National Security

Are More Frequent Acts of Terrorism the “New Normal?”

July 28, 2016  • Alison Decker


Are the types of attacks that the world sees in Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando, Istanbul, and Brussels — relatively frequent attacks, carried out by relatively small cells, on soft targets — the “new normal?”

At the 2016 Aspen Security Forum, panelists discussed recent attacks and what this new form of terrorism could mean for the future.

Watch the full conversation in the video above, and read below for highlights from the conversation.

What does “the new normal” even mean?

According to William Bratton, commissioner of the New York City Police Department, there can be no “normal” terrorism threats: terrorism has evolved quickly in the last 12 to 14 years, and will continue to do so.

“We have a dis-aggregated and evolving threat,” said Peter Neffenger, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. “This is nothing especially new, but the regularity of the occurrences is,” he said. “We have a creative, adaptive enemy that has evolved.”

We can bucket terrorism into three paradigms, according to Michael Steinbach, executive assistant director of the National Security Branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

  • After September 11, 2001, there was a shift from a reactive state towards a proactive state
  • The age of the internet, which has given unprecedented anonymity and connectivity to terrorists
  • Social media and smartphones have changed the face of the game

“It allows for the bad guy like never before to reach into our communities,” said Steinbach.

What can we do to combat this evolving threat?

Panelists pointed toward improved processes for sharing information, particularly between the United States and Europe, and using all available tools to benefit counterterrorism efforts.

“The information-sharing paradigm has been going on for years,” said Robert Griffin, general manager of Safer Planet, with IBM Analytics.“It’s not a technology problem. If content is king, and information is king — then access and distribution is King Kong.”

“It’s not a technology problem. If content is king, and information is king – then access and distribution is King Kong.”

“The ability to get that information to the right people, in the right place, at the right time is what is going to make a difference,” he continued.

Panelists noted that we are in a world of discovery. The key to combatting the new forms of terrorism will be taking the tools that we have to the next level.

“We have to develop robust mechanisms to share our information,” said Steinbach, “Faster than a train or a plane.”