Terrorism is no surprise when a nation leaves itself vulnerable


An article published in the latest issue of Foreign Policy Analysis uses a multi-perspective approach to show flaws within the US that contributed to September 11th. Using information available to the public, the authors give examples of the various psychological, organizational, and political dynamics that conspired to facilitate, albeit inadvertently, 9/11. They find a pattern of denial, disorganization, and distraction created by a trio of psychological, bureau-organizational, and political agenda factors that left the US vulnerable.

Psychological factors contributed to the overconfidence and wishful thinking toward existing policies and practices. For example, the authors cite that the FBI's quick identification of al-Qaeda operatives as responsible for the African embassy bombings was considered a policy success. Rather than see the bombings as a failure, their determination of the perpetrators was portrayed as an example of that the problem of terrorism was being managed sufficiently. Secondly, bureau-organizational arrangements created fragmentation and a lack of adequate cooperation. Lastly, the authors find a lack of adequate counterterrorism and homeland defense policy. Attorney General John Ashcroft's denied the FBI's request for $58 million to hire additional counterterrorism field agents, analysts, and translators is just one of the prominent examples of this neglect.

In the end, the authors find grounds for both optimism and pessimism among their conclusions. "We believe that the increased policy attention and focus on al-Qaeda-style terrorism has no doubt improved governmental capabilities and policies that in conjunction with at least somewhat improved interagency coordination and cooperation has reduced the U.S. homeland's vulnerability to attack and strengthened the government's capacity to respond," they state. Nonetheless, they note that "many sources of failure suggested by our analysis have yet to be (and some deriving directly from human and organizational frailties may never be) meaningfully addressed."

This study is published in the November issue of Foreign Policy Analysis. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact [email protected]

Foreign Policy Analysis provides an outlet for the highest quality academic research into the processes, outcomes, and theories of foreign policy. Emphasizing accessibility of content for scholars of all perspectives and approaches in the editorial and review process, it serves as a source of synergy and inspired efforts at theoretical integration in this research tradition. It is published on behalf of the International Studies Association.

Dr. Charles F. Parker is an Assistant Professor of Government at Uppsala University. He is a senior research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs and has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies. Dr. Parker is available for media questions and interviews.

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