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USC homeland security center hosts terrorism expert

Jack Knott, Brian Jenkins and Erroll Southers
From left, USC Price dean Jack H. Knott, counterterrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins and CREATE associate director Erroll Southers (Photo/Erin Calicchio)

As a counterterrorism expert and senior adviser to the president at RAND Corp., Brian Michael Jenkins can separate fact from fiction better than most when it comes to homeland security.

His expertise was demonstrated on April 26 for USC’s National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Event’s Distinguished Speakers Series held at the USC Sol Price School of Policy. The 50-minute CREATE talk was titled “The Long Campaign: What Have We Learned about War and Ourselves since 9/11.”

“So much of what we do in counterterrorism is driven by the headline of the moment, driven by the politics,” Jenkins said. “CREATE has translated real data in a way that can inform policymakers and decision-makers about security measures, the allocation of resources and the impact on society of the things that we do.”

Jenkins started his presentation by stating that homeland security centers help in overcoming the fact that the United States “simply cannot protect everything, everywhere all the time.”

A former Green Beret, Jenkins was appointed by former President Bill Clinton to the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security and served as an adviser to the National Commission on Terrorism. He stressed a measured approach to homeland security that respects the principles of the Constitution, emphasizing that the United States cannot become a security state.

“Terrorists aren’t going to bring down the republic,” Jenkins said. “Only we can do that.”

Jenkins provided highlights from his book, The Long Shadow of 9/11: America’s Response to Terrorism, which was published last year in advance of the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

Assessing terrorist threats, Jenkins said that “the al Qaeda that we face now is largely a spent force. It still got a kick, but it is not what it was 10 years ago.”

Instead of focusing on terrorist threats nationally, Jenkins suggested focusing attention on individual communities. The large number of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, for example, has created what he described as a “stressed community” that is fertile recruiting ground for al Shabab.

Jenkins is not convinced that the Internet is a vital ground for terrorist recruitment.

“Certainly the Internet allows a lot of people access to this ideology, but that also means that it allows individual as opposed to group activity,” he said.

To advance his argument, Jenkins said that in the pre-Internet days of the 1970s, domestic terrorists set off 50 to 60 bombs each year. While instructions to build a bomb readily are available on the Internet, Jenkins said there are fewer terrorist explosions in the United States today than during that era. To punctuate that point, he recalled Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, a “lone wolf” whose attempt to detonate a car bomb in 2010 was unsuccessful.

In the 10 years following Sept. 11, 2001, Jenkins said there have been 96 cases of homegrown terrorism, but local and national intelligence efforts have foiled most plots.

At the conclusion of the speech, Jenkins answered questions from the audience, which was composed of faculty, staff, students and members of the security industry.

Erroll Southers, a homeland security instructor at USC Price and associate director for research transition at CREATE, served as emcee of the event. Jenkins was introduced by USC Price dean Jack H. Knott.

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