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FBI — Progress Report: Panel Conducts Review of FBI Since 9/11 Commission Report

March 26, 2015 Comments off

Progress Report: Panel Conducts Review of FBI Since 9/11 Commission Report
Source: FBI

A congressionally mandated panel charged with reviewing the FBI’s implementation of recommendations contained in the 9/11 Commission Report in 2004 today issued its findings.

The release of the 9/11 Review Commission’s report, The FBI: Protecting the Homeland in the 21st Century, followed 14 months of research, interviews, briefings, and field visits by commissioners and their 13-member staff. The commission—which included former Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Congressman Tim Roemer, and Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman—began its review in 2013 at the FBI’s request after Congress called for an appraisal of the Bureau’s progress since the 9/11 Commission issued its recommendations in 2004. A classified draft of the Review Commission’s report was sent to Congress and to other agencies mentioned in the report; the FBI released the unclassified version for the public.

That report, which can be found on FBI.gov, concludes that the FBI has “transformed itself over the last 10 years” and “made measurable progress building a threat-based, intelligence-driven national security organization.” The commission also makes recommendations on where the FBI can improve.

Balancing Tourism against Terrorism: The Visa Waiver Program, CRS Insights (March 13, 2015)

March 26, 2015 Comments off

Balancing Tourism against Terrorism: The Visa Waiver Program, CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In recent months, Congress has expressed concern that some foreign fighters might exploit the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to enter the United States and commit acts of terrorism. The VWP allows eligible visitors from 38 European nations and a few prosperous Asia-Pacific countries (Figure 1) to enter the United States for short business or leisure stays without first obtaining a visa from a U.S. consulate abroad. Recent attacks by domestic terrorists in Europe and reports of European countries’ citizens fighting with armed groups in the Middle East have raised concerns that potential terrorists could travel to the United States with little scrutiny under the VWP.

Balancing national security interests against efforts to facilitate international travel through the VWP presents challenges to legislators. The United States has a large travel and tourism industry. In 2013, travel and tourism accounted for 2.6% of U.S. gross domestic product and directly employed nearly 5.4 million Americans. Foreign visitors in the United States account for a disproportionate amount of U.S. travel and tourism spending. International travelers spent about $215 billion in 2013 on passenger fares and travel-related goods and services, which makes tourism the United States’ single-largest services sector export.

CRS — Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (March 18, 2015)

March 25, 2015 Comments off

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, a priority of U.S. policy has been to reduce the perceived threat posed by Iran to a broad range of U.S. interests. In 2014, a common enemy emerged in the form of the Islamic State organization, reducing gaps in U.S. and Iranian interests, although the two countries have somewhat differing approaches over how to try to defeat the Islamic State.

See also: Iran Sanctions (March 9, 2015) (PDF)

European Security, Islamist Terrorism, and Returning Fighters, CRS Insights (March 16, 2015)

March 24, 2015 Comments off

European Security, Islamist Terrorism, and Returning Fighters, CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

European concerns about Islamist terrorism have been heightened considerably by recent attacks in France and Denmark. In early January 2015, gunmen killed 17 people over several days in three related incidents that targeted the Paris headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, police officers, and a kosher supermarket. The perpetrators of the attacks were French-born Muslims, with possible ties to Al Qaeda in Yemen or the Islamic State terrorist organization. In mid-February 2015, a Danish-born citizen of Palestinian descent murdered two individuals—one at a Copenhagen cafe that had been hosting a free speech debate, another at a synagogue—and wounded five police officers.

These incidents—along with the May 2014 killing of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium, reportedly by a French Muslim who had spent a year with Islamist fighters in Syria—have reinforced growing unease throughout Europe about the possible threats posed by European Muslims fighting with extremist groups, especially in Syria and Iraq. Security services warn about the potential danger such trained militants might pose if and when they return to Europe, and worry about those, like the suspected Danish gunman, who may be inspired by Islamist extremist propaganda to commit “lone wolf” attacks at home without ever traveling abroad.

CFR Backgrounder: Al-Shabab

March 18, 2015 Comments off

Backgrounder: Al-Shabab
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Al-Shabab, or “the Youth,” is an al-Qaeda-linked militant group and U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization fighting for the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia. The group, also known as Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, and its Islamist affiliates once held sway over Mogadishu and major portions of the Somali countryside, but a sustained African Union military campaign in recent years has weakened the group considerably. Still, security analysts warn that the group remains the principal threat in a politically volatile, war-torn state.

Al-Shabab’s terrorist activities have mainly focused on targets within Somalia, but it has also carried out deadly strikes in the region, including coordinated suicide bombings in Uganda’s capital in 2010 and a raid on a Nairobi mall in 2013 (PDF). Washington fears the group, which has successfully recruited members of the Somali diaspora in the United States, may strike on U.S. soil. However, many terrorism experts say al-Shabab’s reach is limited to East Africa.

From paper state to caliphate: The ideology of the Islamic State

March 12, 2015 Comments off

From paper state to caliphate: The ideology of the Islamic State
Source: Brookings Institution

While the Islamic State dominates headlines through its brutal tactics and pervasive propaganda, there is little awareness of the unique ideology driving the group’s strategy. Drawing from private correspondence, statements, speeches, and Islamic theology, Cole Bunzel unpacks the ideology of the Islamic State in a new analysis paper.

The Islamic State, Bunzel argues, is inconceivable apart from its ideology. Like al-Qaida, the group identifies with a movement in Islamic political thought known as jihadi-Salafism, or jihadism for short. Jihadi-Salafism is a distinct ideological movement in Sunni Islam, encompassing not only militant groups, but also a global network of scholars, websites, media outlets, and numerous supporters on social media.

The Islamic State’s version of jihadi-Salafism is predicated on an extremist reading of Islamic scripture that is also textually rigorous, deeply rooted in a premodern theological tradition, and elaborated on by a recognized cadre of religious authorities. Founded in 2006 as an al-Qaida offshoot, the Islamic State’s founders espoused sharply anti-Shiite sectarian views and harsh application of Islamic law. Empowered by its ideology, the group rose from a “paper state” of little influence to a global jihadi movement.

Bunzel argues that the coalition military campaign may actually strengthen the Islamic State’s ideology by lending credence to one of the group’s fundamental views: the idea that Shia are conspiring with the United States and secular Arab rulers to limit Sunni power in the Middle East. Instead, Bunzel recommends regional governments take the lead in countering the Islamic State by deconstructing its violent ideology and eroding the legitimacy of its claims to statehood. Reducing the Islamic State from a “caliphate” back to a “paper state,” Bunzel writes, may stem the group’s influence.

The ISIS Twitter census: Defining and describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter

March 6, 2015 Comments off

The ISIS Twitter census: Defining and describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter
Source: Brookings Institution

Although much ink has been spilled on ISIS’s activity on Twitter, very basic questions about the group’s social media strategy remain unanswered. In a new analysis paper, J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan answer fundamental questions about how many Twitter users support ISIS, who and where they are, and how they participate in its highly organized online activities.

Previous analyses of ISIS’s Twitter reach have relied on limited segments of the overall ISIS social network. The small, cellular nature of that network—and the focus on particular subsets within the network such as foreign fighters—may create misleading conclusions. This information vacuum extends to discussions of how the West should respond to the group’s online campaigns.

Berger and Morgan present a demographic snapshot of ISIS supporters on Twitter by analyzing a sample of 20,000 ISIS-supporting Twitter accounts. Using a sophisticated and innovative methodology, the authors map the locations, preferred languages, and the number and type of followers of these accounts.

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