The Paradoxical Consequences of USA Counter-Terrorism Programs


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

Jihadist Terrorist Perceived Motives and Successes

“While nothing is easier than to denounce the evil doer, nothing is harder than to understand him.”
Fyodor Mihailovich Dostoevsky, The Possessed, 1872

A Failure to Understand . . .

As the United States of America counter terrorism programs continue to expand their “war” against national and international terrorism, it is clear they are “failing” to understand the problematic consequences of their policies and actions. What is being promoted as essential and effective policies and actions to contain and defeat extremist Jihadist terrorism, is. Paradoxically, resulting in the further growth and development of Jihadist terrorism, and increased criticism and distrust of the United States of America among Islamic and Non-Islamic nations.

It is clear “Al-Qaeda,” long considered to be the organized source of Jihadist Terrorism, has become a vision, impulse, ideology and radical social movement. Because of this, Jihadist Terrorism can no longer be “defeated” using policies and actions unsuited to a global era. This is the challenge to before the government and citizens of the United States of America. The continued disrespect, humiliation, and vilification of Islam, implicit and explicit, in USA foreign policies and actions, especially existing counter-terrorism approaches, sustain and nurture anger, resentment, and revenge. USA approaches have failed politically, economically, culturally, and morally. These approaches are in need of major evaluation and reconsideration.

Terrrorism is as Terrorism Does . . .

Terrorism is not new. It has existed for millennia, arising whenever individuals or groups feel their freedoms and liberties are suppressed by dominating powers. Was this not the case for the American Revolution? All that changes over time and situation are the individuals or groups designated as terrorists, the individuals and groups struggling to resist and defeat them, and the methods used to bring change? Was Moses a terrorist? Was Gandhi a terrorist? Was Martin Luther King, Jr. a terrorist? Was Nelson Mandela a terrorist? Is the Dalai Lama a terrorist? If there is support for terrorism, the question must then be asked why, who, and how? In the view of many Islamic people and other world citizens — even if unstated — Jihadist terrorists are often considered “freedom fighters,” “vengeful angels,” and “protectors” of Islam and Umah (Global Islamic community). Cui bono?

Today, massive national and international counter-terrorism programs and alliances rely on surveillance, monitoring, and archiving technology of world populations, reflexive military interventions using special operations and drones, and biased media and entertainment propaganda programs. These approaches have become threats to national security and a peaceful world order, rather than sources of security.

Jihadist terrorists policies and actions committed to beheadings, massacres, abductions, and suicide bombers are violent and repugnant. For Jihadist terrorists, however, perceptions of the USA and its allies as seeking to destroy Islamic nations and Islam, results in a justifiable “equality” or “reciprocity” of intent, means, and consequence. The Jihadist terrorist point to: (1) overthrows of elected Islamic state governments; (2) installation and imposition of foreign-dominated corrupt government leaders; (3) support of nefarious pro-western paramilitary groups; (4) unwarranted and unjustified invasions [e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria]; (5) corruption of Islamic national and cultural traditions; (6) media distortions, misrepresentations, and condemnations of Islam and Islamic states; (7) promotion of USA political (i.e., regime control) and economic (i.e., corporate, financial) interests.

Are we reaping what we have sown? There appears to be a vast misunderstanding of Arabic and Islamic history, culture, and ways-of-being among USA policy makers in our Department of State, Defense, and Homeland Security sectors. This failed history of USA foreign policies has resulted in failed efforts to heal and resolve crises by resorting to a perpetuation of approaches devoid of understanding the cultural history, philosophy, religion, and ways-of-knowing-the-world and ways-being-in-the-world of Islamic nations and cultures. We have relied upon “experts” whose personal interests and loyalties have led us into a vortex of domestic and international problems and tragedies. Cui bono?

The question must be asked: Are failed foreign policies and counter-terrorism programs supporting increased radicalization, fundamentalism, fractionalization, and fascism across the world? Are they decreasing national security? It can no longer be denied people and nations across the world are finding the “moral” consequences of all sides to be intolerable and reprehensible. A Biblical adage is appropriate here: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul” (Mark, 8, 38.).

