Patrick B. Johnston

Photo of Patrick Johnston
Senior Political Scientist
Pittsburgh Office


Ph.D. in political science, Northwestern University

Media Resources

This researcher is available for interviews.

To arrange an interview, contact the RAND Office of Media Relations at (310) 451-6913, or email

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Patrick B. Johnston is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. His research and analysis focuses on terrorism, insurgency, illicit economies, and threat finance, with particular expertise on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and conflict in the Philippines, as well as U.S. intelligence policy issues. In addition to Johnston's RAND research, he has published widely in academic journals, media outlets, and policy forums: a select list includes the American Economic Review, International Security, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Development Economics, Security Studies, and Studies in Conflict & Terrorism;  Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The New York Times, Lawfare, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, and War on the Rocks; and testified before congressional committees in both the U.S. and Canada as a subject-matter expert in hearings on the Islamic State and terrorist financing. Before RAND, Johnston completed his Ph.D. in political science at Northwestern University and held fellowships at the Harvard Kennedy School, Stanford University, and the United States Institute of Peace.

Selected Publications

Patrick B. Johnston and Anoop K. Sarbahi, "The Impact of U.S. Drone Strikes on Terrorism in Pakistan," International Studies Quarterly, 60(2), 2016

Benjamin Crost, Joseph H. Felter, and Patrick B. Johnston, "Aid Under Fire: Development Projects and Civil Conflict," American Economic Review, 104(6), 2014

Benjamin W. Bahney, Radha K. Iyengar, Patrick B. Johnston, Danielle F. Jung, Jacob N. Shapiro, Howard J. Shatz, "Insurgent Compensation: Evidence from Iraq," American Economic Review, 103(3), 2013

Seth G. Jones and Patrick B. Johnston, "The Future of Insurgency," Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 36(1), 2013

Patrick B. Johnston, "Does Decapitation Work? Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Targeting in Counterinsurgency Campaigns," International Security, 36(4), 2012

Patrick Johnston, "The Geography of Insurgent Organization and Its Consequences for Civil Wars: Evidence from Liberia and Sierra Leone," Security Studies, 17(1), 2008

Patrick Johnston, "Negotiated Settlements and Government Strategy in Civil Wars: Evidence from Darfur," Civil Wars, 9(4), 2007

Benjamin Crost, Joseph H. Felter, Patrick B. Johnston, "Conditional Cash Transfers, Civil Conflict and Insurgent Influence: Experimental Evidence from the Philippines," Journal of Development Economics, 118, 2016

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: KCRW To the Point; KNX-AM; WTOP-FM


  • A flag of Islamic State militants is pictured above a destroyed house near the Clock Square in Raqqa, Syria, October 18, 2017

    ISIS Could Rise Again

    ISIS has a tried-and-true playbook for bringing itself back from near death. Just a few years ago, it managed to resurrect itself after apparent defeat. And the history of that resurrection should serve as a warning of what may be coming now.

    Dec 15, 2017 Foreign Affairs

  • An armored personnel carrier on a highway after President Rodrigo Duterte announced the liberation of Marawi in Lanao Del Sur, Philippines, October 28, 2017

    Is the Philippines the Next Caliphate?

    The Philippines is a long way from the Islamic State's birthplace in the Middle East. But the jihadis have already seized and held a city there for three months. Even if the Philippines doesn't become a major node in the Islamic State's network, it will likely remain fertile ground for supporting the group and its violent agenda.

    Nov 28, 2017 Foreign Policy

  • Iraqi security forces stand guard in an oil refinery, north of Baghdad, in Baiji, Iraq, October 16, 2015

    Oil, Extortion Still Paying Off for ISIS

    ISIS's oil revenues declined from a peak of $40 million per month in 2015 to $4 million per month as of early October 2017. Despite the massive reduction, it's still a substantial amount of money for a group whose expenditures decrease with the size of the population and territory it controls and decreased recruitment.

    Oct 27, 2017 The Cipher Brief

  • Displaced Iraqi people pass a torn Islamic State banner as the battle between the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service and Islamic State militants continues nearby, in western Mosul, Iraq, April 23, 2017

    Can the Islamic State Survive Financially?

    Significant gains have been made in attacking the Islamic State's cash and diminishing its ability to finance high-frequency attacks in Iraq and Syria. But the group may retain enough money to support sporadic attacks in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

    May 15, 2017 Lawfare

  • A person typing on a computer keyboard in a dark room

    Are Terrorists Using Cryptocurrencies?

    As the U.S. Treasury Department and its partners have denied terrorists access to the international financial system, new digital currencies could become an attractive alternative. They could be used for money laundering or to pay the personnel and vendors that keep the terrorist machine running.

