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Are Self-Radicalized Extremists An Increasing Threat In The U.S.?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Obama will address the nation tonight from the Oval Office. It will be only the third time he has done so in his presidency. He'll be talking about terrorism and how his administration sees the threat of extremists who are self-radicalized, as it appears was the case with the San Bernardino attackers. To talk more about this, we're joined by Seth Jones. He's the director for international security and defense policy at the RAND Corporation. Thanks so much for being with us.

SETH JONES: Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: Do you think, Seth, that the San Bernardino attack does represent a new kind of threat, or is it just the realization of the threat that's long been there, that there are these so called lone wolves who are self-radicalized?

JONES: Look, I think San Bernardino represents a threat that we've seen developed in the U.S. over the last year or two in particular, individuals radicalizing, particularly from the Islamic State, used to be al-Qaida in the past. But the numbers are increasing. We have FBI open investigations now in every state in the U.S. And that gives us, I think, a sense of the nature and the degree of threat.

MARTIN: There were apparently no red flags with these attackers. They weren't on any watch lists. At this point, officials say they weren't connected to any network directly. So how do you combat that? What can the U.S. government do that it's not doing already?

JONES: With individuals who don't come up on the radar screen because they're talking to individuals in Syria, Iraq or Pakistan, where they traveled overseas or they're active in promoting violence online, really this leaves better engagement with local communities by federal, state and local entities - not just law enforcement but others. I - this really pushes the locus of this discussion down to communities in the United States.

MARTIN: What does that mean for the Obama administration? I mean, when you watch the president tonight from the Oval Office, what will you be listening for in his address?

JONES: I'll actually be looking for a strategy that connects what's going on overseas with what's going on in the United States. The reality is the Islamic State in particular controls territory in Syria and Iraq. They have expanded into Libya and a dozen other locations. They're radicalizing individuals in the U.S. And so I'd like to see a strategy that connects to all of that and explains how the U.S. is going to do this politically, militarily, economically and from an information standpoint because really, they're all connected.

MARTIN: Seth Jones with the RAND Corporation. He's the author of the book "In The Graveyard Of Empires." Thanks so much.

JONES: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.