Jon Olson: Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Expanded Description:  In the first five weeks of the course, each class period will include lecture and group discussions as we study the different forms of terrorism. Connecting to the assigned reading, as well as individual research, students will learn from each other and the lecturer about different terrorist groups, their political objectives, the strategies they employed, the tactics they used, and whether or not they were successful in achieving their stated goals. The breadth of terrorism will include small, Marxist-Leninist groups up to and including large insurgencies.

Once the students are well-versed in understanding terrorism, we’ll shift to look at counterterrorism efforts, especially since September 11th, 2001, and whether the policy objectives stated by the United States and other nations, and the strategies employed to achieve those objectives, have been successful in combating and eliminating the threat of terrorism.

Assigned books:  Martin, Gus (2015 or 2012). Understanding Terrorism:  Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues (5th or 6th ed).  Thousand Oaks, California; SAGE Publications, Inc., available used from $4 at (while students would be best served by acquiring the 2020 7th edition, it is extremely expensive—we will assume students will have access only to earlier editions); Puri, Samir (2016). Fighting and Negotiating with Armed Groups: The Difficulty of Securing Strategic Outcomes. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, London; Routledge Press.  (ISBN:  978-1-138-23856-5, Paperback Edition), available new from $20 and used from $5 on; Lutz, James and Brenda Lutz (2013).  Global Terrorism (4th ed). New York, New York; Routledge Press.  (ISBN: 978-0-415-53945-6 (Paperback Edition)), used from $6 on

Course Schedule:

Assigned Reading before Week 1: TBD

Week 1: Course Introduction / Defining Terrorism / Joining a Terrorist Group

We’ll meet and get to know each other, then we’ll start our initial discussions on terrorism. We’ll define terrorism, consider what terrorism is and is not, and then discuss what makes someone join a terrorist group.  Assigned Reading: TBD

Week 2: State-sponsored Terrorism and Political Terrorism

We’ll look at multiple forms of state-sponsored terrorism and then at political terrorism.  Assigned Reading: TBD

Week 3: Dissident, Ethnic, and Nationalist Terrorism

We’ll differentiate between dissidents carrying out terrorist acts, terrorist groups fighting for ethnic causes, and terrorism rooted in nationalistic ideology.  Assigned Reading:  TBD

Week 4: Religious-based Terrorism and Terrorism as part of Transnational Organized Crime

We’ll consider historical and modern-day instances of religiously-driven terrorist movements, then we’ll look at the nexus of Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism.  Assigned Reading: TBD

Week 5: US Domestic Terrorism / Cyberterrorism / Tools of Terrorism / Terrorism Financing

We cast a wide net this week with various forms of US domestic terrorism, then we’ll look at cyberterrorism, how terrorists finance their operations, and the tools of terrorism.  Assigned Reading: TBD

Week 6: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency / Detention Operations

This week we’ll start by considering the difference between a terrorist group and an insurgency, then we’ll make a switch in focus and consider how to defeat an insurgency. We’ll wrap into our discussion on counterinsurgency the various ways to deal with captured insurgents.  Assigned Reading:  TBD.  Assigned Film: The Battle for Algiers (Dramatic Film from 1966), available free of charge via Kanopy through the Northfield Public Library.

Week 7: The US Intelligence Community and Counterterrorism / Interrogation Operations / Criminal Prosecution of Terrorists

We’ll consider how the US Intelligence Community supports policymakers, federal law enforcement, and even the Department of Defense in defeating terrorist threats to the US and our allies and friends. We’ll continue with a legal discussion on what do to with captured terrorists.  Assigned Reading: TBD

Week 8: Final Discussions on Terrorism and Counterterrorism / Terrorism and WMD / Modern Challenges with Terrorism

We wrap up the course this session by considering all the modern challenges connected to terrorism. We’ll talk about the nexus between terrorism and WMD, and about the current and future challenges with various forms of terrorism and what it means for US national security policy and strategy. We’ll also consider the concept of Private Military Contractors (PMCs) and other operational constructs used to deal with terrorism around the world.  Assigned Reading:

TBD.  Assigned Film: The Gatekeepers (Documentary on Shin Bet from 2011), available for streaming from Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play Movies, Apple TV, and Vudu from $2.99-$3.99.