"We should not be constrained by Boy Scout ethics in an immoral world." (Kenneth Adelman)

    Counterterrorism can be broadly defined as the use of any personnel or resources to preempt, disrupt, or dismantle terrorists and their support networks (Kushner 2003).  The prefix "counter" in words such as counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and counterespionage is intended to mean that any effort taken would be proactive, aggressive and offensive, as opposed to any reactive or defensive strategy which is implied by terms such as the prefix "anti" in anti-terrorism.  There are obviously, then, more policy options with counterterrorism than with antiterrorism.  That is why governments often try to "exhaust all diplomatic options" before resorting to force.  Doing something beforehand is not just good prevention; it's good diplomacy, and diplomatic options range from negotiation to conciliation to restraint to reform and to moral or forceful persuasion (George 1991).  These are sometimes considered "soft" approaches, but they should not really be called "soft" approaches at all.  All such labeling of policy options is foolish.  So-called "soft" approaches are complex and complicated, to be sure, but they have the potential to be highly effective, and in the end, that is all that matters -- what works.

    Some essential background is needed before an understanding of diplomatic options can be achieved.  Actually, quite a bit of background is needed on the subject of diplomacy.  Historically, diplomacy is defined as "the ordered conduct of relations between one group of human beings and another group alien to themselves."  The primary purpose of diplomacy is communications, and the ultimate goal of diplomacy is peace.  Diplomacy, as it is practiced today, can be considered a method of conflict transformation, and there are two kinds of conflicts for which it is best suited -- (1) material conflicts, which revolve around dividable assets and can usually be handled by traditional conflict resolution techniques; and (2) identity conflicts, which involve deep-seeded feelings of hate but a sense of legitimate grievance and are usually handled by so-called "track two" diplomacy techniques which frequently, but not necessarily, focus on reconciliation and/or restorative justice.


    Diplomacy is the most frequently used and most successfully used form of counterterrorism.  Numerous misconceptions exist about it.  What diplomacy is NOT may be easier to describe, and things such as foreign policy and international law are definitely things involving other continuums.  These areas might be called the "legislative" branch of diplomacy (Nicolson 1964), but policy and law are things best left to a President, his or her Cabinet, a Legislature, and a Judicial Branch.  Instead, diplomacy is mostly "executive" in the sense that a seasoned team of professionals (called the Foreign Service or Diplomatic Service) are used who are dedicated to the practice of diplomacy and nothing else.  Diplomacy is also NOT about negotiation, guile, or trickery, which might be expressed in such commonplace definitions as "the art of persuading others to do things that serve mutual interests."  This is a bad definition of diplomacy, and in fact, the practice of diplomacy is often all about fixing the problems that nations get into by trying to deceive one another.  A true and correct definition of diplomacy requires an understanding of its history, a topic to which we now turn.

    Historically, diplomacy began in prehistoric times.  When the first tribe of cavemen realized that it might be better to listen to what the messenger from another tribe had to say before killing and eating them, diplomacy was born.  The concepts of messenger, emissary, ambassador, envoy, herald, and to some extent, angel, are all concepts similar in meaning to diplomat.  The idea that there is a time and place for persons who are "off-limits" or under a "white flag" from harm is the idea of diplomacy.  You might begin to see the potential of diplomacy for counterterrorism at this point.  The social taboo against killing well-meaning foreigners on state business is one of the world's oldest taboos.  The ancient Greeks called such visitors "heralds" and throughout the centuries, the profession of herald (like one's heraldry or coat of arms) ran in families.  The Romans are generally credited with creating "archivists" (specialists in diplomatic precedents and procedures) and so-called "secret" diplomacy, but the Italian states during the fifteenth century created public positions known as "ambassadors".  The word diplomat comes from the Greek word "diploun" meaning "to fold" which refers to the stamped metal plates early diplomats used to carry.  These metal plates consisted of passes to come and go across international borders, and were called "diplomas" which eventually became associated with documents of academic achievement.  As the years went on, the Vatican and England helped spread the practice of housing permanent missions (embassies or consulates) overseas.  By 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, every nation officially approved and sanctioned a global diplomacy system, with diplomats recognized as a true profession, distinct from the job of statesman or politician.  Diplomacy is today thought of as a regularized system of establishing channels of communication and avenues of cooperation between inter-state actors.  The standard definition is "the application of intelligence and tact to the conduct of official relations between governments and independent actors" (Satow 1905).

    To become a diplomat requires earning a title, inheriting a title, or having one bestowed upon you by the sovereigns of your country.  In the United States, the standard procedure is to work for awhile as a career foreign service officer in an agency like USAID (Agency for International Development), and your supervisors will process you for such a title as your career rises.  Since the Congress of Vienna, the following standard titles are what one is likely to encounter among diplomatic teams and consulate missions, while it should be noted that representatives to the United Nations are usually required to be at the level of plenipotentiary, and that in most missions, almost all envoys regard themselves as extraordinary.  Diplomatic theory and practice are derived from notions of social justice and a relatively little known field of social science called peace studies (Barash 1991).  You'd be surprised at how many colleges and schools offer degree programs in peace studies.  Programs solely devoted to diplomacy are fewer in number, and usually affiliated with history or political science departments.  In any event, some standard terminology has developed, as follows:

    Diplomatic language contains certain phrases, which over the course of centuries, have become part of a common international vocabulary.  For example, if a diplomat says his or her country "cannot remain indifferent," that almost certainly means that his or her country will be intervening soon in the affairs of another country.  When a diplomat says that matters are of "grave concern," that almost always means a hard line is being taken.  When a diplomat says that something will be interpreted as an "unfriendly act," that almost certainly implies a threat of war.  When diplomats are dispatched to settle a conflict or controversy, it is not the same as sending negotiators.  The role of a negotiator is to distract the enemy while you are doing other things, like preparing to attack them.  With negotiation, there is usually compromise; someone wins, someone loses, or at least both parties never get all they want.  The role of a diplomat is to resolve a situation to the ultimate triumph for all; everyone usually wins, and the region is ideally transformed by peace.  Diplomats carry letters of credentials and full powers signed by a President or Secretary of State to act on behalf of a sovereignty.  Let's take a look at some of the tools of diplomacy:

    The most common uses of diplomacy in counterterrorism include: developing bilateral or multilateral anti-terrorist policies; arranging for the sharing of intelligence; arranging permission for law enforcement authorities from one country to come in and arrest (or interrogate) a suspected terrorist in another country; and establishment of appropriate sanctions on sponsors of terrorism.  In some cases, diplomatic overtures are made to the terrorists and their groups themselves, even though they are sub-national actors.  Some famous cases where diplomacy worked in the terrorist context include: ending the OPEC hostage crisis at Vienna in 1975; arranging a prisoner exchange with Lebanese hijackers in 1985; catching Carlos the Jackal in 1994; getting the IRA to agree to a laying down of arms in 1998; and numerous cease-fire agreements between Israelis and Palestinians from 2001-2003.  Diplomacy also played a part in social reform movements when Spain changed how it was dealing with the Basque rebellion during the 1980s, and when Peru changed how it was dealing with the Shining Path in the 1990s.  Diplomacy has positive results, indeed, when it can do things like get terrorists to apologize and change their ways, and also get governments which have fought terrorism repressively become better democracies that respect civil liberties. 


    Diplomacy can also have horribly negative results.  Conventional wisdom holds that it is never good to negotiate with terrorists or to concede to their demands, at least while they are still engaging in violence.  While the U.S. and many of its allies say they are committed to a policy of "no negotiation" with terrorists, what they really mean is a "no concession" policy.  A firm "no negotiation" stance has never been the longstanding policy of any nation.  However, it is often the case that even a "no concession" policy is not followed.  It exists as hard-line rhetoric more than reality.  Democracies are more willing to compromise with terrorism than not.  When such efforts go wrong and backfire (as they usually do), they encourage the terrorists to repeat their acts and become more violent later on.  They also embarrass a nation and result in lost credibility for many years.  When such efforts go partially right, and that is all they can be - partially effective, the best that can happen is the incident goes away, and there is some closure, for awhile, on the world stage regarding the attention given. 

    Efforts to compromise with terrorists are called concessionary options, and they have been used quite often by a number of parties over the years.  Negotiators rather than diplomats are usually involved in these options.  A countless number of ransom payments have been made by governments, corporations, and families to terrorists.  Numerous prisoner exchanges, prisoner releases, and even mass releases of prisoners have been made throughout history, and the U.S. has been party to it.  For all its tough talk, Israel has engaged in almost as many concessions as crackdowns.  Perhaps the most famous act of concession involving the U.S. was the Iran-Contra scandal.  During 1985-1986, high-ranking officials of the U.S. government sold $30 million worth of guns to Iran in hopes of getting Iranian help for releasing American hostages held by Shi'ite terrorists in Lebanon.  The money from the gun sale was used to support anti-Sandinista forces in Latin America.  Iran, for its part, came through and successfully pressured the terrorists to release the hostages in Lebanon.  Shortly after, however, more American hostages were seized by the same terrorist group, among others, and the U.S. suffered a major credibility problem in Latin America from which it has not since recovered.  Iran-Contra is just one example of things gone horribly wrong, but in all fairness, it is up to history to decide if short-term expediency options are worth the long-term costs.  The best that can be said is that the following concessions are only marginally effective (and for the most part, bad ideas), but they might be conceivably useful under some very specific historical circumstances where they don't reward terrorism or create credibility problems:


    Good intelligence is the best weapon against terrorism, and the best intelligence is all-source intelligence, the value-added kind which separates out the signals from the noise, such as what is sometimes called Indications & Warnings (I&W) in the intelligence community.  Indicators are discrete events or series of events that are mostly suspicious.  Warnings are indicators which reach a critical mass.  All-source means that indicators and warnings have been corroborated, contextualized, or deconstructed (correlated with the pattern from previous attacks).  Different platforms (technical and human) of intelligence collection should also be used, especially open source platforms like the Internet.  It is best when all the collection assets converge or cover at least one of the indicators an analyst is trying to assess (one of the meanings of "all source").  From the human asset (espionage) aspect, this involves sometimes dealing with "bad apples," and from the open-source perspective, this involves mining the Internet for what it's worth.  For analysis, while reactive (after the fact) investigation (also called deconstruction) may prove useful for some purposes, it's generally considered that with crimes like terrorism, a proactive (before the fact) strategy is best, and a proactive one which accounts for all sorts of strange and unusual contingencies.  Sensitivity training may be needed with proactive efforts, especially when the intelligence resource being used is a community within the U.S. where a significant number of immigrants live.  Such communities can be an invaluable resource, but there should be friendly and open relationships between law enforcement and such areas.  For example, an organization called PfP (the Partnering for Prevention and Community Safety Initiative) has piloted some techniques for getting the Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities in Southeastern Michigan, Southern California, and Greater Boston to work cooperatively with local law enforcement.  Such "networking" as it would be called in the language of community policing should be fine-tuned to an effective level.  Here's a list of standard intelligence tools used against terrorism:

   A proactive mode of inquiry will also take advantage of the fact that many terrorists have quite predictable social and psychological motivations.  Their "profiling" is somewhat easy to do.  In many ways, terrorists behave like common criminals, but they just take politics or religion very seriously.  Terrorists, like most enterprises, repeatedly use their tried-and-true tactics until they are no longer effective (Cid 2012). Also, because nonstate or modern terrorists usually have no legitimate sovereignty structure, like a nation-state or official organization, the role of group support and reference groups in the system become extremely important.  Strategic thinking toward elimination of terrorism as a "tactic" not an enemy is still evolving (Pena 2006), but traditional techniques have some value too.  Indicator collection and efforts toward "profiling" should strive toward including a variety of considerations in intelligence gathering and interpretation.

    "Indicators" refer to those collectable things which would have to happen and those that would likely happen as a scenario unfolds (Khalsa 2004).  Indicators are usually thought of as factors of risk.  The three (3) primary factors of risk regarding terrorism are: adversary capability, adversary intentions, and target vulnerability.  There is some debate within intelligence circles as to whether the third one is necessary, and some people define "terrorism threat assessment" (as opposed to terrorism risk assessment) as only involving the first two.  The third is controversial precisely because it sometimes involves collecting vulnerability information on an ally or friendly force.  The following table lists some of these indicators, but it must be borne in mind that the analyst must strive toward including others that are also important in intelligence interpretation:

Terrorism Indicators

Capability Indicators:
Lethal Agents:
1. Biological
2. Nuclear or radiological
3. Chemical
4. Conventional bombing/explosion
5. Hijacking
6. Hostage taking/kidnapping
7. Assassination
8. Firearms
10. Knives/blades
11. Computers
Delivery Methods:
1. Ground based
2. Water vessel/scuba
3. Aircraft
4. Missile
5. Suicide/Human host
6. Mail/Postal service
7. Food/Beverage/Water supply
8. Gaseous
Intention Indicators:
1. Weapons/material movement
2. Terrorist travel
3. Terrorist training
4. Anti-indicators
5. Significant events and dates
6. Propaganda levels
7. Surveillance of targets
8. Tests of security
9. Other
Vulnerability Indicators:
1. Current security posture
2. Number of people in target area
3. Significance of target
4. Specific facility vulnerabilities
5. Ability to deter or disrupt
6. Level of cooperation with U.S.
7. Significant events and dates

Additional intelligence gathering indicators:
1. Group Information -- Name(s), ideology (political or social philosophy), history of the group, membership size, affiliated groups, dates significant to the group, and dates on which former leaders have been killed or imprisoned. (Terrorist groups often strike on important anniversary dates) Some groups also have a Bible or manifesto which is important to obtain (doomsday dates). Find out what literature the group reads (or has read), and/or if they have any publications of their own.

2. Financial Information -- Source of funds, proceeds from criminal activities, bank account information. (Sudden influxes of funding or bank withdrawals indicate preparation for activity) It's also important to determine the group's legal resources. Generally, try to find out anyone who would write an official letter of support or protest or sign a petition for a terrorist group should be considered a supporter. Often, an analysis of the support network or resource base will reveal important linkages with other causes and/or other terrorist groups.

3. Personnel Data -- List of leaders (including changes in leadership), list of members (including former members and/or defectors), any personnel connections between groups of similar ideology, and the skill set or proficiency level of key group members (weapons expertise, electronics expertise, etc.) (Knowing the skills of a group is an important part of threat assessment) If the philosophy revolves around one leader, it's important to know what will occur if something happens to that leader.  Often, the analysis of family background is useful to determine how radically a leader or member was raised.  Try to get some idea of individual propensity toward violence, but remember that group structure determines the communication pattern, not your usual top-to-bottom communication channels.

4. Locational Data -- Location of group's headquarters, location of group's "safe" houses (where hide from authorities), and location of group's "stash" houses (where hide weapons and supplies). (Regular attacks on "stash" houses is the most frequently used counterterrorism technique) It's important to specify the underground that exists where terrorists can flee.  This is harder than determining safe havens.  Terrorists like to live in communal homes instead of living alone, and when fleeing, they will often disappear into an underground where they think there are like-minded people with unstated goals similar to theirs.

    While ordinary street crime is often deterred by crackdowns, target hardening, denying opportunity, and aggressive security (with known displacement patterns), terrorism frequently defies deterrence and predictable displacement patterns because they don't seek targets of opportunity, but symbolic targets.  As a group, terrorists are very team-oriented, and always prepared for suicide missions.  On the other hand, ordinary criminals are undisciplined, untrained, and oriented toward escape. Terrorists are just the opposite. They have prepared for their mission, are willing to take risks, and are attack-oriented.  If captured, they will usually not confess or snitch on others as ordinary criminals do.  Traditional law enforcement methods are not all that effective when it comes to the investigation or intelligence of terrorism.


Characteristic: Right Wing Left Wing
Social change perspective Reactionary Revolutionary
Social class membership Lower/middle Lower/middle/upper
Leadership Male dominated Egalitarian
Marital status Married Single/divorced/separated
Age 16-76 25-45
Educational level High school College
Religious belief Fundamental Agnostic/atheist
Criminal planning Impulsive Meticulous


    Some would say that moral superiority is how to win the war on terrorism (Netanyahu 1986), and indeed, Prof. Chris Harmon (in How al-Qaeda May End) suggests this also.  Most terrorist groups do come to an end, and even a doctrine can be defeated.  Winning a war on terrorism requires that there be a moral conviction in the justice of the fight.  A terror war must give expression to the morality involved, and fight as if it were a war of ideas.  Terrorism, in may ways, is an attack on national will.  Terrorists often count on the fact that their targets are "soft and weak" and will not be able to sustain a coordinated grand strategy.  Terrorists know that their targets will critique themselves, and debate among themselves.  They know their targets will argue among themselves about the morality of counterterrorism, and in fact, they are often counting on this kind of moral skepticism to develop before they attack again.  The moral arguments against terrorism (that it is unjustifiable) should be forcefully restated time and time again, and by as many voices as possible, globally.  The language of morality can be powerful.  Not only does it appeal to foreign audiences, but it can help with domestic morale also.  Democratic-minded and moderate leaders of organizations in the host nations for terrorists should be assisted in having their "voices" amplified by the democratic nations.   


    So-called "sponsors" of terrorism distance themselves from the operations they have supported, but are usually recognizable by a patterned similarity in how they engage in acts of violence both within their own countries as well as internationally.  Usually the sponsor or patron is a duly elected government official or a Cabinet appointee, and in other cases, it is a military or business leader.  Sometimes, the terrorist group is a "puppet" organization for those officials, promoting that nation's interests or ideology overseas.  At other times, the sponsor has little to no control over the terrorists, having become a supporter through double-cross or blackmail.  Sponsorship generally involves political support, financial support, weapons, training, sanctuary, and safe havens.  In many cases, the terrorists have access to diplomatic facilities and the intelligence services of their host country. State sponsors often launch "proxy" wars using terrorism or insurgency.  Currently, the big state sponsers are: IRAN; CUBA; LIBYA; NORTH KOREA; and SYRIA.  It is a conventional fact of wisdom that diplomacy will not work with state sponsors.


    One of the most consistent themes in the literature is the principle that there should be no bargaining with terrorists. For most nations, the standard policy is no concessions. This position has always been strongly advocated by the law enforcement community, primarily because of reasoning that bargaining invites repeated attacks (Elliott and Gibson 1978). Another common recommendation, often made by criminologists, is that terrorism should be processed by the criminal justice system the same way as other crimes (Crelinsten et al. 1978). The argument here is that special squads, units, and strike forces really cause more problems than they solve.  Only a small number of criminologists argue that counterterrorism ought to be supplemented by institutional strengthening or nation-restoring (O'Connor 1994).  Nation-restoring is not the same as nation-building because you are not trying to eliminate the possibility of a safe haven platform but restoring society back to its old functioning before the terrorism impact.  Current controversies involve to what extent anti-terrorism assistance corrupts local governments because such efforts are almost always politically charged and impact civil liberties (Turk 1982; Ross 2000). The following points are lessons from those controversies.     

    POINT #1: Some of the things that best shape a response to terrorism are derived from simply knowing the functions of terrorism.  This is one of the approaches first suggested by Brian Jenkins of the RAND think tank.  Since one of the functions of terrorism (at least the revolutionary type) is to provoke government overreaction, anything the government can do to keep itself from overreacting will thwart the terrorists' objectives.  Since another function is to gain control of the media, anything voluntary or involuntary on the part of the media which stifles exposure also stifles terrorism. Bombings make the best pictures, so the more media-driven the terrorists, the more likely bombings will be the mode of attack.  Another common function or demand is the release of political prisoners, and this is almost never a true objective.  The real objective is politicization of all prisoners, the winning over of new recruits among the prison population. And finally, the best strategy may be one of going after the financial supporters of terrorism, not the terrorists themselves. Ideology may be able to sustain them, but not for long once the money runs dry. It's only with narcoterrorism that this "dry well" strategy fails, since the drug market doesn't respond to simple supply-demand forces.

    POINT #2: The other thing about terrorism (or at least quasi-terrorism and the more lunatic fanatics) is that they are imitators, not innovators.  That is, their crimes are copycat or cyclical.  The skyjacking phenomenon of the 70s was an excellent example of this, where terrorists always waited until some other group made the first move, and then they "jumped on the bandwagon."  Most of the them do this because they are sorely trying to imitate military strategy; others do it because of standardized paramilitary training or textbook lessons in guerilla tactics; and still others do it to throw off suspicion from themselves.  Anyway, the cyclic pattern is quite predictable, and in general, conforms to a Wave-Crest-Plateau pattern.

    POINT #3: Although it may be inevitable that the first few hostages may die, in most kidnapping/hostage situations that are terrorism-related, a thing called the Stockholm Syndrome can work in favor of anti-terrorist forces if it can be manipulated properly (McMains & Mullins 2010).  And it should be manipulated, otherwise all sorts of aberrant hostage behavior can be expected.  Even then, released hostages should always be isolated from the media because they will typically say things that make the terrorists look not-all-that-bad.  The longer the hostages stay alive, the less likelihood harm will come to them.  Time works in the negotiator's favor (Schlossberg 1979).  The Stockholm syndrome refers to when hostages come to think of their captors as protecting them from the police and start to identify with their captors.  Some captors/captives even start to develop a parent/child relationship. Other syndromes include the Penelope Syndrome, where women find their captors sexually attractive, and the Lima Syndrome, where abductors come to sympathize with the hostages and release all or most of them. Hostage negotiation and rescue are perhaps the most complicated type of anti-terrorist operations.  Negotiation is focused on in detail below:

Hostage Negotiation

   There are basically three rules for hostage negotiation: (1) contain and slow down the situation by securing the perimeter enough so that a "negotiating situation" can be arranged; (2) stick to the rule that all negotiations are "off" if another hostage is injured, and that all negotiable demands (weapons and drugs are examples of non-negotiable demands) like food, money, media coverage, and a "freedom package" will involve offers and counteroffers (including promises authorities don't have to keep, according to U.S. v. Crosby 1983); and (3) attempt to understand the captor's motivations and personalities based on intelligence gathering and psychological inputs obtained during the negotiations.

