Terrorism in the United States

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"Terrorism in the United States"

FBI report excerpt

By: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Date: 2001

Source: "Terrorism in the United States" is an unclassified report that has been published annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) since the mid 1980s. The report serves to inform the general public regarding the current status of terrorist activity in the United States and actions being taken by the federal authorities to deter future attacks. In 2001, the FBI for the first time released the report under the new name of "Terrorism" to reflect the new global environment of terrorism.

About the Author: Founded in 1908, the FBI is the investigative arm of the United States Department of Justice. It is charged with investigating federal crimes. The FBI often works in partnership with other law enforcement agencies both within the United States and around the world. Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the FBI has changed its mandate to make the prevention of future terrorist attacks against United States citizens its primary goal. The FBI serves as the principal United States law enforcement agency charged with investigating terrorism in the United States. When attacks take place on U.S. interests abroad, the FBI works in an investigative capacity with local authorities.


Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the FBI's mandate was expanded by the October 26, 2001, USA PATRIOT Act (Patriot Act) which granted law enforcement agencies new provisions and freedoms to carry out their investigations into matters of national security and the threat of terrorism. On May 29, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued new investigative guidelines of operation for the FBI to further aid their efforts against terrorist activities in the United States.

The FBI investigation into the September 11 attacks, and the al-Qaeda network which carried out that attack as well as several other international attacks against United States interests has become the largest terrorism investigation ever carried out.

In addition to the newly expanded threat posed by international terrorism, domestic terrorists continue to operate within the United States, receiving considerable investigative attention from the FBI.


As the events of September 11, 2001, demonstrated with brutal clarity, the terrorist threats facing the United States are formidable. Between 1991 and 2001, 74 terrorist incidents were recorded in the United States. During this same time frame, an additional 62 terrorist acts being plotted in the United States were prevented by U.S. law enforcement. As troubling as these statistics are, they only hint at the full scope of the terrorist threat confronting U.S. interests. For every successful terrorist attack mounted in the United States, nearly 20 (19.83) anti-U.S. attacks are carried out around the world. Between 1996 and 2001, these overseas attacks killed 75 Americans and wounded an additional 606.

During the past two decades, the U.S. Government has expanded the FBI's authority to investigate terrorist activities against U.S. interests overseas. Specifically, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorist Act of 1986, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and Presidential Decision Directive 39 have served to extend FBI investigative authority beyond U.S. borders when U.S. interests are harmed or threatened. Since 1984, the FBI has carried out over 300 extraterritorial investigations, in close cooperation with the U.S. Department of State and with the assistance of host governments. These investigations include some of the FBI's most complex and high-profile cases, including investigations into the September 11 attacks, as well as the bombings of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, and the USS Cole in the Yemenese port of Aden in October 2000.

The growing internationalization of crime, including the crime of terrorism, has led the FBI to expand its international presence. By the year 2001, the FBI had legal attaché (LEGAT) offices in 44 countries around the world. At the same time, the increasing scope of terrorist threats—from bombing plots of domestic and international extremists to threats involving weapons of mass destruction to the growing menace of computer intrusion crime and threat of cyberterrorism—led the FBI, in November 1999, to create the Counterterrorism Division to help focus its operational capabilities upon the full range of activities in which violent extremists engage.

Undeterred by its thwarted efforts to target U.S. and other interests in late 1999 during the millennial time frame, the Al-Qaeda terrorist network carried out two separate attacks against the United States in 2000 and 2001. The first of these, a suicide bombing of the U.S. naval destroyer USS Cole in the Yemenese port of Aden on October 12, 2000, claimed the lives of 17 U.S. sailors. The second, a coordinated suicide attack using four hijacked U.S. commercial aircraft as missiles on September 11, 2001, resulted in the deaths of 2,783 innocent people. The September 11 attack represents the most deadly and destructive terrorist attack in history and claimed more lives than all previous acts of terrorism in the United States combined. The attack of September 11 represented the first successful act of international terrorism carried out in the United States since the bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993.

In response to the September 11 attack, the FBI launched the largest terrorism investigation ever conducted, working in close cooperation with other U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies. On October 7, 2001, the United States initiated military action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had provided safe-haven to Al-Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden and his followers since 1996. By year's end, U.S. forces were working with anti-Taliban Afghan fighters to target Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

In keeping with a longstanding trend, domestic extremists carried out the majority of terrorist incidents during this period. Twenty of the 22 recorded instances of terrorism and the three terrorist preventions in the United States and its territories in 2000 and 2001 were perpetrated by domestic terrorists, predominantly by special interest extremists active in the animal rights and environmental movements. The acts committed by these extremists typically targeted materials and facilities rather than persons.

