Counterterrorism (also spelled counter-terrorism) refers to the practices, tactics, techniques, and strategies that governments, militaries, police departments and corporations adopt in response to terrorist threats and/or acts, both real and imputed.
As an intelligence mission, counterterrorism has several unique characteristics.
The tactic of terrorism is available to insurgents and governments. Not all insurgents use terror as a tactic, and some choose not to use it because other tactics work better for them in a particular context. Individuals, such as Timothy McVeigh, may also engage in terrorist acts such as the Oklahoma City bombing.
If the terrorism is part of a broader insurgency, counterterrorism may also form a part of a counter-insurgency doctrine, but political, economic, and other measures may focus more on the insurgency than the specific acts of terror. Foreign internal defense (FID) is a term used by several countries for programs either to suppress insurgency, or reduce the conditions under which insurgency could develop.
Counterterrorism includes both the detection of potential acts and the response to related events. Although it usually requires input from all the various intelligence disciplines, most observers believe that it is especially dependent upon HUMINT. Technical systems are good at providing information about numbers of airplanes, ships, and tanks but the most important information on small groups of terrorist plotters often is provided by HUMINT sources. Furthermore, the type of HUMINT required for counterterrorism depends on contacts with sources far removed from embassy gatherings and requires expertise in languages that are possessed by few in this country. This is a distinct difference from HUMINT collection during the Cold War when Soviet diplomats and military officers were often the principal targets.
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