Following the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) introduced a National Response Plan aimed at preparing for a broad range of disasters, including terrorism and various natural disasters. The heart of the plan involved 15 National Planning Scenarios designed to dramatise and guide response and recovery capabilities. Interestingly, 12 of the 15 scenarios depicted mass casualty terrorist attacks by an enemy cipher identified simply as the “Universal Adversary” (GhamariTabrizi 2006, 21; see also Neocleous 2014 and this issue). Importantly, the planning scenario report states that the scenarios are not based on any actual credible evidence of

*Email: richard.jackson@otago.ac.nz

Vol. 8, No. 1, 33-54, https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17539153.2015.1009762

planned attacks. As such, the DHS plan mirrored the Defense Department’s 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review Report which stated that:

uncertainty would henceforth frame national security analysis. Because no one can know “with confidence what nation, combination of nations, or nonstate actor will pose threats to vital U.S. interests”, the report stated that it made better sense to guess what targets an enemy could plausibly attack. The new “capabilities-based” model for threat assessment focuses more on “how an adversary might fight than who the adversary might be and where a war might occur”, nudging national security analysis into the realm of the hypothetical, the generally suspected, the possible, and conceivable. (Ghamari-Tabrizi 2006, 21; emphasis added)

This epistemic posture is reflective of a new dominant security paradigm in which security officials are engrossed in the “contemplation of nightmares rather than identifiable social, political and climatological realities”, and where they have renounced “the wisdom of engaging with the actual world… in favour of their own best guesses” (GhamariTabrizi 2006, 22). In this article, I describe this new paradigm as the epistemological crisis of counterterrorism and analyse its origins, nature and effects.