Homeland Security Chief Discusses Changing Nature of Terrorism


The threat of terrorism has changed from “terrorist-directed” to “terrorist-inspired” attacks, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said at the annual Association of the U.S. Army meeting here today.

“There is a new reality to the threats to the homeland that you and I are responsible for guarding,” he said. “The global terrorist threat has evolved.”

The theme of the AUSA meeting is “to win in a complex world,” and Johnson spoke about how complex his world has become. “It is our challenge, too,” he said.

Terrorists have changed their strategy from relying solely on terrorist-directed attacks, he said. The attack on Sept. 11, 2001 was the prime example of a terrorist-directed attack, the secretary said. The terrorists who attacked America that day were recruited and financed from Afghanistan. The planning and training were conducted outside the United States. Then they arrived in America and carried out the attacks that left more than 3,000 dead.

There are other examples -- the underwear bomber in 2009, the Times Square attempt in 2010, and the attempted package bomb plot of 2010, Johnson said.

“These are examples of what were likely terrorist-directed attacks by those overseas,” he said.

“Today, we see in addition to that threat, the threat of terrorist-inspired attacks,” Johnson said.

Radicalization

Those attacks are often propagated by U.S. citizens who have become radicalized by groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. AQAP “no longer builds bombs in secret; it now puts out an instruction manual and urges the public to do the same thing,” he said.

Homeland Security sees an increasing threat from the lone-wolf actor and foreign fighters, Johnson said.

The terrorist-inspired attacks include the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris this year and the attack in Chattanooga in July that killed five service members, Johnson said

New Reality

“This is the new reality of what we face,” he said. “It is more complex and has led to a more complex world. In many respects it is harder to detect.”

Law enforcement “has become pretty good” at finding and foiling overseas plots, Johnson said. “The home grown actor could strike at any moment and is inspired by something he sees.”

Combating it requires a whole-of-government response, he said. The military has a role in taking the fight to terror groups overseas. This has had success, he said, noting many al-Qaida leaders and ISIL terrorists are dead.

Law enforcement has a key role in combating terror, Johnson added. “It has become more important that the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI -- given how this threat has evolved -- work closely with and share intelligence with state and local officials,” he said.

But stopping homegrown terrorists means countering the extremist message, Johnson said, adding that he has personally pursued outreach to Muslim communities in the United States to understand what they need to counter the hateful ideology. He spoke of providing grants to organizations that work to counter violent extremists and mentioned this will take years to develop.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDnews)