Russia’s Impact on US National Interests: Preventing Terrorist Attacks on US Homeland and Assets Abroad
Editors' note: With a change of guard in the White House, the new U.S. administration has a chance to commission a review of U.S. domestic and foreign policies. This primer is the fifth in a series designed to facilitate such a review by detailing the impact Russia does or can have on each of five vital U.S. national interests as defined by a task force co-chaired by Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill. Some of the authors offer recommendations on how to best advance these interests in 2021-2024. The interests are: (1) maintaining a balance of power in Europe and Asia; (2) ensuring energy security; (3) preventing the use and slowing the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, securing nuclear weapons and materials and preventing proliferation of intermediate and long-range delivery systems for nuclear weapons; (4) assuring the stability of the international economy; and (5) preventing large-scale or sustained terrorist attacks on the American homeland, addressed below.
What kind of impact can Russia have on U.S. attempts to prevent large-scale or sustained terrorist attacks on the American homeland, a vital national interest for Washington? This primer assesses this question by reviewing the past history of U.S.-Russian interaction in the counterterrorism domain and looking ahead to near-term terrorism challenges that the U.S. may face, and Russia may influence, one way or another. Its key judgment is that although combatting terrorism is unlikely to provide the basis for transforming the troubled U.S.-Russian relationship into a strategic partnership, Russia has demonstrated a strong ability to help the United States prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. In assessing future prospects, we must remember that counterterrorism cooperation is not binary but exists in varying degrees. Bilateral cooperation on threat warnings has been ongoing for more than 20 years and few people, even Russia hawks, think that should stop. Joint operations, however, would be a bridge too far, considering the adversarial state of U.S.-Russian relations. This does not mean there is nothing more the two sides can do in terms of sharing both intelligence and expertise.
This primer will illustrate the following points:
- Over the past two decades, Russia has made a significant contribution to preventing attacks on the United States by providing valuable intelligence and logistical support after September 11 that helped our fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. It also warned U.S. authorities about the radicalization of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon attackers, in 2011; while that intelligence failed to prevent the attack, the reasons seem to lie mostly in the handling of the information by the U.S. side.
- The primary terrorist threats facing the United States today include Islamist groups such as Islamic State, or ISIS, and al Qaeda, as well as domestic groups on the far right and far left, with the possibility ever looming that terrorists anywhere in the world might gain access to nuclear materials. As one of the world’s foremost repositories of nuclear weapons, materials and expertise, Russia can play a leading role in combatting nuclear terrorism.
- Counterterrorist cooperation can take many forms, including: the provision of threat warnings; intelligence sharing about terrorist groups and their membership, plans, operations and locations; cooperation to understand and counter the ways that individuals can be radicalized and become prone to extremist acts of violence; and operational and logistical cooperation to kill or capture terrorists, disrupt plots and undermine terrorist financial networks. Moving beyond basic sharing of threat warnings to more extensive operational cooperation, however, requires a significant degree of trust between the U.S. and Russian governments and their intelligence services that is currently lacking.
- Counterterrorist cooperation with Russia can indirectly discourage Russian support for terrorist groups that oppose the United States but pose little threat to Russia, including extremists based in the American homeland. Gaining an explicit Russian commitment to refrain from supporting extremists in the United States, however, would probably require an American pledge not to support political opposition in Russia.
- It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Russian government would actually facilitate large-scale or sustained terrorist attacks on the American homeland given the dangers such action would pose to Russia’s own security, but Russia-based extremists like those who have joined ISIS and oppose the Russian government do pose a potential threat to the United States. Just as it warned the U.S. government about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s radicalization in 2011, Russia can share intelligence about these extremists that can help the United States protect itself against them.
Gauging Russia’s impact on the key American security interest of preventing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil is a slippery endeavor. Counterterrorism is an arena in which failures are almost always exposed in public, but successes tend to remain closely held secrets. Moreover, simply enumerating instances where sharing threat intelligence or conducting joint operations has thwarted terrorist plans can tell only part of the story. Bilateral cooperation can potentially serve American interests more broadly by encouraging restraint on key counterterrorist matters, such as whether Moscow provides weaponry to states that the United States considers sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran. Yet, despite the inherent difficulties in demonstrating impact, it is likely that Russia has made important contributions to American efforts to prevent large-scale or sustained terrorist attacks on the United States and its interests over the past two decades.
