At Counterterrorism Center, Obama Reassures Americans About Security Threat
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The threat of terrorism feels more real to many Americans after the events of the last month. President Obama has been highlighting efforts to keep the country safe. Today, he visited the National Counterterrorism Center before leaving for his Christmas vacation tomorrow. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Polls show Americans have grown increasingly anxious about the threat of terrorism since the deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. President Obama says that anxiety is natural and understandable.
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BARACK OBAMA: What matters most to all of us are our friends and our families and our communities and their safety.
HORSLEY: Both the Paris and San Bernardino attacks were carried out by supporters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which has long been seen as a weakness for the president. As concern over an attack on U.S. soil has mounted, Obama's own approval ratings have slipped.
After his meeting today with law enforcement and intelligence officials, Obama said they're not aware of any specific credible threat against the homeland. He'd offered similar reassurance shortly before Thanksgiving only to have the San Bernardino attack follow one week later. Today, the president again urged Americas to be vigilant but not fearful.
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OBAMA: I want every American to know, as you go about the holidays, as you travel and gather with family and the kids open their presents, as you ring in the new year, that you've got dedicated patriots working around the clock all across the country to protect us all.
HORSLEY: The presidents says U.S. authorities are also ramping up their airstrikes against ISIS in the Middle East and trying to prevent would-be terrorists from entering the United States. They're also working to inoculate people who are already living here from terrorist propaganda. But Obama has acknowledged attacks like San Bernardino involving a small number people often working on their own are especially difficult to detect and prevent. Psychologist Paul Coleman says that means political leaders have to strike careful balance, offering encouragement without false security.
PAUL COLEMAN: You have to recognize that this is a different type of normal that we're now facing, and we have to come up with strategies that are realistic and that will make a difference. But at the same time, we also want to have our way of life not be so restricted because of fear.
HORSLEY: Obama's earlier efforts to reassure Americans have fallen flat with many listeners. Coleman says the president faces a difficult task in this polarized political environment.
COLEMAN: The challenge is, how can you make people who have different ideas of what to do feel heard.
HORSLEY: Coleman, who's the author of "Finding Peace When Your Heart Is In Pieces," notes that Americans routinely stare down threats that pose a much greater statistical danger than terrorism. Behavioral expert David Schonfeld also works with people who are anxious or grieving after attacks, and he recalls a question his daughter asked after last month's shootings in Paris.
DAVID SCHONFELD: She just sent a text message, and she asked, you know, should I be concerned going out to a club this evening? And I said to her, you know, the actual risk of being in any club in New York City this evening is very, very low. And she just said to me, I know it's very low; it's just a little bit more than it was yesterday.
HORSLEY: Obama argues Americans resilience in the face of such worries is one of the most potent weapons against terrorism. We've prevailed over greater threats than this, he says, and we'll prevail again. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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