In contrast, the three major terrorist incidents of 2000 and 2001 continued a trend in terrorism tactics and methodologies that began in the 1990s, in which terrorists have sought to inflict massive and indiscriminate casualties within civilian populations. In the 1990s, this was evidenced in the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Center by international terrorists and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing perpetrated by domestic terrorists, the latter of which received a measure of legal closure on June 11, 2001, with the execution of Timothy McVeigh. The three major terrorist attacks against U.S. interests during 2000 and 2001 also resulted in numerous deaths and serious injuries. Two of these were acts of international terrorism carried out under the auspices of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, which already in the mid 1990s had emerged as the most pressing international terrorist threat worldwide. These attacks by Al-Qaeda were the suicide bombing of the U.S. naval destroyer USS Cole and the coordinated suicide attack using four hijacked U.S. commercial aircraft as missiles on September 11, 2001. The attack on September 11, which claimed more lives than all previous acts of terrorism in the United States combined, was the first successful act of international terrorism carried out in the United States since the bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993. The third lethal terrorist incident during this period involved the sending of the biological agent anthrax through the U.S. postal system during fall 2001. These anthrax mailings represented the first fatal terrorist use of a biological agent in the United States. The investigation into the anthrax mailings continues, and they as yet remain unclassified as either a domestic or international terrorist incident.

These major incidents, and the continued commitment of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda to attempt acts of mass destruction, led the FBI and U.S. Government to strengthen existing counterterrorism measures and initiate new procedures at the end of 2001. On October 7, the U.S. Government initiated military action in Afghanistan to destroy the Al-Qaeda training facilities in that country and to overthrow the illegitimate Taliban regime that had provided Al-Qaeda with support and safe haven since 1996. On October 10, the FBI established a Most Wanted Terrorists List of 22 names to focus global attention on indicted terrorist suspects involved in the commission of acts of terrorism against the United States. On October 26, the U.S. Government enacted the USA PATRIOT Act—legislation that has been instrumental in helping law enforcement counter the terrorist threat. On October 29, the interagency Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force was created to deny known terrorists and their supporters entry into the United States and to track them should they gain entry. In December 2001 the FBI merged the analytical resources of its Investigative Services Division into the Counterterrorism Division to improve its ability to gather, analyze, and share critical national security information with the broader Intelligence Community and the FBI's law enforcement partners. At the beginning of the 21st century, the problem of terrorism has become a global one, and the FBI continues to improve the capacity of its counterterrorism program to accurately assess and effectively counter the dynamic variety of domestic and international terrorist threats.


The growing internationalization of criminal activity in general and terrorism in specific has led to an increased need on the part of the FBI to expand their investigative focus beyond the borders of the United States. With increased technology, and a growing reliance of terrorists on media and the internet, the ease of planning terror attacks from afar has led to greater challenges for law enforcement.

The most controversial aspects of the new policies following the attacks of 2001 revolve around the expansion of policing powers offered to investigators through the Patriot Act. As this report details, the Act, together with other similar legislation, provides law enforcement agencies with increased latitude in who they are able to detain for suspected involvement with terrorist activities. The report further established that despite the international terrorist attacks being the most costly in terms of their targets, the majority of attacks carried out in the United States in 2000 and 2001 were perpetrated by domestic terrorists, who were responsible for twenty of the twenty-two terrorist incidents that took place during this period.

The conclusions of the report indicate that the events of 2000 and 2001, including the bombings of the USS Cole in Yemen and then the September 11 attacks, have exposed the seriousness of the threat to United States citizens. The report also notes the increased ability of global terrorist groups to inflict mass civilian casualties with strategic attacks. The report also highlights new counterterrorism measures adopted after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.



Thompson, Paul. The Terror Timeline: Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute: A Comprehensive Chronicle of theRoad to 9/11—and America's Response. New York: Regan Books, 2004.

Web sites

Federal Bureau of Investigation. <www.fbi.gov> (accessed July 11, 2005).

The Terrorism Research Center. <www.terrorism.gov> (accessed July 11, 2005).

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