War on Terrorism Yvonne Morales Saint Leo University Abstract

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The war on terror illustrates the many ethical hurdles the criminal justice system encounters in relation to terrorism and counterterrorism. Professionals in this field often face decisions that test their moral values, including questions around citizen security, freedom, privacy, and human rights. Ethical decision-making plays a crucial role in counter-terrorism efforts. Although there have been many changes in the intelligence agency since 1947, the most significant ones occurred after the harrowing attacks on September 11, 2001. This day, forever etched in our collective memory, made United States policymakers realize the need for further measures to prevent such horrific events in the future.

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As a result, several organizations were brought together under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reinforce information sharing and coordination among agencies. Despite these efforts, ethical issues related to information sharing between agencies persist in the fight against terrorism. Research by RAND suggests some features that could aid in ethical decision-making regarding counterterrorism.

Keywords: terrorism, war, agencies, intelligence department, ethical, counterterrorism, RAND, The Department of Homeland Security, profiling, Central Intelligence Agency, information sharing, criminal justice system, National Security Agency, central protection.

The term ‘War on Terrorism’ conveys a moral judgment about a group’s illicit activity, and labelling a group as terrorists imparts moral condemnation (Banks, 2017). On September 11, 2001, the United States suffered a deliberate and heinous attack by a terrorist group known as Al-Qaeda. This event might have been preventable had there been greater interagency cooperation, particularly following the 1998 attacks on U.S. Embassies in Kenya. It can be argued that if the United States had taken decisive action and dismantled bin Laden’s infrastructure after these embassy attacks, the 9/11 atrocities might not have occurred. The Clinton Administration and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may have missed an opportunity due to potential communication failures at the time of the attacks. The CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, and other government bodies share information, but gaps in this sharing can have tragic consequences. As Bullock states, assessing and evaluating the likelihood of terrorist attacks, both domestically and globally, is challenging. The aftermath of these attacks proved our nation needed a stronger centralized protective system. Bullock also noted that after the attacks, there was an urgent need for change and for more organized and cooperative information sharing amongst US Government agencies (Bullock, 2011).

Local and State Agencies

During the Bush Administration, state and local agencies began to notice that their efforts to protect the border were affecting its security and impacting the surrounding communities. These challenges increased crime in the cities along the border, caused an upsurge in the cost of immigration services, and led to increased border violence, which subsequently resulted in mass warnings and travel restrictions. The Secure Border Initiative (SBI) introduced a program to collaborate with all corrections departments to identify illegal immigrants in prisons who could be deported after their sentence had ended (Carafano, 2005).

Issues of border and smart security started receiving attention as a part of this process. These included hiring more agents, building fencing, and employing advanced technologies. Enhancing border security was essential to making communities feel safe, and addressing the policies and programs already in place. In 2006, for example, the Bush Administration requested an increase of 6,000 Border Patrol agents to be completed by December 31, 2008. This expansion aimed to elevate the overall number of border patrol agents to 18,000 by 2009 (Carafano, 2005).

The Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (BEST) program was instituted to facilitate cooperation between state, federal, and local law enforcement officials and their counterparts from other countries. BEST was designed to help all participating agencies share crucial information and function as a team, primarily to relay information related to crime along the border. To bolster these efforts, Congress enacted the Secure Fence Act (SFA) in 2006 to combat terrorism. The SFA directed The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to build fencing along a 670-mile stretch of the United States border in the hopes of enhancing security.

However, the DHS had to halt the fencing project prematurely, as it became clear that the project had already cost the United States millions and was anticipated to cost an additional billion to complete (O’Sullivan, 2011). It was also determined by the DHS that a more economical approach would be to embark on a country-to-country project. As of 2011, the fence is only operational along 53 miles of the Arizona border. The DHS planned to utilize “commercially available surveillance measures, unmanned drones, thermal imaging, and other equipment” in the remainder of Arizona’s border for border security (O’Sullivan, 2011).

Profiling after 9/11

After September 11th, the United States began using procedures that involved profiling tactics. Profiling is a wrong approach because it causes law enforcement to profile people by their skin color, religion, or geographical background. Intelligence personnel in law enforcement are continually learning and developing the best practices to both protect the American people from foreign and domestic threats while simultaneously observing the rights afforded to those protected. Another unethical approach the United States is guilty of using is detaining war detainees without allowing a fair and timely trial for many years. An glaring example of this unethical approach was evident in 2003 at the Guantanamo Bay Camp. During the United States’ War on Terror, many Iraqis remained prisoners at the camp without being given a trial during the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003. All agencies involved with the organization are responding to meet the current needs of law enforcement and, as a result, are learning to perform in a manner consistent with the post-9/11 situation (Heyman, 2008).

Counterterrorism Research

Counterterrorism actions condoned by the United States trigger many moral arguments, particularly regarding their justification. Research on the ethics of counterterrorism has received considerable attention in recent years. A study conducted by RAND aimed to outline methods used by counterterrorism professionals to help generate consistent support for ethical decision-making in counterterrorism. According to RAND research, ethical decision-making in counterterrorism exhibits certain common features across different agencies. These features may include confidentiality, international teamwork, high-impact incidents, and time-sensitive decision-making. The clandestine nature of many counterterrorism techniques makes it challenging for professionals to discuss the potential ethical problems that may arise. For instance, secrecy can hinder the sharing of best practices for ethical decision-making among different agencies and countries. Furthermore, counterterrorism requires collaboration among various agencies such as law enforcement and intelligence services, which could lead to differing moral values between these agencies. Many issues that counterterrorism experts confront are time-sensitive, necessitating decisions that require quick, independent, and imperfect information about the best course of action in certain situations. Each decision can have life-or-death implications for hundreds or even millions of citizens. RAND emphasizes that the application of these methods does not guarantee ethical decision-making, and inappropriate utilization of these methods may be detrimental to achieving ethical outcomes. Strengthening ethical decision-making will thus depend on understanding what constitutes an ethical climate and how it can be developed and maintained within a specific organizational context, in addition to providing methods to support ethical decision-making for professionals (RAND, 2014).

RAND (2014) also identified five critical ethical problems that counter-terrorism professionals face. These problems are associated with the acceptability, legitimacy, and means of intervention as well as other ethical issues that emerge in this profession: (1) the appropriate interpretation of legislation; (2) the methods of intervention; (3) the threshold for the application of exceptional powers; (4) the extent of permissible intrusion into an individual’s private life; and (5) the quality and quantity of evidence required for making high-stakes decisions.


In conclusion, as citizens of the United States, our safety is placed in the hands of every agency this nation has created. Therefore, the United States should take whatever measures it deems necessary to keep America a safe and thriving country. One thing is for sure: the goal of the entire criminal justice system is always to make ethical decisions that include actionable, knowledgeable information to aid each department in the fight against terrorism. All countries involved in counterterrorism and the fight against terrorism face problems with resources, whether ethical or not, in attempts to prevent attacks and use moral decisions when possible. RAND research highlighted valid points about what could affect ethical decision-making in counterterrorism, especially when it comes to sharing information with other agencies. The September 11th attacks on the United States serve as a prime example of how moral values allowed the Clinton administration not to take necessary actions to eliminate Bin Laden’s infrastructure after the attack on the U.S. Embassies. This was an ethical counterterrorism decision made during that time, resulting in one of the United States’ most consequential mistakes and costing hundreds of lives due to one wrong ethical decision.



  1. Banks, C. (2017). Criminal justice ethics: Theory and practice. A Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication, Inc.
  2. Carafano, J., (2005), The Heritage Foundation, Safeguarding America’s Sovereignty: A “System of Systems” Approach to Border Security. https://www.heritage.org/homeland-security/report/safeguarding-americas-sovereignty-system-systems-approach-border-security
  3. Heyman, D. and Carafano, J., (2008) “Homeland security 3.0: Building a National https://www.heritage.org/homeland-security/report/homeland-security-30-building-national-enterprise-keepamerica-safe-free
  4. Bullock, J., 2011, Introduction to Homeland Security http://booksite.elsevier.com/samplechapters/9780124158023/Front_Matter.pdf
  5. https://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-difference-between-the-cia-fbi-and-nsa.htm
  6. RAND, 2014, Handling ethical problems in counterterrorism: An inventory of methods to support ethical decision making. Retrieved from; https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR251.html
  7. O’Sullivan, T., (2011). Department of Homeland Security Intelligence Enterprise: Overview & Issues (Defense, Security, and Strategies)
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War on Terrorism Yvonne Morales Saint Leo University Abstract. (2019, Sep 21). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/war-on-terrorism-yvonne-morales-saint-leo-university-abstract/