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Homeland Security Terrorism and Counter-terrorism Security Systems

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Homeland security commonly refers to the US Department of Homeland Security’s security system that has evolved and has in place for protecting the United States from threats against the nation. Before Sept. 11, 2001, homeland security issues were handled by more than 40 agencies and about 2,000 separate congressional appropriations accounts. Following the 9/11 attacks on the United States, steps were taken to form one federal department to administer nearly all homeland security activities. Generally, however, and for this particular paper, homeland security implies the security system put in place by any country, but more particularly the USA, which has been necessitated by the growing scourge of terrorism, Muslim fundamentalism and insurgency operations increasing worldwide and the need to effectively protect the home country as well have in place suitable counterterrorism or prevention measures for protecting the national borders, assets and interests. As such, homeland security includes all actions taken by a country to safeguard its population, property, critical infrastructures, government institutions, military and armed forces, and other assets.

Homeland Security Terrorism and Counter-terrorism Security Systems


The United States of America has been the principal target of terrorists, particularly Muslim fundamentalist organizations, for several years now. While such a situation is no doubt a result of the struggles for political power in different parts of the world, as well as caused by the need for armed fights against perceived western capitalism, hegemony and supposedly other attendant evils that can impact religions like Islam, or so the Islamic radicals firmly believe, it is nonetheless true that the USA is only one amongst several western or developing nations that have had to bear the brunt of violent and often successful terrorist acts against the state from time to time. If the terrorists have not been able to attack their enemy from afar, as they could do in the case of the 9/11 attacks that destroyed the World Trade Centre, and which forced the US government to evolve a systematic homeland security policy and the system as we know it today, then they have also attacked the people, property and interests of such capitalistic western powers even in other countries located far from the homeland. Under these circumstances, a homeland security policy and structure naturally took shape first in the United States of America. They gradually started being adopted as an essential instrument of the concerted global war against terrorism and acts of violence against humans and properties. Indeed, in developing the Homeland Security Strategy for the United States, it was first and foremost the considered necessity first to evolve a clear definition of what homeland security is or should be, what would be its mechanism and scope, how far such a system could impact the socio-economical or civil justice system within the established governing institutions of the nation and so on. In no time, the state realized that to protect its people, government, and properties, some of its human populations’ rights needed to be curtailed or even seized in entirety. The obvious protest from human rights activists and the advocates of democratic principles was perhaps predetermined; it would surely occur. However, the government could not sit back and see its nation, people or critical assets decimated. Here then was the need to make some hard decisions and make the country realize the need to curtailing some fundamental human rights because its very survival was in question. Essentially, the establishment of a homeland security framework was a dire need that could not be delayed; nonetheless, it was also necessary to work and evolve appropriate definitions of the terms and concepts that frame this strategy. Strangely enough, however, despite a dedicated vision to protect the nation at all costs, one of the greatest hindrances to a compelling discussion of terrorism and counterterrorism has been that the terms lack clear, universal definitions, perhaps because of the same considerations highlighted before and which impact the fundamental issues of democracy, civil and human rights, justice and socio-economical reality of a westernized capitalistic state.


Terrorism started the process of evolution and subsequent adoption of a homeland security planning and policy framework. What then is this terrorism? Indeed, terrorism is an act or several acts of politically motivated violence aimed at innocent civilians and is sole with the intent to cause such innocent civilian populations physical or other harm. Such harm can include death. Such terrorist acts can also conduct psychological warfare against a community that is primarily aimed at intimidating it from achieving its daily life in a normal fashion. Ultimately, there are many approaches that we could take to define terrorism. We could look at the definitions currently employed domestically and abroad. We could look to the academic debates on the subject and still not arrive at a universal definition. However, what is agreed upon is that terrorism is evil and modern civil society has no place. Indeed, in one voice, all right-thinking people or governments would say that terrorism needs to be eradicated. But this is easier said than done since no two minds think alike and because the haves and have-nots have not ever converged on any common ground through entire human history. This also implies that while the immediate concern to protect itself, its people and critical assets from antagonistic nations, nations or even so-called non-state actors is a dire need of the day, yet, it is only a spelled out totalitarian strategy that incorporates concerns spanning social, economical, political, cultural, religious, ethical or other areas of human civilization alone can help address the problem of terrorism and remove it from the roots that it is created from. However, it is not the point of this paper to explain the fight against terrorism; rather, it explains homeland security, the underlying concepts, and the impact of efforts to protect the homeland on social justices and socio-economical; aspects within national environments. 


In this respect, another thing that needs to be understood is the concept of counterterrorism. Counterterrorism evolved as an alternative to terrorism only gradually. Counterterrorism is a never-ending war of attrition conducted in baby steps comprised of some victories [and] some defeats. This concrete and basic definition provide a workable understanding that operational counterterrorism decisions address how and when to act, and against whom. Defining counterterrorism is inextricably linked to the purposes and limits of terrorism, thus establishing the fact that an n appropriate definition of counterterrorism is as complicated as articulating a definition for terrorism. Again, developing and communicating a clear and precise description of counterterrorism is fraught with political, legal, and semantic disagreement. Counterterrorism must be considered in the context of domestic balancing, international law, judicial activism, intelligence gathering, and interrogation or even torture of political or other detainees. It does not help that the defender of a nation imitates an aggressor’s acts and itself commits the same unjust acts that it derides and protests against the other. 

Lukas (2004) puts it succinctly when he says that the real challenge appears to be that of maintaining the correct balance between security and liberty, between protecting the homeland and openness. But regardless of the merits or demerits of maintaining homeland security systems, it goes without saying that in today’s world of enhanced terrorism and the perceived increasing nuclear threats around the globe, the need for maintaining appropriate defensive or even offensive systems for protecting the homeland in all respects is paramount and cannot be compromised. Of course, the primary requirement is to save human lives, property and national assets, and critical infrastructures from security threats. However, some real hard decisions have had to be made by policymakers and governments of the day, and this has no doubt ruffled the feathers of various interested parties. This implies that homeland security systems have their obvious fallouts and effects on various social, legal, political, economic, and other aspects of human life that are regrettable but necessary hassles that need to be faced to ensure greater security and safety. The historic events of 9/11 that happened in the USA started a series of measures across the world, particularly in the USA. These need some examination, which is done in the following paragraphs. 

Security Systems, Apparatus, and Other Security Measures

Homeland security is concerned with providing safety to the citizens’ safety and security and the property of a country. It needs to be known as to what homeland security is about and what is even envisaged in so providing homeland security. There are two aspects to this. One is the technological and other methods adopted to place a functional security system for protecting all national systems. The other is the necessary legal or other changes that have been affected to facilitate the nation’s larger good and security interests as a whole. In this, there has been a regrettable but essential infringement of various human and legal rights that the state has had to implement despite its professed advocacy of all that is democratic and rightful towards humans. However, the physical, technological or systemic apparatus and measures that are generally enforced, as the USA has been so effectively able to do among all nations fighting terrorism, are first examined to understand the key issues.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Department of Homeland Security still lacks sufficient statutory authority and necessary budgetary powers to effectively fulfill its stated mission. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation perform their hitherto role in gathering and possessing information so that the relevant departments concerned with various security aspects can perform their functions more effectively. In this, both these intelligence agencies aid the Department of Homeland Security in installing a security protection plan that tries to secure the citizens’ lives, the safety of national interests, etc. However, the National Security Council (NSC) has the actual responsibility for coordinating national security concerns, which primarily consists of fighting terrorists, repulsing their attacks or even preempting the same, and ensuring larger national security interests are protected. Ideally, the DHS is entrusted with the broad issue of timely intelligence sharing, recognizing threats to the homeland and acting on such inputs. The DHS has also instituted a risk management system that enables it to take strategic decisions based on risk perception. In this, the DHS utilizes the systematic and structured analysis of risks to homeland security.

The Integrated Risk Management Framework consists of certain tools that facilitate the DHS to gather, collate, analyze, and transmit information about risks so that such information may be used to prioritize resources and actions across the security framework. The risk management apparatus also seeks to effect clear communications between the different stakeholders that include decision-makers, risk practitioners and others. There is a Risk Steering Committee (RSC) which oversees the risk management capabilities of the various wings of the DHS and is thus an effective part of the entire risk management and security framework. A common language and vocabulary are also institutionalized, enhancing the DHS’s ability to use the collected information and plan its priorities. 

