There is a very important — one might even say life-and-death — distinction that should be made in considering U.S. counterterrorism policy. Certainly, U.S. forces have had many successes in stopping intended terrorist attacks against the United States. Yet there have also been a number of failures. How to distinguish what made the difference?
The successes in the post-September 11 era have come when the techniques of police and military work or intelligence-gathering were used against full-time terrorists. Indeed, an observer could sum up the handling of terrorism in the United States in the almost-decade since September 11 by saying there have been no major attacks, and the policy has been successful.
When it comes to organizations planning attacks, this approach works very well. But when the threat involves individuals or small groups being radicalized and perhaps joining or supporting terrorist groups, the record is much worse.
The weakness is in analysis, profiling, decision-making, and understanding the nature of the enemy ideology. As a result, there have been a number of smaller attacks, including some not counted at all by a government that wants to keep its batting average high, and some near-misses that were averted due more to luck than to skill.