Tag Archives: security

Targeting terrorist capability versus intent

By Kevin R. Betts

Late last week, two Chicago-addressed packages containing hidden bombs were shipped out of Yemen by an unknown source. The packages successfully progressed through multiple countries and aircraft before a tip from the Saudi Arabian intelligence service led officials in Britain and Dubai to seize the packages. Although ultimately unsuccessful, this attempted attack lends credibility to the capability and intent of terrorist outfits who threaten acts of violence.

Much has been done to reduce the capabilities of terrorists seeking to engage in acts of violence. Impressive new technologies and training programs designed for this purpose emerge on a regular basis. However, the effectiveness of these measures is limited by the ability of terrorist outfits to adapt to and overcome them. The successful progression of the abovementioned bombs through multiple countries and aircraft indicate continued capability among terrorist organizations despite  advances in security. From this perspective, intent becomes very important because whether or not terrorist outfits are capable of following through with threats of violence becomes irrelevant once intent to engage in such acts is eliminated. In other words, influencing the intentions of terrorists may have more long-term effects.

How can we convince terrorist outfits to cease their violent attacks? Kruglanski and Fishman (2009) identify numerous strategies that target intent, many of which have already been implemented in deradicalization programs around the world. For example, activists in Yemen have established the Committee for Dialogue, whereby Muslim scholars and suspected members of al-Qaeda engage in religious dialogue designed to address detainees’ apparent misinterpretations of the Q’uran. Although the recipients of these programs remain capable of initiating acts of violence, many of them cease these acts as their intention dissolves. Research in the behavioral sciences provides a multitude of potential techniques for influencing such intentions.

Ultimately, both capability and intent must be targeted as they dually contribute to terrorist threat. Once threats have materialized, security measures that prevent their realization are imperative. Yet, to prevent terrorist attacks in a long-term sense, a focus on intent is essential.

Read more:

Bomb plot shows key role played by intelligence (NYTimes)

Kruglanski, A.W., & Fishman, S. (2009). Psychological factors in terrorism and countereterrorism: Individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis. Social Issues and Policy Review, 3, 1-44.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts