Terrorist Spectaculars: Backlash Attacks and the Focus of Intelligence

Daniel G. Arce
Todd Sandler
This paper presents a signaling model of terrorist attacks, where the target government faces a trade-off from its counterterrorism responses and the backlash (counterreaction) that such responses incite. An endogenous characterization of terrorist spectaculars is specified, given a government’s counterterrorism stance and the potential for backlash attacks. In particular, spectacular attacks are pooling, rather than separating, phenomena, whereby the government cannot discern, based on past attacks, the militancy of the terrorist group. Policy recommendations are specified for non-event-specific intelligence in relation to the avoidance of spectacular attacks or unnecessary concessions.