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The terrorist attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, changed U.S. defense, intelligence, diplomatic, and security priorities almost literally overnight. In the time since that attack, fighting terrorists as well as the regimes and private entities that fund them has become a top priority for America’s military, intelligence, and law-enforcement communities.
Despite significant successes, including the toppling of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, elimination most of the top leadership of al-Qaeda including Osama bin Laden, and the prevention of more than 50 terrorist attacks in the U.S. either directed or inspired by Islamic terrorism, the threat remains. Today Americans are threatened abroad by growing Islamist organizations like ISIS as well as at home by both home-grown, self-radicalized terrorists and plots directed by overseas terrorist networks.
U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities must have the basic tools needed to fight this terrorist threat, beginning with the ability to freely share information and coordinate their efforts. Other tools include robust surveillance capabilities targeted at terrorists and their associates while respecting the privacy rights of Americans, a secure facility to hold terrorists such as Guantanamo Bay, and a legal process that recognizes that civilian courts intended for the prosecution of criminals are not appropriate for international terrorists.
The threat posed by terrorists is real and U.S. action against them is needed, but the efforts of our intelligence and security personnel must respect the civil liberties of the citizens they are protecting. Finding the proper balance between security and liberty is a complex challenge and requires an honest dialogue about what tradeoffs are acceptable and where the lines must be drawn.
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