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How to Deal With Terrorism at Home and Abroad

Duke scholars brief the media on how the Biden administration should respond to terrorism, Russia

Part of the The Briefing: Election 2020 and Its Aftermath Series
How to Deal With Terrorism at Home and Abroad
Simon Miles, David Schanzer and Susan Gordon

DURHAM, N.C. -- Just a week old now, the new Biden administration has plenty to deal with on issues of terrorism, both foreign and domestic. From the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to ongoing cybersecurity threats from Russia and other nations, Biden and his team are already signaling a shift from the policies of former President Trump.

Three Duke experts, including a former intelligence official who worked in the Trump administration, spoke to reporters Wednesday on these and other issues.

Watch the briefing on YouTube.

Here are excerpts from that virtual media briefing:


Susan Gordon, Rubenstein Fellow and former U.S. principal deputy director, national intelligence

“Former President Trump, if you just look at his security profile, it’s daunting. He’s incredibly public. He has implied he intends to seek further office. He has global business interests and he’s the former president who has everything that we’ve known, incredibly important things that are in his head. If you look at all that and think about our adversaries and competitors’ interests with respect to him, I would be very purposeful about whether, just as a matter of courtesy, (to) continue to provide classified information.”

“The beauty of it is you don’t actually have to make a special rule. You just have to apply the one you already have. I have security clearances, but clearance doesn’t give me access to information. ‘Need to know’ does. So if I need to know, I think you’ll decide that right now, he doesn’t have that. If it changes in the future for safety reasons or if he’s going to advance the national interest, you provide him the information he needs.”


Susan Gordon

“I’ve been involved with intelligences since the 1980s. For most of my years, national security was considered to be disproportionately military and political action and the whole systems were set up to provide that kind of counsel and advice and response, with actors and players who kind of grew up in that community, whether they had been in Congress or at think tanks or had held administrative positions.”

“Then in comes this disruptor, former President Trump. He doesn’t come from that world. He doesn’t know all the rules and the basis of all the papers and theory. He is disproportionately, economically focused. He’s thinking economics. He’s thinking leverage. He’s thinking deals, he’s thinking finances. It is a shift when you think about the basis of national security. So he comes in with that basis.”

“And he is also, consequently, much more in the moment. What are we doing now? What do we have to do now? What deal do we cut? What leverage do we have? What situation do we either correct or forestall? And a little bit less impressed by a history of relationships and strategies and alliances. And a little bit less focused – and a ‘little bit’ is ‘remarkably’ – less focused on the second- and third-order effects of when you play out those strategies.”

“Throughout our history, our actions had been as a part of alliances. His tended not to be dependent on those alliances. So a very different approach. Economic. Transactional. And immediate.”


David Schanzer, counterterrorism expert, professor of the practice, public policy

“It’s very important not to allow these movements to repeat the success of the Capitol. Law enforcement was not caught off guard again and a lot of the protests didn’t even materialize because I think there was a real deterrent in having the appropriate amount of law enforcement. The inauguration went off without a hitch.”

“The way to deal with the violence, let me make clear -- protests, pro-Trump political movements -- it’s a perfectly legitimate activity. It’s when these activities foment violence that it becomes a national security threat. So the way to deal with that inside the United States is aggressive law enforcement.”

“The FBI has an obligation and duty to pursue these cases to the greatest extent permissible by law. This includes the people who didn’t engage with violence but wandered into the Capitol. I think it’s important to bring charges. Five people were killed and a police officer was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. So, people who were involved have to understand that protest is fine but violence is not.”

“I think it’s very important to dig deep. We need to at least understand how organized these groups are, do they have an infrastructure, fundraising, leadership, communications networks?”


Susan Gordon

“The election is the modality, but the point is to undermine democracy. With the advent of the digital environment you have a speed and a volume and a stealthiness of action with adversaries who would either influence to get their outcome or produce rifts in our society. ”

“One of the things we have to look at is, what is our deterrent to that sort of mischief that is being affected in order to undermine our democracy?”

