These systems and infrastructures contribute to society’s key functions. For example, emergency services (police, fire, ambulance services) depend on both physical and IT infrastructures. The economy depends on people, finance (IT), energy, transportation and distribution, and other infrastructures. The military relies on people (so biological and behavioral factors come into play), bases (physical infrastructure), and intelligence and command and control systems (IT). The government as a whole, from the President to the departments to the field-level agencies, embraces almost all of the above systems.

Each of the areas in the above list is treated in a separate chapter, along with analyses of vulnerabilities4 and responses in specific domains (see Box 1.1 for a reader’s guide to the report).

These chapters focus on solutions, on ways to harden society against terrorist attacks, to make critical systems more robust and resilient, and to enhance the ability to recover from such attacks. The report also touches on ways in which technical approaches can assist in other aspects of counterterrorism efforts, from supporting intelligence gathering and analysis and providing warning and detection of intent before an attack to conducting forensic investigations afterward. In some cases, the report identifies areas in which existing technologies could be deployed, perhaps after being adapted or extended. In other cases, the report identifies areas in which research could be undertaken to develop new capabilities that might substantially reduce the difficulty of protecting the homeland in the future. In both cases, the goal is to use scientific and engineering research and invention to counter terrorism.

The nation must be prepared for a range of contingencies, and the recommended technological responses described by the committee in each area are often quite different. The nuclear threat must be addressed in its earliest stage, when intelligence and international cooperation are most critical. Once terrorists obtain certain nuclear materials, there are limited opportunities for preventing their use. For biological threats, the situation is the reverse: An attack is relatively easy to initiate, but there are many opportunities for technological intervention to mitigate the effects. In some other cases, such as attacks on the electrical power system, it may be possible both to make the attack more difficult and to ameliorate its effects once initiated.

Despite such fundamental differences in the approaches needed for countering different classes of terrorist threats, some general principles and strategies underlie recommendations presented in all of the areas:


The committee was deeply aware of the difficulty of writing a report that was sufficiently specific about terrorist threats to explain how science and engineering might be helpful, yet not providing any information that might aid terrorists in determining new means of attack. In many cases, quite specific information that was available to the committee is presented in the report in a more generic form.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement