Can ISIS Be Good for America?


So let’s get things straight up front — I am by no means supporting ISIS. I don’t condone their actions or their radicalization of Islam. Naturally I abhor the terrible things they’ve done: killing innocent people through terrorist attacks throughout the world, contributing to the pervasiveness of Islamophobia through their actions, committing countless massacres against women, children, Yazidis, and those of other religions, and expediting the further destabilization of the Middle East. It’s pretty evident that ISIS, or the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh (if you want to get them angry), is appalling and vile.

HOWEVER — there are opportunities for the United States to look at this terrorist menace as a chance to learn and adapt for the better. Here are some potential areas for the U.S. to benefit from the ISIS crisis (or cr-ISIS, anyone?):

Modernization of Digital Intelligence and Social Media

ISIS sympathizer Twitter flag

ISIS has demonstrated a clear mastery of social media and technology in its propaganda and recruitment of new members, something the U.S. has thus far failed to effectively capitalize on, not just in collecting intelligence, but in using it to our advantage. In one of its most recent videos, ISIS draws heavily from influences in modern media blockbuster successes like Call of Duty, giving dissenting youth with powerful imagery of glory and honor.

The United States, on the other hand, has struggled to counter this narrative in their own social media, let alone other threats domestically and abroad. The U.S. currently attempts at using social media for outreach, updates, and announcements, however, it could make greater efforts in being more relatable and relevant to the general public. While certainly it has some success in using social media in recruiting for the military. But it could spend greater efforts in capitalizing on social media intelligence (open source intel — OSINT) in threat detection. Not necessarily on its citizens (unless willingly accepted by the public in the future), but perhaps on visitors or immigrants.

Screenshot of ISIS propaganda video

Re-evaluation of Middle Eastern Foreign Policy

With the stressing changes occurring in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.) happening alongside ISIS’s surge, U.S. involvement in the Middle East continues to exacerbate the regional conflicts and issues that plague the area today. It’s no secret the major terrorist threats that have arisen in the region in the last 20 or so years are highly influenced by our involvement in the Middle East. While we are trying to play checkers, these people are playing chess and maybe we take this opportunity to step back and allow the region to settle itself. If history is any indication, we have a poor track record of “fixing” things here. The cr-ISIS could be our opportunity to develop a lasting and intelligent foreign strategy in the Middle East.

Reinvigoration of Homeland Security and the Intelligence Community

Nearly 15 years after 9/11, the American public has come to expect from the Department of Homeland Security a zero failure stance on counter-terrorism. As seen in cases like the Boston Marathon and San Bernardino, questions arose regarding missed cues that the FBI and other agencies should have picked up on. Yet, the public is suffering from “terrorism fatigue” - having grown tired of the constant war drumbeating of counter-terrorism and radicalized terrorists.

However, with ISIS providing a recent and growing threat internationally who have proven to no longer be an isolated threat in a foreign region of the world, the fear and threat is now possibly closer to home than Americans want to believe (even though the likelihood you are the victim of a terrorist attack is extremely low - it’s still a low chance, high impact event). This could provide the U.S. an opportunity to reconstitute and reshape the field of homeland security at all levels (local, state, federal) in order to build a stronger, cohesive, and modernized intelligence community and homeland security response field.

The U.S. cannot pass over the chance to streamline and improve the homeland security and intelligence communities in order to better protect its citizens. Maybe we need to look at ISIS as an opportunity to improve rather than the traditional war and fearmongering we have done in the past, or else we will just continue to contribute to our terrorism fatigue.

Popular Security (PopSec) is a platform where multi-disciplinary professionals across federal, law enforcement, military, fire service, and emergency management fields discuss current trends and issues in the field of Homeland Security.