Review by Michael W. Cotter
U.S. Government Counterterrorism: A Guide to Who Does What by Michael B. Kraft and Edward Marks, CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-1-4398-5143-2, 347 pp., $69.95
Dealing with the threat of terrorism has been one of the major challenges facing presidents since well before the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001. Since then it has probably consumed more human and financial resources than any other federal government activity. It has caused the most extensive reorganization of the government in decades. Millions of trees have been sacrificed and gazillions of megabytes committed to the subject, most of them contributing more heat than light to rational analysis of what the government is doing in the field and how it is succeeding.
This relatively slim volume, given the complexity of the subject matter, sets out to answer the first question by providing a comprehensive list of U.S. government programs dealing with terrorism and of the intricate web of federal agencies that manage and implement those programs. By and large it succeeds admirably in meeting that challenge. As the only such comprehensive list currently in existence it is, and will be for the foreseeable future, an important addition to the library of every journalist; professor and student of modern American society, international affairs and military matters; and American interested in how his and her government is trying to deal with the outstanding national security threat facing our country in the early 21st century.
It is divided into two sections, the first of which defines terrorism, lists federal legislation that deals directly or indirectly with counterterrorism, and then describes six specific program areas – countering violent extremism, counterterrorism training, terrorism financing, R&D, cyber terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The second section identifies and describes seventeen separate federal agencies and offices with responsibility for some aspect of the counterterrorism effort. A certain amount of duplication is inevitable, as descriptions of programs have to refer to the organizations that implement them. At least as valuable as the inevitably short descriptions are the extensive notes and list of additional resources the authors have included at the end of each chapter, including links to sources available on the web.
This is not a book that will mesmerize a reader or be devoured in one sitting. Its place will be on the shelf with other essential reference volumes available to anyone who wants to understand a specific program or the role of a particular government agency. Happily, the authors avoid one of the pitfalls that often affects books on government organization – all acronyms (and there are many) are clearly spelled out in the text.
That said, before anyone rushes out to buy the volume (still available only in a hardcover edition), be forewarned that it does not evaluate the success of these programs. The authors make clear in the preface that the book is intended to be primarily descriptive, that evaluating agencies and programs is beyond its scope. While that may disappoint some, there is no shortage of such critiques already in print and no doubt more will be forthcoming. This book provides the context for such analyses, one which will be the standard for years. (For British naval history buffs, it is analogous to the volume A Sea of Words that accompanies Patrick O’Brian’s novels about the fictional 18th century British naval officer Jack Aubrey, although written descriptively rather than lexically.)
The authors bring stellar qualifications to the task. Michael Kraft has twenty-five years of experience working on terrorism issues with the executive and legislative branches and has written extensively on the subject. Ambassador Edward Marks served almost forty years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including an assignment as deputy coordinator of the State Department’s counterterrorism office. Since retirement he has consulted, lectured and written on terrorism, interagency coordination, and international crises.