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

Are We Overspending on Stopping Terrorism?

By John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart. CNN.com. September 10, 2014.

Where in Constitution Is CIA Absolved of Its Multitude of Crimes?

By Nat Hentoff. Cato.org. August 13, 2014.

Why Putin’s Proxy War Is an Abject Failure

By Christopher A. Preble. Rare. July 22, 2014.

Cato Studies

Responsible Counterterrorism Policy

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

REAL ID: 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

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.

Events

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

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

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.