Counterterrorism Spending

The Stimson group has a new report on counterterrorism spending:

In the summer of 2017, the Stimson Center convened a nonpartisan study group to provide an initial tally of total CT spending since 9/11, to examine gaps in the understanding of CT spending, and to offer recommendations for improving U.S. government efforts to account for these expenditures. Stimson’s research suggests that total spending that has been characterized as CT-related – including expenditures for government wide homeland security efforts, international programs, and the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria – totaled $2.8 trillion during fiscal years 2002 through 2017. According to the group’s research, annual CT spending peaked at $260 billion in 2008 at the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This represents a 16-fold increase over the 2001 total. In 2017, as war funding declined, total CT spending amounted to $175 billion, nearly an 11-fold increase from the 2001 level.

With this growth, CT spending has become a substantial component of total discretionary spending for programs across a wide range of areas, including defense, education, and medical research. Of $18 trillion in discretionary spending between fiscal years 2002-2017, CT spending made up nearly 15 percent of the whole. At its peak in 2008, CT spending amounted to 22 percent of total discretionary spending. By 2017, CT spending had fallen to 14 percent of the total. Despite this drop, the study group found no indication that CT spending is likely to continue to decline.

Counterterrorism spending is thus about $1280 per US household every year–that’s affordable but still a lot for what we get, which is very unclear.


The key phrase is "that has been characterized as CT-related". So we're counting the total prize of a lof of unrelated programs and expenses of all types, that at some times someone in the government as tried to tie to "counter-terrorism" because they thought that would help them get financing.

This total number has no meaning, and studying its variation over time is an exercise in futility.

Yes., the report discusses those issues in detail.

So one has to read the entire thing to figure out whether it has a useful estimate or not?

In analyzing U.S. counterterrorism spending, Stimson’s study group reached four conclusions:
• Total counterterrorism-related spending from 2002-2017 came to $2.8 trillion. Because of shifts in definitions and inconsistencies in data, however, the study group’s estimate is likely imprecise, and could be either an overstatement or an understatement.
• A clear governmentwide definition of U.S. counterterrorism spending does not exist. Shifts in the definition of counterterrorism over the past 16 years make tracking difficult.
• Counterterrorism spending has risen as a share of total spending. Based on the figures available, counterterrorism spending’s share of total discretionary spending increased from less than 2 percent in 2001 to 22 percent at its peak in 2008, declining to just under 15 percent in 2017.
• An accurate evaluation of total and programmatic counterterrorism spending requires a reinstitution of governmentwide tracking by OMB, clarity of terms and definitions used, and more rigorous control of what should and should not be included in the CT budget. This evaluation is necessary for the United States to make important tradeoffs, both between specific counterterrorism programs and between counterterrorism and other needs.

Its simply a right-wing jobs program. One public funded worker for every 50 households. One worker not forced to labor at low wages in the food industry, dependent on food stamps and Medicaid.

All costs, except profits, are labor costs. Someone's wages and benefits.

Not really just a "right-wing jobs program." The total spending...Defense and State OCO as well as non-OCO...under Bush and Obama was about the same.

Maybe compare Bush or Obama to Clinton for a better sense of it.

"Counterterrorism spending is thus about $1280 per US household every year–that’s affordable but still a lot for what we get, which is very unclear."
Can the American government open special credit lines so that more American families can afford counterterrorism measures. Something like a (More) Affordable Counterterrorism Act? If you like your counterterrorism measures provider, you can keep it. Premium-plans can come with death to America panels.

Only including a portion of the defense budget?


National defense spending aside from that on Overseas Contingency Operations is a separate issue of the benefits received of US spending on security guarantees for the rest of the world...especially Europe, S. Korea and Israel.

Oh i get the theory
I also get that it’s an accounting contrivance

We’ve gotten a LOT for that spending.

Plenty of deaths, dysfunctional regions, failed states, civil wars, major power proxy wars, destroyed cities, bombed weddings, beheadings, ptsd and vet suicide crisis...