    Apr 21, 2017 Foreign Affairs

  • A convoy of Iraqi security forces advances on the outskirts of Mosul, ready to fight Islamic State militants, October 12, 2016

    After the Battle for Mosul, Get Ready for the Islamic State to Go Underground

    Only once ISIS's underground network is defeated will there be a real chance for enduring security and stability in Mosul.

    Oct 18, 2016 War on the Rocks

  • Danish police search an apartment block in Ishoej, Denmark, for people suspected of having been recruited by the Islamic State, April 7, 2016

    Striking Back at the Islamic State's Foreign Fighter Pipeline

    Islamic State training camps are the breeding grounds of tomorrow's Brussels or Paris attacks, and their consistent penchant for training foreigners suggests that military and security officials need to get serious about how to deal with returnees from Iraq and Syria.

    May 31, 2016 The National Interest

  • An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture, taken February 18, 2016

    The Islamic State's Money Problems

    ISIS now faces considerable money problems. But despite the success of the coalition's counter-terrorist finance measures, it's too early to dismiss ISIS financially.

    Mar 5, 2016 USA Today

  • Marines scan the area for insurgent activity during a general support flight over Helmand province, Afghanistan

    To Defeat ISIS, Focus on Its Real Sources of Strength

    The threat ISIS poses today is graver than ever for two reasons: its war chest and its ability to attract foreign recruits are both at their peak. Redoubling international efforts to cut off ISIS from these two pillars of its war machine is necessary to sap the group's strength.

    Dec 4, 2015 The National Interest

  • Sunni tribal fighters stand guard near a school used as a shelter for displaced people in the city of Ramadi, April 11, 2015

    The Enemy You Know and the Ally You Don't

    Arming Iraq's Sunni militias to fight the Islamic State may seem like a quick fix, but newly declassified documents suggest it might only add fuel to the fire.

    Jun 23, 2015 Foreign Policy

  • A still from video purportedly of Islamic State militants, posted to social media sites on April 19, 2015

    Who Runs the Islamic State Group?

    Despite the Islamic State's notoriety, a wide range of theories are still circulating about who really runs the group.

    May 22, 2015 U.S. News & World Report

  • A man holds up a knife as he rides on the back of a motorcycle in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in Raqqa, Syria, August 24, 2014

    Hit the Islamic State's Pocketbook

    The Islamic State is the world's richest terrorist group, with estimated assets of $1 billion to $2 billion. Airstrikes may disrupt the flow of oil and profits, but they won't lead to the group's financial ruin anytime soon. The Islamic State will bring in an estimated $100 million to $200 million this year.

    Oct 6, 2014 Newsday

  • A man purported to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State, allegedly in what would be his first public appearance at a mosque in Mosul, Iraq

    Hitting ISIS Where It Hurts: Disrupt ISIS's Cash Flow in Iraq

    President Obama's decision last week to conduct airstrikes against ISIS and send humanitarian aid will help buy time for both Iraqi and Kurdish forces to regroup. But Baghdad needs a strategy that aligns the political and economic interests of all Iraqis to hit ISIS where it hurts: its war chest.

    Aug 13, 2014 The New York Times

  • Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in Mosul, Iraq, June 11, 2014

    Obama's Iraq Dilemma

    On the surface, President Obama faces a classic foreign policy dilemma: The Iraqis are asking for U.S. military assistance to halt ISIS's dangerous offensive, but Obama has long promised the American people that he would withdraw the U.S. military from involvement in Iraq.

    Jun 17, 2014 U.S. News & World Report

  • As seen through a night-vision device, U.S. Army soldiers move through grasses to an overwatch position in Sabari, Khowst province, Afghanistan

    New 'Rule Book' to Set Parameters for Targeted Killings

    A constrictive rule book against direct-action counterterrorism techniques could be in tension with operational realities. But it would go some way toward establishing the legal and ethical framework under which such difficult decisions are made, writes Patrick Johnston.

    Dec 5, 2012 The Orange County Register

  • A U.S. Army soldier aims his M4 carbine over a wall in Char Shaka, Kandahar province, Afghanistan

    Do Targeted Killings Work?

    When terrorists are afraid to poke their heads above ground, it becomes exceedingly difficult for them to communicate, coordinate, and conduct attacks—especially sophisticated ones like 9/11, writes Patrick B. Johnston.

    Sep 28, 2012 Council on Foreign Relations

  • Drone recovery demonstration

    Drone Strikes Keep Pressure on al-Qaida

    Recently declassified correspondence seized in the bin Laden raid shows that the relentless pressure from the drone campaign on al-Qaida in Pakistan led bin Laden to advise al-Qaida operatives to leave Pakistan's Tribal Areas as no longer safe, writes Patrick B. Johnston.

    Aug 22, 2012 Providence Journal