Fundamentals of Counterterrorism Cooperation
Before assessing the impact of past U.S.-Russian cooperation and evaluating the prospects for the future, it is necessary to define what terrorism is and to examine the various ways that states generally can cooperate against terrorism. There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism; the United Nations has been deadlocked for years in an attempt to produce an agreed-upon definition, with efforts foundering on the insistence by some member states that violent acts in support of national liberation or self-determination should be excluded. Title 22 of the United States Code defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” The Homeland Security Act of 2002 states that terrorism means any activity that “(A) involves an act that—(i) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and (ii) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and (B) appears to be intended—(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.” Russian law similarly defines terrorism as violence aimed at exercising influence over governmental decision-making by violating public security or frightening the population.
Combatting terrorism, more than most threats, is largely an intelligence challenge, concentrated on uncovering the particulars of plots by terrorist groups or lone-wolf individuals in order to prevent them. But terrorists are a notoriously hard intelligence target. Unlike state actors, terrorists rarely conduct large-scale military exercises that can be observed and tracked, and they tend not to frequent diplomatic functions or hold public gatherings. They are often difficult targets for technical intelligence collection; the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden reportedly stopped using cell phones and fax machines to make it more difficult for U.S. intelligence to track him, and today’s extremists often employ encrypted messaging apps for communicating. Even in instances when trained intelligence officers speak the terrorists’ native language fluently and possess sufficient cultural knowledge to blend in socially, penetrating a terrorist cell with a human agent is a formidable challenge. Terrorist cells are typically small, close-knit and suspicious of would-be collaborators that they do not already know. For these reasons, it is often vital to cooperate with foreign intelligence services that might be better positioned to recruit, track or capture local terrorists.
Some measure of trust between the would-be intelligence partners is critical to success in these matters. As noted above, counterterrorist cooperation takes a variety of forms: intelligence sharing about terrorist groups and their membership, plans, operations and locations; cooperation to understand and counter the ways that individuals can be radicalized and become prone to extremist acts of violence; and operational and logistical cooperation to kill or capture terrorists, disrupt plots and undermine terrorist financial networks. The deeper the trust between the partner services, the more extensive their cooperation can be, and the greater their chances of success. With less trust, cooperation becomes more tightly constricted and tends to focus on basic levels of activity that do not expose a service or its sources to as much risk.
A Complicated US-Russian History
Even in cases where there is little trust between intelligence services, however, some degree of counterterrorist cooperation is still possible. Counterterrorist cooperation between Washington and Moscow dates back to one of the darkest periods of the Cold War. In 1983, the CIA and KGB established a secret communications channel under the code name Gavrilov—purportedly named after an 18th-century Russian poet1—in order to discuss particularly sensitive security threats. According to a former senior Soviet intelligence officer quoted by the Los Angeles Times, “information was exchanged at the highest levels, especially on possible terrorist threats, and this channel was quite effective.” While neither side has been specific about what counterterrorist assistance was rendered, officials on both sides have indicated generally that they regarded such cooperation during this period as helpful, despite the fact that the two services were otherwise engaged in fierce competition around the world, including most notably in Afghanistan.
Little information has been published about U.S.-Russian counterterrorist dialogue in the 1990s, after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed. Moscow was focused for much of the decade on the threat in Chechnya, worried that militant Islamists in that breakaway region were receiving aid from al Qaeda and related extremist groups in Central Asia and the greater Middle East. There are numerous indications that Russia was interested in gaining support from the United States on this matter, but there are few specifics in the public domain about bilateral counterterrorist discussions. By 1998, however, after Vladimir Putin became head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB)—and Osama Bin Laden issued a public declaration of war against the United States—Moscow stepped up efforts to persuade U.S. officials of links between al Qaeda and Chechen extremists, to convince Washington that Russia and the United States faced a common terrorist threat and to press for cooperation to kill Bin Laden in Afghanistan. These efforts appeared to founder on U.S. suspicions that Russia was exaggerating links between Chechens and Islamic terrorist groups, and on Washington’s preferred policy at the time of capturing and prosecuting, rather than killing, Bin Laden.
