The first person I heard discuss the terrorist threat to America was a man named Brian Michael Jenkins. This was back in 1978, at a conference in Berlin. At the time, people who thought about defense mainly thought about the Soviet nuclear arsenal or the aftereffects of Vietnam.
Yet at this conference Jenkins, then in his mid-thirties and a scholar at the RAND Corporation, explained that even a power as fearsome as the Soviet Union might not be the worst threat to the United States and its allies in the long run. "We are approaching an age in which national governments may no longer monopolize the instruments of major destruction," he said. "The instruments of warfare once possessed only by armies will be available to gangs. It will not be possible to satisfy the real or imagined grievances of all the little groups that will be capable of large-scale disruption and destruction, or to defend everyone against them … In the future, warfare—highly destructive warfare—may be waged without the necessity for armies and governments, by people with little to lose."
When I came across notes from that conference recently, Jenkins's comments drew my attention in a way they hadn't the first time around. I mention them here less to establish his prescience (he had made similar arguments in a 1975 book) than to illustrate how long he has been thinking about the subject. For most of the past thirty years he has worked as an anti-terrorism expert in the government, at RAND, and in a private risk-consulting firm. He looks nothing at all like the former governor Jesse Ventura or the former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage—two bald, burly, aggressive-sounding veterans of U.S. Navy training. But Jenkins, who is lanky and elegantly dressed and roughly resembles the actor Roy Scheider, is a former Army Green Beret who served during the invasion of the Dominican Republic and in Vietnam; as with Ventura and Armitage, I have felt when seeing Jenkins every few years that it would not be surprising to find him crawling under barbed wire with a dagger in his teeth.