Building on Clues

Examining Successes and Failures in Detecting U.S. Terrorist Plots, 1999-2009

Published In: Institute for Homeland Security Solutions (Research Triangle Park, NC, Oct. 2010), 28 p

Posted on RAND.org on October 01, 2010

by Kevin J. Strom, John S. Hollywood, Mark Pope, Garth Weintraub, Crystal Daye, Don Gemeinhardt

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Over the last ten years, the U.S. Intelligence Community has diligently sought to ensure the safety of Americans across the globe. In order to do this, they have sought methods to improve the process for uncovering and thwarting domestic terrorist plots before they occur. This report, issued by the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions, outlines the success and failures of these efforts from 1999-2009. In order to investigate this, the report examines open-source material on 86 foiled and executed terrorist plots against U.S. targets from 1999 to 2009 to determine the types of information and activities that led to (or could have led to) their discovery. Vital to the efforts of the Intelligence Community are the contributions made by more than 17,000 state and local U.S. law enforcement agencies, whose role in the counterterrorism process has become increasingly recognized. The report recommends that counterterrorism officials should: 1- Recognize the importance of law enforcement and public vigilance in thwarting terror attacks. 2- Continue to investigate Al Qaeda and Allied Movements (AQAM), but do not overlook other groups, and pay particular attention to plots by 'lone wolves.' 3- Ensure processes and training are in place that enable law enforcement personnel to identify terrorist activity during routine criminal investigations. 4- Work to establish good relations with local communities and avoid tactics that might alienate them. 5- Support 'quality assurance' processes to ensure initial clues are properly pursued and findings shared. 6- Expand the federal standards for categorizing suspicious activity reports (SARs).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

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