    POINT #4: In assessing the threat of terrorism (in lieu of information on group skills and capabilities), it's important to concentrate on counting the number of incidents. Do not count the number of victims, nor the value of harm. It's hard to do this especially after some extraordinary incident in which many people have died, but the only true comparison is the number of attacks since terrorists often have no idea themselves about how many victims will be killed by their actions.  Nationalist groups tend to seek a high number of fatalities while revolutionary groups tend to seek fewer deaths and more wounds or injuries.  Splinter or spin-off groups seem more interested in death counts and fatalities.  The point is that no matter how many victims are targeted, the group is only a threat via its number of attacks as a percent of total activity.  As an example of a misguiding lethality index chart, see below:


    POINT #5: Do count the number of victims saved by any preventive action.  If you manage through some leverage to get the terrorist leader to stop things with a cease-fire agreement, regardless of whether further negotiation follows or not, it will significantly help your agency and your career if you have calculated how many lives you've saved, and can report this information to policymakers.  Everyone in a leadership position wins by a cease-fire.  The terrorist leader looks good; your leaders look good; and if the experts that say terrorist leaders have low self-esteem are right, it should be an easy job to feed their egos and get leverage on them through negotiation.  After the cease-fire, it's important to also measure the resumed level of violence and compare it to pre-cease-fire levels.  Does the violence resume at a higher or lower level? It may be that your short-term (e.g., 30-day) truce resulted in a 16% short-term reduction in violence (e.g., 6 months), but in the long-run, you've instigated a more heinous pattern of violence.

    POINT #6: Giving into terrorist demands for political change only changes the pattern of violence, not the violence itself. Economic and political reforms aimed at helping the group's ethnic or religious group and resolving its grievances will win over some supporters among the general population, but in the long-run, will create new problems and a new set of grievances over the precise implementation of policy and the degree of power sharing.  A much better strategy is to initiate economic and political reforms for all the people of a nation.  Economic development solutions have worked in Ireland, Uruguay, and Italy.  

    POINT #7: The thing that works best is reduction of recruits, supplies, and support.  You've got to reduce the number of active trainee members of the terrorist organization.  Capture and imprisonment works (it's helped to keep Spain fairly terrorism-free), as well as preemptive strikes against training camps. The number of terrorists captured or killed should be counted, and this can be put as the denominator in a fraction with the number of government security forces killed in the numerator. You've also got to keep weapons, ammo, and supplies out of the hands of terrorists.  Destruction of their "stash" houses is the best preemptive strategy. Unfortunately, many religious terrorist groups operate under the cover of religion and it doesn't look good to blow up religious buildings. Whenever a dragnet or raid takes place, the number of weapons found should be counted. Finally, cutting off support should be done with precision and not indiscriminately.  Too often, governments are willing to engage in "collective punishments" against all (suspected) aliens, all unfriendly foreign powers, and even its own citizens, in what are all only symbolic efforts with no discernable short-term or long-term effect.  A more precise focus would go beyond identifying support countries by name, and identify support by type, amount, seasonality, and displacement.  The latter two mean that cutting off support at certain times of the year will have more effect than a random cutoff, and that cutting off two or more sources of support will be effective since groups may simple displace or find new sources of support once old ones dry up.

    POINT #8: Things that don't work, or have questionable value, include the notion that swift and harsh retaliation is the best policy. This is a popular notion, but the degree of moral certainty and justification empowering terrorism does not respond to displays of overwhelming force or "lines drawn in the sand."  The standard doctrines of deterrence as punishment (that punishment be swift, certain, and severe) don't apply to terrorism.  Justice has a longer timeline in this context.  If you're going to play the retaliation game right, wait until things have cooled off and hit them when they least expect it.

    POINT #9: Terrorism doesn't respond to coalition-based sanctions which are intended to express the international community's disregard for them.  Terrorists are people who have long ago felt rejected by mainstream society. In fact, their desire is often to be further rejected.  They actually want their enemies to wage a war on terrorism against them because this gives them some pseudo-legitimacy that they are soldiers-at-war.  If they are broken up from receiving any psychological rewards or sympathy from their social support groups, this strategy might work.  Terrorists long ago crossed the line of ethical and moral restraint.  Rebuilding this in all the diverse places of the world is going to take some time.

    POINT #10: Sharing of information and intelligence by counterterrorism agents is essential. Unfortunately, turf battles, credit claiming, stovepipes, and unnecessary secrecy permeates the counterterrorist community. Agency cooperation, however, also fragments the jurisdictional grounds and/or changes the perceived level of threat, so there tends to be more intelligence/policy disconnects.  Law enforcement agencies typically separate terrorists into criminal, political, or mentally unstable categories, and this may be too simplistic a classification. Terrorist behavior differs from that of ordinary criminals. Criminal investigation techniques must be modified to reflect these differences when examining terrorist cases. 


