Combating Terrorism: The Challenge of Measuring Effectiveness

This report is designed to assist congressional policymakers to understand and apply broad based objective criteria when evaluating progress in the nation’s efforts to combat terrorism. It is not intended to define specific, in-depth, metrics for measuring progress against terrorism. How one perceives and measures progress is central to formulating and implementing anti-terror strategy. Perception has a major impact, as well, on how nations prioritize and allocate resources. On the flip side, the parameters used to measure progress can set the framework for the measurement of failure. The measurement process is also inextricably linked to strategies. Progress is possible using diverse strategies, under very different approaches. The goals of terrorists and those who combat them are often diametrically opposed, but may also be tangential, with both sides achieving objectives and making progress according to their different measurement systems. Within the context of these competing views and objectives, terrorist activity may be seen as a process which includes discrete, quantum-like changes or jumps often underscoring its asymmetric and nonlinear nature. An approach which looks at continuous metrics such as lower numbers of casualties may indicate success, while at the same time the terrorists may be redirecting resources towards vastly more devastating projects. Policymakers may face consideration of the pros and cons of reallocating more of the nation’s limited resources away from ongoing defensive projects and towards preventing the next quantum jump of terrorism, even if this means accepting losses. Measurement of progress, or lack thereof, may be framed in terms of incidents, attitudes and trends. A common pitfall of governments seeking to demonstrate success in anti-terrorist measures is overreliance on quantitative indicators, particularly those which may correlate with progress but not accurately measure it, such as the amount of money spent on anti-terror efforts. As terrorism is a complex multidimensional phenomenon, effective responses to terrorism may need to take into account, and to some degree be individually configured to respond to, the evolving goals, strategies, tactics and operating environment of different terrorist groups. Although terrorism’s complex webs of characteristics �” along with the inherent secrecy and compartmentalization of both terrorist organizations and government responses �” limit available data, the formulation of practical, useful measurement criteria appears both tractable and ready to be addressed.

  • Record URL:
  • Corporate Authors:

    Congressional Research Service

    Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue, SE
    Resources, Science and Industry Division
    Washington, DC  United States  20540-7500
  • Authors:
    • Perl, Raphael
  • Publication Date: 2005-11-23


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Web
  • Pagination: 15p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01013280
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Dec 1 2005 5:09PM