BOOK REVIEW: ‘Terrorism and Counterterrorism’ by Henry Prunckun and Troy Whitford


By Henry Prunckun and Troy Whitford
Lynne Rienner Publishers, $85 (hardcover), $35 (paperback), 269 pages
The threat of terrorism is a paramount national security concern to governments and their citizens worldwide. Numerous books are published on the nature of terrorism and the components of counterterrorism to defeat the terrorist threat, but few stand out as exemplary and indispensable for understanding these issues. Henry Prunckun’s and Troy Whitford’s “Terrorism and Counterterrorism: A Comprehensive Introduction to Actors and Actions” is one of those books. Mr. Prunckun is a former senior level counterterrorism analyst in the Australian government and a research criminologist in policing and security studies at Charles Stuart University, where Mr. Whitford is also a lecturer.

This easy-to-follow book covers all the relevant topics involved in discussing the terrorist threat. These include defining terrorism, the reasons terrorists use to justify their resort to politically-motivated violence, the increasing lethality of terrorist warfare in terms of weaponry used (including the worst case scenario of weapons of mass destruction) and their targeting of high-value human and physical targets, such as 9/11’s simultaneous aircrafts’ destruction of the World Trade Towers, which caused a catastrophic loss of life and physical damage.
Also covered is how radicalization into violent extremism takes place, how terrorists finance their operations (including cooperating with criminal groups to raise funds) and media coverage of terrorism, including proposing guidelines for objectively covering terrorist incidents during the initial “fog of war.”

Finally, the components of effective counterterrorism are discussed, such as, the role of intelligence agencies in tracking terrorists using open source information and covert means — one of the book’s major contributions — and the roles of law enforcement and the military in countering terrorists, whether domestically or overseas. Different de-radicalization programs established around the world to promote the disengagement of local terrorists from violence are discussed — a crucial component to neutralizing terrorist acts — including the authors’ innovative formula for what’s required to win the “war on terror.”
Among the relevant topics covered, the authors crucially include their operating definition of terrorism from the perspective of democratic governments: A violent political act by a group or lone actors in furtherance of extremist objectives. Such political violence is criminal because it violates a democracy’s criminal laws, and is directed “against a government (via innocent victims) as opposed to aggression that emanates from a [foreign] state’s military.”

The authors also explain how terrorism can be traced to Sun Tzu’s doctrine of asymmetric warfare, in which the weaker side exploits the vulnerability of its more powerful adversary government — that if you “kill one, [you] frighten ten thousand” through the widespread publicity and anxiety that accompanies such incidents. Terrorists’ strategic objectives aim to disrupt the targeted government’s activities to such an extent that it appears incapable of defending its citizenry, and thereby provoking it to overreact by implementing coercive response measures that end up eroding its society’s democratic nature and personal freedoms. This can inadvertently legitimize the insurgent groups’ portrayal of an “unreasonable” government response.
Regarding terrorism’s root causes, the authors observe that political violence is a response to the larger contexts in which terrorists operate as they believe [wrongly] that only violence can redress their grievances. Such conflicts are difficult to resolve through negotiations because “The philosophy of terrorism does not entertain the possibility of coexistence between the group and society. Rather it seeks to destroy society.” Nevertheless, they point out, there are a few instances in which “this absolutist perspective can change over time.” Such an instance was the Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) moderation, through Sinn Fein, its political wing, which enabled it to reach a peace agreement with the British government, thereby ending Northern Ireland’s several decades’ old conflict.
Terrorist warfare, the authors point out, is continuously evolving. In a new trend of cyber-terrorism, which is still in a nascent form, terrorists might employ cyber weapons to gain remote access to their adversaries’ SCADA systems (supervisory control and data acquisition systems) to bring down a critical part in an infrastructure, such as a major electrical plant or transportation network. Fortunately, such attacks have not yet materialized.

To defeat the terrorist threat, the authors recommend applying a risk management methodology — which is usually absent from the academic study of counterterrorism. This consists of five steps: Identifying the threat, gauging its likelihood, exploring one’s vulnerabilities, assessing the consequences of an attack, and constructing a prevention, preparation, response, and recovery (PPRR) emergency plan to prepare to respond to such a possibility. With these steps providing an overriding framework for counterterrorism, the authors conclude that while the underlying causes that give rise to terrorism’s grievances need to be understood and resolved, “Simultaneously, we must also take a tougher stance.”
It is such practitioner insights that make this book an indispensable guide for understanding the components involved in analyzing the terrorist threat and the measures required for effective response.
• Joshua Sinai is a senior analyst at Kiernan Group Holdings (KGH), in Alexandria, Va.



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