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Essay Example on Counterintelligence Operations in the United States

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Carnegie Mellon University
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In the United States history, counterintelligence refers to the use of secretive activities and information to fight against adversaries power. Initially, the counterintelligence agency was designed to identify, circumvent and neutralize the intelligence activities of an enemy nation or their putative allies. After the Cold War, the operations of counterintelligence agencies expounded to incorporate protecting the country against terrorist attacks, espionage, sabotage, and individual assassinations by foreign authorities among other intelligence activities (Heymann 2012, 3). During the operations, the counterintelligence agencies make use of the channels through which state secrets might reach unauthorized individuals or groups to mislead and frustrate foreign intelligence services targeting to disrupt the countrys affairs. Terrorism has been one of the catastrophic events not only in America but also in other diplomatic nations. America has been at war with the transnational terrorist movements and the need to protect and defend the Homeland, the American people, and their livelihoods is a solemn obligation of the counterintelligence agency.

Terrorist Threats

Terrorism is a worldwide threat and remains geographical diverse and multidimensional. The terrorist activities take different forms with the aim of instilling fear to peaceful citizens. In the United States, September 11, 2001, was a day of unprecedented shock and suffering as Al-Qaeda staged one of the fetal terrorist assault in America. Due to the magnitude of the attack, Americans questioned the preparedness of the security personnel to counter terrorist activities in their homeland. As a result, the counterintelligence agencies have widely examined the terrorist activities and the threats they pose to America and its allies. For instance, foreign jihadist extremists are the primary terrorist threats in America. Nonetheless, despite the efforts by the United States counterterrorism agencies to combat external threats, the homegrown violent extremists are also precarious and frequent terror enemies in the country. In most instances, the homegrown violent extremists are in support of the primary international terrorist groups and have carried out several attacks without warnings in the West.

The Islamic States of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) also continues to pose dynamic terrorist threats to America. The ISIS ideological appeal, control over Iraq and Syria among other territories, ability to direct and inspire attacks and media presence has strengthened its operations against the United States and her allies. In its attempt to foster interconnectedness, ISIS is seeking to establish global networks and branches aligned to their strategies making it difficult for the counterterrorism units to bring down the movement. Although counterterrorism units have managed to fight threats posed by ISIS and Al-Qaeda the use of internet has helped these groups to recruit jihadist within the country who stage terror attacks on their behalf. Additionally, the accessibility of weapons of mass destruction and proliferation is a threat to America and the democratic nations with terrorists embracing the advancement in the military industry to conduct attacks to the targeted regions leading to a high number of fatalities.

Terrorism Threat Indicators

Terrorism is dynamic and an incessantly transforming phenomenon. In fact, most of the aspects of terrorism has undergone several changes over the past decades. The make-up of the terrorist organizations, tactics and broad goals are among the areas terrorists have advanced posing a challenge to counterterrorism activities. The essential indicators taken into account by counterintelligence groups aims at identifying terrorist groups and analyzing the magnitude of the threat they pose. For instance, before the September 11 attack terror attacks the terrorist had sent several indications of an impending terrorist activity. In September 1999 a report by the National Intelligence Council had indicated that Al-Qaeda posed severe threats to the United States security strategies (Thompson 2013, 4). The intelligence had learned of a plan by Al-Qaeda to crash an aircraft with explosives into Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, Pentagon. On September 10, 2001, the National Security Agency intercepted two communications from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia with suspicious messages of an attack the next day (Thompson 2013, 6). However, the information only affirmed the impending attack after translation on September 12 after the Al-Qaeda attack.

Also, in June 2001, Al Jazeera broadcasted a record by Osama bin Laden threatening the West. In the same month, a warning to the United States airlines left the industry in a dilemma (Thompson, 2013). The turn of events was suggestive of an impending terrorist activity in the country. Despite the terrorist attack indications, the Al-Qaeda with the help of at least 19 young Arabs hit the North and the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Some hours later a third airliner slammed into the western segment of the Pentagon with the fourth carrier aimed at the White House crashing in southern Pennsylvania. The Al-Qaeda had achieved in gathering information and assessing their victims strength and weaknesses. Also, its leaders were able to evaluate, approve, direct and supervise the operations of the organization leaving Americans vulnerable despite their effort to counter threats posed by Al-Qaeda.

