Monday, November 28, 2005

Government lacks ways to gauge wins against terrorism

Government lacks ways to gauge wins against terrorism

By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration's yardsticks for progress in its fight against terrorism are inadequate and do not show whether the United States is winning or losing, a study by a congressional think tank says.

"Although four years have gone by since September 11, government agencies have still not agreed on criteria to measure progress against terrorism, even though billions of dollars have been spent," said Raphael Perl, author of the internal report by the Congressional Research Service.

"The risk is that without these criteria, we just take action and we measure progress retrospectively against what we've done. And of course since we've done some stuff, we've made progress," he told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

Statistics often cited by U.S. officials -- such as the death or capture of more than two-thirds of top al Qaeda leaders and the seizure of over $200 million in terrorist funds -- do not show how much damage has actually been inflicted on militant groups, the report said.

A copy of Perl's study, which was made available to congressional officials on Friday when Congress was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, was obtained by Reuters on Monday.

Administration officials were not immediately available for comment.

In the past, the administration has also pointed to developments such as the overthrow of the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, the death or capture of insurgents in Iraq, Libya's decision to abandon weapons of mass destruction programs and other curbs to proliferation as milestones of progress in the fight against terrorism.

The government also says it has tripled funding for homeland security since the hijacked plane attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.


But the study said the rising costs of anti-terrorism efforts had become an increasing problem, with billions of dollars being spent on steps such as developing new technologies and beefing up security staffing without methods to check if they are cost-effective.

Perl said existing yardsticks tended to emphasize quantitative elements, while the government should "go beyond the numbers and look at the meaning of the numbers and their significance, and their significance to us (versus) to the terrorists."

"Right now we are overly focusing on numbers. We kind of go for the low-hanging fruit on the tree. It's easiest to get. We tend to define progress in ways we're familiar with, like numbers and body counts we can quantify," he said.

Militants, on the other hand, may consider lost fighters or greater U.S. security spending a victory, rather than a defeat, because of the symbolic or religious significance of dying in battle, or the damage the heightened costs are having on the United States, Perl said.

Without broader and deeper yardsticks -- which the study says could include the economic and emotional impact of attacks, militants' ability to influence public opinion, trends in recruitment, goals or capabilities -- Perl said it was hard to see if and in what cases progress has been made.