Terrorism arises when individuals and groups feel powerlessness to influence, change and to control conditions of oppression, abuse, injustice, corruption, and/or the special privileging of individuals or groups at the costs of the “justice.” This is not a complex insight! As I described in a detailed historical chronology of terrorism, acts of terrorism began more than 2000 years ago, as protests against injustice and abuses of power. “Terrorists” become one group’s “freedom fighters,” and another group’s vicious “enemies” attempting to destroy an existing social order (see Marsella, 2002). USA and its Allies claims of good intentions have lost their validity. For many throughout the world, the response to the USA is profound and tragic: trust has been is lost, myths have been broken, loyalties questioned, faith in ideals and ideologies shattered, and military solutions condemned.

Amidst the chaos and confusion, identity politics emerge. Identity is an essential human need. When social upheaval occurs, and when uncertainty and unpredictability reign, individuals and groups seek an identity apart from larger national and international groups as anchors for defining their existence and survival. Is this not the case in the United States as we witness various ethnic and racial minority groups pursue historic ties? Is this not the case for State and global regions? Is this not the case for the Middle East where endless civil wars, nation collapse, and foreign interventions have encouraged identities quests rooted in racial, tribal, and religious affiliations. There is a renewed consciousness across the world of the pernicious consequences of commitment to power invested in serving limited and selfish interests. It is a question of justice, equality, and opportunity! Unfortunately, these have become rare options.

Jihadist Terrorism Perceptions

I collected and collated Jihadist terrorism perceptions of the USA’s policies and actions regarding Islam, Muslims, and extremist Muslims, from various media sources. Denials of these perceptions, or claims they are inaccurate and

unwarranted, does not resolve the issue. In fact, they may increase problems. The perceptions include:

  • Condemning, vilifying, demonizing of Islam, Islamic, and Muslim religion, culture, and Umah (Muslim Global Community) as sources of local and global terrorism. This is resulting in alienation, anger, and a willingness to seek redress by any means;
  • Exporting and imposing unwanted (“decadent”) popular American and Western cultural values and ways-of-life that contradict and offend Islamic traditions and beliefs (i.e., cultural imperialism). These values and ways-of-life run counter Islamic religious views and historical traditions and should not be promoted.
  • Promoting name calling, labeling, stereotypes of (i.e., demonization, enemification?? Dehumanization?) of Islam and Muslims as ignorant, violent, brutal, and fundamentalist blood-thirsty extremists with no conscience, whose religion advocates violence and murder;
  • Resisting efforts to join the international and world community in pursuing justice for illegal, unethical, and immoral (e.g., prosecution of war crimes and criminals, torture, approval of assassinations). The USA cannot call for legal prosecution when it avoids prosecution of USA offenders. This is hypocritical. Issue is that it is perceived as hypocritical?
  • Pursuing hegemonic globalization control and domination via financial, military, media, and cultural means; (see Marsella, 2012).
  • Unilaterally acting (i.e., USA exceptionalism, drone attacks, unilateral invasions, regime overthrow) in pursuit of international political, social, and economic goals and domination. This denies and avoids the global-era requirements of interdependency and cooperation, and of national and cultural self-determination;
  • Asserting self-righteous and hypocritical attitudes regarding the promotion of democracy and human rights. Condemning other nations and regimes, yet violates USA laws, principles, and constitutional rights and privileges both nationally and internationally.
