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them. Hence both can claim progress and both can be correct in their assessments. How does one deal with or reconcile this?

In designing metrics, we might begin with three major categories: incidents, attitudes, and trends.

  1. Incidents—We see reports of incidents in publications such as the Department of State’s Patterns of Global Terrorism.1 How widespread are incidents geographically; how deadly are they? We should also be concerned about the psychological and social impact of incidents, the economic and social costs of our response to them, and their negative effects on the macroeconomy.

  2. Attitudes—They drive both terrorism and the world’s response to terrorism. How do attitudes affect political decisions and sentiments in countries to contain and defeat terrorism, or to support it? How long can democratic governments pursue policies that pressure terrorists if such policies are seen as stimulating terrorist retaliation? Similarly, how much increase in economic costs and reduction in civil liberties will public opinion tolerate? Shaping attitudes to break or weaken the political will to combat terrorism is a central terrorist goal and an important indicator of their, and our, success or failure.

  3. Trends—Measurement of trends is particularly relevant to terrorist infrastructure. Are we weakening their leadership; is their recruitment base, or network, growing? Relevant also are intentions (tactical and strategic goals). Have the intentions of a movement or group changed, and if so, are they more or less radical—more or less focused on causing widespread damage? Capabilities are important as well. What are the capabilities of a terrorist group to inflict serious damage? Are they increasing or decreasing?

In our search for meaningful criteria, the academic, engineering, and scientific community has much to offer government policy makers. A useful start might be simply to conduct a survey of what data on terrorism—especially databases—exist, what categories and details are found within that data, and to which topics the data are particularly relevant. Methodologies for measuring progress in combating complex social phenomena such as drug trafficking and crime may have much to offer as well. We might wish to see the results of statistically sound attitude surveys in various countries, repeated periodically. Moreover, if the academic and scientific research community is not satisfied that the government is providing a comprehensive and rigorous accounting of the bottom line in the campaign against terrorism, what prevents an organization like the National Research Council from issuing an annual report card to the nation?

The global campaign on terror is costly. It is costly in dollars spent, lost opportunities, and human lives lost or damaged. It is costly in political capital


U.S. Department of State. 2004. Patterns of Global Terrorism. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State.

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