Analysis & Opinions - The Washington Post

We’ve declared war on foreign terrorism. Why not do the same for domestic threats?

| Nov. 05, 2018

In the span of a week, our nation experienced a torrent of hate-fueled attacks: the slaying of two African Americans in a Kentucky supermarket , the  mail-bomb assassination attempts and the mass slaying in a Pittsburgh synagogue . These attacks tragically demonstrate that domestic terrorism is on the rise as political polarization and hateful echo chambers on social media radicalize people.

As we mourn those who died in Kentucky and Pittsburgh, we should recognize that such tragedies highlight a dangerous counterterrorism gap that has developed over time: an insufficient focus by the federal government on the threat of domestic terrorism.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government developed today’s counterterrorism apparatus, which has largely been successful in preventing foreign terrorists from inflicting destruction on our homeland. But the threats we now face are more likely to come from individuals radicalized toward violence here at home. As we did after 9/11 in response to foreign terrorism, we need a strategic approach to this homeland security challenge.

To start, the White House should develop a coordinated interagency effort focused on domestic extremism. The first step is to restore the homeland security adviser position in the White House to its original stature. As designed in the wake of 9/11, that position was directly accountable to the president and was empowered to coordinate with Cabinet-level officials to meet all homeland security threats. The current homeland security adviser, Doug Fears, is a capable and highly respected career Coast Guard professional , but, unlike during previous administrations, his position is buried on the organizational chart and lacks the authority to force the necessary coordination across the counterterrorism agencies.

We served as homeland security advisers during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, and were authorized to react to any crisis with a whole-of-government response. In addition to mobilizing and coordinating the response to crises and the threats of the day, such as the 2008 attacks in Mumbai and the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, it was our responsibility to anticipate and prepare the government for the threats of tomorrow. And over time, our jobs grew to encompass not only the terrorist threat but also pandemics, natural disasters, cyberattacks and other evolving threats to the homeland.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Monaco, Lisa.“We’ve declared war on foreign terrorism. Why not do the same for domestic threats?.” The Washington Post, November 5, 2018.