Matthew Levitt is the Fromer-Wexler Fellow and director of the Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute.
As recently as two years ago, countering violent extremism was hardly at the forefront of U.S. policy imperatives. Osama bin Laden was dead, al-Qaeda seemingly in retreat. But the months ahead would prove this assessment shortsighted.
The Boston Marathon bombings undercut America's sense of security so carefully rebuilt post 9/11, while in the Middle East, the Arab Spring revolutions devolved into collapsing governments fueled by factional and increasingly violent confrontations. The Syrian fight sparked the break of ISIS--now the Islamic State--from al-Qaeda, and large swaths of territory in Syria and later Iraq fell to its advance. Sunni jihadists from both camps met with stiff opposition from Iran-backed Shiite foreign-fighter militias. And as ever more radicalized nationals returned home, Western nations witnessed a frightening growth of extremism on their own soils.
The sixth series of The Washington Institute's Counterterrorism Lectures spanned the period from November 2013 to May 2014 and included presentations by the following speakers (positions held at time of presentation):
John Cohen, counterterrorism coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security
Alberto Fernandez, coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications
Mark Giuliano, deputy director, FBI
Matthew Levitt, director of The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence
J. Thomas Manger, chief of police, Montgomery County, Maryland
Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of the World Organization for Resource Development and Education
George Selim, director for community partnerships on the White House's National Security Staff
Shaarik Zafar, deputy chief of the Homeland, Cyber, and Countering Violent Extremism Group in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The prescriptive measures proffered in these lectures hold as much relevance for policymakers today as they did two years ago. Americans owe a great debt to these agencies, who are today more alert than ever to the threats posed by violent extremism.