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Jonathan SchrodenWilliam RosenauEmily Warner
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The United States has dedicated an extraordinary amount of time, money, and effort to countering terrorism since the attacks on September 11, 2001, using a variety of approaches and tools. However, it has devoted comparatively little effort to developing rigorous and useful assessment frameworks to help policymakers and practitioners understand how effective these counterterrorism (CT) actions have been. To address this shortfall—and to enable CT practitioners to provide policymakers and commanders direct and actionable feedback on whether the approaches they have chosen to countering terrorist groups are having the impacts they expect and desire—we develop and present in this paper a set of comprehensive assessment frameworks for today’s five prevailing theories of terrorism:

  • Ideology (specifically, jihadism)
  • Root causes
  • State sponsorship
  • Rational choice
  • Group dynamics

For each theory of terrorism, we first identify the CT actions most associated with that theory. We then identify specific questions that need to be answered in order to gauge the success or failure of those CT actions, along with indicators that could be gathered and analyzed to answer those questions. An example of what this looks like for a single CT action (countering the network) of one theory (group dynamics) is shown in the table on the next page. To our knowledge, this is the first time such a comprehensive mapping of terrorism theories to CT indicators has been performed.

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Unlimited distribution. Specific authority: N00014-11-D-0323.


  • Pages: 60
  • Document Number: DRM-2015-U-012261-Final
  • Publication Date: 2/16/2016
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