The picture changed following al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and the United States and Russia began a period that marked the high point of bilateral counterterrorist cooperation. Putin had telephoned President George W. Bush two days before the attacks to warn that Russian intelligence had detected signs of an incipient operation, something unspecific but “long in preparation,” coming out of Afghanistan. Then, following the attacks, Putin was the first foreign leader to call the White House and offer support. In a subsequent televised address to the Russian people, he bucked the recommendations of nearly all his senior advisors and announced that Russia would provide logistical, intelligence, humanitarian and diplomatic support to U.S. counterterrorist efforts in Afghanistan. U.S. national security advisor Condoleezza Rice praised Russia’s help: “Russia has been one of our best allies in terms of intelligence sharing, in terms of support for American operations that have taken place in Central Asia—this has been an extremely important relationship for us.”2 President Bush, in turn, hosted Putin at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and the two leaders attended a special session of the president’s daily briefing, sending a strong signal of U.S. intent to share terrorist threat intelligence with Moscow.3
Despite such goodwill and a significant degree of early cooperation, U.S.-Russian counterterrorist partnership soon ran into a number of obstacles that blunted each side’s enthusiasm. Some of these—including Russian concerns about U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the launch of the Iraq war, on the one hand, and growing American objections to increasingly illiberal Russian governance, on the other—had little to do directly with counterterrorism, but they more generally eroded trust and increased suspicions between the two sides. Even on the specific issue of counterterrorist cooperation, the two sides had contrasting perceptions of the nature of the threat. Russia had suffered a series of high-profile terrorist attacks in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Moscow and other cities, including hostage-taking and bombings of apartments, planes and trains. But for Moscow, such terrorist acts were deeply intertwined with political separatism, particularly in the North Caucasus, where Russian officials believed that Islamic radicals hoped—as Putin put it in 2004—“to tear off a big chunk” of Russia and create a caliphate. Russians had experienced the breakup of the Soviet Union about a decade earlier and they worried that foreign extremists in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other parts of the greater Middle East were stoking radical forms of Islam inside Russia that could result in the disintegration of the Russian Federation itself. By contrast, U.S. officials were not particularly worried at the time that terrorists might try to carve off pieces of U.S. territory or attempt to take power in the United States or neighboring countries, and Washington had long been reluctant to associate itself too closely with what it regarded as an unnecessarily brutal Russian military effort in Chechnya. Rather, our concerns focused on the ways that hatred of fundamental American freedoms and resentment of U.S. power and influence in the Middle East could prompt groups of foreign extremists such as al Qaeda to mount discrete terrorist attacks on our citizens and institutions. As a result, U.S. officials did not see a close connection between terrorist threats to America and the violence Russia was experiencing in its North Caucasus.
These differing concerns colored U.S. and Russian efforts to cooperate practically against terrorists on multiple levels. In the area of intelligence sharing, each side grew disappointed with the other’s contributions. Once the United States had succeeded in driving the Taliban from power in Kabul, U.S. officials started doubting the quality of Russia’s counterterrorist intelligence beyond Afghanistan and began to suspect that Moscow was simply attempting to exploit intelligence-sharing channels to convince the United States that Chechen separatists were linked to al Qaeda. As four CIA veterans complained last year, “the Kremlin turned every request into a focus on Russian domestic terrorism, leading those engaged with the Russians on the counterterrorism exchange to label the program as the ‘Global War on Chechen terrorism.’”