  • Using violence, war, and occupation to insure self interests are protected, including imprisonment, secret prisons, torture, drone assassinations, civilian collateral damage, black operations, surveillance, threats;
  • Appealing to selfish national economic interests regarding manufacturing and natural resource development and exploitation in developing nations without regard to local (indigenous) population and environmental consequences;
  • Misunderstanding and ignoring the psychologies of Jihadist terrorism, especially the personalized impact of USA aggression. For example, within the culturally socialized notions of selfhood, USA acts of violence and destruction are considered and perceived as acts upon all Muslims because of a collective identitiy.   Note: The “Umah” is the international Muslim community.
  • Exposing the empowerment and legitimization of national, international, and multinational corporate interests (e.g., profit, greed) resulting in concentrations of wealth, power, and person in exploitation and abuses that betray local and indigenous people;
  • Training of oppressive police, military, and security forces at various “schools” in which control, torture, and espionage tactics and strategies are taught to foreign national, often times resulting in the recruitment of USA agents and resources for eventual USA use;
  • Fostering global poverty and suffering via exploitation of third-world resources and labor (e.g., Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan) via support of financial policies and institutions that serve narrow interests (IMF, World Bank, international banking and investment system — LIBOR). Careful here,
    US has exported enough middle class jobs to produce rising middle class in China and S Asia.
  • Selling military arms and weapons for promoting the continuation of global violence and war. USA and allies arm and train “terrorist groups” to act as substitutes for their political, economic, and military aims and ambitions (e.g., Al-Q’aida, Black Ops, Syria);
  • Providing disproportionate political, financial, and moral support to Israel, resulting in continued Israeli hegemony and expansionism in Palestine and Middle East. Failing to acknowledge Palestinian rights and human suffering. Using Israeli military forces as a surrogate for USA forces. I am not speaking against USA support for Israel, but rather, against disproportionate support that is perceived by many as favoring Israel and victimizing Palestinians, Arab, Persian, and Muslim populations. Nation building and friendship cannot be achieved at the end of a rifle.
  • Supporting dictatorial regimes for USA interests (e.g, Mubarak, Shah Palevi, Karzai). Undermining national governments that do not support USA interests (e.g., Venezuela, Guatemala, Iran). Engaging in regime change and overthrow as a USA foreign policy option (e.g., Chile, Iran, Iraq).
  • Controlling worldwide media via propaganda, inaccurate news releases, and complicit participation of media content and communications.
  • Collaborating with corrupt Arab and Middle Eastern and Western Asian regimes at the cost of citizen interests and preferences;
  • Recruiting and training local people and organizations to assist in promotions of USA interests at costs of a nation’s interests (spies, collaborators, consultants).
  • Promoting the “Twenty-First” Century as a Century of “American” dominance, much like the “Twentieth” Century.” This may appeal to nationalistic interests held by those in positions of power, but it does not appeal to nations and global populations who choose to participate in determining their destiny. The USA government and corporate powers are not blind to our global era replete with “interdependencies;” It is choosing to pursue 19th Century notions of imperialistic control that will continue to give rise to protests, resistance, insurgencies, revolutions, and “terrorism,” because the assumptions are dated and inappropriate to our times.

