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Understanding why terrorist attacks succeed and fail is important for homeland security and counterterrorism planning. Delving into the literature on the topic, the authors make the contention that the past success or failure of a terrorist operation — or the likelihood that a future attack will succeed — can be best understood by thinking about the match or mismatch between three key sets of characteristics: (1) terrorist group capabilities and resources, (2) the requirements of the operation it attempted or is planning to attempt, and (3) the relevance and reliability of security countermeasures. They conclude that focusing attention on a small set of practical relationships will help to guide analysis of why past terrorist operations went as they did, and, more importantly, to help to identify opportunities to shape the chance of success or failure of future operations.

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