Strategic Challenges Facing the Department of Homeland Security

The United States has suffered immense damage from terrorist activities. Perhaps the largest attack in recent history was the 9/11 attack in which at least 3,000 people lost their lives and property worth billions of dollars damaged. Following the attack, the U.S. government realized that it was ill-prepared to prevent and respond effectively to terror attacks. The government undertook several initiatives to increase its resilience against terrorism by passing the Patriot Act, which provided legal and resources support to anti-terrorism agencies. This response to 9/11 was successful as no major terror attack has been experienced in the U.S. following 9/11.

However, America is facing a new wave of terrorist attacks from domestic terrorist groups. There has been a significant increase in domestic terrorism within the U.S. over the past decade, and most perpetrators are motivated by ideologies such as racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and environmental goals among others (Frontline, 2018). The American government is using its anti-terrorism resources to detect and prevent these attacks and the Department of Homeland security is at the forefront of the anti-terrorism war. This paper will analyze the terrorism threat that faces the United States, including the nature of terrorist attacks, and the steps that the federal government has undertaken to detect and prevent terror attacks within the U.S.  

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Nature of Terrorism and Challenges it Poses to the United States

One of the greatest challenges facing the United States is the threat of terrorism. According to the Department of Homeland Security (2019), terrorism is the illegal use of violence and force by people or organizations that seek to promote a social or political goal. 

After the 9/11 attacks where approximately 3,000 people lost their lives, the Department of Homeland Security implemented several institutional and policy changes with the goal of preventing future terrorist attacks that target the U.S.  These changes have been effective in preventing another major terrorist attack within the U.S. soil. 

However, terrorism remains a major problem facing America, since there has been an increase in domestic terrorist attacks over the past decade. According to Romero (2018), between 2006 and 2017, terror attacks rose from 6 to 65. Most of these attacks were linked to anti-Muslim, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, xenophobic, and anti-government motivations. The rest of the attacks were motivated by left-wing ideologies such as environmentalism, pro-LGBT, and anti-republican. Frontline (2018) explains that the United States has faced a shift in terror-related activities from those that are motivated by radical Islamist ideology, to different forms of extremism that include animal rights extremism, racially motivated extremism, militia extremism, and sovereign citizen extremism. These extremist groups usually perpetuate terror activities in advancing their causes, and they are primarily responsible for the increase in domestic terrorist attacks within the U.S. 

To understand the nature of terrorism it is also important to assess its impacts on the United States.  There are several adverse effects of terrorism on the U.S. economy. The first impact is direct economic destruction, which results from the measurable and immediate effects of terrorist attacks on physical infrastructure. Terrorist activities destroy transportation systems, machines, existing plants, and other economic resources. According to Ross (2016), large-scale attacks such as the 9/11 attack destroyed properties worth billions of dollars and killed thousands of workers who were productive to the U.S. economy. 

Another impact of terrorism is market uncertainty, as terrorism adversely affects global financial markets by causing uncertainty to investors. After the 9/11 attack in the U.S., the financial markets shut down and only recovered approximately two years later after the U.S. invaded Iraq (Ross, 2016). Luckily, stock markets have begun being resilient to terrorist attacks. The third economic impact is adverse consequences on trade, tourism, and insurance. Tourism and insurance are directly affected by terrorist attacks since insurance has to pay for the destruction caused, while tourists avoid regions with a history of attacks. Moreover, terror threats or attacks, especially along trade routes usually affect international trade. 

Steps that the Federal Government has taken to Address Terrorism

The general strategy that the U.S. government has undertaken to reduce the threat of terrorism is to enhance its ability to detect and prevent terror attacks. Moreover, the government has also invested in response measures in case a terror attack materializes. To achieve these goals, the government passed the Patriot Act in 2001 after the 9/11 attack, to provide resources and implement new strategies that will conform to the changing tactics used by terrorists. Specifically, the law sought to facilitate intelligence gathering across several agencies by removing barriers that interfered with preventing strategies against terrorists. It also sought to increase resources in terms of personnel, equipment, and monetary support for anti-terrorism initiatives. Some of the areas covered by the act include border security, surveillance procedures, information sharing across agencies, intelligence gathering, anti-money laundering to support terrorists, and reducing obstacles in investigating terrorist attacks (Herman, 2011). The Patriot Act has significantly empowered the federal government to prevent and respond effectively to terror attacks. 

