Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Countering Terrorism With "Blue Sky" Thinking

| May 19, 2022

Avoiding Strategic Surprise by Anticipating the Unknown

The two decades since 9/11 have seen the development of new technologies, enduring and intensifying grievances, and the emergence of systemic but hidden vulnerabilities that could produce a terrorist attack that would shake the foundations of global economics, politics, and security. The tools of the 21st century may be leveraged by terrorists in unanticipated ways, and they also present an opportunity for creative solutions.

Furthermore, pressing military, economic, health, and cyber challenges have moved attention from counterterrorism. Anticipating the next crisis requires “blue sky” consideration of future threats instead of focusing narrowly on ones that are familiar.

This report outlines initial steps in facilitating ongoing dialogue among global experts dedicated to combatting rapidly evolving threats. It draws on key findings from an unprecedented gathering, under the auspices of Jordan's Aqaba Process, of intelligence officers, diplomats, academics, and private sector practitioners in Amman, Jordan, moderated by the Belfer Center’s Intelligence Project.

Key findings:

  1. The threat landscape is more interconnected than at any other time in history, with extremists leveraging new technologies.
  2. These same technologies present opportunities, if counterterrorism actors leverage them to their full potential.
  3. The lessons and assumptions of previous counterterrorism strategy will not suffice to counter future threats. Scenario planning and war gaming are valuable tools.
  4. Twenty years after 9/11, nations are still seeking to define terrorism and extremism and to understand root causes. A key concern raised is the potential for mistrust in institutions – augmented by crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic – to prompt radicalization. Participants highlighted education of youth as a key priority.
  5. Partnerships are critical. Responsibilities and power span across jurisdictions, levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Robson-Morrow, Maria. “Countering Terrorism With "Blue Sky" Thinking.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, May 19, 2022.