A Look at Worldwide Security Efforts After London Bombing
ED GORDON, host:
For a closer look at the deadliest attack on London since World War II and its potential effects on security efforts around the world, we're joined by Harry "Skip" Brandon, a former deputy assistant director of counterterrorism for the FBI and founder of an intelligence consulting firm, and Jessica Stern, a lecturer on public policy at Harvard and author of "Terror In the Name of God."
Thank you both for joining us. Jessica, let me start with you. As relates to what happened yesterday, does this come as a big surprise to you?
Ms. JESSICA STERN (Author, "Terror In the Name of God"): No. No, it certainly doesn't. British authorities have been talking about and preparing for this kind of event or, indeed, something worse for quite a long time. London--well, the UK has been a center for Islamist ferment and also jihadi recruiting. And so, no, there really isn't anything surprising here.
GORDON: Skip Brandon, let me ask you. As we hear from Jessica and the knowledge of London preparing for this--because there had been whispers about this for some time--does this speak to the idea that you can only prepare so much for terrorism?
Mr. SKIP BRANDON (Intelligence Consulting Firm Founder): Well, it does, and I think what it highlights, in assuming that it is an Islamic extremist attack--it also possibly points out the fact that there are a lot of splinter groups now around the world who are more followers of the philosophy of al-Qaeda than they are direct--in direct communications linked with al-Qaeda. I think that's a very real possibility, and that presents a tremendous, tremendous challenge to intelligence and law enforcement officials in trying to protect us.
GORDON: It's important for us to note at this point, we don't know who perpetrated this. And much as we found with Oklahoma City, we don't want to jump to any real conclusions. But let me ask you, Jessica, as relates to what Skin Brandon just brought up, and that's the idea of splinter groups. Smaller groups may be seeking attention by means of efforts like this. As you've done your studies and writings, do you see that growing in numbers?
Ms. STERN: Yes. I think especially in Europe, there are individuals who are self-radicalizing often on the Internet and forming small cells. And there are also remnants of former jihads. In fact, British authorities estimate that there are between 300 to 600 graduates of the Afghan jihad, and there's an estimated between a thousand and 2,000 jihadis in Europe. These are not members of the al-Qaeda organization per se, but they may be willing--some of them have been willing to go and fight in the so-called jihad in Iraq, and they may be willing to perpetrate a jihad in London.
GORDON: Skip Brandon, amongst the carnage yesterday, investigators suggest that they found materials that led them to believe that there could have, in fact, been more bombs. Historically, when you see an incident like this, any concerns that there may be a follow-up incidence in the immediate future?
Mr. BRANDON: Yeah, that's a very real concern that I have and I think most people who've kind of been in the business, so to speak, have. And, again, talking about splinter groups or even individuals who have taken up the sword, so to speak, they could be inspired by something like this. You hear the word `copycat' and I think that's probably understating it in this case because these--there are people who are already committed to this cause and are prepared to take action and may be very well encouraged by this recent event in London which could--could, I emphasize--foretell similar acts in other parts of the world, and including the United States, in the near future.
GORDON: Jessica, many people suggesting that this could have been possibly symbolic, timed with coinciding of the summit of the G8. Do you believe that those countries who involve themselves with the G8 are going to have to take a hard, fast look at how they deal with other countries? We heard the resolve that came from these leaders and the idea that they would not give in. But there has been talk throughout much of the world that these countries are going to have to come to the table differently than they have in the past.
Ms. STERN: Well, I think it does remind everyone that no Western country is invulnerable. And obviously, those who have troops in Iraq are probably feeling more vulnerable at the moment and also those that have large Muslim populations that are not integrated or where there's a lot of prejudice. So that's a big problem, this identity problem, the constant humiliation of ordinary Muslims in a post-9/11 world living in Europe where, unfortunately, they often do face quite a bit of prejudice and can be--especially the youth, can be susceptible to this notion of a ready fix to find a new identity with dignity.
GORDON: Skip Brandon, what does this do to the Muslim community, the majority of them peace-loving and law-abiding, in terms of what they will have to deal without throughout the world by virtue of offtimes we see backlash violence?
Mr. BRANDON: Mm-hmm. I think it's very important--that what you just said--to highlight this and make sure that we all have to understand that the vast, vast majority of the followers of Islam are not involved in terrorism and, in fact, reject this. There was a rather, I thought, almost inspirational gathering of leading Muslim clerics yesterday in London making very strong statements, saying that, `This is not Islam. This is not what we do.' But the other side of it is--you highlight with your question is--that there's a bit of human nature involved here. And people start to look at Muslims as potential terrorists, and this just simply increases their feeling of alienation, if we're not careful, and drives more people to take up jihad. So it's pretty tricky. It's a real fine edge.
GORDON: Jessica, the other catch-22 here that we see is this clearly has captured the attention of the world. And news accounts were obviously, yesterday, all about the bombings in London. This also shows a growing means and a growing attempt by groups and those that we've talked about, the splinter groups, as a growing means of defiance over the course of the last few years, has it not?
Ms. STERN: A growing need for--I'm sorry.
GORDON: Means--a growing means of defiance for many of these groups.
Ms. STERN: Yes. Yes, the press--I mean, it is--of course, it is a catch-22, as you say. The press inevitably, in a way, amplifies the message. And at the same time, the people have the right to know about what is going on in London, of course. So it is--it is a very difficult situation.
GORDON: And, Skip, with about 30 seconds left, the idea of what Americans should concern themselves with right now.
Mr. BRANDON: Well, I think we have to be concerned, and I'm not crying wolf. Everybody has said--every one of the leading intelligence people in the United States saying it's not a matter of if...
Mr. BRANDON: ...it's a matter of when.
Mr. BRANDON: And we just have to be prepared. And citizens, all citizens, have to be prepared to contribute and try to help the authorities...
GORDON: All right.
Mr. BRANDON: ...and that certainly includes our Muslim Americans.
GORDON: All right. Skip Brandon and Jessica Stern, thank you very much for giving us a little insight here. Thanks so much.
This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.