Collaboration. Another ongoing trend is that of influential terrorist organizations collaborating to carry out attacks, McFee says. This occurs in regions where there is a power vacuum, a large impoverished sector of society, and few opportunities for young men. For example, McFee notes, groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and other small franchises are all thriving in Iran. Combined, these extremist organizations can take advantage of larger numbers and a range of skill sets to train radicalized people to carry out attacks, she says.
Not so alone. Another issue is that of the lone wolf terrorist, a concern because he or she is harder to track or catch if unaffiliated with any group. They are sometimes called self-radicalized, but McFee says it may not be accurate to call them lone wolves or self-radicalized, since they do tend to get their ideas from the major groups in one way or another—which gets back to the impact of online influences. They may find bomb-making materials and inspirational jihadist literature online, for example.
At other times, they are not nearly as alone as they appear at first. For example, the brothers who allegedly carried out the Boston Marathon bombing were initially thought to be working as lone wolves since they had lived in America for 11 years, according to news reports. However, it was later revealed that older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev had spent six months in Russia, where he is believed to have become radicalized and possibly trained.
“These weren’t two kids who watched Bill Nye the Science Guy and decided to cook up something in their backyard,” McFee says. “[Tamerlan] was well trained in sophisticated stuff. They were both good at evading security cameras and other security measures.”
McFee says this type of indoctrination and training will continue to increase because it’s so easy to reach “psychologically susceptible” young people over the Internet. This will lead to an increase in Boston Marathon-type attacks—small pockets of indoctrinated nationals carrying out sophisticated, specific attacks, she says.
Longer-term strategies. Apart from the efforts to counter threats at home via airport checkpoints, border security, and other internal measures, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is trying to preemptively fight transnational crime through programs focused on bolstering the security capacity of partner nations. For example, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the DHS spent approximately $451 million on these programs in 2012 (2013 figures were not available at press time).