Potential Terror Threat to U.S. Elections

According to various news sources, and more specifically, CBS News reported on Friday that U.S. intelligence has alerted FBI terrorism task forces in three states about an al-Qaeda plot to disrupt American elections next week. With Election Day being Tuesday, the threat warning was about attacks potentially occurring on Monday. This could indicate an attempt to attack poll workers setting up for the election, or simply to lower turnout by terrifying people about traveling to and going out to public places. The U.S. intelligence reports indicated Texas, Virginia, and New York have received warnings of possible pending attacks.

Al-Qaeda, Iran and ISIS all represent an immediate danger to the U.S., but likewise their surrogates and sympathizers within the U.S. could potentially take some form of action in an attempt to prove their allegiance and support. An attack during the U.S. election process would potentially create devastating panic, fear and chaos — the sort of psychological affect terrorism seeks to cause. 

The exact nature of the threat was not stated, though many of the U.S. and western European recent terror attacks have used guns instead of bombs. Texas is normally considered an unlikely target for shooting attacks, but it is one of only six U.S. states that ban all firearms from being carried at polling places and sites. As a result, the ordinary distributed defense of a well-armed population will not be available to Texans on this occasion as an opportunity to thwart such an attack.

In addition, separately from this threat advisory, a ranking figure in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Salar Abnoush recently proclaimed in an interview with Iran’s state media that Iran’s IRGC was infiltrating the United States and Europe with militants to possibly conduct terrorist operations. The Iranian official stated that; “The whole world should know that the IRGC will be in the U.S. and Europe very soon.” Iran has been increasingly provocative in its conduct towards the United States, going so far as having it proxy forces, the Houthi rebels in Yemen fire missiles at U.S. Navy warships in the Red Sea of the southwest coast. Further, as we remember, the IRGC Naval forces last year seized an American patrol boat and held its U.S. Navy crew hostage for a portion of two days. Similarly, the killing of two U.S. soldiers in Jordan earlier today is likely the work of al-Qaeda or ISIS operatives targeting U.S. trainers supporting U.S. operations in the Middle East, specifically Iraq and Syria.

An actual attack within the U.S. homeland, especially one targeting the lead-up to the U.S. Elections and the important pre-Election process, would be a significant escalation. Nevertheless, the trend of either al-Qaeda or Iranian unconventional forces or other sympathetic radical-Islamic group or individuals attacks has been on the increase and escalated lately, in recent months. According to a source who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon newspaper, the recent influx of investment and the Obama Administration returning $150 Billion in sanction relief as part of the nuclear deal and the $1.7 Billion in hostage payments, more than likely provided Iran with a sense that it is freer than it has been to conduct such attacks without punishment or reprisal:

“If we look at Iran’s previous terror attacks and assassination campaign around the world, such a statement is alarming,” Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Free Beacon. “The Islamic Republic has killed hundreds of Iranians and non-Iranians around the world in a coordinated campaign of terror, [intimidation and revenge].  Iran may decide to restart the project now that many western companies are going to Iran and Iran feels its action in Europe may not be punished strongly.”

Furthermore, to these centrally-organized threats, there is of course a persistent danger of attacks by Islamic State (ISIS) inspired militants. Such attacks have been of increasing frequency across both Europe and increasing threats to the United States. Because most of these attacks have lacked central planning and multi-level compartmentization — they are very difficult to stop before they happen.

Across the U.S. and specifically, Americans citizens should be aware of the dangers posed by any of these actors. Nevertheless, the right to vote is an act central to the life of a free and self-governing nations and its people. U.S. citizens should take appropriate precautions, but no one should avoid voting because of any physical threat. Rather, Americans should defy those who would deny them the right to vote through terror in the manner of their ancestors, who defied and denied totalitarianism rule, and declared our Declaration of Independence.

Jim Waurishuk is a retired USAF Colonel, serving nearly 30-years as a career senior intelligence and political-military affairs officer and special mission intelligence officer with expertise in strategic intelligence, international strategic studies and policy, and asymmetric warfare. He served combat and combat-support tours in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as well as on numerous special operations and special mission intelligence contingencies in Central America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. He served as a special mission intelligence officer assigned to multiple Joint Special Operations units, and with the CIA’s Asymmetric Warfare Task Force, as well as in international and foreign advisory positions. He served as Deputy Director for Intelligence for U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) during the peak years of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Global War on Terrorism. He is a former White House National Security Council staffer and a former Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C. He served as a senior advisor to the Commander U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and is Vice President of the Special Ops-OPSEC -- which provides strategic and operational security analysis and assessments to governmental and private entities, as well as media organizations on national security issues, policy, and processes. He currently provides advisory and consulting services on national security, international strategic policy, and strategy assessments for the U.S. and foreign private sector and governments entities, media groups and outlets, and to political groups, forums, and political candidates. He is an author and writer providing regular commentary and opinion to national and local TV, radio networks, and for both print and online publications, as well as speaking engagements to business, political, civic and private groups on national security matters – focusing on international strategic policy and engagement, and strategic intelligence, and subject matter expertise on special mission intelligence and operations, counter-terrorism, and asymmetric warfare and conflict.