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

Commentary

ISIS Attacks Should Be Wake-Up Call for Middle Eastern Leaders

By Emma Ashford. TIME. July 6, 2016.

The Democrats’ New National Security Strategy

By A. Trevor Thrall. Huffington Post. June 29, 2016.

How Much Do Americans Really Fear ISIS?

By A. Trevor Thrall. National Interest (Online). June 28, 2016.

Cato Studies

Our Foreign Policy Choices: Rethinking America’s Global Role

By Christopher A. Preble, Emma Ashford, and Travis Evans. White Paper. July 18, 2016.

The Problem with the Light Footprint: Shifting Tactics in Lieu of Strategy

By Brad Stapleton. Policy Analysis No. 792. June 7, 2016.

Responsible Counterterrorism Policy

By John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart. Policy Analysis No. 755. September 10, 2014.

Articles

Evaluating Counterterrorism Spending

John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart. Journal of Economic Perspectives. Vol. 28. No. 3. Summer 2014.

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.

Public Filings

Reducing Wasteful Federal Spending

By Chris Edwards. Testimony. June 10, 2015.

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

By Julian Sanchez. Testimony. December 11, 2013.

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Passenger Screening Using Advanced Imaging Technology

By Jim Harper, John Mueller, and Mark G. Stewart. Public Comments. June 21, 2013.

Cato Reviews & Journals

Events

Chasing Ghosts: The Policing of Terrorism

Featuring John Mueller and Christopher A. Preble. April 4, 2016. Book Forum.

America’s Invisible Wars

Featuring Emma Ashford. March 21, 2016. Policy Forum.

Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency

Featuring Gene Healy. January 5, 2016. Book Forum.

Downsizing the Federal Government