“The U.S. as a leader in democratic values is important, but there’s a bit of a black eye now in terms of what moral authority do we have. So how do we deal with it ourselves? What is our seriousness of purpose? I think the two, three weeks after Jan. 6 showed the rule of law, showed a purposeful account, showed how we could use our mechanism to keep it from blooming.”


Simon Miles, Russia expert, assistant professor, public policy

“This is the area which suits Russia’s comparative advantages the best. In the US/Russia relationship, Moscow is not really interested in competing on conventional forces in Europe, or on very expensive, high-tech nuclear weapons.”

“This information space is exactly suited to an authoritarian country like Russia, which is why they’re exploiting it so much.”

“Some of the most useful tools in the Russian toolkit here are not misinformation or disinformation. It’s just portraying really unflattering facts. If you turn on channels like Russia Today or you go to, another Russia government-controlled news outlet, footage of the capitol riots are extremely prominent in order to discredit the very understanding and pillar bedrock of democracy.”

“Some people in government or who were in government were doing the work of Russian propagandists for them, spreading, in this case, real disinformation with greater efficacy and with a much more enviable bully pulpit than anyone at an Internet research agency or any types of outlets ever could.”


David Schanzer

“I believe that if we have a domestic terrorism law, that also means that providing material support to an organization that is planning and plotting specific kinds of crimes and violence would now also be a crime. If that’s a crime, then you can get a search warrant and a wiretap warrant, if there’s probable cause that an entity or individual is providing material support to engage in domestic terrorism. Those are the kinds of tools I think we need in order to get a grip and really start penetrating and unraveling these violent domestic terrorism networks.”


Simon Miles

“It’s really important that the new administration made the issue of (the arrest of Russian opposition leader) Alexei Navalny and the mass arrests of those who have come out against his detention a priority. That draws an important line behind how the previous administration treated human rights concerns in Russia.”

“The scale of these arrests has been just baffling. The number is approaching 3,800, with 1,500 alone in Moscow.”

“(The Russians) see this as an existential threat and are … overreacting. It’s very clear they don’t have a strategy beyond repression and violence. The United States should make it very clear that this matters to American interests because democracy and civil society are American interests.”

“I think it was good there was talk now of restarting New START (nuclear arms reduction treaty).”

“I think strategic stability with the U.S. and Russia is really important. The Biden administration would do well to cooperate where there is common ground, and this is it.”

“There’s a reason that arms control has been an area in which Washington and Moscow have been able to find some common ground. It’s because strategic stability is an asset for both.”

“Notably, the Russian readout of the (Biden-Putin call) makes no mention of Alexei Navalny. It is the policy of the Russian government never to speak his name. He’s an un-person, in the Soviet motif.”

“So there’s not a dream that Russia under Putin is going to be different because Biden is in charge. Being hard-headed and realistic about this is going to serve the Biden team well. Dealing with Russia as it is, rather than how they wish it to be, is going to serve us well.”


Susan Gordon

“I might argue that the Trump administration, when it took office, took what had been a burbling issue and drove it in a weird sort of way into action, but in that action has driven some sort of stasis. I don’t expect it will be a huge focus as long as the uneasy balance that exists today is maintained.”

“Make no mistake. Russia’s interest in executing actions against Ukraine to make sure the Ukrainians understand who has the power is as much of an element … of Russia’s foreign policy as anything. It’s why they turn off the power grid, it’s why they conduct so many cyber-activities there, it’s why you’ve seen moves into various parts of Ukraine proper. I don’t think, barring a massive new Russian aggression, that this will necessarily be the focus of (U.S.) foreign policy in the short haul. But it’s always burbling beneath the surface because of Russia’s clear intention with regard to Ukraine.”

Simon Miles

“I see no real reason why Russia would want to take on more of a burden here. They’re getting what they want and need out of it.”

“Russia will keep their finger on the dial, so to speak, to keep this at an uncomfortable simmer, with no interest in turning it up to be a rolling boil.”


