Press Release

First Full Accounting of US Counterterrorism Finds US has Spent $2.8 Trillion

in Program

For Immediate Release
May 16, 2018
Contact: Audel Shokohzadeh, [email protected], 202.478.3419

Washington, DC: From 2002 to 2017, the United States spent $2.8 trillion on counterterrorism, including $175 billion in 2017 —an eleven-fold increase over 2001 levels- and a peak of $260 billion in 2008, according to a groundbreaking new report from a study group convened by the nonpartisan Stimson Center. In addition to being the first accounting of cross-government spending on counterterrorism, the report, Protecting America While Promoting Efficiencies and Accountability, tracks funding changes across nearly two decades of shifting counterterrorism strategies, identifies concerns about the lack of transparent and accurate basis from which to assess US counterterrorism policy, and makes recommendations for redress. This report, as well as a fact-sheet released by the Security Assistance Monitor on counterterrorism aid to Africa and beyond, provide some of the first sets of data on counterterrorism spending by the U.S. government.

“For over 17 years, policymakers and the public have been unable to determine how much we spend on counterterrorism,” says Stimson Fellow and study group director, Laicie Heeley. “Now for the first time, we can point to a figure and say ‘we think we have spent this much on counterterrorism since 9/11. With the important first steps taken by this study group, and as the Pentagon shifts its strategic objectives, we can begin to have an honest conversation about how to protect America while upholding our values and being mindful of taxpayer dollars.”

The six-member study group was directed by Laicie Heeley and includes Amy Belasco, Mackenzie Eaglen, Luke Hartig, Tina Jonas, Mike McCord, and John Mueller. This group of senior-level participants with backgrounds in U.S. government, academia, and private industry, and that cuts across party lines, also finds that there is no governmentwide definition of counterterrorism spending. This lack of a consistent definition limits the ability of policymakers and the public to gain accurate spending data and make rational policy assessments.

“Without clear definitions or reporting standards for counterterrorism spending, key agencies such as Homeland Security and the State and Defense Departments are not on the same page when accounting for their counterterrorism programs,” says study group member and former Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Mike McCord. “This can’t help in coordinating our programs across agencies. Neither our leaders nor our citizens can properly assess the cost of our counterterrorism efforts if we don’t measure and present those costs clearly. Doing so is a necessary first step toward judging the efficiency or effectiveness of these efforts.”

The report identifies five ways that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress can work to make counterterrorism spending more transparent:

  • Create a clear and transparent counterterrorism funding report;
  • Adopt a detailed agency-wide definition for counterterrorism spending;
  • Build on current accounting structures to anticipate future budget pressures;
  • Tie the definition of war spending to specific activities;
  • Require Congress to separately approve emergency or wartime spending.

“Accountability and transparency are critical elements of our democracy. They are fundamental to maintaining trust between the government and the public,” says Tina Jonas, a study group member and former Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) under President George W. Bush. “OMB and Congress can work together to create an accepted standard to collect data on counterterrorism spending. With this standard we can increase accountability, transparency, and demonstrate effective use of funds for the common security of our nation.”

The Stimson Center is a nonpartisan policy research center working to solve the world’s greatest threats to security and prosperity.

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Media Inquiries

Contact Caitlin Goodman at [email protected] or 202-478-3437.

Our main line is  202-223-5956.

Choose Your Subscription Topics
* indicates required
I'm interested in...
38 North: News and Analysis on North Korea
South Asian Voices