Interagency Cooperation in Counter-Terrorism

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


Combating Transnational Terrorism, Procon, s, p.235-252 (2016)


The need for more effective interagency cooperation in counter-terrorism (CT) was highlighted in the aftermath of 9/11, when it became clear that the reluctance to coordinate and share information between security agencies could no longer be tolerated if terrorist attacks were to be prevented in the future. The 9/11 Commission made it clear that the threat of modern global terrorism required a “quick, imaginative, and agile response,” and that it would be necessary to coordinate a wide array of resources in order to achieve an effective “unity of effort.” It has been argued that, without such cooperation, “institutional gaps, duplication of effort, and overlapping responsibilities are inevitable,” and that such weaknesses can be “exploited by terrorists.”
After 2001, many governments worldwide have undertaken comprehensive reforms of their national security systems. In particular, they have taken steps to improve and expand horizontal interagency cooperation in the fight against terrorism. New CT strategies have thus tried to incorporate the lessons from 9/11 and have created a variety of new structures aimed at achieving this, such as intelligence fusion cells, national CT centers, governmental working groups, joint task forces, etc. It is widely believed that these actions have contributed to improvements in the efficiency of national and international CT efforts. Indeed, it is self-evident that to effectively detect, deter, and defeat contemporary terrorism a coordinated approach by all national security agencies is required. It is also clear that no single agency can deal with this problem alone because terrorism cuts across multiple jurisdictions. Uncoordinated actions by one agency can produce only limited results in the fight against such a complex threat. In recognition of this, government organizations engage in a variety of different forms of interagency cooperation to include: sharing information, the exchange of staff (liaison officers), participation in joint threat assessments, cooperative or mutually reinforcing planning, and participation in joint training, exercises and operations.
However, research shows that interagency cooperation in CT is a much more complex endeavor than some might think. In practice, many problems have emerged, including bureaucratic competition among agencies, a failure to share intelligence, and the duplication of effort. In one study, a SWOT assessment was used to analyze interagency cooperation using a sample of one hundred European CT experts. The findings revealed that, although much had been achieved in relation to the exchange of information and the creation of trust among agencies, further improvement was needed. Agencies seemed to be aware of the importance of trust, and yet still found it difficult to put their faith in one another. Although there had been a shift from the “need to know” to the “need to share,” mutual wariness between partners still limited the exchange of information. According to Strom and Eyerman, interagency cooperation in CT is a challenge at all levels. Effective interagency cooperation requires breaking down what are often formidable barriers based on law, institutional culture, organizational structure, jurisdictional responsibilities, and trust, to name but a few factors. An example of the impact of a failure to communicate and coordinate across agencies is illustrated by the Anders Breivik case in Norway in 2011.
Based on the authors’ combined academic and practical experience, this chapter identifies several capacities that need to be coordinated as part of a comprehensive approach to CT and describes two examples of good practice – Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) and intelligence fusion centers. The chapter concludes with some general recommendations for practitioners on how to improve interagency cooperation in the field of CT in their countries.

Last updated: Wednesday, 27 January 2016