Russia was certainly eager to get U.S. intelligence on Caucasus-based groups that it perceived as Islamic extremists, but ran into U.S. insistence on differentiating between Chechen separatists—who refrained from targeting civilians—and terrorists (who did not). Russian officials had long protested the West’s willingness to provide political asylum to Chechen oppositionists and they objected to the fact that some private American organizations were continuing to support and fund the Chechen rebellion despite Washington’s declared goal of counterterrorist partnership with Moscow. How would Americans feel, they wondered, if Moscow were to allow al Qaeda members to live and raise funds in Russia? Such concerns fueled mutual mistrust and quickly caused intelligence sharing to sputter.
Going beyond intelligence sharing into coordinated counterterrorist operations proved even more problematic—in part due to each side’s perception that the other was contributing to dangerous forms of radicalization and instability. The United States had long objected to Russia’s brutality and human rights abuses in dealing with Chechnya and U.S. officials remained loath to provide even indirect support for the Russian effort there, worrying that Moscow’s strong-arm tactics would contribute to radicalization and extremism. (There is some credibility to this argument, as noted in the 9/11 Commission Report, as well as other studies.) Similarly, as the United States launched a series of military and paramilitary operations in Iraq, Libya and Syria aimed not just at the narrowly focused elimination of terrorists but at the broader political transformation of authoritarian states, the Russian government grew increasingly concerned that American sympathy and support for groups opposing Arab despots were effectively destabilizing the region rather than producing better governance and reducing terrorism. (Some Western analysts, including British intelligence officials, shared these concerns as well.)
These differences in threat perception concerning third-country political movements—which included differences in diagnosing the related problems and prescribing solutions—came to a head in Syria, after the Assad regime’s brutal suppression of protests in 2011 flared into full-fledged civil war. Both the United States and Russia opposed ISIS as that group extended its rule into Syria’s western region, and Moscow grew particularly concerned as several thousand Russian militants traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS (compared with only a few dozen from the United States), while some of those who chose to stay in Russia established an ISIS vilayat in the North Caucasus in 2014-2015. The U.S. and Russian governments each announced operations against ISIS fighters, while ostensibly searching for ways they might cooperate against their common foe. But their quest for such cooperation foundered on the two sides’ starkly contrasting views of the origins of the ISIS threat and of the best path to stability in Syria. U.S. officials largely attributed the ascendance of ISIS in western Syria to the Assad regime’s brutality toward Syrian citizens, which led to a loss of Assad’s moral authority, a rise in radicalization and a general breakdown in governance. Accordingly, Washington believed the path toward restoring order lay in a transition from Assad to some form of more legitimate leadership, coupled with targeted operations against ISIS. By contrast, Russia’s 2015 National Security Strategy argued that the U.S. and NATO had had a large hand in the emergence of ISIS through their “practice of overthrowing legitimate political regimes” and “the policy of double standards pursued by some states in the area of struggle against terrorism.” In Moscow’s eyes, the path toward stability lay in bolstering the Assad regime and working with it to defeat a wide range of Syrian opposition fighters, including not only ISIS but also some groups reportedly supported by the United States. Thus, although the United States and Russia both oppose ISIS in Syria, each believes the other’s approach has played a large part in worsening the Syrian problem, not resolving it.
Despite the problems that have limited broader counterterrorist cooperation, the two countries have an ongoing channel for discussing issues related to terrorism and exchanging threat intelligence. Russia’s FSB warned the FBI and CIA in 2011, for example, that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of two naturalized brothers who later bombed the Boston Marathon, had been associating with militant Islamists in Russia’s North Caucasus. Whether U.S. investigators failed to follow through on the matter after concluding that he had no links to terrorists previously identified by the United States, or whether Russian officials failed to provide sufficient information to enable the United States to take action, is a matter of dispute between the two sides. In December 2017, Putin telephoned President Donald Trump to thank him for the CIA’s sharing of threat intelligence that had led to Russia’s arrest of an ISIS terrorist cell planning to bomb the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Such instances demonstrate that Washington and Moscow can and do share urgent terrorist threat information that can have an important impact on their security interests, despite their mutual suspicions and broader bilateral tensions.
