Foreign and Defense Policy, Terrorism

Naming Names Before They Hit Here

On Tuesday, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer, Kay Hagan, Kirsten Gillibrand, Robert Menendez, and Frank Lautenberg issued a press release urging the State Department to add the Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), to the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list. Also Tuesday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley stated that the State Department had considered adding the TTP to the terror list before the Times Square incident.

Adding the TTP to the FTO list is a necessary and correct action. However, the TTP struck the United States several months before the Times Square incident. In December 2009, a TTP-linked suicide bomber killed seven Americans in a suicide bombing at Camp Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. Prior to that attack, TTP rhetoric threatened violence against Pakistani troops it saw as acting on behalf of America; the group’s spokesman said on November 15 that, “We will ensure that those who have sacrificed their honor for the sake of America meet their logical end very soon.” TTP actions and rhetoric before the Times Square incident suggest that the group should have long been identified as a terrorist group dedicated to targeting America.

Yet, the criteria for what makes a terrorist group a threat to America should not rest solely on the operations it conducts or threats it makes against the United States or her interests. Instead of reactively designating terror groups after they have conducted attacks on American soil, we should proactively add members of the violent Islamist network led by al Qaeda to the FTO list, so that we might identify our foes before they reach the American homeland.

Recognizing and identifying foreign terrorist groups that are inimical to our interests earlier will increase the probability of preventing attacks upon America, as the FTO designation allows authorities to target persons providing resources to designated groups, expel individuals connected to these groups, and squeeze the financing that sustains such entities.

Some groups, such as the Russia-based Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus, may never target America directly. However, such al Qaeda-linked groups, as Chris Harnisch and I detail in a piece yesterday in National Review Online, provide rhetorical, personnel, and likely material support to each other, as they are all associated with or franchised by al Qaeda central leadership. The current FTO list, for example, includes such entities as the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Jhangvi and Jaish-e Mohammed, groups known to share resources, personnel, and operations with the as-of-yet unlisted TTP. Due to the joint assistance, participation in the violent Islamist network led by al Qaeda makes such groups partially complicit in the actions taken by any member of the network, and thus makes any member of that network worthy of FTO designation.

Moreover, we no longer can simply rule out which groups are and are not likely to take action inside the United States. The attacks by Yemen’s al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the TTP show that groups previously believed unable to conduct international attacks were able to do so. AQAP and TTP have also set the bar high for their peers: groups within the violent Islamist network led by al Qaeda compete for resources, personnel, and attention. Attacks in America often give the groups the most attention, thus providing other al Qaeda members with significant incentives to attack the United States.

The best way to safeguard against such attacks is to understand the enemy network we face, identify all of its units as terror organizations, and develop individualized strategies for dealing with each node of that network.

Cross-posted from CDS blog.

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