By Peter Bergen
Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden - From 9/11 to Abbottabad" and a director at the New America Foundation. Jennifer Rowland is a program associate at the New America Foundation.
It's too early to tell who is responsible for Monday's bombings in Boston. Yet after an incident like this, everyone is looking to find out who did it and why.
One possible guide is recent history: In the years since the 9/11 attacks, dozens of extremists have plotted to use explosives to further their causes in the United States.
Of the 380 individuals indicted for acts of political violence or for conspiring to carry out such attacks in the U.S. since 9/11, 77 were able to obtain explosives or the components necessary to build a bomb, according to a count by the New America Foundation.
Of those, 48 were right-wing extremists, 23 were militants inspired by al Qaeda's ideology, five have been described as anarchists and one was an environmentalist terrorist.
But in the years since 9/11, actual terrorist bombings in the U.S., like the ones at the Boston Marathon, have been exceedingly rare.
Read Peter's full take on cnn.com/opinion.
By Pam Benson
The arrest of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, who had been living in Iran for the past decade, has once again raised questions about whether the Iranian government is providing a haven or barrier to the terror group.
Al Qaeda and its members held under "house arrest" in Iran over the past decade have had a complicated relationship with the Tehran regime, one which allowed the detainees to often times continue supporting the terror group's operations in the region.
Current and former U.S. officials say al Qaeda in Iran managed to be fairly active in facilitating the movement of money and people into Pakistan where the core leadership has safe haven in tribal areas.
"They helped move people in and out of FATA through Iran for operational reasons," one former senior counter-terrorism official told CNN.
By Pam Benson
Creating the office of the director of national intelligence in 2005 was meant to improve the management of the nation’s intelligence gathering in the wake of 9/11, but it has often led to turf wars between national intelligence directors and directors of the CIA.
Now President Barack Obama’s nomination of his trusted counterterrorism aide, John Brennan, as CIA director may leave the impression the CIA director is the top spy, even though the director of national intelligence technically would be his boss.
The problem, past directors in both posts and other experts say, is that the DNI’s role is ambiguous.
By Pam Benson
Three U.S. senators say the new film about the Osama bin Laden raid is "grossly inaccurate and misleading" in how it depicts CIA interrogations as torture and have called on the studio distributing "Zero Dark Thirty" to publicly state the movie is not based on fact.
In a bipartisan letter to Sony Pictures Entertainment on Wednesday, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin and Republican Sen. John McCain said they were deeply disappointed in the film.
"Zero Dark Thirty is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the films fictional narrative," the senators wrote.
By Pam Benson
A suspected terrorist is held down by his CIA captives at a black site, one of the secret overseas prisons run by the CIA. Cloth covers his entire face as a bucket of water is poured over it.
It's the harrowing first scene from "Zero Dark Thirty," the soon-to-be-released movie about how the CIA found Osama bin Laden. The scene depicts waterboarding, the controversial harsh interrogation technique that simulates drowning, and it suggests that waterboarding and other coercive techniques aided in identifying the courier who eventually led to bin Laden.
While only a limited number of people have seen the movie so far at prerelease screenings, its first 45 minutes have reignited the debate over whether the U.S. government engaged in torture.
The scenes are bound to have a bigger effect on moviegoers than the less dramatic sleuthing depicted in the film, said Peter Bergen, a CNN national security analyst.
"These visceral scenes are, of course, far more dramatic than the scene where a CIA analyst says she has dug up some information in an old file that will prove to be a key to finding bin Laden," he wrote in an op-ed in CNN.com's Opinion section this week.
It's not just in a movie. By coincidence, the debate is also front and center as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to vote Thursday on whether to approve a report its nearly four-year investigation of the CIA's interrogation and detention program. Committee staff looked at more than 6 million pages of mostly CIA documents in compiling the 6,000-page report.
By Pam Benson
Spending by the intelligence community dropped for the second year in a row following the dramatic increases in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks and it's a trend that will continue.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a statement on Tuesday revealing the budget for national intelligence programs in fiscal year 2012 was $53.9 billion, a 1 percent decrease from the previous year.
And according to the Defense Department, the amount spent for military intelligence dropped by 10 percent to $21.5 billion.
The overall spending of $75.4 billion in 2012 represents a 4% cut in intelligence spending.
The fiscal year ended on September 30.
Overall intelligence spending peaked in fiscal year 2010 when the United States spent a total of $80.1 billion.
By Pam Benson
The United States must beef up its cyber defenses or suffer as it did on September 11, 2001 for failing to see the warning signs ahead of that devastating terrorist attack, the Secretary of Defense told a group of business leaders in New York Thursday night.
Calling it a “pre-9/11 moment,” Leon Panetta said he is particularly worried about a significant escalation of attacks.
In a speech aboard a decommissioned aircraft carrier, Panetta reminded the Business Executives for National Security about recent distributed denial of service attacks that hit a number of large U.S. financial institutions with unprecedented speed, disrupting services to customers.
And he pointed to a cyber virus known as Shamoon which infected the computers of major energy firms in Saudi Arabia and Qatar this past summer. More than 30-thousand computers were rendered useless by the attack on the Saudi state oil company ARAMCO. A similar incident occurred with Ras Gas of Qatar. Panetta said the attacks were probably the most devastating to ever hit the private sector.
CNN's Suzanne Kelly reports on a scathing report from a Senate Homeland Security Sub-committee which is critical of the way fusion centers–the post 9/11 groups set up to share information among local, state and federal law enforcement–operate.
By Pam Benson
The nation's counterterrorism chief told Congress on Wednesday the assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was a terrorist attack.
But National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen said at a Senate hearing the best information so far indicates that armed extremists did not plan in advance to assault the Benghazi consulate last Tuesday, but took advantage of an opportunity to do so during a demonstration over an anti-Muslim film.
Olsen said the investigation continues and facts are being developed. But he said it "appears that individuals who were certainly well armed seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded that evening and into the morning of September 12.
"We do know that a number of militants in area, as I mentioned, are well armed and maintain those arms. What we don't have at this point is specific intelligence that there was a significant advanced planning or coordination for this attack," he said.
By Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson
The classified program that arms the U.S. government with powerful authorities to monitor communications of foreigners overseas is at the heart of a debate over just how much people should trust their government.
The Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, originally enacted in 1978, was amended after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, allowing for a dramatic expansion of the abilities of the U.S. government to collect intelligence on foreign people in foreign countries. FISA sets procedures for the intelligence community to intercept e-mails, phone conversations and other communications of foreigners overseas who are suspected of threatening the United States.
The problem is that sometimes, in the course of collecting that electronic information, data also is collected on "U.S. persons" - meaning citizens or foreign residents of the United States.