Event at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Earlier this year, West Point celebrated the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) during the 20th anniversary ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. The origins of the CTC are closely linked to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and West Point faculty, Army leaders, graduates, and cadets gathered to celebrate the important work of the CTC and to honor the reason the center was founded.
While West Point had long taught courses focused on national security, after the unprecedented attacks it immediately became apparent that a new initiative was needed to prepare cadets for the complex operating environments that they would face after graduation in the post-9/11 era. Twenty years ago, this unique center was made possible through Margin of Excellence support, and many of the Margin of Excellence foundational donors attended the anniversary event. Attendees toured the 9/11 Memorial & Museum before the ceremony and reception. “Our center was conceived by leaders in this room,” Director of the Combating Terrorism Center, Colonel Sean M. Morrow ’01, said. “Brigadier General (R) Russ Howard and Mr. Vinnie Viola ’77 joined General (R) Wayne Downing ’62 and dozens of other patriots, many here today, to make the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point a reality.”
Vinnie Viola ’77, Founder and Executive Chairman of Virtu Financial, former Chairman of the New York and lead founding donor, talked about the inception of the center catalyzed by the terrorist attacks on 9/11. “I said, ‘What can we do to best train, introduce, and provide context for these young warriors who I knew would be deployed and quickly?’ And the idea was very, very clear to me, that the Academy should be the crucible from which we launch warriors that are also intellectual.”
Housed in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point, the CTC is uniquely situated at the nexus of theory and practice, which enables it to serve as a focal point and an independent voice on terrorism and counterterrorism policy and strategy. Educating and inspiring cadets is the number one priority of the privately funded center. CTC’s impact, however, stretches far beyond the Academy. It is internationally recognized by academics and practitioners for its rigorous research and counterterrorism education. In addition to the popular Terrorism Studies Minor that the Center runs at West Point, over the course of its history the CTC has also been involved in efforts to provide counterterrorism education to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Fire Department of the City of New York, the U.S. Army War College, specialized Department of Defense units, and other agencies. “The CTC is not just important to West Point, it’s actually important to the nation,” said General (R) Joseph L. Votel ’80, Distinguished Chair of the Combating Terrorism Center and keynote speaker for the event. “And I think that’s the attitude that we have to think about with this particular organization. This isn’t something that happens up at West Point, it’s something done for the nation that helps us be ready to move forward when the next threat comes.”
Dedicated to impartial analysis and rigorous research and to the use of primary sources and empirical datasets, the CTC has made many important research contributions. Over the course of the Center’s history, this has included foundational work on al-Qa`ida, the Haqqani network, and the Islamic State, as well as research on functional topics like foreign fighters, jihadist ideology, hostage taking, and terrorist use of encrypted messaging apps.
“Our nation’s national security priorities must ebb and flow to meet the world where it is, and where it will be. CTC’s value to the nation is that we will continuously prepare cadets, scholars, and practitioners with the tools to face the threat now and in whatever form or shape it may re-emerge,” said Colonel Morrow. The CTC embodies the time-honored values and ethos of West Point—Duty, Honor, Country—and exists to serve the nation. The CTC stands ready to help our national leaders rigorously comprehend the threat that terrorism poses and act with confidence.