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Part IV. What is the Threat to the United States Today?

Photo: Flickr user: nostri-imago. Creative commons license.
Part IV. What is the Threat to the United States Today?

The Threat is not Existential

In the fifteen years after 9/11, jihadists have killed 94 people inside the United States. Each of those deaths is a tragedy. The attack in Orlando was the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11 and the deadliest mass shooting in American history. However, the attacks are not national catastrophes of the type the United States experienced on 9/11. Instead the death toll has been quite similar to other forms of political—and even non-political—violence Americans face today.

Part IV. What is the Threat to the United States Today?

America’s Layered Defenses

While the United States has seen a series of deadly attacks by individuals and pairs inspired by jihadism, the United States today is a hard target for foreign terrorist organizations, which have not directed and carried out a successful deadly attack in the country since 9/11. This is the result of a layered set of defenses including tips from local communities, members of the public, and the widespread use of informants.

New York Police car is standing by on Times Square New York in the evening after the attempted car bomb incident happened on May 1, 2010. The city has tightened up security.


A deadly attack directed from abroad cannot be ruled out. For example, the 2009 Christmas Day bomb plot by Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab—who was trained and directed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—failed only because the explosive didn’t work. The Times Square bomb plot by Faisal Shahzad, who in 2010 managed to place a car bomb in Times Square undetected after training with the Pakistani Taliban, which again did not detonate properly, is another example. Despite these cases, the most likely threat continues to be lone individuals or pairs inspired by jihadist ideology without the type of extensive plotting, communication, or travel activity that would tip off the layered counterterrorism defense system.