In addition to al Qaeda and its affiliates there is growing concern in U.S. national security circles about the possibility of a direct confrontation with Iran over the continuation of that country’s uranium enrichment program. If conflict comes, many authorities believe, Iran’s most likely course of action/reaction would be to retaliate through its terrorist surrogate, Hezbollah, the militant Shii’a terrorist group that over the past several decades has killed several hundred Americans – civilians as well as military personnel – in numerous planned attacks throughout the world. The death toll includes 241 Americans killed in the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983 and another 19 in the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

Although Hezbollah has never attacked the United States on America’s own soil, the same was true of Al Qaeda until the morning of 11 September 2001. Recognizing that additional terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland are obviously now possible, the nation’s law-enforcement agencies know they must improve their capabilities to detect, deter, and disrupt future attacks from Iranian-backed Hezbollah and/or copycat sympathizer groups. But to meet that objective requires that U.S. decision-making officials not only fully understand the enemy’s intent but also do their utmost to ensure that state, local, and national law-enforcement personnel receive the training and resources they need.

Attainment of that mandatory objective also might require the loosening of certain restrictions related to the processes and procedures under which police surveillance of criminal activities is currently carried out. It seems obvious that domestic law-enforcement agencies must be empowered to act decisively to properly protect American lives. One major philosophical and policy shift could be the adoption of Intelligence-Led Policing, a concept and process that requires the development and use of situational awareness – which more or less means, in layman’s terms, knowing what to look for and how to find it.

A Mandatory Threshold of Effectiveness

In that context, it is reasonable to suggest that U.S. police and other law-enforcement personnel should receive formal training in Islamic culture so they can recognize behavior patterns and anomalies that might indicate extremist behavior. Armed with that knowledge, police would be in better position to cultivate stronger ties to the Islamic community as a whole – and, as a result, would be able to manage intelligence sources from that community with greater success. Adoption of this recommendation may, of course, be made more difficult by the U.S. Islamic community’s general distrust of law-enforcement agencies in general, but it is nonetheless worth trying.

A more effective domestic counter-terrorism policy also might require a slight modification of the rationale “Fourth Amendment reasonableness is that point at which the government’s interest outweighs the loss of individual privacy or freedom of movement” used to justify certain terrorism-related searches and surveillance operations from the current relatively high level of “probable cause” to a somewhat lower but still constitutionally acceptable level of “reasonable suspicion.” This does not mean that individual rights are less important today than they were prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but, rather, that the potential harm to the society as a whole is now significantly higher than it was prior to 9/11.

In the words of a 30 January 2006 memo from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Fourth Amendment reasonableness is that point at which the government’s interest advanced by a particular search or seizure outweighs the loss of individual privacy or freedom of movement that attends the government’s action.” In other words, there is a trade-off between the individual’s right to privacy and the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of the nation as a whole.

Because the threat of mass-casualty terrorism is now a clear and present danger, the balance has been tipped and the use of clearly articulated reasonable suspicion should be sufficient to justify increased flexibility in future law-enforcement surveillance efforts. That was the recent rationale used in the United Kingdom, to cite one prominent example still in the news, when the legal flexibility provided by reasonable suspicion was successfully employed to thwart a terrorist plot to use liquid explosives to destroy a number of U.S.-bound passenger aircraft while they were in flight across the Atlantic.  

As another component of the new focus on more capable surveillance and intelligence operations by law-enforcement personnel, police also could receive training on how to carry out effective counter-surveillance operations against terrorists who may be selecting their next targets – a task that requires a different skill set and better equipment than the lower-level surveillance of organized crime, drug dealers, and/or criminal gangs that has already been judged to be constitutionally acceptable.

The full text of the CRS 30 January 2006 memo is available at further information on Intelligence-Led Policing.

J. Michael Barrett

J. Michael Barrett is director of the Center for Homeland Security & Resilience, an adjunct scholar with the Lexington Institute, and a former director of strategy for the White House Homeland Security Council. Serving as a Naval Intelligence Officer in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, he worked on a variety of programs aimed at defeating terrorists overseas before transitioning to homeland security and developing core strategies and policies enabling a risk-based posture for federal, state, and local efforts. His recent work includes authoring Lexington’s “Future of the Power Grid” series. A former Fulbright Scholar, author or co-author of two books, many White House, Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security strategies, and dozens of terrorism and homeland security articles, he also has been a frequent national security guest on television programs including ABC, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and Nightline. He can be reached at

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