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Dartmouth Scholar Daniel Benjamin Says Lone Wolves “New Normal” in Terrorism

Dec. 4, 2015

Daniel Benjamin, director of Dartmouth College's John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and the former counterterrorism coordinator at the U.S. State Department, is available to comment on the threat of lone wolf terrorists to the United States.

The FBI is treating the San Bernardino shooting by a husband and wife that killed 14 and wounded 21 as an act of terrorism. There is no evidence the Islamic State directed them, but investigators suspect the couple were inspired by the group.

Benjamin was coordinator for counterterrorism under Secretary Clinton and President Obama and a National Security Council staff member under President Clinton.

"This kind of self-radicalized violence represents the new normal in jihadist terrorism," Benjamin says. "Dealing with the problem of self-starter, low-end terror will challenge Western governments and publics for several reasons: intractable conflicts outside the borders of the affected countries that are motivating extremists, the socio-economic problems that are the backdrop for this militancy, the difficulty of identifying potential attackers and low public tolerance for violence.

"The task that intelligence and law enforcement faces in finding these individuals is difficult, especially because the lack of organizational affiliation means they leave fewer traces. So what is to be done? What the United States needs above all is a change in attitude, a greater resilience, in the face of this threat. Our society hasn't fully absorbed the notion that this kind of terrorist violence is an endemic characteristic of our times. The high-end threat along the lines of 9/11 has been much diminished by U.S. counterterrorism efforts. But there is no foolproof defense against lone wolves. Nonetheless, we can neither let them dominate our lives nor make us believe that they threaten our societies. That is the main message we should impress upon the world."

Last Updated: 12/21/15