    This is an old chart, but it should suffice as an example of how five (5) different terrorist groups are analyzed for purposes of counterterrorism analysis:

Greek/Turkey separation
Urban student radicalism
2nd class treatment
Unique language
Aim Union with Greece Socialist economy United Ireland Own Nation Societal betterment
Courier system,
led by Greek Army colonel
Students organized sugar workers into cells 1st tried military battalions, then cells Shadow government, central committee Pyramidal
paired cells called brigades
Strength 5 per group,
275 members
2 per cell,
3000 members
5 per cell,
2000 members
700 members 800 actives,
8000 underground
Attacks Bombing,
Social Avg. age 23,
working class
Students and sympathizers Avg. age 21, married with kids Avg. age 25,
middle class
Avg. age 27,
Radicalized students, criminals
Support Mass support,
Church and Greek support
Ideological neo-Marxist support Relatives and friends abroad 1/3 Mass support, some ideological Marxist support Many sympathizers, Ideological Maoist support
Greece Cuba Russia,
links to IRA, PLO
Czech Republic,
links to Sicilian Mafia

    BRIEF ANALYSIS: First of all, the groups with a cell structure are most likely to thwart human intelligence since the purpose of the cell structure is prevent any one member from knowing who his or her immediate leaders are.  Such groups would be difficult to infiltrate or penetrate. This may or may not be true with some groups (like the IRA) which mix family with business (married with children), depending upon levels of fidelity. ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) may therefore be the best approach for such groups.  However, groups with military, paramilitary, and shadow government organization might be easier to infiltrate or penetrate with HUMINT (Human Intelligence). Size is a major consideration. Undercover law enforcement operations tend to work well with smaller terrorist groups. Larger groups that are capable of launching a sustained terrorist campaign will require more than a law enforcement operation.


    Under Executive Order 13224, the U.S. Treasury Dept. periodically identifies certain entities as terrorism financing organizations (financiers), and under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1390, all member states must block the assets of such organizations.  Terrorist financiers often look like humanitarian aid organizations, an example being Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), an al-Qaeda front operating out of Illinois since 1992.  Attacking terrorism on economic fronts, whether via blocking or freezing of assets, requires extensive knowledge of organizational structure. Certain organizational principles are endemic to all terrorist groups. Organizations employ varieties of command and control structures, but they are frequently organized along some similar patterns no matter the cause.

    The typical terrorist organization is pyramidal.  This format takes many more people to support operations than to carry them out.  Therefore, the majority of people who work in terrorist organizations serve to keep terrorists in the field. The most common job in terrorist groups is support, not combat.  This leads us into a discussion of how terrorist groups are organized, as follows:

    According to Fraser & Fulton (1984), the hierarchical structure of terrorist groups is divided into four (4) levels. The smallest group at the top is responsible for command. As in military circles, leadership makes policy and plans while providing general direction.  The command level of a terrorist organization is often weak because, as opposed to the command structure of a legitimate organization, the command structure of a terrorist organization demands secrecy. This means that the command structure of a terrorist organization may not always be free to communicate openly with its membership; and therefore, it may not be able to exercise day-to-day operational control. 

    The second level in Fraser’s hierarchy contains the active cadre. The active cadre is responsible for carrying out the mission of the terrorist organization. Depending on the organization’s size, each terrorist in the cadre may have one or more specialties. Other terrorists support each specialty, but the active cadre is the striking arm of the terrorist group. After the command structure, the cadre of active terrorists is the smallest organization in most terrorist structures.

    Under the active cadre is the second largest and the most important level of a terrorist organization -- active supporters.  The active supporters are critical to terrorist campaigns. Any group can carry out a bombing or kidnapping, but to maintain a campaign of bombings and kidnappings takes support. Active supporters keep the terrorists in the field. They maintain communication channels, provide safe houses, gather intelligence, and ensure all other logistical needs are met. This is the largest internal group in the organization, and one which can be effectively countered by economic measures.

    The last and largest category is the organization’s passive supporters. This group is extremely difficult to identify and characterize because supporters do not readily join terrorist groups.  In fact, they will likely deny any involvement.  Many times they are used without their own knowledge, and often, they simply represent a favorable element of the political climate. When a terrorist group can muster political support, it will have a relatively large number of passive supporters. When its cause alienates the mainstream, passive support dwindles. Passive support complements active support, and again, this is a part of the organization which can be effectively countered by economic measures.

    According to Fraser & Fulton (1984), most terrorist groups number fewer than 50 people and are incapable of mounting a long-term campaign. Under the command of only a few people, the group is divided according to specific tasks. Intelligence sections are responsible for assessing targets and planning operations. Support sections provide the means necessary to carry out the assault, and the tactical units are responsible for the actual terrorist action.  Terrorist organizations tend to have two primary types of subunits: a cell and a column. The cell is the most basic type. Composed of four to six people, the cell usually has a mission specialty, but it may be a tactical cell or an intelligence section. In some organizations, the duties of tactical cells vary with the assignment. Other cells may exist as support wings.  Although nomenclature varies, sometimes groups of cells may form to create columns, which attack almost in line formation in wave after wave. Columns are semiautonomous conglomerations of cells with a variety of specialties and a separate command structure, depending on rank.  Terrorist groups which rely on column attacks tend to be those who emulate military training.  Both cells and columns are good for surprise attacks (the second or third column attack being the most surprising), but column formations alone are cumbersome for some operations, and the secrecy demanded by terrorism often prevents effective inter-column cooperation.  Hence, columns are most often found fulfilling a function of combat support.

    The optimal size of a terrorist organization has been explored by John Robb in his piece of terror network size, but it is important to note he is talking about geographically dispersed terrorism groups, like al-Qaeda after it has abolished its training camps.  His analysis is based on Dunbar's number (see original article by Prof. Dunbar), a notion in anthropology that hunting groups often limit their size to 150.  Actually, there is a gradual fall-off in effectiveness at 80 members, with an absolute fall-off at 150 members.  At 80+ members, a group tends to spend more time "grooming" its members and preventing dissension than in effectively carrying out operations.  Also, at 80+ members, the group tends to have far too many specialty cells for effective management.  Robb estimates that an ideal size of 40 or 50 members will contain enough specialty cells of 5 to 12 members for the terrorist group to carry out operations with a global reach.       


