July 2, 2009 | Executive Summary on Department of Homeland Security
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 23 terrorist plots against the United States have been foiled. This report updates a November 2007 report from the Heritage Foundation that described 19 plots that had been foiled to date since 9/11. Less than two years later, the U.S. has foiled four more plots aimed at Americans. While some trials have ended in mistrial and charges against some suspects were dropped, significantly more individuals have been convicted and sentenced for their crimes.
These victories make the case for continued U.S. vigilance against terrorism around the globe. While these particular attacks have been disrupted, the threat remains. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Congress should not construe the successes over the past eight years as a signal to reduce U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
America is truly in a long war against terrorism. To win this war, the U.S. must constantly adapt to ever-changing terrorist threats. Congress and the DHS will need to work together to provide continued support for terrorism-fighting tools, to increase information sharing and collective security efforts around the globe, and to expand vital law enforcement partnerships with local and state law enforcement and cooperation with the governments of other countries. These relationships have enabled the U.S. to disrupt the flow of money and resources to terrorist groups.
Going Forward.As a result of America's counterterrorism efforts, the U.S. has become a more difficult target for terrorists. Those who claim that the U.S. has not made progress since 2001 need only look at these 23 foiled plots for evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, these successes demonstrate that individuals and terrorist groups are still seeking to do Americans harm and that the U.S. needs to continue fighting terrorism. Continuing the fight will require an ongoing commitment from the White House, Congress, and American citizens.
The Executive Branch. President Barack Obama pledged that his Administration would continue to build U.S. capacity and international partnerships to track down, capture, and kill terrorists around the world. The Administration also needs to continue to make combating terrorism an international effort. The U.S. cannot afford to leave our allies behind because America will not be safe without their cooperation. Specifically, the Administration and the DHS should:
Congress. Congress plays a substantial role in developing and sustaining America's counterterrorism abilities. Congress should:
The American People. Americans need to remain energized and engaged in efforts to improve the safety of their families and communities. Americans need to be resilient, recognizing the need to protect Americans against attack, and simultaneously prepared to carry on if an attack occurs.
The private sector is often the source of innovations in homeland security technologies, which helped law enforcement to foil the 23 attacks. To better facilitate this research and development, the private sector should:
Staying Diligent.The 23 plots foiled are a credit to the hard-working and dedicated federal, state, and local law enforcement professionals in the United States and law enforcement agencies in other countries. As Americans go about their lives, they still need to remain diligent in fighting terrorism to protect their freedom, safety, security, and prosperity.
These reforms, together with diligence, an awareness of the threat, and application of the multiple lessons learned since 9/11 will make America safer.
Jena Baker McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Davis Institute and Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Allison Center at The Heritage Foundation. Pamela Siegel, an independent researcher, contributed to the writing of this paper.