Which is why the U.S. responded to 9-11 with an offensive warfare strategy. The U.S. strategy took the war to al-Qaida's heartland. The U.S. seized the initiative, selecting targets and time of attack. Al-Qaida lost its secure bases in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida suffered a major political and military defeat in Iraq. U.S. drones continue to kill terrorist leaders in Pakistan and Yemen.
As a result of this pressure, al-Qaida now conducts "lone actor" strikes like the Christmas Terrorist, or encourages "self-organizing" actors to launch their own attacks. I suspect Maj. Nidal Hasan's attack at Ft. Hood, Texas, is an example of the latter. Violent Islamist propaganda appeals motivated Hasan, and his behavior became increasingly antagonistic and erratic.
Hasan's route to terrorism generally follows the behavioral changes examined in the Foundation for Defense of Democracy's "Homegrown Terrorists in the US and UK." The radicalization process is not unique to Islamists. In the late 1960s, members of the hard-left Weathermen followed similar paths.
How do we thwart decentralized, self-organizing, "distributed" attacks? U.S. intelligence and police operations have improved dramatically since 9-11 --and public demand for improvement drove the process. The rapid arrest of Faisal Shahzad, the suspected Times Square attacker, testifies to improvements in intelligence-sharing and inter-agency cooperation.
An aware, alert and willing-to-act public, however, is the key to decentralized defense. This is a mindset more than a program or policy, and one that acknowledges in terms of security that after 9-11 we are our brother's keepers.
Americans are in a global war, and the U.S. homeland is a battleground. To win locally requires individual and community citizen policing in conjunction with civilian law enforcement agencies. To do anything less puts lives at risk and seeds the initiative to our terrorist enemies.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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