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Stopping Terrorist Attacks: The U.S. and France Weigh In

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Terrorist attacks in both the United States and France have become more widespread since the 9/11 terrorist bombing of the Twin Towers and airplanes in and near New York City. Terrorism has become a major force of evil the world over, resulting in the needless death of innocents and the destruction of miles of the property. This sample politics essay explores the United States and France's response to the terrorist attacks.

Terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe

Notable terrorist attacks on the United States in the years since 9/11 include a Fort Hood, Texas shooting rampage at a military processing center in 2009; the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013 performed by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; and the May shooting in Garland, Texas, by Nadir Hamid Soofi and Elton Simpson outside an art show depicting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (CNN Library).

These two incidents resulted in the deaths of 16 people and the injury of at least 296 people, according to CNN. Terrorism has taken on a less physical aspect in recent years, migrating slowly and steadily to cyberspace. According to the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA):

“today’s battlefields transcend national borders. Cyberspace adds an entirely new dimension to military operations, and the ubiquitous dependence on information technology in both the government and commercial sectors increases exponentially the opportunities for adversaries as well as the potential ramification of attacks” (Ashley).

The AFCEA website presents a chilling future scenario which begins with relentless cyber assault by terrorist organizations in the Middle East like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and it ends with the failure of the global internet system, defense systems, and infrastructure systems through cyber jihad. Although defenses are in place to combat these horrifying eventualities, more must be done to ensure the safety of the American people.

The U.S. counterterrorism policies and efforts

There are several U.S. government organizations which exist expressly to combat terrorism and cyberterrorism in order to ensure the safety of the nation’s population. Among them are:

  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)
  • The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
  • The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)

In the past, the battle has focused on Al-Qaeda, however now the focus has shifted to the more immediate threats posed by the Islamic State (or ISIS) and cyber terrorism suspected from both China and Russia. NCTC has been working to prevent terrorism for a decade and is:

“a center for joint operational planning and joint intelligence, staffed by personnel from various agencies” (NCTC).

The NCTC reports directly to the President and the National and Homeland Security Councils. Its main goal is noted on its website:

“Lead our nation’s effort to combat terrorism at home and abroad by analyzing the threat, sharing that information with our partners, and integrating all instruments of national power to ensure unity of effort” (NCTC).

The NCTC gathers foreign and domestic information on terrorist threats through the intelligence community.

U.S. citizen opinion on the government's counterterrorism efforts

As of 2009, less than 50% of Americans believed that terrorism was a big problem for the United States, but the majority believed that combating it is an important international goal (CFR). Many Americans believe that the U.S. should play a larger role in its counterterrorism fight, as well through strengthening international law and increasing intelligence cooperation wherever possible (CFR).

Today, U.S. public concern centers around ISIS, and 63% of the public supports the current military campaign (Pew Research Center). Much of the battle against Al-Qaeda in the Middle East has relied upon drone warfare and “shaky foreign partners” in order to avoid the presence of large U.S. ground forces, according to the Huffington Post (Ahmed).

This tide has begun to turn as the threat of ISIS grows exponentially, leading to the current 50-50 split over sending in U.S. ground troops. In a new survey by Pew Research of 1,504 adults, 47% favor military force in defeating terrorism and 46% say it must be combined with other techniques in order to be successful. The U.S. public is torn right now on the subject of ISIS, half for U.S. involvement and half against it (Pew Research Center).

France's recent attacks

France has seen a few terrorist attacks of record in the past five years, most notably the Toulouse and Montauban shootings in 2012; the La Défense attack in 2013; the Joué-lès-Tours attack of 2014; and the Île-de-France attacks in 2015, better known as the Charlie Hebdo attacks.The Charlie Hebdo attacks resulted in protests among the French people.

“He wanted to avenge Palestinian children and attack the French army because of its foreign interventions” (BBC).

Seven people were killed and two were wounded, including two soldiers and children and a teacher at a Jewish school. The shooter was identified through the scooter he purchased, his cyber trail, and a facial tattoo.

The knife attack on a Parisian soldier in Paris in La Défense remains unsolved but is being treated as a terrorist act because the victim was a soldier, and the Joué-lès-Tours knife attack by a man shouting “Allahu Akbar” on French police was resolved when police shot him (BBC). The most infamous of these is the attack on employees at the French satirical magazine headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris (BBC). The attacks spanned three days and traversed Paris and its outlying areas.

Two masked brothers brandishing Kalashnikovs killed the caretaker, then forced a cartoonist to enter the code for the newsroom where the editorial meeting was occurring. Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi killed ten people in the office, then a French policeman (BBC). A policewoman was shot in Montrouge the next day, which French police found was connected to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. 20 people were left dead in the killings, and Cherif Kouachi was a convicted Islamist who had been jailed in 2008 and was known to French police (BBC).

How the French are combating terrorist attacks

Following the terrifying Charlie Hebdo attacks, the French government’s Manuel Valls has announced a program designed to combat terrorism (Willsher). The program will use increased surveillance in order to find terrorists; employ increased (by the hundreds) intelligence officers, gendarmes, and police; and use better security service equipment.

The goals of the program are to prevent youth radicalization, maintain separation of religious fundamentalists within prisons, and prosecute Internet terrorism supporters or disseminators. Another option is to strip convicted dual-citizenship terrorists of French citizenship, which is currently being studied (Willsher). Valls noted that 3, 000 people are under surveillance for possible terrorism links, and 1,300 are suspected to have associations with networks in Syria and Iraq.

