Skip to main content

Questioning Disruption in the Counter-Terrorism Fight


 By Martin Innes et al

In a brief article written for The Times Newspaper following the recent marauding terrorist attack near London Bridge, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley who is the UK police service national lead for counter-terrorism, revealed that Khuram Butt, the alleged ring-leader of the attackers, had previously been targeted by several disruptions. In so doing, Rowley validated one of the central claims of our article published in the June edition of Law and Society Review, where we highlighted the danger of police and intelligence services becoming overly-reliant upon disrupting violent extremists. 


Of course, our analysis had not predicted the specific details of the incident. But one of its central claims was that delivery of the Prevent strategy, part of the UK government’s wider counter-terrorism policy, was becoming heavily dependent upon a logic of disruption. Disruption is a form of prevention whereby interventions are designed to inhibit the possibilities of action without necessarily seeking a criminal prosecution. It has become increasingly prominent within UK counter-terrorism owing to a need to solve a ‘demand-supply’ tension, because the number of ‘subjects of interest’ about whom police and the intelligence services have concerns is outstripping the assets available to robustly monitor them. 


The tragic events that took place in London Bridge on the night of 3rd June showed that we were right to be concerned. Of course, the challenge is what can be done about such a situation? Violent extremism and its causes and consequences is a complex, multi-faceted and morphing form of social problem. One of the key lessons from the recent cluster of terrorist incidents across the UK has been that there is now a full spectrum of threats to be countered, ranging from sophisticated multi-actor plots, through to ostensibly self-radicalising lone actors who attack with brutal simplicity. As a consequence, there are sharp political disagreements about what is to be done in practical terms. 


Our article also pointed to what we referred to as ‘the legislative reflex’ – a tendency amongst politicians to assume that, in the wake of terrorist incidents and other major crime events, a solution can be found through introducing new legislation. At the time of writing this blog, we are seeing this ritualised response being brought forward once again, with the newly formed government vowing to review current counter-terrorism powers and bring forward new laws if needed, as a cornerstone of its programme for government. 


Whilst the research we conducted is not clear about what a more effective response to the kinds of ‘demand-supply challenges’ in counter-terrorism outlined above might be, it is probably not about new legal powers. More positively though, what our article does showcase is how evidence and insights from independent research on some of the ‘wicked problems’ that states grapple with can help to diagnose the limits of what they are doing.


Popular posts from this blog

Comment: Making valid claims in social science research: A comment on Jenness and Calavita

By Tom Tyler, Yale Law School

I am writing to comment on several methodological issues raised by the article by Valerie Jenness and Kitty Calavita, entitled “It depends on the outcome”: Prisoners, grievances, and perceptions of justice”. I am pleased that the methodology blog for Law and Society Review has been created and provides a forum to discuss research design issues. I will address three aspects of the study: operationalization of the variables; statistical analysis; and inclusiveness of the literature review.

The Jenness/Calavita paper studies California prisons using data collected through interviews with prisoners. The paper says that it tests the perceptual procedural justice model, in particular there are frequent references to the Tyler model, in a prison setting. The study concludes that “prisoners privilege the actual outcome of disputes as their barometer of justice” showing “the dominance of substantive outcomes” (from the abstract)”.

I agree with Jenness and Cala…

The Roots of Life Without Parole Sentencing

By Christopher Seeds, New York University



Since the early 1970s, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP)—an extreme prison sentence offering no reasonable possibility of release—has emerged as a routine legal sanction and penal practice in the United States. A century, even several decades ago, this would have been unexpected. Yet today, with more than 50,000 prisoners so sentenced and hundreds of laws authorizing it, LWOP is firmly entrenched in American penal policy, in judicial and prosecutorial decisionmaking, and in public discourse. Two general theses—one depicting LWOP as a replacement penalty for capital crimes; another linking LWOP with tough-on-crime sentencing policy of the mass incarceration era—have served as working explanations for this phenomenon. In the absence of in-depth studies, however, there has been little evidence with which to carefully evaluate these narratives.

My article, “Disaggregating LWOP: Life Without Parole, Capital Punishment, and …

Europeanization or National Specificity? Legal Approaches to Sexual Harassment in France, 2002–2012

By Abigail Saguy, UCLA

Sexual harassment represents a massive problem for working women worldwide. A recent social media campaign has brought increased awareness to this fact. In late 2017—after three-dozen women accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault, or rape—millions of women posted “Me Too” on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Taking inspiration from African American activist Tarana Burke—who, in 2007, started an offline “Me Too” campaign to let sex abuse survivors know that they were not alone—actress Alyssa Milano launched this online Me Too campaign to shift the focus from Weinstein to victims. She hoped this would “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”[1] While some posted simply, “Me Too,” others provided wrenching detail about abuse they had sometimes never before shared publicly. In France, a similar social media campaign flourished, under the hashtag “balance ton porc,” loosely translated as “sq…