New York Times senior writer Eric Schmitt visited the BYU campus in October to discuss various terrorist threats facing America today, urging students to be prepared.
“We are living in a more dangerous time than we did in 9/11,” he said.
With more than 15 years of experience writing about national security and terrorism, Schmitt has become an expert on the topic.
Terrorist threats facing America
Schmitt first discussed threats from groups like al-Qaeda. While this militant Islamist organization’s influence is diminishing, it remains a threat. For that reason, President Barack Obama decided to leave approximately 10,000 troops in Afghanistan.
“The ability of al-Qaeda to launch a large, mass-scale-casualty attack like they did on the original 9/11 is much less than it ever has been,” he said.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is a more serious threat. Schmitt referred to ISIS as a “hybrid terrorist army.” The group has taken elements from the al-Qaeda movement and combined them with a strong ground force.
A subgroup of the emerging threat includes several splinter groups Schmitt categorized as a third threat. Some of these smaller groups pledge allegiance to other, larger groups like ISIS.
Schmitt outlined cyber threats as a fourth threat facing America, citing state sponsored attacks as well as individual attacks.
“I think the primary threat for young people and young leaders today, say at a college or a university like BYU, is the cyber threat,” Schmitt said.
The last threat Schmitt outlined was homegrown terrorism, which is more difficult to track because of First Amendment rights.
“There are … so many of these individual lone wolves that the FBI or local police are trying to track, hundreds literally right now, that it’s very difficult to spot every last one of them,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt warned that the various types of threats have the potential to be catastrophic. “The probability of some kind of individual attack like we saw in Chattanooga or we saw in Boston is actually even greater,” he said.
How Americans can prepare to face terrorist threats
Schmitt suggested a need for a “whole of government effort” to combat these terrorist threats because the military cannot fight them alone. It requires the involvement of policy makers, federal agencies and the executive branch in conjunction with America’s allies.
“The United States will probably be hit again by another terrorist attack, and not just an individual attack — a major attack,” he said.
Building up a sense of resilience is critical to America’s success in combating terrorism. When the terrorists hit, the country shouldn’t overreact because terrorists gain more ground when they effect a major reaction.
Schmitt discussed the importance for students and American citizens to become educated on issues of terrorism. “Know as much about the threat — what it is, and what it isn’t,” he said.
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