David Schanzer

“I certainly think we have to act on multiple fronts and have a comprehensive approach. I think what you’re going to see is a greater reliance on tools of diplomacy across the board. We need a political solution in Afghanistan. I don’t believe the agreement Trump negotiated with the Taliban is going to bear fruit and bring the kind of stability and peace that would allow us to withdraw troops. We’re going to need a stronger diplomatic effort, bring in more parties that are committed to a peaceful future in Afghanistan in order to do what I think everyone on all sides wants to do -- decrease and ultimately end U.S. involvement there except in a continuing supportive role.”

“The issues with Iran are very separate and different and complicated. We were able to flick a switch and rejoin the Paris Accords because climate change is continuing and getting worse and many of the parties were fully committed to that treaty, so we could simply rejoin. The situation has really changed in Iran. Iran’s internal politics are a mess, their economy is in shambles and they’ve had this burgeoning potential to restart and move towards a nuclear weapon. We have to deal with the situation as it is now, not pretend that we’re back in 2015 and can simply rejoin (the Iran nuclear agreement).”

Susan Gordon

“The prospect of Iran as a nuclear state is not something we or others are interested in tolerating. I expect them to make a move to get back to some sort of deterrent to the development of nuclear capabilities. It’s a really different situation now than it was four years ago. What caused former President Trump to withdraw was Iran’s malign activity.”

“The conditions to coming back to any sort of table are different. I don’t think you’re going to be able to separate the nuclear issue from all the other regional malign activities. Iran has some really interesting choices it has to make about what they’re willing to accept and what relief they need.”


David Schanzer

“Civics education, if we want to get down to root causes and long-term solutions. We’ve lost sight of the way we teach history, how we teach government, about balances fairness and the value of democracy. I am very enamored of the idea of expanding national service. We are becoming so polarized, people living in such different worlds with very little commonalities. That’s why we have these situations where people are living in almost two different factual realities.”

“The idea of having people, once they graduate from high school or college, taking one or two years to do some form of national service where people from all over the country … actually work together in teams, building trails, helping with contact tracing, public health, infrastructure. Giving those experiences would actually weave the country together a lot more deeply and give people a better understanding of what people are not like them, what their experiences are like.”


David Schanzer

“Really just a change of the tone. We’ve had four years of tumult and exhaustion. It’s affected our national security because it’s undercut confidence in America and indeed the whole concept of what America stands for in the world.”

“Our standing and image took a lot of blows. Just changing the tone and getting back to a calmer approach that focuses on competence and clear interests, and diminishes personalities, and is really just kinder and more professional is going to enhance our national security greatly.”

Susan Gordon

“One: Rebuild trust not only between the administration and the bureaucracy but between the American people and the institutions that support them.”

“Two: He (Biden) needs to keep things connected. The (former) president’s actions became disconnected from the work of the democracy. Most of the work of the nation, it’s pretty boring stuff, it’s done at lower-level organizations. If they aren’t connected to the policy it’s very hard for them to have the confidence of the people they’re working with, particularly with our foreign partners.”

“Third: He has to demand the bureaucracies be better. They’re too arcane. They have processes from a different time. They have to be faster and more relevant.”

Simon Miles

“I think the Biden administration has real work to do rebuilding trust between the United States and its partners and allies. The 45th president’s fascination with strong men and undemocratic leaders, and very obviously being much more comfortable in the company of a man like Kim Jong Un than in the company of a leader like Angela Merkel, (would) be at best puzzling and probably quite disconcerting. There’s real work to be done on that front.”

Faculty Participants

Susan Gordon
Susan Gordon is a former U.S. principal deputy director of national intelligence. She is now a Rubenstein Fellow at Duke University who teaches courses on political science and public policy, including national security and leadership in the public sphere. Read her recent op-ed in The Washington Post.

Simon Miles
Simon Miles is an assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke and an expert in Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of “Engaging the Evil Empire,” an account of how Washington and Moscow ended the Cold War.

David Schanzer
David Schanzer, a professor of the practice at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, is an expert on counterterrorism strategy, counterterrorism law and homeland security. Schanzer was the Democratic staff director for the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005, and has worked for several U.S. Senators including Joe Biden. Read his recent op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times.

Duke experts on a variety of topics related to politics and public policy can be found here.