War on Terror Over

September 14, 2011 | Ted Nordhaus, Michael Shellenberger, Nick Adams,


After 9/11, many Americans came to believe that everything had changed, that America had entered a permanent state of war against terrorism. Radical new tactics were needed to contain the new threat, officials argued -- tactics like preventative detention, pre-emptive war, ethnic profiling, and much harsher interrogation methods.

But over time, America's security agencies came to largely reject the War on Terror as ineffective and even counter-productive. Top agents and officials increasingly spoke out and sought reforms. Agencies re-learned lessons about effective security they had gradually internalized over hundreds of years. The threat itself turned out to be less new than it had appeared, using tactics and strategies similar to other terrorist groups, from the Baader Meinhoff gang to the IRA.

Few Americans are aware of the tidal shift that occurred within security agencies. This is due in part to partisan (and lazy) commentators who remain stuck in 2003, arguing over policies (like water-boarding) that ended years ago, or failing to put new tactics, like drones, in any historically comparative perspective.

We've written an article for The Atlantic explaining how the War on Terror ended. We hope it will help inspire Congress (and the pundits) to take greater interest in what works and what doesn't to foil plots and end terrorist movements. If Congress fails to engage in this kind of self-evaluation, we conclude, "the next high-profile attack could well inspire another forgetting of history, another War on Terror, and another danger-filled decade spent relearning old lessons about how to keep our people safe."
If anything should demand the attention of Congress and the punditry it is the powerful evidence being presented by former top FBI terrorism investigator, Ali Soufan. Soufan was a young star in the bureau (responsible for investigating the U.S.S. Cole bombing), and the FBI's top interrogator of Al Qaeda members. Soufan's "rapport-based" interrogations of Al Qaeda members led to the identification of Khalid Sheik Mohammed -- the mastermind of 9/11.

On "60 Minutes" last Sunday, Soufan describes how the White House abruptly ended an interrogation he was conducting that was yielding significant intelligence so that they could use brutal "enhanced" techniques that proved completely ineffective. Soufan's long-anticipated (and partially-censored) book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Terror" has just been published. In it, Soufan describes how bin Laden might have been caught earlier had our security agencies not been required to use unproven, experimental, and ultimately counter-productive interrogation methods.