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

Surveillance Reform: the Congressional-Intelligence Complex Strikes Back

By Patrick G. Eddington. Huffington Post. June 19, 2015.

Is Surespot the Latest Cryptowar Victim?

By Patrick G. Eddington. Christian Science Monitor. June 17, 2015.

The (Telephony) Matrix Reloaded

By Julian Sanchez. Just Security. June 9, 2015.

Cato Studies

Responsible Counterterrorism Policy

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

REAL ID: A State-by-State Update

By Jim Harper. Policy Analysis No. 749. May 12, 2014.

Privatizing the Transportation Security Administration

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

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.

Criminal Code Modernization and Simplification Act of 2011

By Tim Lynch. Testimony. December 13, 2011.

Cato Reviews & Journals

The New Counter-Insurgency Era in Critical Perspective

Jennifer Keister. Cato Journal. Spring/Summer 2015.

Is the World More Dangerous?

Policy Report. November/December 2014.

The Most Dangerous World Ever?

Christopher A. Preble. Policy Report. September/October 2014.

Events

The 2014 Cato Institute Surveillance Conference

Featuring Julian Sanchez and Patrick G. Eddington. December 12, 2014. Conference.

Reddit AMA: I Am Flemming Rose

Featuring . November 13, 2014. Special Event.

Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History?” 25 Years Later

Featuring John Mueller and Christopher A. Preble. June 6, 2014. Conference.

Downsizing the Federal Government