The Path Ahead
Much has changed since the United States and Russia pursued a strategic counterterrorist partnership some two decades ago. Conducting a global war on terrorism is no longer the primary focus of U.S. foreign and security policy. In 2006, the U.S. director of national intelligence devoted the first 10 pages of his 25-page worldwide threat assessment briefing to terrorism; in 2019, terrorism ranked third in the DNI briefing behind cyber operations and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction among salient global threats. A recent Pew poll indicates that more Americans now see infectious disease as a major threat faced by the United States than terrorism. Russia, meanwhile, has done much to contain the problem of terrorism emanating from its North Caucasus, and the terrorist threat posed by what was once called the “arc of crisis” along Russia’s southern periphery no longer appears so acute.
Another noteworthy change is that terrorism by U.S.-based extremists has become a more serious concern for American experts; however, Russia’s impact on this threat category currently seems minimal. Last fall, for instance, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an assessment concluding that domestic “ethnically motivated violent extremists,” specifically white supremacists, now pose “the most persistent and lethal [terrorist] threat” to the United States. A report released around the same time by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated that two-thirds of domestic terror plots and attacks in the first eight months of 2020 had been executed by such groups. While the DHS assessment posited that Russia will continue “to aggravate social and racial tensions” and “undermine trust in U.S. authorities,” both of which could theoretically contribute to domestic radicalization, neither DHS nor CSIS linked Russia to the U.S.-based extremist terror threat.
Moreover, numerous reports by media, think tanks and scholars have tried to describe Russia’s place as a beacon or hub for ultra-nationalists—including some from the U.S.—going back as early as the 1990s. However, again, evidence remains thin at this point that Moscow has provided support for actors from this category who could do damage to the United States. While Russia has tolerated the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), which Washington designated a global terrorist group in April 2020, national security scholar Mariya Omelicheva argued last June that RIM’s “presence in North America has been negligible.” Far-right groups that pose a “greater risk to U.S. society” in her opinion include The Base, reportedly led by a U.S. national who lives in Russia. It is unlikely, in my view, that Russia would materially either abet or interfere with such groups’ activities in the United States absent open U.S.-Russian conflict or a significant improvement in bilateral relations. Aiding them would risk a dangerous U.S. backlash; cracking down on them would risk provoking segments of Russia’s political spectrum that Putin has sought to coopt rather than eliminate. (Domestically, too, Russia, which is heavily reliant on migrant labor, has been involved in a tricky balancing act over the past two decades—condoning some nationalist demonstrations and groups, while cracking down on more radical organizations and xenophobic hate crimes.)
Still, much remains the same. The possibility of large-scale or sustained terrorist attacks on the United States or Russia has not disappeared, even if the threat appears less urgent and the level of popular alarm has inched downward. Both countries continue to be concerned that the dangers posed by al Qaeda and ISIS, while diminished, have not gone away. The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy warns that “jihadist terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda are determined to attack the United States and radicalize Americans with their hateful ideology” and that “terrorist groups continue to pursue WMD-related materials.” Russia’s 2016 Foreign Policy Concept states that “the growing threat of international terrorism is one of the most dangerous realities in today’s world.” Washington and Moscow share an enduring interest in preventing terrorist attacks on their homelands, and the effectiveness of each government in detecting and neutralizing terrorist plans would almost certainly improve through some degree of intelligence sharing and complementary, if not necessarily joint, counterterrorist operations.
One promising example from the past involves bilateral cooperation on combatting nuclear terrorism. Since 2006 the U.S. and Russia have co-chaired the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which has become a useful platform for detecting, preventing and responding to nuclear terrorist threats worldwide, uniting nearly 90 states in the effort. Washington and Moscow have also worked closely to secure nuclear materials more generally, with an invigorated counterterrorism component after 9/11, though these efforts have been curtailed over the past seven years as relations have deteriorated.