The second step is empowering anti-terrorism agencies to detect, prevent, and respond effectively to terror threats within the country. There are many changes that have been implemented by the U.S. government to achieve this goal such as the development of programs that cater for specific issues associated with terror threats (Department of Homeland Security, 2014). For instance, to prevent terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been empowered to build the Homeland Security Enterprise that encompasses the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, creation of fusion centres for training and supporting states, and public campaigns such as the ”If You See Something, Say Something” campaign (Department of Homeland Security, 2019). The DHS has also improved passenger screening through programs such as Pre-Departure Vetting, Trusted Traveler Programs, and Secure Flight, which integrate strategies such as creating watch lists for suspected passengers, identifying high-risk travelers, and incorporating air marshals in flights. 

The Department of Homeland Security (2019) has also enhanced screening for baggage and cargo through programs such as Air Cargo Screening, Enhanced Explosives Screening, and Maritime Cargo Screening, which seek to screen cargo and baggage that enters or leaves the U.S. borders to prevent the transportation of explosives and other substances that can be used to perpetrate terrorist attacks.  Additionally, the U.S. government has created programs that communicate information on threats of terrorist attacks on the public (Department of Homeland Security, 2013). For example, the National Terrorism Advisory System is a program run by the DHS, which communicates information on terror threats through the provision of detailed and timely information to government agencies, civilians, public sector organizations, first responders, and transportation hubs such as airports among others (Department of Homeland Security, 2019). This information helps Americans to take precautions to avoid terrorist attacks. 

The third step that the government took to combat terrorism is the creation of a multi-agency approach in terms of response to terrorist attacks.  The U.S. government has coordinated different government agencies including first responders and law enforcers to respond to terror attacks in a timely and effective manner (Romero, 2018).  Coordination is in aspects such as saving the lives of the injured, investigating terrorism perpetrators, sympathizers and financiers, and restoring the lives of those affected by terror attacks.  Additionally, the U.S. government has collaborated with international partners in intelligence gathering and sharing to prevent future attacks. Moreover, these strategies have been largely successful, as they have foiled many attacks since 9/11. 


Based on the analysis of the nature of terrorism, it is clear that it remains a challenge to American society. Moreover, it has adopted the form of domestic terrorism, which is more complicated to detect and prevent, since domestic terrorists are home-grown and understand how American society operates. In addition, there are significant economic effects of terrorism to the United States and these include the destruction of property, harm to the workforce, market uncertainty, and disruption of sectors such as tourism and insurance. Based on these challenges, the U.S. government responded by passing the Patriot Act, which facilitated an effective multi-agency response to the inherent terror threat. The law has helped the government to disseminate resources and implement different strategies through the Department of Homeland Security. DHS implements programs such as the Homeland Security Enterprise, Air Cargo Screening, Enhanced Explosives Screening, and Maritime Cargo Screening to prevent terrorists from achieving their goals. Besides, the U.S. government also collaborates with foreign governments in anti-terrorism initiatives such as intelligence sharing. It is important for the government to assess the effectiveness of these strategies, particularly in the face of the new threat of domestic terrorism, to ascertain whether the U.S. response to terrorism is effective and efficient. 


Department of Homeland Security. (2019). Insider Threat – Terrorism. Retrieved from

Department of Homeland Security (2013). National infrastructure protection plan (NIPP), 

partnering for critical infrastructure security and resilience. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office

Department of Homeland Security (2014). 2014 Quadrennial homeland security review

Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

Frontline. (2018). Responding to Domestic Terrorism. Retrieved from 

Herman, S. N. (2011). Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American 

Democracy. Oxford University Press.

Romero, L. (2018). Decades after 9/11, the American right is behind a terrorism surge.  

Retrieved from

Ross, S. (2016). Top 5 Ways Terrorism Impacts the Economy.  Retrieved from

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