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Counterterrorism Since 9/11: Evaluating the Efficacy of Controversial Tactics

In the wake of 9/11, the U.S. government employed several new counterterrorism (CT) tactics, some of which aroused a great deal of controversy. The controversial tactics included ‘enhanced’ interrogation, preventative detention, expanded use of secret surveillance without warrants, ethnic/religious profiling, the collection and mining of domestic data, and the prosecution of terror suspects in military tribunals. While there has been great debate over the morality and legality of these controversial measures, there has been significantly less attention dedicated to evaluating whether the tactics work to prevent terrorism. Even so, people on both sides of the security v. morality/legality debate make assumptions about the efficacy of various CT measures. Here we review multiple literatures to assess the efficacy of controversial CT tactics on their own terms, and evaluate their potential utility within larger state security strategies that depend on intelligence management, informant-recruiting, and maintenance of state legitimacy. We find good evidence that controversial CT tactics may have been counterproductive in several ways: increasing the ratio of informational ‘noise’ to terrorist ‘signal,’ undermining the state’s legitimacy among potential civilian informants, and legitimizing terrorists’ preferred status as ‘warriors.’ In no case is there credible evidence showing that these controversial CT measures significantly helped catch terrorists or offered other strategic advantages outweighing their disadvantages.

Counterterrorism Since 9/11: Evaluating the Efficacy of Controversial Tactics

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OODA Analyst

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