The US homeland security framework was based on certain basic objectives. The aim was to prevent attacks, limit vulnerability to attacks, and limit damage from attacks that occurred. Under President George Bush, the DHS underwent many key changes, bringing in better coordination between departments and intelligence agencies. Essentially, the new security system aimed to involve in counterterrorism- the action aimed at suppressing or countering terrorist acts. The DHS report (2002) also defined terrorism acts as unlawful and premeditated acts endangering human lives and harming public welfare or even intimidating or coercing citizens or the state (Koestler-Crack, 2007). Some 22 federal departments were combined under the control of the DHS. They recruited around 18,000 employees who were to oversee immigration enforcement, emergency preparedness, response to any emergencies, science and technology framework for enabling a technological base for such homeland security to take effect and border or transportation issues that impacted national security. Thus, the DHS controlled the Transportation Security Administration, which enabled it to effectively monitor and regulate security aspects relating to railways, freight, airways, road, and other transportation systems.

Additionally, and this is what impacted the traditional civil justice or human rights systems till now espoused by a democratic state like the US, certain stringent laws was also enacted so that anti-terrorist and pro-security measures could be successfully tackled by the government machinery involving all of the state, federal, and local departments. This resulted in such laws like the Maritime Transportation Security Act imposed strict requirements to ensure ports and shipping vessels’ security. In order to identify and prevent terrorists from entering the country, visitors to the country were asked to provide certain information to satisfy the new Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. This thus directly pitted the state against human rights advocates. But by far, the most controversial of all the laws passed after 9/11 by the US Congress was the Uniting and Strengthening America by Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act or the US Patriot act. By this single act, the state thus widened the definition of criminal acts, defined higher penalties for offenses, as well as state new procedures for using against home-grown or foreign terrorists. The federal agencies were also enabled by the US Patriot Act to better monitor and track down suspected terrorists by means of intelligence gathered through tracking of the suspects’ emails and internet activity, conducting person searches without the n need for a warrant, and so on. While the laws did curtail the civil liberties that were enshrined in the US Constitution, it also effectively encouraged intelligence gathering and sharing during investigations by federal investigators, authorized more tools of law infusing suing technology or the internet, allowed use of the internet technology as well as cell phones to track down terrorists, and also ensured that judicial and congressional leaders assumed greater powers in overseeing new authorities or bodies created by the new laws. Two recent federal agencies, namely the Terrorism Threat Integration Center located at Washington DC and the Terrorist screening Center were established which took on the roles of intelligence gathering, transmission and maintenance and the collection of terrorist watch lists and fitting them into a common database to which all state, federal or local authorities could have round-the-clock access to the same. The threat levels were also identified by adopting color codes. Again, an overriding concern of the DHS was the issue of border security. The aim was to make the borders stronger and the skies safer. All related security issues were thus brought under the control of the Border and Transportation Security Directorate. Another important area for improving security was the national airports and airplanes, particularly commercial airliners since commercial airplanes were used in the 9/11 airstrikes. Air travel was subjected to closer scrutiny and stricter enforcement so that the intense screening of passengers and their baggage was the norm. The list of items prohibited from carrying on airplanes was also increased. The net result was that such acts of the state, although effective as counterterrorism efforts, were sadly deficient in addressing the concerns of human rights and advocates of civilian rights, which were drastically reduced due to the after-effects of the 9/11 attacks.

  • Guiora, A.N., (2008), Terrorism Primer, Aspen Publishers (Manuscript at Chapter 6, on file with the author), pp. 35
  • Koestler-Crack, R.A., (2007), The US Government-How it works: The Department of Homeland Security, New York: Chelsea House Publishers. Copyright ©2007 by Info–base Publishing
  • Jamison, R.D., (2001), under Secretary National Protection and Programs Directorate Department of Homeland Security
  • Taylor, E.R., (2004), The New Homeland Security Apparatus Impeding the Fight against Agile Terrorists’, Washington DC: Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Washington DC.


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