Newswise — As federal authorities continue to investigate the San Bernardino mass shooting, now officially declared an act of terrorism, Texas A&M University Professor of Homeland Security Danny Davis, among the first in the nation to weigh in on the attack, now offers his assessment of the tragedy and what security measures need to be enacted.
Q: Would you consider the San Bernardino attack rogue? If there was no direct order from ISIS or any other terror group, isn't this then considered domestic terrorism?
No, this was not a rogue attack. These attackers, Malik and Farook, were jihadists, operating under the concept of “leaderless resistance.” These jihadists operate without direct contact with the movement’s leadership. The individual jihadist, separated by time and space from the headquarters, is permitted, even expected, to formulate and execute operations independently of central control or command.
The San Bernardino case does have complicating aspects to it. First and foremost Malik and Farook were motivated by their radical Islamist faith. Just days after the San Bernardino attack, FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He labeled the pair as “homegrown violent extremists” and said their inspiration came from foreign terrorist organizations. The Bureau’s investigation also uncovered that Farook and Malik had been discussing jihad and martyrdom over the Internet even prior to meeting in person.
I believe there may also prove to have been an element of workplace rage in the attack the jihadists launched at the Inland Regional Center. The evidence shows they were planning an attack/s. But, were they planning to attack that day? Farook came to the Christmas party, argued with co-workers, and left angry. He went home, but we will never know what transpired between him and his wife. Was it the argument at the party that caused the pair to launch the attack that day? They left behind a lot of munitions that could have done even more damage. Undoubtedly the pair was planning a larger operation, possibly multiple attacks.
Q: What would drive this couple to commit such an act? They were living what seemed to their families as happy, successful lives in America.
Farook and Malik conducted this crime because of their faith, their adherence to their belief system, and their radical Islamist worldview. Understanding justification for the murder and wounding of innocent civilians is hard enough to grasp. But the fact that a mother left behind her six-month-old baby to execute the crime is almost impossible for us to comprehend.
Their motivation was grounded in the radical Islamists’ interpretation of Salafi Islam. The goal of this radical Islamist movement, including groups such as al Qaeda, is domination of the world -- establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. The Islamic State in Syria or the Islamic State, as it refers to itself, has already declared this caliphate to be in effect in the areas of Syria and Iraq has conquered through conventional warfare. Through the Internet and social media, and preaching in certain mosques, would-be jihadists around the world are encouraged to attack infidels wherever they are. But it is important to point out here that not all Muslims align with the movement currently waging violent jihad.
Q: What is missing in our homeland security plan that could address this issue of these sympathizers who are living legally in America and legally buying weapons?
I think the law enforcement tools are in place to combat the threat. But when true believers are practicing leaderless resistance in support of a movement driven by a theology that calls for violence, it is extremely difficult to catch every individual or small cell that is bent on doing harm. Attacks can become even more efficiently sinister if the headquarters, Islamic State for example, is able to link a trained operative up with a local jihadist or a jihadist cell. But it is the very interaction, the trace of communications -- the connection -- that is required to arrange such coordinated group actions that provide greater opportunity for law enforcement to detect and interdict the terrorists’ actions.
Additionally, authorities at all levels of law enforcement emphasize that observant private citizens are essential in stopping such crime. Some of Farook’s and Malik’s neighbors now say they had observed behavior that they considered unusual. But they did not report this to the authorities. We can all learn from this tragic reluctance to report suspicious behavior.
For years, the Department of Homeland Security has had a program, “If you see something, say something.” Under this guidance, citizens are admonished to report suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities. But does this program fall short? It is not hard to imagine that attempting to report suspicious activity to a busy 911 operator could fall through the cracks. A colleague of mine, Dr. Dave McIntyre, suggests a specific phone number or website to which a citizen could report activity that has raised his or her suspicions.
Finally, I think there can be no doubt that the Department of Homeland Security must review and revamp all immigration visa vetting procedures. Case and point is the fact that Malik was allowed to enter this country, even though she was already actively expressing jihadist views on social media. We cannot allow someone who exhibits or expresses clearly disqualifying characteristics to enter our nation.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Our enemy is trying to divide and conquer. A principle part of the jihadists’ false narrative is, “Islam is at war with the world.” But that is not true and it is critical that our nation’s leadership clearly define the enemy. Our enemy is the radical Islamist movement. It is a fact that this same radical element is attacking numerous Muslim nations. These same countries are our allies in this fight. While we must work aggressively to defeat the radical Islamists, we need to keep in mind the importance of our constitutional freedoms. As the authorities work to root out the threat, they must strive not to infringe upon the individual liberty of any law-abiding citizen. This is the constant and critical balancing act between liberty and security that the authorities must perform. The movement that has declared jihad or holy war on our country, Israel, and the West, has in mind to completely destroy our way of life. The goal of the radical Islamists is that all people will eventually come under a caliphate and their version of Sharia Law. Life under such a system is a long way from life in a democratic republic with guaranteed individual freedoms. It is the ideology we must defeat.
_____________________________ Dr. Danny Davis is the Director of the Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security at the Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University.