RAND Book By Brian Michael Jenkins Proposes Anti-Terrorism Strategy and Defends Civil Liberties

For Release

August 15, 2006

Veteran terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins recommends a new strategy for America to fight terrorism at home and abroad while vigorously defending U.S. traditions of freedom and civil liberties in a new RAND Corporation book titled “Unconquerable Nation: Knowing Our Enemy, Strengthening Ourselves.”

At home, the new strategy relies on citizen involvement and self-reliance as key weapons to wage a decades-long struggle against terrorism. Abroad, the strategy calls on America to destroy the jihadist enterprise with a broad range of military, ideological and political counterterrorism initiatives that will be sustainable for the several decades likely needed to achieve victory.

Jenkins began RAND's terrorism research program in 1972, after serving in the Vietnam War as a captain in the U.S. Army Special Forces. Recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on terrorism, he is now a senior adviser to the president of RAND.

“Although America and its allies have made undeniable progress in reducing al Qaeda's operational capabilities, we have not dented the determination of the jihadists nor have we blunted the appeal of al Qaeda's ideology,” Jenkins said, reviewing the fight against global terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. “Al Qaeda's message continues to inspire angry young men to prepare and carry out violent attacks on civilian populations. The terrorist threat is more dispersed, but still lethal.”

Because the war on terrorism will be a long one, Jenkins writes that Americans should safeguard the civil liberties and limits on governmental power that are vital to preserve freedom and democracy in the nation. Jenkins said he is disturbed by those who have tried to justify torture, abuse of prisoners and disregard of the constitutional limits on the power of the executive branch in the name of strengthening the war on terrorism.

“Whatever we do at home and abroad must be consistent with our values, and here I think we in America are in some danger,” Jenkins said. “America cannot claim to be a nation of laws and a champion of democracy when we too easily accept a disturbing pattern by our own government of ignoring inconvenient rules, justifying U.S. actions by extraordinary circumstances, readily resorting to extra-judicial actions based upon broad assertions of unlimited executive authority, and rejecting any constraints on how we treat those we have captured in the war on terrorism. The defense of democracy demands the defense of democracy's ideals.”

Jenkins said that America's values “are not constraints. They are part of our arsenal. The preservation of these values is no mere matter of morality; it is a strategic imperative, particularly in a battle rooted in ideology.”

On the home front, “Unconquerable Nation” says Americans should be educated to understand that the risk of any individual being victimized by terrorism is small, and encouraged to play a role in homeland defense instead of being made to feel like helpless victims-in-waiting.

“Americans have spent the past five years scaring the hell out of ourselves,” Jenkins said. “Fear is the greatest danger we face. It is more insidious than the jihadist enterprise itself. Fear can erode confidence in our institutions, provoke us to overreact, tempt us to abandon our values.”

“Our most effective defense against terrorism will come not from surveillance, concrete barriers, metal detectors or new laws,” Jenkins said. “It will come from our own virtue, our courage, our continued dedication to the ideals of a free society. It will come from our realism in the acceptance of risk, our stoicism in the face of threats, our self-reliance, our humanity, and our sense of community that is too fleetingly expressed in times of disaster. It will come from our fierce determination to defend our liberties and to protect our values despite the risks.”

Jenkins contends that political warfare should be used to try to discredit the jihadist ideology among people about to join the ranks of terrorist forces, among jihadist fighters and among captured prisoners. Using informants, carrying out surveillance and arrests at known jihadist recruiting sites, and showcasing defectors to try to persuade their former colleagues to abandon terrorism are all tools that could be used in this effort.

“The goal of political warfare is to break the cycle of jihadism by impeding recruitment and inducing defections,” Jenkins said. “The ranks of even the most fervent fanatics include latent defectors who might quit if offered a safe way out. They might come to fear the mad leaders who would happily have them die. Yet they also fear what might happen to them in American hands.” As a result, jihadists should be assured of getting – and should actually receive – good treatment when they surrender or are captured by American forces, Jenkins said.

Jenkins points out in his book that the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) program during the Vietnam War persuaded more than 100,000 enemy soldiers to defect to the South Vietnamese side by offering them amnesty, cash, job training and homes. He said America has been unable to induce any defections in Iraq or Afghanistan and has failed to publicly turn any of those in U.S. custody.

“Political warfare accepts local accommodations to reduce violence, offers amnesties to induce divisions and defections, and cuts deals to co-opt enemies,” Jenkins said. “It is infinitely flexible and ferociously pragmatic. The United States today has no strategy for political warfare.”

Jenkins also says in the “Unconquerable Nation” that the United States should:


  • Get realistic about risk by assuming that America will be hit by again by terrorists, without exaggerating the risk of terrorism to individual Americans. “The average American has about a 1 in 9,000 chance of dying in an automobile accident and about a 1 in 18,000 chance of being murdered,” Jenkins said. “During the past five years, including the death toll from 9/11, an average American has had only a 1 in 500,000 chance of being killed in a terrorist attack.” Only the successful deliberate spread of a contagious disease or the detonation of a nuclear bomb in a crowded city could significantly increase the risk of terrorism to individual Americans.
  • Enlist the public through education, preparation and participation in drills to increase America's ability to respond to natural disasters and man-made ones (such as terrorist attacks). This can also reduce persistent public anxiety. The goal of the preparation would be to enable all able-bodied teenagers and adults to take care of themselves and their families and neighbors in need if a disaster strikes. “We need to aggressively educate the public through all media, in the classrooms, at town halls, in civic meetings, through professional organizations, and in volunteer groups,” Jenkins said. “The basic course should include how to deal with the spectrum of threats we face, with the emphasis on sound, easy-to-understand science aimed at dispelling mythology and inoculating the community against alarming rumors and panic.”
  • Become more sophisticated about security. “We cannot banish danger,” Jenkins said. “Not every terrorist plot can be thwarted, no matter how much is spent on security. We have to become savvy about security, accept its limitations, and ensure that measures taken in the name of security do not destroy our open society or disrupt our economy. We must avoid lurching from one nightmare scenario to another and instead formulate broad security strategies that estimate comparative risks and establish priorities.”
  • Favor federal security spending to protect against terrorism that would also be beneficial even if no terrorist attacks occur. Improving the U.S. public health and emergency care systems and renewing America's crumbling infrastructure are examples of such spending. Vital infrastructure, even when privately owned, may sometimes have to be treated as a public resource and be required to meet higher security standards.
  • Improve local intelligence. The more than 600,000 sworn police officers in the United States are in the best position to monitor potential homegrown terrorists. They are likely to be ethnically closer to communities they serve, more aware of local changes, and more acceptable to community leaders than are federal agents. Local police need to be given sufficient resources for intelligence collection and analysis, and need to be connected with other police departments and federal intelligence agencies to share information.
  • Build a better legal framework for preventive detentions of suspected terrorists. “The U.S.A. Patriot Act allows arrests for providing ‘material assistance' to a terrorist group, an offense that courts appear to be interpreting broadly,” Jenkins said. “Meanwhile, President Bush has asserted wartime authority to detain whomever he wants as enemy combatants and hold them indefinitely, without judicial review. This type of extra-judicial action should not be allowed to become routine. It opens the way for abuses that could allow innocent people to be held for years or even for their entire lives without any kind of trial. Carefully crafted legislation is needed to provide a better legal alternative.”
  • Guarantee oversight of federal actions in the war on terrorism. “Adopting a more aggressive posture toward alleged terrorists means that mistakes will inevitably be made in gathering intelligence and in making arrests,” Jenkins said. “Oversight through internal mechanisms, by judicial reviews, and at the national level of Congressional committees is therefore critical. To eliminate all external review by courts or legislative bodies on the grounds of executive authority in wartime is to assert unlimited presidential power, which is incompatible with the practice of democracy.”


  • Work to maintain international cooperation among intelligence services, law enforcement agencies and military forces in the war on terrorism, because America can't defeat terrorist forces on its own.
  • Rebuild Afghanistan to strengthen the impoverished nation's economy and infrastructure to help combat the resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda.
  • Preserve but narrow the principle of preemptive military action. “Preemption should be limited to precise actions, not regime changes, and it should be taken as a measure of last resort when no other options are available,” Jenkins said.
  • Reserve the right to retaliate with massive force for serious attacks against the United States. “Either a bioterrorist or nuclear terrorist attack would unleash unprecedented fury and would fuel a demand for all-out warfare against any group or government known or perhaps even suspected of being responsible.” Jenkins said. “Everyone, including our adversaries, should understand that.

Printed copies of “Unconquerable Nation: Knowing Our Enemy, Strengthening Ourselves” (ISBN: 0-8330-3893-1 in hardback and 0-8330-3891-5 in paperback) can be ordered from RAND's Distribution Services (order@rand.org or call toll-free in the United States 1-877-584-8642). "Unconquerable Nation" is also available from RAND's distributor, National Book Network, and from all major book wholesalers and retailers.

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