Inside the minds of the terrorists
Television and newspapers seem to be bleeding with news about the latest terrorist strikes, which are becoming a sad fact of life when considering the current situation in Iraq. Terrorism touches the lives of almost all Americans, whether it be directly or indirectly, physically or emotionally.
One former Storm Lake resident and native Iowan is living his life to deter terrorism strikes on foreign soil, as well as to clean up the wreckage left in the wake of bombs and suicide missions.
Mark Thompson, a member of the Buena Vista College class of 1978, is the Deputy Director for Operations in the Counterterrorism Office of the Department of State.
"My job principally involves bringing various agencies of our government together to counter terrorist incidents," said Mark.
As a member of the Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST), Mark is an integral part of the system the United States puts in action after a foreign country suffers a terrorist attack. According to him, FEST coordinates all of the elements needed to handle counter-terrorism, including law enforcement, diplomacy, military support, intelligence.
Serving such an instrumental role with the government to help fight terrorism has given Mark a birds-eye view of how terrorism works.
"It is best we understand why and how the terrorists attack us. Religion, in this case Islam, has been hijacked by a few in an attempt to incite the many," explained Mark. "There are well over a billion Muslims in the world, many who are living in countries where poverty is rampant and where there are very few of the freedoms we enjoy in the U.S. As a result, their futures are grim. Many young people are told what to think and what to believe at a very early age at institutions called madrasas where they are saturated with hate for the U.S. and our allies. Their strategy is to use these young people as human weapons, just as they did on September 11, 2001."
Through his work, Mark has visited nearly 60 foreign countries. However, he "seldom visits countries that are considered tourist attractions." Although Mark has traveled to exotic locales such as Kenya and Yemen, his favorite area to visit and work in was the Central Asia countries that spent many years ruled by the Soviets.
"I remember a woman who worked at our embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I asked her how her life had changed since the Soviets had left. She answered that she and her family now had choices. Choices on what to read, choices on what to study, career choices and countless others. She was committed to sending her sons to the U.S. to get the finest education, so they could return with even more choices in their lives," said Mark. "This experience reminded me of the rich blessings we have here - not just the material things, but also the opportunities, that most people around the world are denied."
Traveling the world has given Mark incredible experiences, but the frequent flyer miles he has logged can be trying on his family life. "I'm blessed with a wonderful wife, also from Iowa, who has supported me in these endeavors for over 26 years. Our daughters have learned to find great strength from their mother as she has led our family in all the challenges we've faced. We have a very close family, but one that can operate quite effectively whether I'm in the country or not," said Mark.
Mark grew up in Eagle Grove, and majored in social science at BV. He joined the Marine Corps four days after graduating, and served for 20 years. In 1998, he retired from the Marines and joined the State Department as a civil service employee.
Mark credits his Iowa upbringing, his parents, and his experience at Buena Vista for his work ethic and values. Mark and his wife, Jacki, and their two daughters plan to move back to Iowa in the near future.