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Richard Horowitz Esq.

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(Attorney concentrating in corporate, security, and international issues.  He served in the Israel Defense Forces for six years, attaining the rank of captain, and is a former private investigator.  Mr. Horowitz has lectured on terrorism and related topics in numerous countries and is the publisher of


Copyright: Richard Horowitz Esq.

U.S. counterterrorism policy focuses on two aspects of the terrorist threat.  First, that the predominant threat, that of Islamic terrorism, is (a) international in scope[1] and (b) has reached proportions where it concerns both U.S. national security and international security.  This essay highlights the background to the current policy and the resources available to further study and analyze it.

Two international terrorists incidents occurred in the early 1970's which set into motion the development of today's counterterrorism structure and policy.  First, the September 1972 killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics by the Black September Organization.  Twenty days later, on September 25, President Nixon established the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism, the antecedent to the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism.  Chaired by the Secretary of State, the Cabinet Committee included the Secretaries of Defense and Transportation, the U.N. Ambassador, the Attorney General, the directors of the CIA and FBI, and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs.[2] 


The March 1973 kidnapping in Khartoum and subsequent killing of the U.S. Ambassador, his Deputy Chief of Mission, and a Belgian diplomat, again by Black September, led to a new policy of no negotiations, deals or concessions with hostage-takers.[3]  In effect, the establishment of the Cabinet Committee and the decision regarding Khartoum, respectively, were significant precursors to today's counterterrorism organization and policy.

Beginning in the 1980's the various administrations issued a number of National Security Decision Directives (30, 138, 149, 176, 179, 180, 205, and 207), an important Presidential Decision Directive (39), and Executive Orders on terrorism (13388, 13354, 13356, 133289, 13234, 13224, 13129, 13099, and 12947).   

The national security page of the White House's website summarizes the current
U.S. counterterrorism policy.  The Justice Department's Counterterrorism White Paper (June 22, 2006) reviews the Department's successes in combating terrorism.  The Department of Defense Instruction 2000.16 (October 2, 2006), outlines the Department's anti-terrorism standards to protect DoD facilities and personnel.

Other valuable sources for understanding the current U.S. policy is the National Counterterrorism Center and its Worldwide Incidents Tracking System, the Treasury Department's Terrorism and Financial Intelligence page, the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list, the Government Accountability Office's reports on terrorism, and the report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States (the "9-11 Commission").  A overview of
U.S. counterterrorism policy prior to September 11, 2001is found in U.S Counter-Terrorism Policy and Organization

In addition, the following items are crucial components of U.S. counterterrorism policy:


Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism

The State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism is the U.S. government's lead agency in executing and coordinating its counter-terrorism policy.  Its webpage contains a list of U.S. government agencies responsible for counterterrorism as well as Fact Sheets and other valuable material.  Its archived page contains material prior to January 20, 2001.   See also the State Department's  Diplomacy and the Global War on Terrorism page.


Patterns of Global Terrorism

The State Department's Patterns of Global Terrorism is an annual report it is required by law to submit to the Congress.  It provides detailed assessments regarding acts of international terrorism, terrorist groups and the countries who harbor them, and the extent to which foreign governments are cooperating with the U.S. on combating terrorism.   Its archived versions are also available


White House Counterterrorism Reports

White House Counterterrorism Reports page contains several key reports U.S. government reports, including 9/11 Five Years Later: Successes and Challenges (September 7, 2006), the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (September 5, 2006), and the National Security Strategy of the United States (March 16,2006).


Terrorism Lists

The U.S. government maintains several terrorist lists:

State Sponsor of Terrorism: Under U.S. law, the Secretary of State has to provide Congress with a list of countries which have "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism."  The countries currently designated as state sponsors of terrorism are Syria (1979), Cuba (1982) Iran (1984), North Korea (1988), and Sudan (1993).  Iraq, Libya, and Nicaragua have been removed from the list.  Afghanistan had never been on list because the United States did not recognize the Taliban regime as a government.[4]  U.S. law prohibits foreign aid and many exports to countries on this list.


Foreign Terrorist Organization: U.S. law also requires the Secretary of State to provide Congress with a list of foreign terrorist organizations.   For a detailed analysis of each organization, see Foreign Terrorist Organizations published by the Congressional Research Service, February 6, 2004.  Under U.S. law, it is prohibited for a person in the U.S. or subject to U.S. jurisdiction to knowingly provide "material support or resources" to an FTO, alien members or representatives of an FTO, are inadmissible to the U.S. and may be removed from the U.S., and U.S. financial institutions that become aware that it possesses FTO funds must report these funds to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.


Terrorism Exclusion List:  The Terrorism Exclusion List was created by the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and contains names of designated terrorist orgainzations for purposes of immigration; a person associated with groups on this list is prevented from entering the U.S. and  may be deported if found in the country.


Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons: In October 2002, the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, the Foreign Terrorist Organization List, and two other lists, the Specially Designated Terrorists (SDT) list created in 1995 and Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) list created in 2001, were combined and called Specially Designated National and Blocked Persons (SDN).  As with the SDT and SDGT before it, the U.S. government can freeze the assets of persons on the SDN.  It is maintained by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control

The following table shows the year each list was established and the government agency responsible for maintaining it:






State Sponsor of Terrorism




Specially Designated Terrorists (SDT)




Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)




Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT)




Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL)




Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN)



Terrorism Asset Reports
U.S. law requires the Secretary of the Treasury to provide Congress with an annual report "describing the nature and extent of assets held in the United States by terrorist countries and any organization engaged in international terrorism."  Called Terrorism Asset Reports, they are found on OFAC's website.


The U.S. has a great deal of legislation and other legal material on terrorism, researchable on the following sources: (a) Backgrounder on Terrorism Law (LII); (b) Findlaw; (c) Library of Congress; (d) Law Library of Congress, (e) Legislation Related to the Attack on Sept. 11; and (f) U.S. Anti-Terrorism Laws.

In addition, the texts of various terrorism legislation can be accessed: (a) USA PATRIOT Act of 2001; (b) Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996; (c) Aviation Security Improvement Act of 1990; (d) Anti-Terrorism and Arms Export Amendments Act of 1989; and the (e) 1984 Act to Combat International Terrorism.





1 See the author's article: "Selected Headlines: The International Problem of Islamic Terrorism," January-June 1999, Journal of Counterterrorism & Security International (Winter 1999), available on his website at

2 "Office for Combating Terrorism,"
U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, March 1984.

3 P. 110, Assassination in
Khartoum, by David A. Korn, (Indiana University Press, 1993).  See pages 108-121 for a vivid description of the development of and reaction to this policy.

4 The "FTO List" and Congress: Sanctioning Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations," Congressional Research Services,
October 21, 2003, page 3, footnote 9.






















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