A new study and report released by the Homeland Security Project of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) on Monday strongly suggests that the terrorist threat to the United States that should be addressed comes from individuals who are radicalized over the Internet or in local mosques within the U.S. rather than from terrorist cells comprised of al-Qaeda or other organization's members.
The so-called "lone wolves" are often inspired by al-Qaeda's jihadist message, but also may be swayed by the messages of Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Shabaab or other Islamist organizations, according to the researchers.
"While these lone wolves might not be able to kill in mass numbers, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Fort Hood slayings show that alienated persons influenced partially by online messaging can cause great damage," BPC officials state.
The report, Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment, provides readers with an important and knowledgeable review of al-Qaeda and its affiliates such as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQII), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Nigeria's Boko Haram.
"The report also provides legislative and executive recommendations on how best to counter the threat and protect the U.S. homeland," according to BPC officials.
The authors are members of BPC's Homeland Security Project, which is led by former 9/11 Commission Co-chairs former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 1985-1987.
With President Barack Obama contemplating U.S. action in Syria due to the regime of its dictator Bashar al-Assad allegedly using chemical weapons, the BCP report urges the tracking of arms being smuggled to jihadist fighters in the region.
With groups such as Hezbollah making threats of retaliation against the U.S. and its interests, the report advises U.S. leaders to incorporate "lessons learned from the Boston bombings into its current emergency-response plan to ensure a more measured reaction to tragic but small-scale terrorist attacks."
"This assessment finds that the United States faces a different terrorist threat than it did on 9/11/2001. The borders between domestic and international terrorism have blurred, and the U.S. adversaries are not only organizations, but also individuals. To best protect the homeland, we need to develop defenses against a more diffused threat posed by radicalized individuals, in addition to organized groups," said Gov. Kean.
"The Bipartisan Policy Center's report is intended to evaluate the current domestic and international threats and provide recommendations to help lawmakers and the administration counter those threats," he added.
The BPC's report also provides recommendations to both houses of the U.S. Congress, including reforms to the CIA drone program.
The researchers advise members of Congress to use the upcoming withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan, which is scheduled for late 2014, as an opportunity to review the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) policy.
It's also recommended that the government should create an independent investigative body -- not unlike the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) -- to conduct investigations into terrorist attacks within the U.S., with the goal of clearly explaining how the terrorist attackers evaded law enforcement and identifying lessons that may be learned.
"It has been twelve years since the attacks on 9/11. Political leaders from both parties should renew their focus on counterterrorism strategies to ensure that our current approach matches the threats of today," said Rep. Hamilton.
"Congress should hold a series of public hearings to discuss where the U.S. stands in its counterterrorism strategy. Those hearings would be an opportunity to evaluate if our nation is absorbing the institutional lessons learned over the past decade, to analyze if the government is allocating resources to the right places, and most importantly, to determine what is missing from our strategy," Hamilton explained.
"Al-Qaeda has embraced a strategy that transformed it into a decentralized, networked, transnational movement, rather than the single monolithic entity it was on the eve of 9/11. This strategy was undoubtedly the result of necessity; U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the wake of the 9/11 attacks largely obliterated al-Qaeda as an organization," claims Peter Bergen, the director of the National Security Program at the New America Foundation.