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Ordinary Measures, Extraordinary Results: An Assessment of Foiled Plots Since 9/11

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A series of recent reports has identified several terrorist plots that have been “foiled” since 9/11. The reports highlight these cases as evidence that post-9/11 counterterrorism measures have been instrumental in protecting the United States against the threat of terrorism. These measures include using the recently renewed USA PATRIOT Act and amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), pursuing the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and detaining terror suspects in the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay. Commentators have also suggested that waterboarding and other torture methods used against terrorism suspects in U.S. custody are necessary and effective counterterrorism tools that have been critical in thwarting attacks and keeping Americans safe. These individuals recommend that several of these measures and methods be institutionalized and expanded to protect American national security.

This report analyzes 32 attacks that were thwarted since 9/11 to determine which factors led to the plots’ successful disruption. The report finds that in the majority of cases, traditional law enforcement techniques and methods developed prior to 9/11, direct and indirect action by concerned citizens, and international law enforcement cooperation contributed significantly to identifying terrorists and preventing attacks. It also finds that post-9/11 legislation and methods were instrumental in disrupting terror plots in only a relatively small number of cases.

You can read the full report here.