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The University of Southampton

HIST2096 Evolution of US Counterterrorism

Module Overview

Through examination of the aims and methods of a range of anti-American terrorist groups, such as the Libyan-sponsored campaigns of the 1980s, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Palestinian liberation movements, non-state Islamic terrorism, insurgent guerrilla forces such as the Taliban and more recently the Islamic State and the rising phenomenon of “lone wolf” terrorism, this module engages with the scholarly debates relating to what motivates such terrorist groups, and the best methods to counter the threat they pose. By developing a solid understanding of what motivates terrorist groups, you will be well placed to engage in a critical analysis of the evolving methods of counterterrorism adopted by the United States, from the formation of Delta Force under the Carter administration, to the Reagan administration’s use of the CIA to ‘neutralize’ anti- American terrorist groups, through Clinton’s use of rendition, to the more controversial practices of the “War on Terror” years, including mass surveillance, “Enhanced Interrogation”, and targeted killings.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • have developed a broad knowledge of the most significant anti-Western terrorist groups of the past 40 years, their aims and the factors which have motivated them to take up arms
  • be familiar with the wide range of scholarship produced by the global counterterrorism community, and the main arguments advanced for specific methods of counterterrorism
  • have formed an understanding of the debate the use of force in counterterrorism
  • have considered the most effective methods for countering specific terrorist threats
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • work independently and unsupervised for extended periods of time on complex tasks
  • display effective time management
  • interact purposefully, productively and confidently with both your tutor and peers
  • make valuable, critical and valued contributions to discussions and debates
  • write speedily yet fluently for extended periods, clearly articulating your ideas
  • skim, select and précis complex material
  • write in a mature and sophisticated style, with graduate-level prose and presentation
  • apply the skills acquired during the module to problem-solving and policy making
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • gather, assimilate, synthesise and interpret a range of primary and secondary material
  • fluently comment upon complex debates, citing relevant evidence in support
  • demonstrate significant depth of knowledge and insight into the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of strategic approaches
  • draw upon your acquired knowledge in debate, essays and under timed conditions


The module is divided into two main parts – terrorism and counterterrorism. The terrorism portions of the module will explore different terrorist groups, their history, aims, methods and significant actions. The counterterrorism sections will provide specific case studies of different methods of counterterrorism employed by the United States over the past 40 years. These range from the issuing of a criminal indictment and trial in the US legal system, to the large-scale deployment of armed drones for targeted killing. In each case, students will explore the history behind the policy, identify the individuals most associated with it, and debate its efficacy based upon the available evidence of its outcomes. Some examples of some of the topics you will explore are: • The conceptual debates surrounding terrorism • The founding of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and the Eagle Program • State sponsorship of terrorism • US counterterrorism tools from 1979 to the present day • Terrorism and the media • The future of terrorism and counterterrorism

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Lectures split equally between the terrorism and counterterrorism portions of the module • Seminars focusing upon the judgement of the efficacy of specific counterterrorism policies, based upon an historical understanding of the aims, methods and motivations of specific terrorist groups • Competitive role plays in which students are split into ‘terrorists’ and ‘counterterrorists’, and attempt to outwit one another’s tactics and strategies, drawing upon historical precedents to inform their choices. • Essays and timed examination Learning activities include: • Analysis of selected key readings in the historiography • Preparatory reading and individual study • Individual participation in seminars and group work on seminar themes • Engagement in role play, debate and group presentations

Independent Study264
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Alan O’Day (ed.) (2004). Dimensions of Terrorism. 

Mark Bowden (2007). Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam. 

James DeShaw Rae (2014). Analysing the Drone Debates: Targeted Killing, Remote Warfare, and Military Technology. 

Paul de Taillon (2002). Hijacking and Hostages: Government Response to Terrorism. 

Seth G. Jones (2012). Hunting In The Shadows: The Pursuit of Al Qa’ida Since 9/11. 

James Mann (2012). The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power. 

Antonio Cassese (1989). Terrorism, Politics and Law: The Achille Lauro Affair. 

Mark Mazzetti (2013). The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth. 

Akbar Ahmed (2013). The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam. 

Thomas B. Hunter (2009). Targeted Killing: Self-Defence, Preemption, and the War on Terrorism. 

Daniel Klaidman (2012). Kill of Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency. 

John Rizzo (2014). Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA. 

Brian Glyn Williams (2013). Predators: The CIA’s Drone War on Al-Qaeda. 

Audrey Kurth Cronin (2008). Ending Terrorism: Lessons for Defeating al-Qaeda. 

Ben Saul (2008). Defining Terrorism in International Law. 

Jeremy Scahill (2013). Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield. 

David J. Whittaker (ed.) (2003). The Terrorism Reader, Second Edition. 

Boaz Ganor (2005). The Counter-terrorism Puzzle. 

Christina Hellmich (2011). Al-Qaeda: From Global Network to Local Franchise. 

David Kilcullen (2009). The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. 


Assessment Strategy

The links between assessment methods and learning outcome are as follows: Students will choose one question based upon a key theme covered in a lecture and/or seminar. They will also have the opportunity to formulate their own essay question, in consultation with the module tutor. This may be historiographical in nature, or source-based depending upon the students’ own interests. In the run up to this essay students will complete a number of short weekly activities which will develop their essay writing skills, such as completing executive summaries of key policy positions discussed, essay planning activities and peer-review activities of short written assignments.


Speech exercise


MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (500 words) 15%
Essay  (3000 words) 35%
Examination  (2 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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