Poverty and oppression may explain why people in some countries embrace violent extremism, but it does not account for the flow of Western volunteers or the dreamy allure of fighting for a faraway cause. Biographies of those who have reached out to participate in jihad suggest a variety of motives, including alienation, personal crises, dissatisfaction with empty spiritual lives, and adolescent rebellion.
France and the United States follow different approaches in dealing with terrorist suspects. This divergence reflects differences in the threat, historical experience, law, available resources, and public attitudes. France faces a more serious terrorist threat than the U.S. does.
Predicting 'dangerousness' of potential terrorists is a hit-and-miss endeavor. Unless someone is waving a gun, it is extremely difficult. Even with direct access to the subject, parole boards, suicide prevention units and even trained clinicians get it wrong.
The investigation will eventually fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of the events leading up to the attacks in Paris, but some questions will remain unanswered. Embedded in the unknowns are some of the chronic dilemmas faced by counterterrorist authorities everywhere.
Dozens of young Americans have attempted to join overseas jihadist groups in the past several years, raising special concern among counterterrorism officials that they might bring the fight home with them when they return.
Today, the U.S. confronts a multilayered terrorist threat and the recent spate of attacks in Europe underscores the necessity for ensuring that intelligence keeps up with it. Intelligence services must continue to prevent terrorist assaults dispatched from abroad, head off new shoe and underwear bombers, intercept individuals returning from jihadist fronts with terrorist intentions, while at the same time uncovering and thwarting homegrown plots.
Among the lessons to be learned from the attacks in Paris are that terrorism has many audiences, Al-Qaida remains a threat, would-be warriors are unconcerned with the schisms among jihadist camps, Europe has a more serious problem, such an attack could happen in the U.S., and intelligence is crucial.
Few nations have more experience with asymmetric conflicts than Israel and the United States. At the National Press Club in Washington, Brian Michael Jenkins of RAND and Admiral Amichay Ayalon, former director of Shin Bet, Israel's security agency, discussed the dynamics of the changing security environment.
When police take action on the basis of race, creed, or ethnicity it is corrosive, unfair, ineffective, and can stoke the flames of police-community tension. But as we have found from a variety of assessments, law enforcement is best served when it bases its activities on risk, not on personal characteristics.