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Warning of Terror: Explaining the Failure of Intelligence Against Terrorism

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Many scholars and analysts have studied intelligence failure and surprise and developed theories to explain disasters such as the attack on Pearl Harbor. Others, especially since the 9/11 attacks, have examined the rising threat of terrorism and see it as posing a particularly difficult challenge for the intelligence community. But little work has been done to integrate the earlier literature on intelligence failure with the newer threat of terrorist attack. This article attempts such an integration, by examining the bombing of the US Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983; it concludes that most studies of the Beirut bombing are mistaken in their assessment of the role played by intelligence in that disaster, and suggests that our understanding of intelligence failure against surprise attacks needs to be revised in the age of terrorism.

Keywords: Beirut Bombing; Intelligence; Surprise attack; Terrorism

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy Tufts University Medford Massachusetts

Publication date: February 1, 2005


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