Operations of the Counterterrorism and Role of Counterintelligence Agents

Based on the persistent threat posed by terrorists in the United States, the counterterrorism operations in the country involves a range of personnel from the intelligence agencies and military among other security departments. The counterintelligence strives to dispatch accurate, timely and relevant information about the potential enemies and their surrounding environment. As a result, they sustenance the decision-making process reducing uncertainty around an aggressive situation. In the 9/11 terrorist attack, the intelligence was to protect other security forces through counterintelligence set-ups. They took both passive and active measures to restrict the enemy from accessing valuable information (Nacos 2016, 22). Therefore, the operations of the counterintelligence were to uncover and exploit conditions that simultaneously provided evidence of the impending actions from the enemies.

The United States Intelligence Community is a large, organized, and sophisticated structure operated by a multitude of laws, directives, and executive orders. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was to collect, analyze, evaluate and disseminate foreign intelligence to help policymakers and the president to make informed national security decisions. The other agency of the intelligence community is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who were to identify the security threats to deters terrorists from striking the nations infrastructures or population (National Strategy for Combating Terrorism 2016, 2). The National Security Agency, on the other hand, collaborated with security departments of the United States Intelligence Community to counter the terrorist activities in the homeland.

Assessment and Results of Counterterrorism Operations

Al-Qaeda staged one of the terrorist attacks which have gone into American History as one of the most dreadful foreign intelligence activity in the country. From 1998 to 2001 the intelligence had staged investigation on the Al-Qaeda activities and issued a warning to the security departments of on the possible attacks by the group (Kraft & Edward 2011, 61). However, the terrorists had conducted its intelligence intensively with most of the terrorists moving to the United States for appropriately one year before the attack. In most cases, the counterintelligence agencies had highlighted some of the areas the Al-Qaeda intended to strike. Most of the finding from the United States were accurate as affirmed in the 9/11 attack (Kraft & Edward, 2011).

However, the counterintelligence agencies failed to expose Osama bin Laden as a leader of Al-Qaeda taking him as one of the primary financiers of the terror group. The Americans would have drowned attacks to the Ladens territories weakening the leadership of the team to increase their defections. By countering the terrorists through assaults and killing their leaders some of the adversaries are no longer stable leaving them subservient and on the verge of collapsing. The counterterrorism started after Al-Qaeda successful attack on Americans and continued as the organization joined forces with Islamic States of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) whom they share similar ideologies.

Success and Failures of Counterterrorism

The United States has made significant progress in countering Al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorism agendas through important partnership and worked cooperation within its security structures and allies (Laub & Jonathan 2014, 12). Also, the nation has developed an effective and efficient set of counterterrorism forces coupled with progressive improvements and innovation. For this reason, there has been no terrorist attack on the United States homeland relative in scale with the 9/11 bombing. Operationally America through the Department of Defense has succeeded in building counterterrorism capacities in other countries. However, the Al-Qaeda and ISIS keep expanding making it difficult for the counterterrorism activities to dismantle terrorism completely.

The American intelligence failed to estimate and unmask the magnitude and the activities of Al-Qaeda which would support decision making in the prevention of the attack. The agency was unable to align it consistent approaches to address the terrorist menace (Marrin 2011, 186). As a result, terrorists found their way in the United States, lived with Americans planning their activities and eventually they striking their targeted sites. It is for this reason that intelligence has advanced to prevent similar attacks. However, foreign and homegrown jihadists still pose threats to the nation.



Heymann, Philip B. Terrorism, and America: A commonsense strategy for a democratic society. MIT Press, 2012.

Kraft, Michael, and Edward Marks. US Government Counterterrorism: A guide to who does what. CRC Press, 2011.

Laub, Zachary, and Jonathan Masters. "The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria." Council on Foreign Relations 14 (2014).

Marrin, Stephen. "The 9/11 terrorist attacks: A failure of policy, not strategic intelligence analysis." Intelligence and National Security 26, no. 2-3 (2011): 182-202.

Mehrotra, Sharad, Daniel D. Zeng, and Hsinchun Chen, eds. Intelligence and Security Informatics: IEEE International Conference on Intelligence and Security Informatics, ISI 2006, San Diego, CA, USA, May 23-24, 2016. Vol. 3975. Springer, 2016.

Nacos, Brigitte L. Terrorism, and counterterrorism. Rutledge, 2016.

"National Strategy for Combating Terrorism." 2016. 2001-2015.State.Gov.

Thompson, Larry. "Intelligence Collection and Information Sharing Within the UnitedStates." Brookings 2013.


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