    Military special operations are generally used when at least some details are known about a terrorist organization. Traditional military operations are generally used when a traditionally organized terrorist organization is encountered.  Law enforcement or police operations are generally used when the purpose is to bring terrorists to justice.  Collaboration between a number of different operators is essential in military-based counterterrorism. 

    While the most effective counterterrorism activity may involve preemptive strikes at terrorist bases of support, the most commonly used methods involve retaliation and/or hostage rescue. Many nations maintain specialized counterterrorism units, and these units have a long history, going back as far as the Roman Empire with Jewish extremists. Israel has, in fact, been at the forefront of counterterrorism policy along the lines of retaliation. Israel's Golda Meier formed the first modern counterterrorist agency (the Sayeret Mat'Kal) to hunt down and kill terrorists, abiding by what became the world's rules on retaliation:

    Probably the most effective counterterrorist agency in the world is the British SAS (Special Air Service). They developed the stun grenade and various other noise-flash devices commonly found today. They also developed night vision goggles and special ladders for assaults. Members of this elite unit are anonymous. They have been used against the IRA and throughout Europe. Many countries around the world receive SAS support or training in forming their own counterterrorist agencies.  Spain also operates a little-known anti-terrorist group, the GEO (Grupo Especial de Operaciones), which specializes in "shoot to kill" and hostage rescue operations like the SAS.  The Sultan of Oman maintains a special force (SSF - Sultan of Oman Special Forces) that is constantly on fifteen-minute standby in case of terrorist activity against Omani interests in the Persian Gulf.  France operates a special police unit (GIGN - Groupment d'intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale) trained in counterpropaganda and psychological warfare.  The Netherlands and Norway have special marine corps units which protect those nations' economic interests at home and overseas.  Germany's GSG9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9) is an elite force of well-equipped volunteers capable of infinite stealth and overwhelming firepower.  The United States has a system of FBI special units who work with local police SWAT teams and the CIA providing intelligence. Delta Force is perhaps the most well known U.S. counterterrorist unit. However, Seal Team Six is the Navy's equivalent. ATF also maintains a special unit. First responder units throughout the U.S. are trained in terrorist scenarios. Local police departments are trained in close quarter combat situations. America's newest agency is the FAST (First Fleet Antiterrorist Special Team). 


    Since terrorism is not restricted to any one jurisdiction, it mandates a global response. Repercussions are felt everywhere, and at some point, counterterrorism must require more than the ability of one state to combat terrorism.  Extradition and deportation schemes have been the traditional global counterterrorism tools.  Extradition is the surrender by one state to another of an individual accused or convicted of an offense outside its own territory and within the territorial jurisdiction of the other, which, being competent to try and punish him, demands the surrender.  Political offenses, however, are normally exempt from extradition, and death penalty concerns are an additional complication.  Deportation procedures, likewise, rely upon cooperation, and usually create problems for whatever country the terrorist is deported to.  Deportation is often used in the United States whenever a defendant is not allowed to view classified material against them. Aliens convicted of serious crimes are regularly deported.

    The G-8 countries (which include Canada, the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Russia) have long made counterterrorism an agenda item at their summits (see G-8 Centre).  Most of their proposals rest on using Interpol as a formal association of police agencies everywhere, or more recently Europol, the embryonic Europe-wide police agency.  Other recommendations involve military installations, municipal operations, defense contractors, and the private sector.  Most well-known, however, is the call for a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC), an idea spawned in 1993 by a U.N. committee and ratified by the Rome Statute in 1998 and taking effect in 2002 (see ICC website). As an entity created by the U.N. treaty process, the ICC's jurisdiction would be any international crime like war crime, genocide, unprovoked aggression, crimes against humanity, and (theoretically) terrorism.  States consent to participate on a case-by-case basis.  The forum is supposed to be neutral and 18 judges are elected for nine-year terms.  The court may sentence convicted offenders to incarceration for terms of up to 30 years or, in cases of extreme gravity, life imprisonment  The following is an in-depth look at the ICC and terrorism:

The International Criminal Court and Terrorism

     The ICC is designed to hold individuals accountable for their actions, and defendants must be present at trial where they are defended by counsel of choice and presumed innocent. Defenses can be based on diminished capacity to understand the unlawfulness of the acts, duress, and self-defense. Three crimes fall under its jurisdiction:
     (1) genocide -- intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
crimes against humanity -- any widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: (a) murder; (b) extermination; (c) enslavement; (d) deportation or forcible transfer of population; (e) imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; (f) torture; (g) rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity; (h) persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender …, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court; (i) enforced disappearance of persons; (j) apartheid; (k) other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.
war crimes -- (a) grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions; (b) other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law; (c) in the case of an armed conflict not of an international character, serious violations of article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions; (e) other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflicts not of an international character, within the established framework of international law.
     Terrorism is not specifically included in the court's jurisdiction
largely due to concerns that a consensus cannot be reached on a legal definition. The U.S. and the Arab states (among others) believe that use of most definitions would politicize the court, and the U.S. further fears that the court might interfere with America's right to act as the world's police force. If agreements can be reached over the definition of terrorism and the "national sovereignty" right of unilateral action, there is hope that terrorism might be added as a new crime under the court's jurisdiction when the opportunity to add new crimes comes up for a 7/8 majority vote in 2009. At present, the U.S. has stated it prefers to bring terrorism suspects to trial through domestic courts and its own military tribunals.

