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

Why It Could Be Good for Trump to Skip Some Intelligence Briefings

By John Mueller. CNN.com. December 16, 2016.

Trump’s Military Men Can’t Fix America

By A. Trevor Thrall. USA Today. December 13, 2016.

Why Obama Won’t Tell the Truth about Terrorism

By John Mueller. National Interest (Online). December 12, 2016.

Cato Studies

Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis

By Alex Nowrasteh. Policy Analysis No. 798. September 13, 2016.

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.

Articles

The Danger of Overreacting to Terrorism—and How to Resist It

Benjamin H. Friedman. World Politics Review. August 15, 2016.

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.

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

Refugees, Immigrants, and National Security

Featuring Alex Nowrasteh and A. Trevor Thrall. October 3, 2016. Policy Forum.

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.

Downsizing the Federal Government