Over the last ten years, Homeland Security has been focused on dealing with a wide variety of terrorist attacks. In most cases, these incidents usually involve some kind of intelligence indicating that a terrorist related incident was about to occur. One recent example of this happened in October 2011, with a failed assassination attempt on the Saudi Arabian Ambassador. When the news was first announced, this seemed somewhat surreal based on the fact that Iran was behind the plot (with two suspects charged for their involvement). However, the relationship that Iran has with the West during the last few years has been strained. This is an indication of how the Islamic Republic was lashing out against these nations with one of their only tools (terrorism). (Miller, 2012, pp. 20 -- 30) To fully understand this event, we will look at how this attempted terrorist attack unfolded. This will be accomplished by examining: what went right, wrong, areas of improvement and federal policies. Together, these different elements will provide the greatest insights as to how this event helped to redefine the way the federal government looked at terrorist related activities.
The Attempted Attack
On October 11, 2011 U.S. law enforcement officials arrested an Iranian national (Gholam Shakuri) and an Iranian -- American holding a dual citizenship (Manssor Arbabsiar) in New York. They were charged with the attempted assassination of the Saudi Arabian Ambassador in Washington. At the time, the Iranians denied any involvement in the plot. However, prior to and after an intense investigation their role was obvious. This is following series of disputes that Iran has with the United States regarding its nuclear related activities. (Miller, 2012, pp. 20 -- 30)
Evidence of this can be seen with observations from Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. He believes that this action is Iran's way of defying the West by lashing out against them. If the assassination were to take place, this would have made Iran look as if they could attack their enemies anywhere around the world. This is significant, because it is showing how this event was designed to create fear and intimidate anyone who was allied with the United States. (Miller, 2012, pp. 20 -- 30)
What went Right?
What went right during the investigation is law enforcement has increased powers to go after terrorist related activities. The way that this was achieved is through using different tools that were provided under the U.S.A. Patriot Act (most notably the monitoring of financial transactions and the reduction in legal barriers). In this particular case, Iran had met with an undercover DEA operative in Mexico (in May 2011). The agent was posing as someone from one of Mexico's drug gangs, who were meeting with the Iranians about conducting an assassination (and possibly terrorism in the future) for the Qods Force. This is an arm of the Iranian military focusing on conducting terrorism and assassinations abroad. ("Two Men Charged in Alleged Plot," 2011)
At this meeting and others prior to October 2011, is when it was agreed that $1.5 million fee would be paid to the undercover agent. This took place by wiring a $100 thousand down payment to a bank account in the United States. The plan was to kill the Saudi Arabian Ambassador through some kind of explosion in a public place such as a restaurant. This would assassinate the intended target and it would murder American civilians in the process. When pressed about possible civilian casualties during one conversation is when Arbabsiar said, "They want that guy [the Ambassador] done [killed], if the hundred go with him *! # them." There were also issues about possible unintended causalities to Senators or Congressional Officials (who were known to frequently dine with the Ambassador). In response to these concerns, Arbabsiar felt that these individuals were no big deal. After this meeting, is when law enforcement arrested both men associated with the plot. ("Two Men Charged in Alleged Plot," 2011)
In this particular case, the federal government quickly determined that there was a potential terrorist attack about to take place inside the United States. This allowed law enforcement to investigate an American citizen and an Iranian without the use of warrant. The U.S.A. Patriot Act gave them the power to secretly record conversations and aggressively conduct counter terrorism operations. This led U.S. officials to begin monitoring the activities of the plotters by carefully listening to conversations with undercover operatives. At the same time, they were able to monitor when the payments were made for conducting the assassination. Over the course of several months, this allowed the police to prevent an imminent terrorist attack. This is when law enforcement was able to arrest and charge these individuals before the plot unfolded. (Dobbins, 2011, pp. 47 -- 50) (Schelepper, 2006, pp. 14 -- 34)
What went Wrong?
The only major failure is that operatives from Iran were allowed to infiltrate the United States. This is troubling, because the lack of monitoring at ports of entry (such as: airports) increases the chances that some kind of terrorist attack could occur. To prevent this, the Department of Homeland Security must provide more up-to-date information about possible terrorists to Customs and Immigration agents. At the same time, the intelligence community needs to provide law enforcement with more information about possible terrorist activities for a specific geographic location. If this kind of approach can be taken, it will ensure that the government is able to increase their control over who is entering the nation. This is when they can limit the chances of a terrorist being able to conduct any kind of operations inside the United States. (Dobbins, 2011, pp. 47 -- 50) (Rahmi, 2012, pp. 25 -- 40)
Areas of Improvement
Despite the tremendous amounts of success there are still areas for improvement. The most notable is monitoring of terrorists before they are allowed to enter the United States. What is happening is large numbers of people are coming into the country. This makes it difficult for federal officials to track everyone. Since the September 11th terrorist attacks there have been attempts to deal with these issues. Evidence of this can be seen with the monitoring of terrorist related activities, which have increased by 73% at ports of entry since 2003. The main reason why, is that these are the primary entry points that most terrorists are using. (Hasisi, 2011, pp. 177 -- 202)
The problem is that this system is not full proof and it is still allowing terrorists to be able to enter the country. To prevent this, the Department of Homeland Security needs to create a secondary system that can provide additional information about potential terrorists. Moreover, the airlines need to adopt screening procedures that are similar to what the Israeli's are using. This involves having the person at the ticket counter trained in monitoring for suspicious activities. In the event that they decide to allow them on the plane, is when the airline could assign an air marshal to sit next to this individual. This will assist the government in effectively monitoring this person and potentially apprehending them when they enter the U.S. If this basic approach can be taken, it will ensure that federal agents are able to monitor for potential terrorists entering the nation. (Hasisi, 2011, pp. 177 -- 202)
Federal Policies used to mitigate the Event
There are several polices that were used to prevent the assassination. The most obvious is the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Like what was stated previously, this law is designed to allow the police the ability to track terrorist related activities (without having to obtain a search warrant). Instead, all law enforcement has to do is demonstrate that this individual could be involved in terrorist related activities. Once this happens, is when they will be able to listen in and track the activities of the suspect. (Schelepper, 2006, pp. 14 -- 34)
This policy was effective in helping to mitigate the event by providing law enforcement with a trail of evidence. This is when they were able to take this information and use it to uncover the plot that the Iranians were working on. The way that this occurred was through first meeting with undercover agents and discovering the financial transaction. Then, using them to establish that there was terrorist related activities. The combination of these factors gave the police the tools they need to figure out how and where the plot was unfolding. (Schelepper, 2006, pp. 14 -- 34)
Moreover, the Military Commission Act of 2006 allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies to detain / question suspects (without a warrant). It also gives law enforcement the power to hold someone without charge indefinitely (who is suspected of terrorist activity). This is significant in providing the police with the tools to track and question anyone connected to the plot. This made it easier to prevent the assassination by allowing them to arrest the group before they had a chance…