The War on Terror

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The war on terror shows that the criminal justice system faces many ethical hurdles when it comes to terrorism and counter-terrorism. Professionals in this specialty will face many decisions that will test their moral values that can consist of citizens security, freedom, privacy, and even their human rights. Ethical decision making plays a vital role when it comes to counter-terrorism. Many changes arose throughout the intelligence community since 1947, but most significant changes came after the horrific attacks that happened on September 11, 2001.

This day was marked as a day that this nation will never forget and made the United States policymakers realize they more needed to be done to ensure that our land would not have to go through another horrific event like that day. Policymakers combined several organizations under one umbrella. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to strengthen information sharing and coordination among agencies. But many ethical issues between agencies such as information sharing still arise even with these functions that have been implemented to fight terrorism. Research by RAND suggest some features that could help when it comes to ethical decision making in counterterrorism.

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

War on Terrorism conveys a moral judgment about the illicit activity of a group of persons, and the act of labeling a group terrorist transmits moral condemnation (Banks, 2017). On September 11th of 2001, a deliberate and atrocious attack happened on United States soil by a terrorist group known as Al Qaeda. This tragedy could have very well been preventable if there just had been some interagency cooperation especially after the attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. If only the United States had taken the appropriate and necessary action and wiped out bin Laden's infrastructure after the attack on the U.S. Embassies, we might not have had the 9/11 attack. It may seem as though the Clinton Administration may have missed the opportunity, as did the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who manage the operations and may have lacked in communication at the time of the attacks.

The CIA, FBI, the National Security Agency and many other branches of government share information and can cause a gap in the tragedy. Bullock states that it is difficult to assess and evaluate the likelihood of terrorist attacks, both within the United States and throughout the world because the end-result of these strikes, just showed our nation needed a stronger chain of central protection. Bullock also addressed that after the attacks, there was a need for change, and the need for more organized and cooperative information sharing between the US Government agencies (Bullock, 2011).

Local and State Agencies

During the Bush Administration, State and local agencies started to see that their efforts to protect the border were affecting its security and affecting the communities, it increased crime in the cities along the border, the cost of immigration services increased, also border violence cause a mass warning and travel restrictions. The Secure Border Initiative (SBI) instated a program that would work with all corrections departments in identifying illegal immigrants in prisons so that they would be deported because they were being released into the United States after their sentenced had ended (Carafano, 2005). Border and Smart security began to be addressed apart of this process were the number of agents hired, the fencing built, the technology used. Border security was vital to make communities feel safe and addressed the policies and programs in place.

A prime example of smart border security happened in 2006, when the Bush Administration requested an increase of 6,000 Border Patrol agents and wanted it done by December 31, 2008, this increase was to bring the overall number of border patrol agents to 18,000 by 2009, according to Carafano (2005). Another program known to pair government agencies together like state, federal and local law enforcement officials with Law enforcement officials from other countries is known as the Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (BEST). BEST was designed so that all agencies share crucial information and be able to act as a team to share relevant information, such as crime along the border. In 2006 Congress enacted another agency to fight terrorism known as The Secure Fence Act (SFA). SFA directed The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to build fencing along 670 miles along the United States border hoping this would help with security.

According, to O'Sullivan (2011), The Department of Homeland Security ended the fencing project abruptly, because the government had realized that this project had already cost the United States millions and was estimated to cost another billion to finish. Also, The Department of Homeland Security through a better cheaper approach would be a country to country project. As of 2011, according to O'Sullivan, the fence is only operational along 53 miles of the Arizona border. The Department of Homeland Security planned to practice using commercially available surveillance measures, unmanned drones, thermal imaging, and other equipment. in the rest 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. Law enforcement intelligence personnel 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 detainees of war without allowing a fair and timely trial for many years. An excellent example of an unethical approach was 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 trail during the United States invasion of Iraq of 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 that are condoned by the United States stir up many moral arguments on if used with justified cause. Research on ethics on counterterrorism has received a lot of attention these past few years. According to RAND a study done with the objective of outlining methods used by counterterrorism professionals to help draw consistent support on ethical decision making when it comes to counterterrorism. According to RAND research when it comes to ethical decision-making concerning counterterrorism, it shows certain features that agencies follow. Some of these features may include confidentiality, international teamwork, high impact incidence, and time-sensitive decision making. Many techniques used in counterterrorism require secrecy which can make it hard for professionals to discuss the ethical problem that can occur. For example, secrecy would make it difficult or different agencies and countries to share what would be the best practice ethical decision making.

Also, counter-terrorism requires many agencies like law enforcement agencies, and intelligence services to collaborate nationally and this could lead to different moral values between agencies. Another problem counterterrorism experts face is that many of the problems they face are time sensitive. These professionals need to make decisions that require quick, independent, and imperfect information on what action to take in certain situations because each choice can be a matter of life or death for hundreds or even millions of citizens.

RAND also goes on to state that applying these methods does not provide a guarantee of ethical decision-making, and inappropriate use of these methods may in fact be detrimental to achieving ethical outcomes. Strengthening ethical decision-making will, therefore, rely on an understanding of what constitutes an ethical climate, and how it can be developed and maintained within a specific organizational context, in addition to making methods to support ethical decision-making available to professionals (RAND, 2014).

RAND (2014) also pointed out five critical ethical problems that counter-terrorism professionals face associated with acceptability from assessing the legitimacy and means of an intervention of ethical issues that arise in this profession; determining (1) the appropriate interpretation of legislation; (2) the methods of intervention; (3) the threshold at which to exceptional powers; (4) the limit at which to intervene in an individual's private life; and (5) the quality and amount of evidence required to decide with high stakes.


In conclusion, as citizens of the United States, our safety is placed in the hand of every agency this nation has created. Therefore, the United States should take whatever measure it deems necessary to keep America a safe and thriving country. One thing is for sure that the goal of the entire criminal justice system is always to create ethical decisions that will include actionable, knowledgeable information that will aid each department when it comes to the fight against terrorism.

All countries involved in counterterrorism and the fight against terrorism face problems with resources, ethical or not to prevent attacks and try and use moral decisions when possible. RAND research made valid points of what could affect ethical decision making when it comes to counterterrorism especially when it comes to sharing information with other agencies. The September 11th attacks on the United States is 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. An ethical counterterrorism decision made during that time and that cost the United States one of its consequential mistakes and cost hundreds of lives with one wrong ethical decision.


Banks, C. (2017). Criminal justice ethics: Theory and practice. A Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication, Inc.
Carafano, J., (2005), The Heritage Foundation, Safeguarding America's Sovereignty: A
"System of Systems" Approach to Border Security.
Heyman, D. and Carafano, J., (2008) Homeland security 3.0: Building a National
Bullock, J., 2011, Introduction to Homeland Security
RAND, 2014, Handling ethical problems in counterterrorism: An inventory of methods to support ethical decision making. Retrieved from;
O'Sullivan, T., (2011). Department of Homeland Security Intelligence Enterprise: Overview & Issues (Defense, Security, and Strategies)

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The War On Terror. (2019, Nov 18). Retrieved July 20, 2024 , from

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