A bargain at twice the price

Yeah? And what would the costs (in the form of deaths, dysfunctional regimes, maimings, etc etc) have been if we hadn’t spent this money?

The USA has no enemies, Thor.

Put down your hammer.

'that’s affordable'

How comforting,

Bottom line: over the prior two presidential administrations the U.S. has wasted $1.84 trillion dollars in unproductive investment in "counterterrorism."

They're digging holes and filling them in.


"Counterterrorism spending is thus about $1280 per US household every year"

Is that inflation adjusted? How does it work when you consistently pass a spending budget that exceeds your expected revenue? The price of many freedom hedonic units I suppose.

Actually, I believe it is not "every year" but rather just 2017.

Cui Bono?
The never ending war is essentially a grift that funnels tax dollars into the hands of the military industrial complex.

A sentence I never thought I would write in earnest, but here we are.

Care to run on diverting that spending to paying workers constructing high speed rail like China has? Paying workers to provide free trade skill training on public infrastructure, like new bridges, schools, subways, ....?

Conservatives will not pay workers to do positive things, so creating jobs becomes paying workers to do negative jobs, like hassling every air passenger, or strutting around bus and train stations doing something I've ever seen.

Pretty much.

The military-industrial-CONGRESSIONAL complex.

Considering that terrorism has killed about as many Americans since 9/11 as one month on our highways representing about a factor of 200 times less risk that getting into a car, the insanity of this whole bureaucratic venture is apparent.

That's a great point. Maybe if we had a lot more terrorism deaths, we could justify all this counter-terrorism spending as worthwhile and effective.

You should write for the NYT.

Terrorism though has the problem of fat tails and feedback.

On the fat tail side of the ledger we saw terrorists in Japan come very close to chemical weapons attack. The possibility of a major epidemic breaking out from bioterrorism is small. The death toll would likely dwarf all road deaths for a decade. Low odds, high death toll does mean that may well see all the deaths concentrated in just a couple of terrorist acts.

The other side of the coin is that absent a response we almost certainly will see increased use of terrorism. The LTTE kept using terrorism until it became ineffective. Israel withdrew from Gaza and ramped down its CT efforts (by budget expenditures) ... and saw increased terrorism. This is not something that has linear responses like "random" traffic accidents, this is where there is a (semi) rational on the other side that will adapt in response.

Using this sort of metric is generally terrible. The cost effectiveness of of these sort of endeavors is not how many have died, but how many would have absent these expenditures. That is unknown and likely unknowable.

We can trim that per capita number down with open borders!

Said no one ever.

I just said it and I meant it with 1000% seriousness.

Counterterrorism spending is opaque, as we can't let the terrorists know what we are getting in return for all that spending. A skeptic might argue that "counterterrorism" is just a loaded term to justify the spending, whatever the spending is for. As for Congress, nothing silences a politician like being accused of being soft on terrorism; it's the new red-baiting.

It would be really amazing if giving government agencies lots of money to spend in secret and unaccountable ways led to better results, on average, than you get from giving government agencies lots of money to spend in public and accountable ways.

Where are our public choice experts when we need them? Is counterterrorism spending an expressive interest? Is all that counterterrorism spending irrational?

The Trump administration linked the Palestinian demonstrators to a terrorist organization, suggesting that the dead and wounded demonstrators were terrorists. Thus, whatever was spent on the carnage would qualify as counterterrorism spending.

Hamas linked 50 of the 60 killed to the terrorist organization.

They didn't count the $ value of my time wasted in security checks at airports, courthouses, hospitals etc.

Nor did they have any way of measuring the value of lost privacy from pervasive surveillance.

>a lot for what we get, which is very unclear.

This applies to the costs of literally every Federal endeavor.

Still, they're not collecting enough to cover their expenses, so I see no alternative but to raise taxes.

Very depressing. Hey, Washington needs to do marketing like the rest of us, and they've hit on a formula for convincing the American people to part with a decent chunk of their hard-earned for the unimpeachable cause of fighting those rotten terrorists.

And there is no shortage of academics and other interested hangers-on willing to help with the marketing push. No bullshit here.

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