activities. Furthermore, reports are ongoing of cross-national links among different terrorist organizations.
Of utmost concern to policymakers is the specter of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or the means to make them. All of the five officially designated state sponsors of terrorism, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, are known or suspected to have had one or more WMD-related program. Two of the states--Iran and North Korea--have, or have had, nuclear weapons-oriented programs in varying stages of development. (12)
Terrorists have attempted to acquire WMD technology through their own resources and connections. For instance, the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan was able to procure technology and instructions for producing Sarin, a deadly nerve gas, through contacts in Russia in the early 1990s. (13) The gas was subsequently used in an attack on the Tokyo subway in March 1995 that killed 12 people and injured over 1,000.
Media reports of varying credibility suggest that Osama bin Laden is interested in joining the WMD procurement game, but open-source evidence to date remains scant. A London Daily Telegraph dispatch of December 14, 2001, cited "long discussions" between bin Laden and Pakistani nuclear scientists concerning nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. (14) Earlier, on November 12, 2001, Time magazine reported that a bin Laden emissary tried to buy radioactive waste from an atomic power plant in Bulgaria, and cited the September 1998 arrest in Germany of an alleged bin Laden associate on charges of trying to buy reactor fuel. (15) BBC reports cite the discovery by intelligence officials of documents indicating that Al Qaeda had built a radiological "dirty" bomb near Herat in Western Afghanistan. (16) In January, 2003 British authorities reportedly disrupted a plot to use the poison ricin against personnel in England. (17)
Trends in …