Isolate and Contain: An Effective Strategy for Ebola and Terror
Which virus is a bigger threat to Americans -Ebola or Islamic fanaticism?
Judging from recent news, both appear to be equally malicious. Almost simultaneously, officials in New York have been forced to react to a doctor who imported Ebola to New York City from Africa, and an act of so-called “lone wolf” terrorism by a jihadi sympathizer who took an axe to two police officers in Queens.
Fortunately in both cases, the threat was quickly contained. The doctor was brought to a hospital as soon as he became symptomatic, and the “lone wolf” was quickly stopped by police bullets. He is not believed to have any known connections to organized terror groups.
But neither were many of those who engaged in terror attacks in the 13 years since 9/11. This means that like Ebola or other diseases, jihadi ideology can spread across the United States and infect deranged or socially disaffected people here, thus providing an effective way for ISIS and others to terrorize America without lifting a finger. And just as the Obama Administration’s reaction to Ebola has been lacking, it has turned its back for too long on the danger posed byISIS.
Authorities believe ISIS is actively encouraging lone wolf attacks. A law enforcement bulletin obtained by Fox News warned that ISIS uses social media to encourage sympathizers to find members of the armed forces and attack them (although a Homeland Security spokesman said there was no credible, specific threat.) A man in Oklahoma City charged with beheading a coworker reportedly had pictures of ISIS beheadings on his Facebook page.
“The Internet as well as certain specific Muslim extremists are really firing up this lone wolf phenomenon,” California Senator Diane Feinstein recently said on CNN. “The multiplicity of [worldwide] attacks in 2014 shows that their propaganda is having some effect.”
Several Americans have been apprehended in the process of trying to join forces with ISIS, including three teenage Denver girls of Somali descent who were stopped in Frankfurt, and a Chicago man who was arrested in O’Hare airport.
Just as we are developing protocols to contain and control Ebola, so too must we take measures to monitor both the spread of jihadi sympathy and any inroads ISIS may be making into America’s cities. At present, Americans seem less concerned about being struck by a terror attack here than they are about exposure to Ebola, which by all medical accounts is extremely rare. Analytics from Google show Ebola is a more-searched term than ISIS, and a Pew Poll found that 36% of Americans are following the spread of Ebola, while 31% are following America’s strikes against ISIS.
The answer to both problems is the same: education. As doctors, public officials, and the general public learn how Ebola spreads and how it can be contained, we must also look at “lone wolf” terrorism as an epidemic.
Speaking on “Meet The Press” Sunday, Michael Leiter, former director of the United States National Counterterrorism Center, said the only way to contain the spread of lone-wolf terror is to “ramp up our surveillance” to detect people who may “have a crisis in their life, are mentally ill and attach themselves to that ideology.” As in the Ebola crisis, he said, the risk is small – not an existential threat, but one we dare not underestimate.
We always hear about “increased chatter” from extremist groups before and after an event. We should be listening more often and more carefully, and we must continue to work with the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court to find ways to be diligent while respecting the privacy of innocent Americans.
The man shot dead by police after the Queens hatchet attack, Zale Thompson, had an online history that involved rants against America and visits to sites associated with terror groups.
Leiter noted that monitoring is not enough: Authorities and their operatives also need to be able to engage extremist forces through social media.
Based on what we learned in Dallas from the treatment of Ebola patient Eric Duncan, New York officials were able to more effectively respond to the New York incident. We must take great care to take similar lessons of prevention when it comes to Islamic terror.
Eli Verschleiser is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate. In his Philanthropy, Mr. Verschleiser is the Treasurer for the American Jewish Congress, Co-Founder of Magenu.org, & President for OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth. Mr Verschleiser is a frequent commentator on political and social services matters.