In Depth: Rep. Michael Guest (R-MS) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to ensure U.S. law enforcement agencies are able to conduct swift and precise counterterrorism activities:
“In order to protect our nation from terrorism, our law enforcement agencies must be able to conduct swift and precise counteraction to these activities. On average, the Department of Homeland Security stops 10 known or suspected terrorists per day who are attempting to enter the United States. Our nation is kept safe from these threats due to the advanced training of our federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers. The Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel Exercise Act will add to the training and coordination received by these law enforcement agencies in preparation of terrorist activity response. President Trump and other White House officials have developed effective guiding principles to combat terrorist travel and keep Americans safe. This bill will put these principles into practice by preparing our men and women in uniform to respond to domestic and foreign threats to our nation,” Guest said. “Our hope is that the exercise called for in this bill will reveal any potential gaps in our security. We will then be able to improve our national security strategies to combat terrorism and build a stronger defense system for the American people.”
When she introduced this bill in the 114th Congress, then-Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who also sponsored this bill in the 115th Congress, explained the need for this legislation in a press release:
“The last time the federal government actually tested our defenses against the threat of terrorists entering our country was seven years ago. Since then, the threat environment has changed dramatically. Nearly 30,000 people from over 100 countries have traveled to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq since 2011, including over 4,500 Westerners and 250 Americans. There are ISIS-related investigations happening in all 50 states. We need to know our systems in place can keep Americans safe, and where there are vulnerabilities, we need to fix them immediately.”
There are four Republican cosponsors of this bill in the current session of Congress. Last Congress, this bill passed the House by a voice vote with the support of 12 cosponsors in the House, including nine Republicans and three Democrats. However, it didn't receive a Senate vote.
Of Note: The last time the government led a large scale terrorism preparedness exercise was in October 2007. The exercise simulated a situation in which terrorists released radiation in Portland, Oregon; Phoenix, Arizona; and Guam. Over 15,000 people from different levels of governmental and non-governmental organizations participated in the response.
In a 2015 report, the House Homeland Security Committee said:
"Today we are witnessing the largest global convergence of jihadists in history, as individuals from more than 100 countries have migrated to the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq since 2011. Some initially flew to the region to join opposition groups seeking to oust Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, but most are now joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), inspired to become a part of the group's 'caliphate' and to expand its repressive society. Over 25,000 foreign fighters have traveled to the battlefield to enlist with Islamist terrorist groups, including at least 4,500 Westerners. More than 250 individuals from the United States have also joined or attempted to fight with extremists in the conflict zone. These fighters pose a serious threat to the United States and its allies. Armed with combat experience and extremist connections, many of them are only a plane-flight away from our shores. Even if they do not return home to plot attacks, foreign fighters have taken the lead in recruiting a new generation of terrorists and are seeking to radicalize Westerners online to spread terror back home."
In a June 2018 report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) concurred with the House report, noting that "Foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) have, over the past few years, constituted one of the major threats to international peace and security." The UN report notes that while individuals traveling to Iraq and Syria to join ISIL (Da'esh), the Al-Nusrah Front, and other Al-Qaida cells are authorities' foremost concern, it notes that foreign terrorist fights are broadly defined as all "individuals who travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts or the providing or receiving of terrorist training.”
This bill aligns with Goal 1 of the White House's National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel: "Constrain and deter terrorist travel planning, facilitation, and mobilization through support of Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement, private sector partners, and communities."
On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13769 (Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States) — often referred to as the "Muslim ban" or the "travel ban" — which lowered the number of refugees to the admitted to the U.S., suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, suspended Syrian refugees' entry into the U.S. indefinitely, and banned foreign nations from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S. (hence the "Muslim ban" moniker).
Summary by Chris Conrad
(Photo Credit: Flickr user soldiermediacenter)