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Surprise, Intelligence Failure, and Mass Casualty Terrorism

Copeland, Thomas Edgar (2006) Surprise, Intelligence Failure, and Mass Casualty Terrorism. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This study aims to evaluate whether surprise and intelligence failure leading to mass casualty terrorism are inevitable. It explores the extent to which four factors - failures of public policy leadership, analytical challenges, organizational obstacles, and the inherent problems of warning information - contribute to intelligence failure. This study applies existing theories of surprise and intelligence failure to case studies of five mass casualty terrorism incidents: World Trade Center 1993; Oklahoma City 1995; Khobar Towers 1996; East African Embassies 1998; and September 11, 2001. A structured, focused comparison of the cases is made using a set of thirteen probing questions based on the factors above. The study concludes that while all four factors were influential, failures of public policy leadership contributed directly to surprise. Psychological bias and poor threat assessments prohibited policy makers from anticipating or preventing attacks. Policy makers mistakenly continued to use a law enforcement approach to handling terrorism, and failed to provide adequate funding, guidance, and oversight of the intelligence community. The study has implications for intelligence reform, information sharing, Congressional oversight, and society's expectations about the degree to which the intelligence community can predict or prevent surprise attacks.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Copeland, Thomas
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairWilliams,
Committee MemberGormley, Dennis
Committee MemberBobrow, Davisbobrow@gspia.pitt.eduBOBROW
Committee MemberGoldstein, Donaldgoldy@gspia.pitt.eduGOLDY
Date: 4 May 2006
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 12 April 2006
Approval Date: 4 May 2006
Submission Date: 27 April 2006
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Graduate School of Public and International Affairs > Public and International Affairs
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: al-Qaeda; East Africa Embassies; information sharing; intelligence; intelligence analysis; intelligence failure; intelligence oversight; intelligence reform; Khobar Towers; leadership; mass casualty terrorism; Oklahoma City; Osama Bin Laden; September 11; surprise; terrorism; warning; World Trade Center
Other ID:, etd-04272006-121631
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:42
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:42


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