The Dawn of American Counterterrorism Policy
In Photo (from left to right): National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State William Rogers, President Nixon, and Ambassador to the UN George H.W. Bush.
The world is reaching out for peace. The way may be hard and treacherous, but men of reason and decency are determined today, as perhaps never before, to make the effort. Let us not be disrupted or turned away by those who would loose anarchy upon the world; let us seek no accommodations with savagery, but rather act to eliminate it.
—President Nixon during a statement about action to combat terrorism.
44 years ago, terror engulfed the 1972 Munich Olympics. What began as an intense hostage situation when a terrorist faction known as Black September infiltrated the Israeli athletes’ living quarters ended in a bloody airfield shootout, leaving 11 Israelis, 5 Arab terrorists and one West German policeman dead.
This was the backdrop of a more significant terrorism problem taking the world by storm in the early 1970s. During the first three years of Richard Nixon’s presidency, there were 34 airline hijackings, as well as hundreds of terrorist bombings and shootings occurring within the United States alone.
The ultimate dangers of terrorism had manifested itself in attacks such as what occurred in Munich, as small bands of zealots, acting more boldly and frequently, found success in shaking the spirit of powerful nation-states. Capitalizing on the media coverage over their actions, these groups reaped the benefits of worldwide attention.
As a result of the incessant terrorist attacks, Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to initiate a global anti-terrorism campaign. On September 25, 1972, President Nixon established the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism, which consisted of several of the highest officials in government; the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Transportation, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, and the Directors of the CIA and the FBI were all assigned to the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism. The committee’s mission: to gather intelligence on terrorist organizations and plots, as well as to consider the most effective means by which to prevent terrorism domestically and internationally.
View memos and directives made by President Nixon detailing actions to combat terrorism: