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Countering terrorism – for real

ASK THIS | January 18, 2006

A noted political psychologist outlines the elements of an effective counterterrorism program. But the U.S. isn’t pursuing any of them and journalists aren't writing — or even asking — about them either.

By Dan Froomkin

Professor Jerrold M. Post – now the director of the political psychology program at George Washington University, formerly the CIA’s chief profiler – has a talk he’s been giving around the country called "When Hatred Is Bred in the Bone; Psycho-cultural Foundations of Contemporary Terrorism".

In it, Post describes the elements of an effective counterterrorism program. Such a program, Post suggests, would:

1) Inhibit potential terrorists from joining the group in the first place.

2) Produce dissension in the group.

3) Facilitate exit from the group.

4) Reduce support for the group and delegitimate its leader.

5) Increase societal resilience and reduce societal vulnerability to terror.

What I found most striking about Post's talk when I heard it the other day in Washington was that there is no sign that the current U.S. counterterrorism strategy includes a single one of those elements.

A fair amount is being written about whether the current strategies – most obviously the war in Iraq – are working. By most accounts, they aren’t. In fact, by many accounts, they are backfiring and breeding more terrorists. So what about adopting some of Post’s ideas?

Post says he recently met with Department of Defense officials, who told him they were intrigued by his suggestions – but didn't know how to go about putting them into action.

So here are three questions journalists should be asking:

Q. Is the U.S. in fact pursuing any of these strategies?

Q. How could we do so?

Q. Would they do any good?

Background on Post is available here. In 2003, Post co-edited the book Know Thy Enemy: Profiles of Adversary Leaders and Their Strategic Cultures.

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