    Another basic problem of course is the questionable status of detainees in a war on terrorism.  Captured terrorists may be held by one nation as "unlawful combatants" and deprived of POW (prisoner of war) status and Geneva protection.  On the other hand, one could try them using military tribunals or even courts of law.  Such provisions likely give them comfort and aid, as well as some mantle of legitimacy.  For example, Rule 117 of the ICC's Rules of Procedure and Evidence provides for detention in a humane custodial environment and allows for a hearing on pretrial conditional release.  Coddling terrorists in custodial environments is NOT a good adjunct to any counterterrorism policy which hopes to be effective.  It may be a good thing to do in its own right, but it runs counterproductive and will be seen as a sign of weakness.  The fact of the matter is that terrorists do not meet the four requirements necessary for combatant status (wear uniforms or other distinctive insignia, carry arms openly, be under command of a person responsible for group actions, and conduct their operations in accordance with laws of war).  For this reason, captured terrorists are not usually afforded prisoner of war status” (Joint Chiefs of Staff Publication 3-07.2, Joint Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Antiterrorism, Washington, DC: 17 March 1998).       

American Diplomacy
Counter-Terrorism Resources for Law Enforcement
DiploFoundation (
ERRI Terrorism Archive
How al-Qaeda May End
IACSP Association

International Policy Center on Terrorism

A Global Phenomena Mandating a Unified International Response

Legal Considerations on Terrorists as Combatants and POWs

Terrorism Research Center

U.S. State Dept. Office of Counterterrorism
Yahoo Full Coverage on Terrorism

Alexander, Y. & M. Swetnam (2001) Osama bin laden's al-qaida. NY: Transnational Publishers.
Alexander, Y. (Ed.) (2006). Counterterrorism strategies. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books.
Barash, David. (1991). Introduction to peace studies, 1e. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Berridge, G. (2002). Diplomacy: theory and practice, 2e. NY: Macmillan. [sample pages]
Bolz, F., Dudonis, K. & Schulz, D. (2005). The counterterrorism handbook, 3e. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Brophy-Baermann, B. & J. Conybeare (1994). "Retaliating against terrorism." American Journal of Political Science 38:196-210.
Cid, D. (2012). "The next worst thing." FBI Law Enforcement Journal 31(4):1-7.

Combs, C. (1997) Terrorism in the 21st century. NJ: Prentice Hall.
Crelinsten, R. et al. (1978) Terrorism and criminal justice. Lexington: Lexington Books.
Crelinsten, R. (1998). "The discourse and practice of counterterrorism." Australian Journal of Politics and History 44(1): 389-413.
Day, E. & Reilly, T. (2005). "The international criminal court." Journal of CJ Education 16(2): 359-378.
Dyson, W. (2001) Terrorism: An investigator's handbook. Cincinnati: Anderson.
Elliott, J. & L. Gibson (Eds.) (1978) Contemporary terrorism: Selected readings. Gaithersburg: IACP.
Eppright, C. (1997). "Counterterrorism and conventional military force." Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 20(4):333-344.
Fraser, J. & I. Fulton (1984), Terrorism counteraction, FC–100–37 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command).
Frey, B. (2004). Dealing with terrorism: Stick or carrot? Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
George, A. (1991). Forceful persuasion: Coercive diplomacy as an alternative to war. Washington DC: USIP.
George, A. & W. Simons (Eds.) (1994) The limits of coercive diplomacy. Oxford: Westview Press.
Hoffman, B. (1999) Inside terrorism. NY: Columbia Univ. Press. (see sample chapter)
Hudson, R. (2002) Who becomes a terrorist and why. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press.
Jenkins, B. (1985) Terrorism and beyond. Santa Monica: RAND Corp. 
Khalsa, S. (2004). Forecasting terrorism. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Kiesling, J. (2006). Diplomacy lessons. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books.
Kushner, Harvey. (2003). Encyclopedia of terrorism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Laqueur, W. (1999) The new terrorism. NY: Oxford Univ. Press.
Long, D. (1990) The anatomy of terrorism. NY: Free Press.
Martin, Gus (2003). Understanding terrorism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Martin, J. & A. Romano (1992) Multinational crime. Newbury Park: Sage.
McMains, M. & Mullins, W. (2010). Crisis negotiations. Cincinnati: Anderson.
Netanyahu, B & B. (1997) Fighting terrorism. Jerusalem: Noonday Press.
Netanyahu, B. (Ed.) (1986). Terrorism: How the west can win. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.
Nicolson, Harold. (1964). Diplomacy, 3e. NY: Oxford University Press.
O'Connor, T. (1994) "A neofunctional model of crime and crime control" Pp. 143-58 in G. Barak (ed.) Varieties of Criminology. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
O'Sullivan, M. (2003). Shrewd sanctions. Washington DC: Brookings.
Pena, C. (2006). Winning the un-war. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books.
Reich, W. (1998) Origins of terrorism. NY: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.
Ross, J. (2000) Controlling state crime. NJ: Transaction Press.
Satow, Ernest. (1905). Satow's guide to diplomatic practice, 1e. NY: Longman.
Schlossberg, H. (1979). Hostage negotiations. Presentation at the Texas Department of Public Safety's Terrorism School, Austin, TX.
Simonsen, C. and J. Spindlove (2000) Terrorism today. NJ: Prentice Hall.
Taspinar, O. (2005). Fighting radicalism with human development. Washington DC: Brookings.
Turk, A. (1982) Political criminality. Beverly Hills: Sage.
White, J. (2002) Terrorism: An introduction (3e). Stamford: Thomson Learning.

Last updated: May 30, 2014
Not an official webpage of APSU, copyright restrictions apply, see Megalinks in Criminal Justice
O'Connor, T.  (2013). "Counterterrorism: Diplomacy and Negotiation," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from