In order to heighten the country’s security level, France has had to reinforce cooperation and partnership with third-party states which are “transit countries for jihad zones” (Willsher). The country is adding 2,700 people to its interior ministry, justice ministry, defense, finance ministry, and intelligence services in the next three years to combat terrorism.

French Opinion on terrorism prevention

In response to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, millions of French citizens stormed France’s streets demanding action to protect national security from terrorism (Willsher). 3.7 million people, to be exact marched in anti-terrorism rallies all over France in the largest gathering in France’s history (Fantz). David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Mariano Rajoy, Mahmoud Abbas, and Benjamin Netanyahu (the leaders of Britain, Germany, Spain, Palestine, and Israel, respectively) stood alongside French President Francois Hollande (Fantz).

Signs littered the crown with the phrase “Je suis Charlie,” meaning “I am Charlie” and implying that all French citizens are representative of those killed at Charlie Hebdo, showing anti-terrorism sentiments. An act being debated by the French government proposes expanding its surveillance powers and has “drawn sharp criticism from French internet companies over fears that it could harm business, and from privacy advocates who say it would severely curtail civil liberties” (Toor). The Verge’s article implies the bill is similar to a French Patriot Act.

New counterterrorism legislation met with resistance

The monitoring of phone lines has just been deemed illegal in the United States, however, so it is unlikely this bill will pass without pushback from the French people at this time. The bill would force automatic filter of metadata for suspicious pattern recognition at telecommunications and internet companies in France (Toor).

The data would be made available to French intelligence agencies, and cameras, bugs, and keyloggers would be freely placed in the homes of suspected terrorists. Although Valls continues to deny that sweeping legislation would infringe upon civil liberties of French citizens, critics noted that the prime minister’s power would be increased disproportionately and that controls proposed for the bill are not extensive enough (Toor).

Other stipulations of the bill are a nine person commission focused on surveillance operations oversight, but it cannot override the prime minister’s orders in this area (Toor). Public civil rights groups in France criticized the broad language of the bill used in defining legitimate terrorist suspect targets, saying it could be used to prosecute suspected terrorists or regular French citizens. Eva Blum-Dumontet works for the advocacy department of Privacy International, a London watchdog:

“If we learn anything from history it’s that giving full power to governments on surveilling citizens is really not a good idea” (Toor).

Criticism and support for the wiretapping laws

Among the bills, other critics are Amnesty International, the National Digital Council of France, and French web hosting companies who insist the bill would drive away business due to privacy concerns. Internet service providers would be required to install “black boxes” or monitors which would detect suspicious internet metadata behaviors.

The bill’s supporters insist the data would remain anonymous and would not be automatically collected, but there is no specific definition of which patterns would be considered suspicious. Recordings obtained through the bill could be stored for a month, and collected metadata could be stored for five years maximum (Toor).

Current French law contains some of the strongest data protection in Europe, but laws designed to fight terrorism have not been re-examined since 1991. The public as well as the government fears more French citizens will join the Islamic State’s forces in the near future, and estimates are already at 18 people per million in France, putting the overall number at 1,118 currently (World Population Review).

While this sounds like a low number, the damage each person could do in France is multiplied exponentially once they become jihadists. Unfortunately, the French government’s release of websites to combat jihadist internet groups and the actions of Bernard Cazeneuve in attempting to hold Facebook and Google accountable for user information release has not assuaged the French public’s fears.

Works Cited

CNN Library (2015). “U.S. Terrorist Attacks Fast Facts.” CNN.com. Cable News Network. 2015. Web. 15 May 2015.

Ashley, Bradley K. “The United States is Vulnerable to Cyberterrorism.” AFCEA.org. 2004. AFCEA International. Web. 15 May 2015.

Harress, Christopher. “Obama Says Cyberterrorism is Country’s Biggest Threat, U.S. Government Assembles ‘Cyber Warriors.’” IBTimes.com. IBT Media Inc. 2014. Web. 15 May 2015.

National Counterterrorism Center. “Overview.” NCTC.gov. 2015 NCTC. Web. 15 May 2015.

Council on Foreign Relations. “U.S. Opinion on Terrorism.” CFR.org. Council on Foreign Relations. 2009. Web. 15 May 2015.

Pew Research Center. “Growing Support for Campaign against ISIS – and Possible use of U.S. Ground Troops.” 24 Feb. 2015. Pew Research Center. Web. 15 May 2015.

Ahmed, Akbar Shahid. “Obama Emphasizes U.S. Security Reliance on Foreign Partners.” HuffingtonPost.com. 21 Jan. 2015. HPMG News. Web. 15 May 2015.

BBC News. “Shootings in Toulouse and Montauban: What We Know.” BBC News.com. 22 March 2012. BBC. Web. 15 May 2015.

BBC News. “Charlie Hebdo Attack: Three Days of Terror.” BBC News.com. 14 Jan. 2015. BBC. Web. 15 May 2015.

Willsher, Kim. “France Boosts Anti-terror Measures in Wake of Paris Attacks.” Theguardian.com. 21 Jan. 2015. Guardian News and Media Limited. Web. 15 May 2015.

Fantz, Ashley. “Array of World Leaders Joins 3.7 Million in France to Defy Terrorism.” CNN.com. 12 Jan. 2015. Cable News Network. Web. 15 May 2015.

Toor, Amar. “France Wants to Fight Terrorism by Spying on Everyone.” Theverge.com. 17 Apr. 2015. Vox Media, Inc. Web. 15 May 2015.

World Population Review. “France Population 2014.” Worldpopulationreview.com. 2015. World Population Review. Web. 15 May 2015.



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