Perceptions of Terrorist Successes . . .

Terrorism is a response by individual, collective, or nation states seeking change and redress to perceptions of abuse, exploitation, oppression and injustice. For terrorists, and for nations, the ends justify the means. Any physical, psychological, and/or moral damage inflicted upon oppressors is considered a success. The following is a listing of Jihadist terrorist perceptions of their successes.

  • Instilling high levels of fear and anxiety in targeted populations (i.e., USA, Western Europe) polls say many feeling fear? This is resulting in increased and expanded use of surveillance (e.g., 40,000 cameras in London; monitoring of email, telephone, automobiles, and other losses of privacy and freedoms, willingly surrendered at the behest of governments);
  • Compelling governments and private corporations to develop and implement new measures for detecting possible terrorists. These measures serve to further suppress individual rights and liberties, deny privacy, and result in numerous condemnations of innocent people and groups. Among these measures are Project Infra-Guard (hundreds of thousands of businesses and professional service providers report daily data to FBI and other security agencies); Project Epsilon (monitoring of all telecommunications); imposition of controls and restraints on media reporting of information (illegal acts government acts) under guise of “national security” (Wikimedia); Project Pandora (remote control of human behavior via electromagnetic waves and forces); use of government offices to spy on individual and groups (e.g., IRS, seizure of private medical records); and militarization of police for citizen control purposes.   All these need references
  • Reducing trust among citizens and between citizens and government? Using of citizens to report on other citizens (STASI tactic) via cooperative communications, consultations, collaborations, and actual employment. The use of financial contributions and releases from owed taxes are mechanism widely used to obtain information. Not clear to me, needs explanation.
  • Achieving revenge for historical exploitation and imperialism in Middle Eastern (e.g., Iraq, Egypt)) and Western Asian nations (e.g., Pakistan, Afghanistan);
  • Acquiring international media coverage and/or support for terrorist efforts (e.g., Boycotts, prosecution of Western-supported war criminals);
  • Developing cost-effective and low risk violence and military strategies and tactics that have led to thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries to civilian and military forces; mostly their own? Statistics?
  • Increasing influence in recruiting, converting, and radicalizing “supporters.”
  • Invoking justification found in religions for injustice, exploitation, murder, and selfishness;
  • Developing socio- political ideologies rooted in resistance to oppression, foreign occupation and dominance, anarchy, theocracy,
  • Uniting global Islamic community (“Umah”). Nationalism is a difficult concept when applied to various Arabic countries?
  • Instilling pride, self-respect, and honor in their actions – their willingness to resist and to sacrifice;
  • Eliminating Western excuses and rationalizations of “envy,” “jealousy,” and “coveting” published and announced in media Western as excuses for terrorism;
  • Building global public opinion against USA as an empire builder rooted in self-interests and the pursuit of worldwide financial control;
  • Reducing political, social, economic and moral influence of USA and Western allies among emerging nations;
  • Increasing conflicts among USA and its allies in best approaches to addressing terrorism acts and successes – undermining USA foreign policies.
  • Fostering new meaning and pride for Islamic causes;
  • Destroying modern nation-state system by encouraging global communities bases on religion, histories of imperialism, ethnic/racial/cultural identities, and exploited people.

Some Closing Remarks

The purpose of this article is to call attention to the paradoxical nature of counter-terrorism programs by the United States, its allies, and private security organizations. The paradox is that the USA is engaging in policies and actions promoting terrorism by fostering and sustaining perceptions of the USA as anti-Islam, anti-Muslim, and anti- Arab/Persian. These perceptions influence, inspire, and support future terrorist acts.

As terrorism increases, the USA is imposing more and more illegal constraints on its citizens’ rights and privileges. Consider the high levels of fear present across the USA – fear of strangers, foreigner, and government. As fear levels increase, government policies and actions become more oppressive. “Big Data” is now in charge!

In spite of trillions of dollars to contain and halt national and international terrorism, and the deaths and enduring trauma of billions of lives, terrorism endures. What can be done? Perhaps little! This is because governments have now been linked to private interests devoted to greed, profit, and exploitation. These groups have no loyalty to nations or cultures. They are another force to be entered into the war-peace equation. Peace does not serve their interests. This international power, wealth, and position complex constitutes a formidable foe.

In what must be considered a human tragedy of immense proportion, acts of terrorism are used by terrorists, nations, and special interest groups to increase control. The USA has passed the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), and a score of related acts and resolutions in an effort to increase control, limit and restrain citizen rights and privileges, and to suppress protests — all in the name of national security. Who is the terrorist? What is success? How does this self-defeating tragedy end? When does it end?


Marsella, A.J. (2003). Reflections on terrorism: Issues, concepts, and directions. In F. Moghaddam & A.J. Marsella (Eds.), Understanding terrorism: Psychosocial roots, consequences, and interventions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Marsella, A.J. (2005). Culture and conflict: Understanding and negotiating different cultural constructions of reality. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29, 651-673.

Marsella, A.J. (2011). The United States of America: A “culture of war.” International Journal of Intercultural Research, 35, 714-728. 

Marsella, A.J. (2012). Psychology and Globalization, Journal of Social Issues, 68, 454-472.


Anthony Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Oct 2014.

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One Response to “The Paradoxical Consequences of USA Counter-Terrorism Programs”

  1. […] Indeed, “terrorism” is precisely what is being used by both small organized “terroristic” groups seeking rebellion and change, and by nations seeking to impose their will and interests upon others for selfish benefit. There are “terrorist” individuals, nations, businesses, agencies, organizations, societies, and criminal organizations. What do we mean when we say societies and nations have “counter-terrorist” agencies and resources designed to prevent “terrorism” and to keep us secure. At some point, we engage in the very same actions, with the same purposes, and with the same consequences (e.g., T. Kapitan, October 19, 2014, The Resign of Terror, NY Times, Opinionator; A.J. Marsella, (2014), […]