MAR 24, 2016
It is now some 15 years since 9/11, the United States has not only conducted a constant campaign against terrorism since that time, but has been at war with violent Islamist extremists in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and then Syria. It has gone from counterterrorism to a mix of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency in these three states where no meaningful boundaries exist between them while the United States is increasingly a partner in counterterrorism efforts with nations in Europe, Africa, and Asia and throughout much of the Islamic world.
Virtually all of the data available indicate that these threats to the United States and its allies remain critical and that the geographic scope and intensity of terrorism continues to increase. At the same time, there are critical problems and shortfalls in the data available, a near total lack of credible unclassified data on the cost and effectiveness of various counterterrorism efforts, and critical problems in the ways the United States approaches terrorism.
The Burke Chair at CSIS has updated a graphic survey of reporting from different officials, media, and research centers on the recent trends in terrorism and key related factors. This survey is available on the CSIS website, and is entitledComparing Estimates of the Key Trends in the Uncertain Metrics of Terrorism. It is available on the CSIS web site athttp://csis.org/files/publication/160208_key_trends_metrics_terrorism_cordesman.pdf
It should be stressed, however, that the limitations in the data available and in current unclassified methods of analysis and reporting discussed in this survey still reveal serious problems in the ways in which given sources present given trends, and in the data on which these portrayals are based. They need to be carefully compared to understand key differences in estimates and analyses, and many data are presented without any clear assessment of uncertainty and source and are suspect in many ways.
These issues have been examined previously in a Burke Chair study entitled, The Critical Lack of Credibility in State Department Reporting on the Trends in Global Terrorism: 1982-2014, http://csis.org/publication/critical-lack-credibility-state-department-r... . This study only covered a small part of the issues in the current survey, however, and focused only on the critical problems in the unclassified data, and the resulting trend analyses produced by using the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and START databases.
The trends, methods of analysis, and focus on given issues and problems highlighted in this survey reveal a much wider range of problems in the data, and indicate that there may well be even more critical problems in the ways the U.S. government, other governments, and NGOs approach terrorism and counterterrorism:
The definition of “terrorism” used is often not stated, politicized, and/or confuses “terrorism” with insurgency, internal conflicts, and low intensity conflict.
The NCTC no longer reports numbers or patterns on an unclassified basis. There now are no official U.S. government reports presenting unclassified data reporting on the global trends in terrorism.
The FBI no longer issues updated charts and tables on terrorism in the United States on its website. Its website refers the user to the NCTC’s website and its Counter Terrorism Guide, which no longer has any meaningful data.
The Director of National Intelligence’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” discuses terrorism in broad trends, but provides virtually no quantitative data.
RAND has stopped providing public access to its database on terrorism.
The START Global Terrorism Database (GTD) database—which is used by the State Department in presenting a statistical annex to its annual country reports on terrorism—comes as close to an official source as any available. It must rely on media reporting of widely differing quality and historical continuity for its estimates, however, and does not distinguish clearly between terrorism and insurgency, or violence emerging from internal conflicts driven by factors like sect, ethnicity, tribe, and region.
START makes the unofficial character of its data clear in its literature: