A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Why Inter-Agency Operations Break Down: U.S. Counterterrorism in Comparative Perspective


While US counterterrorism has improved in many respects since the attacks of 11 September 2001, there have still been turf battles and many cases of inadequate coordination between security agencies, which have had damaging effects on intelligence work and operations against terrorist groups. Why, more than 14 years after 9/11, do US inter-agency operations still break down in this manner? By comparing the United States with the United Kingdom, this article provides a new explanation for the deficiencies in the American response. It shows how US inter-agency conflict has negative operational consequences and draws a contrast with the British security agencies, which tend to be more closely integrated and refrain from engaging in major turf battles. I argue that the differences between the cases stem from a combination of distinct institutions and different organisational routines in the US and UK. In the United States, divided national institutions and the informal routines of its security agencies have proved problematic for joint operations and intelligence work. The article also critiques some influential existing accounts of US inter-agency counterterrorism, which emphasise bureaucratic politics or organisational culture, and shows how such perspectives can produce unrealistic policy recommendations. A focus on the deep-seated routines and institutions of the United States leads one to be more sceptical about the prospects for meaningful organisational reform.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Foley, Frank. 2016. "Why Inter-Agency Operations Break Down: U.S. Counterterrorism in Comparative Perspective." European Journal of International Security 1 (July): 150-175https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/european-journal-of-international-security/article/why-interagency-operations-break-down-us-counterterrorism-in-comparative-perspective/2275CD20CB2EC21B68CD5F07A72DAE44

START Author(s):