A homegrown terrorist threat?

The NYPD contradicts the National Intelligence Estimate. This is a good argument to have out in the open.

Sometimes I really miss Osama bin Laden.

Wednesday, the New York Police Department issued a creepy report warning that the biggest terrorist threat facing Americans is…Americans.

Six year after 9/11, bin Laden is apparently inspiring, more than orchestrating, terrorist attacks. Homegrown Islamist terrorism is on the rise, both in Europe and the U.S. In case you hadn’t noticed, most of the terrorist attacks and plots uncovered since 9/11–such as the 2004 Madrid train bombing, the 2005 London subway bombing, the 2006 British plot to blow up transcontinental airliners, the 2007 Glasgow airport car bombing, and disrupted American plots to blow up John F. Kennedy airport, the Sears Tower in Chicago, and kill soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey–were carried out by cells that included local citizens of the target countries.

We’re not talking crazies wielding AK-47s holed up in some remote Afghan cave. These are seemingly innocuous, responsible people—doctors, Intel employees, taxi drivers, and university students who pay taxes, raise families, and stop at traffic lights. A great many were well educated and well-integrated into Western society. Why a regular Joe turns into a radical Jihadist is one of the many terrifying unknowns.

For those searching for a silver lining, here it is: The NYPD report directly challenges Washington’s latest National Intelligence Estimate about al Qaeda (portions of which were declassified in July), warning that al Qaeda central is back in action, newly relocated in Pakistan,

and determined to strike the U.S. homeland.

I know, I know. It’s not comforting to hear that our worst enemy is either the world’s most wanted terrorist or some unknonwn Jihadist near you. But this debate is actually a very good sign. As the 9/11 Commission and the Silberman-Robb WMD commission both concluded, intelligence analysts need to think outside the box, challenge assumptions, consider alternatives, and tackle the hard questions.

Although FBI insiders have been warning about homegrowns for about a year now, there’s nothing like a good, public argument to clarify thinking and generate insight.

Bravo, NYPD. Now if you could only find my husband’s stolen Honda Accord….

Author: Amy Zegart

Amy Zegart is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. She is also a faculty affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and a professor of political economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (by courtesy). Her research examines national security agencies, American foreign policy, and anything scary. Academic publications include two award-winning books: Spying Blind, which examines intelligence adaptation failures before 9/11, and Flawed by Design, which chronicles the evolution of America’s national security architecture. She is currently working on a book about intelligence in the post-9/11 world. Zegart writes an intelligence column at foreignpolicy.com, and her pieces have also appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. Previously, she taught at UCLA and worked at McKinsey & Company. A former Fulbright Scholar, she received an A.B. in East Asian Studies from Harvard and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford. A native Kentuckian, she loves to watch good college football and bad reality TV.