As the Cold War era ended, the threat of terrorism became a high-priority
U.S. national security and criminal concern, both at home and abroad. The
federal government does not have a single definition of terrorism, and
agencies use different terms to describe protective and deterrent programs
and activities and countermeasures against the threat of terrorist attack.1
U.S. policy and strategy for dealing with terrorism, along with the nature
and perception of the terrorist threat, has been evolving since the 1970s. A
variety of presidential directives, implementing guidance, executive
orders, interagency agreements, and legislation provide the complex
framework for the programs and activities to combat terrorism in more
than 40 federal agencies, bureaus, and offices. Formal interagency
coordination is managed at the National Security Council (NSC), which also
sponsors a number of interagency working groups on certain terrorism
matters. For intelligence issues related to terrorism, the Community
Counterterrorism Board's Interagency Intelligence Committee on
Terrorism is the mechanism for interagency coordination among U.S.
military, regulatory, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies.
The Threat of Terrorism at Home and Abroad
While the number of terrorist incidents both worldwide and in the United
States has declined in recent years, the level of violence and lethality of
attacks has increased. The State Department reported that the number of
international terrorist incidents has fallen from a peak of 665 in 1987 to
296 in 1996, a 25-year low.2 Of the 296 international incidents during 1996,
73 were against U.S. persons and facilities overseas. But casualties
resulting from international terrorist incidents during 1996 were among
the highest ever recorded—311 persons killed and 2,652 wounded.3 Of
those, 24 Americans were killed and 250 Americans were wounded.
Similarly, between 1989 and the end of 1993, there were 23 recorded acts
of terrorism in the United States, and for 1995, the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) reported only one domestic terrorist incident in the
United States-the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. That
incident-the most destructive ever on U.S. soil-killed 168 and wounded
500 persons. Figure 1.1 shows State Department statistics on U.S.
casualties of international terrorism from 1991 through 1996, and figure 1.2
'In addition, Congress has defined the term terrorism in several federal statutes. The definitions vary somewhat depending on the particular context.
2State Department statistics only include terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country. As a result, these numbers do not include incidents of domestic terrorism worldwide.
"The deaths of 90 people and injuries of 1,400 people in 1996 were caused by a single truck bombing in Sri Lanka. Because the bombing wounded some U.S., Japanese, and Dutch citizens, this was counted as an international terrorist incident.