Introduction to Counterterrorism

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Introduction to Counterterrorism

Counterterrorism efforts, those acts or policies designed to prevent terrorism or immediately defeat its intended impact, range from the routine inspection of shoes at airports to sweeping legislation that touches at the very heart of cherished freedoms practiced in democratic states; from commando raids that free hostages, to the development of technologies designed to protect evolving uses of cyber-space. The purpose of counterterrorism efforts may be well defined and highly specific, such as with laws designed to restrict certain persons from possessing select biological agents or toxins. In contrast, some counterterrorism efforts, such as the use of profiling, are often argued to be so broad as to be both intrusive and ineffective.

A key challenge for any democratic state is how to effectively respond to terrorism in ways that conform to democratic principles. In many parts of the world, an alleged illegality in response to terrorism may be used to philosophically justify both the original terrorist act and to incite further acts.

The development of counterterrorism measures and policies forces societies to make difficult judgments about how to define terrorism. Moreover, the framing of those definitions forces societies to judge the intentions and motives of groups that often hold diverse and conflicting opinions.

For example, under provisions of the U.S. PATRIOT Act of 2001, the U.S. Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General of the United States, may designate certain terrorist organizations on a terrorist exclusion list (TEL). Organizations listed on the TEL could be prevented from entering the country, and in certain circumstances, can be deported. Although the terms used in articulating criteria for including groups may also engender controversy, before the Secretary of State places an organization on the TEL, he or she must find that its members commit or incite terrorist activity, gather information on potential targets for terrorist activity, or provide material support to further terrorist activity. Under the terms of the statute, "terrorist activity means all unlawful activity that involves hijacking or sabotage of an aircraft, vessel, or vehicle; hostage-taking; a violent attack on a person protected under international law; assassination; or the use of firearms, biological or chemical agents, nuclear devices, or other weapons to endanger individuals or damage property, for purposes other than mere personal gain."

Above the horror of the actual acts of brutal terrorism that claim the lives of innocent people, the political and philosophical analysis of cause and motive—key elements in developing effective counterterrorism strategies—is usually a complex undertaking.

Although a myriad of government intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies have counterterrorism responsibilities, there are only four common principles to stated U.S. counterterrorism policy (similar principles are articulated by other governments).

  1. The government makes no concessions to, or agreements with, terrorists;
  2. Terrorists must be brought to justice for their crimes;
  3. States that sponsor terrorists and terrorism must be isolated and pressured so as to force a change of behavior;
  4. The counterterrorism capabilities of countries allied with the United States, and those that require assistance in fighting terrorism, must be bolstered.

The editors leave to the judgment of the reader how well these principles are applied in each situation. The primary sources included in this chapter do demonstrate that the implementation of such policies are applied with varying degrees of vigor and are themselves, not wholly without controversy.

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Introduction to Counterterrorism

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Introduction to Counterterrorism