Terrorism: Assessing the Threat

RAND co-sponsored the conference "Terrorism and Beyond: The 21st Century" with the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism April 17-19, 2000. 

Terrorism and Beyond: The 21st Century

This conference, a follow-up to RAND's 1980 international gathering "Terrorism and Beyond", was held in Oklahoma City and marked the fifth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in that town.  The attack on the Murrah Building awakened Americans to the fact that their native soil was no longer immune to deadly acts of terrorism.   

Participants from the first conference provided their unique perspectives on how the face of terrorism has changed in the past twenty years.  Technology (especially the rise of the Internet), the increase in numbers of radical fringe groups, the growing dangers of mass terrorism, and global instability are all relatively recent contributing factors to the potential evolution of new and deadlier future forms of terrorism.    In keeping with these themes, the conference participants discussed:

  • Continuities and changes in terrorist motivations, strategies and capabilities over the past twenty years
  • Emerging threats and predictions for the future course of terrorism
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of both international and American counterterrorism policies and capabilities
  • Policy and research concerns in setting a counterterrorism agenda for the next twenty years

On a related note, the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction met at the Pentagon March 29th.

Former Chief of Staff of the Army, General Dennis Reimer, observed the meeting.  During the meeting, the committee established the position that the need exists for a centralized coordinating mechanism with representation from federal agencies and state and local officials on the issue of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) terrorism.  

The panel was briefed on Department of Defense (DoD) policy and force structure issues by Pam Berkowski, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Civil Support.  Berkowski conveyed that the DoD is organized on the issue;  a single point of contact has been appointed within the department, and the DoD has close working relationships with numerous government agencies.   

Dr. Richard Clarke, Special Assistant to the President for Transnational Threats and National Coordinator for Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism, provided a classified brief on the threat and national preparedness.  

The panel recently released its First Annual Report to the President and Congress on "Assessing the Threat".  The panel finished the meeting by discussing an outline of the next report, which will build and recommend a proposed framework for a national strategy and measure the country's capabilities against it. 

The next meeting of the panel has not yet been scheduled.