The threat of terrorism, which created the vogue for a national ‘‘homeland security’’ infrastructure, must be understood in a strategic context. Terrorist attacks have direct costs, but they also seek self-injurious overreaction, such as the waste of blood and treasure on the part of the victim state; recruitment and sympathy gains when the victim state misdirects a violent response; and the weakening of the political order in the society attacked so that it is induced to act wrongly. When it does so, it cedes the moral and ideological high ground, making terrorists groups look relatively more legitimate.

Policymakers should use risk management to prioritize security efforts, and they should avoid holding out the promise of perfect security, as there is no such thing. Civil liberties must be fully protected, and doing so is consistent with proportionate and well-focused domestic security efforts.

More on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security


Deputizing Everyone Isn’t Producing Results against Terrorism, but Officials Keep Trying

By Gene Healy. DC Examiner. April 14, 2014.

The NSA’s Heartbleed Problem Is the Problem with the NSA

By Julian Sanchez. The Guardian. April 12, 2014.

The Fourth Amendment Shell Game

By Julian Sanchez. Slate. April 10, 2014.

Cato Studies

Privatizing the Transportation Security Administration

By Chris Edwards. Policy Analysis No. 742. November 19, 2013.

Abolish the Department of Homeland Security

By David Rittgers. Policy Analysis No. 683. September 8, 2011.

The Atomic Terrorist?

By John Mueller. Nuclear Proliferation Update No. 5. January 31, 2010.


Cost-benefit Analysis of Airport Security: Are Airports Too Safe?

Mark G. Stewart and John Mueller. Journal of Air Transport Management. 2014.

Terrorism Risks and Cost-Benefit Analysis of Aviation Security

John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart. Risk Analysis. October 4, 2012.

The Terrorism Delusion: America’s Overwrought Response to September 11

John Mueller. International Security. Vol. 37. No. 1. Summer 2012.

Public Filings

Hearing on “Continued Oversight of U.S. Government Surveillance Authorities”

By Julian Sanchez. Testimony. December 11, 2013.

Criminal Code Modernization and Simplification Act of 2011

By Tim Lynch. Testimony. December 13, 2011.

Legislation to Protect the Rights of Travelers

By Jim Harper. Testimony. March 30, 2011.

Cato Reviews & Journals

The Implications of the Expanding U.S. Drone Program

Policy Report. July/August 2013.

Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency

Benjamin H. Friedman. Cato Journal. Winter 2013.

Conquering Terrorism With Capitalism

P.J. O'Rourke. Cato's Letter. Summer 2002.


Dangerous World? Threat Perception and U.S. National Security

Featuring Christopher A. Preble, Justin Logan, John Mueller, Benjamin H. Friedman & Mark G. Stewart. October 25, 2013. Conference.

Big Brother Is Watching You: NSA Surveillance and the Erosion of Civil Liberties

Featuring Jim Harper, Julian Sanchez and Caleb O. Brown. September 10, 2013. Sponsor E-Briefing.

The Implications of the Expanding U.S. Drone Program

Featuring Benjamin H. Friedman and Julian Sanchez. May 17, 2013. Capitol Hill Briefing.