Even those U.S. officials skeptical of broader U.S.-Russian counterterrorist cooperation recognize that there is a basic moral imperative to share threat intelligence with Moscow when Russian lives are in imminent danger. That moral imperative is particularly strong when it comes to combating nuclear terrorism, an issue in which the two countries share strong interests and have unique responsibilities. The internet has made acquiring the know-how necessary for constructing elementary nuclear bombs a simple matter, and globalized travel and commerce have made it easier for terrorist groups to get access to the materials and equipment they would require. Al Qaeda has long sought nuclear weapons and North Caucasus-based terrorists have reportedly surveilled nuclear weapons storage facilities, threatened to use radiological bombs and even plotted to seize a submarine armed with nuclear weapons. Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush cited nuclear terrorism as the biggest threat to U.S. security. Cooperation between the United States and Russia, who together hold more than 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons and most of its weapons-grade nuclear material, is particularly important for uncovering and unraveling terrorist schemes to obtain and use some form of nuclear technology.
Moreover, the United States has an interest in some level of cooperation with Russia as a means of discouraging support for terrorist groups or state sponsors of terrorism that might be threatening to U.S. interests. According to a declassified version of a Special National Intelligence Estimate on Soviet support for terrorism in 1982, the USSR provided direct and indirect support to some state sponsors of terrorism and revolutionary movements, such as Libya and certain Palestinian groups, but the evidence that it supported “nihilistic, purely terrorist groups” was “thin and contradictory.” Today, with Americans increasingly contending with violent right- and left-wing domestic groups and concerned that Russians are using social media to exacerbate our societal divides, the United States has a clear interest in avoiding a worst-case situation in which Moscow is advising, training, funding or arming domestic American terrorists. Although counterterrorism cooperation would not by itself prevent Russia from pursuing such a course, the prospect of losing beneficial cooperation could affect Russian calculations on aiding American extremist groups and bilateral counterterrorist channels provide a forum in which to raise these concerns. Gaining explicit Russian agreement to refrain from such activity, however, would almost certainly require an American pledge to refrain from supporting Russian political opposition groups.
Such interests suggest that Washington should maintain some level of threat-intelligence sharing with Moscow, even if neither side retains any aspiration to make counterterrorist cooperation the foundation for a broader strategic partnership. Russia has impressive intelligence capabilities in and around its immediate neighborhood, where many international terrorists are based, and as its threat intelligence on Afghanistan and Tsarnaev showed, it can be a genuine help in detecting and defusing terrorist plots when it wants to be. Russia remains interested in counterterrorist cooperation with the United States, calling in its Foreign Policy Concept for “a broad international counterterrorist coalition with a solid legal foundation, one that is based on effective and consistent inter-state cooperation without any political considerations or double standards, above all to prevent terrorism and extremism and counter the spread of radical ideas.” At a minimum, neither government wants to turn off the bilateral channel of terrorist threat intelligence that has benefited both sides.
Whether the two countries go beyond intelligence sharing toward broader counterterrorist cooperation will depend to a great degree on a host of domestic political factors that neither government fully controls. Most significantly, each country has come to believe that the other is using information technology to exacerbate its rival’s social divides and weaken or even overthrow the other’s government. Such perceptions will be powerful obstacles to significant bilateral cooperation of any kind for as long as they remain dominant.
- Our research has turned up one prominent Russian 18th-century man of letters with the last name Gavrilov (first name Matvei), but he was not known to have written poetry; an alternative explanation proposed in the Russian press is that the channel got its moniker from the given name of the poet and statesman Gavriil Derzhavin.
- Baker, Peter and Susan Glasser, “Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the End of Revolution,” Potomac Books, 2007, p. 138.
- See p. 261 of linked book.
George Beebe is vice president and director of studies at the Center for the National Interest. He spent more than two decades in government service as an intelligence analyst, diplomat and policy advisor, including service as director of CIA’s Russia analysis and as special advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney for Russia/Eurasia and intelligence programs.
This report was made possible with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Edited by Natasha Yefimova-Trilling and Simon Saradzhyan. Russia Matters student associate Daniel Shapiro and special projects editor Natasha Yefimova-Trilling contributed research to this publication.
The opinions expressed in this primer are solely those of the author. Photo by Marine Corps Cpl. Karl Hendrix Aliten shared in the public domain.