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An Overview of Investigative Techniques as They Apply to Terrorism

The fifth chapter of Dyson’s (2015) book discusses the use of investigative techniques in the case of terrorism. The author focuses on the specifics of terrorists’ psychology and behavior, suggesting several recommendations that can help an investigator. Overall, the chapter is insightful and consistent as it demonstrates the way terrorists’ extensive knowledge and fear of the law, as well as their perception of terrorist activities, complicate the process of investigation, demanding greater care and caution from an investigator engaged in a terrorism case.

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The specifics of terrorist behavior that Dyson (2015) discusses are contrasted with those of other criminals, which the author terms as “ordinary” ones. Apparently, this term is employed to emphasize the complexities of investigating a terrorism case, which forces investigators to apply conventional approaches in unusual ways. First, the author reports that due to their organization and motivation, terrorists tend to be better informed about investigative techniques, which makes many of the latter ineffective. Similarly, the author states that terrorists are more likely to be aware of their rights, which, for example, may lead to them refusing to speak without a lawyer, complicating the process of extracting information. The extensive knowledge of legal matters distinguishes terrorists from other criminals, making terrorism investigations more difficult to perform.

Secondly, Dyson (2015) suggests that terrorists “fear” the law, which is expressed through their apprehension of anyone who may investigate their activities. Moreover, the author suggests that terrorists live in continuous fear of almost everyone. This statement appears to be correct; in fact, excessive fear and paranoia are reported as some of the issues that tend to make people abandon terrorist organizations (Altier, Thoroughgood, & Horgan, 2014). While emotionally taxing, paranoia also means that terrorists are more likely to expect to be under investigation, which makes it more difficult to extract information from them.

Finally, Dyson (2015) highlights the fact that terrorists do not view their actions as illegal and are unlikely to feel remorse; in fact, they tend to regard their cause as a noble one. This feature is indeed common and even characteristic of terrorism, especially when religion is concerned: terrorists are likely to view themselves as martyrs and believe that their activities promote a positive change (Altier et al., 2014; Jacquier, 2014). According to Dyson (2015), this feature is especially inconvenient for work with apprehended terrorists; also, it can increase their hatred towards governmental and law enforcement agencies, heightening their anxiety.

In summary, Dyson (2015) effectively demonstrates the fact that there exist specific features which distinguish terrorists from other criminals. However, the author also emphasizes the fact that these specifics do not call for the development of different investigative techniques. Instead, the existing techniques need to be employed, but the process of their use should be adjusted to the situation.

By the end of the chapter, Dyson (2015) offers specific advice on terrorism investigation. First, the author recommends approaching terrorists with greater attention to detail; also, he suggests applying investigative techniques with exceptional care. In particular, it means that the techniques which can reveal the agency’s interest in the terrorist need to be avoided or modified. Apart from that, the chapter emphasizes the importance of procedures, rules, and proper documentation, which may help to avoid mistakes. Finally, Dyson (2015) highlights the fact that terrorism cases tend to attract attention and can result in increased scrutiny of the law enforcement processes and agents. As a result, anything that could be interpreted as power abuse during or after arrest should be ruled out. Criticisms towards investigative techniques are rather common, and the cases of power abuse tend to result in increased limitations of permissible activities (Shields, Smith, & Damphousse, 2015). Given the fact that the specifics of terrorists’ psychology and behavior complicate the process of investigation, this outcome should be avoided.

It may be suggested that the recommendations part of the chapter is rather short and offers a somewhat limited number of examples. On the other hand, the first part of the work, which considers the psychology of terrorism, is very extensive and illustrative. Also, there is an apparent link between the parts, and the recommendations are firmly rooted in the psychology discussion. As a result, the recommendations are effectively explained, and the conclusions of the author, which can be supported by other relevant literature, including the works by Altier et al. (2014) and Jacquier (2014), appear logical and coherent.

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From the reading, it can be concluded that the knowledge of the law, anxiety and unrepentance of terrorists make the investigation of their activities more complex when compared to other forms of crime. As a result, the use of standard techniques in the case of terrorism requires greater care and consideration, which distinguishes terrorism investigations. In general, the chapter provides helpful information concerning the psychology and behavior of terrorists and offers some practical advice on the use of investigative techniques, although the latter is rather limited.


Altier, M. B., Thoroughgood, C. N., & Horgan, J. G. (2014). Turning away from terrorism: Lessons from psychology, sociology, and criminology. Journal of Peace Research, 51(5), 647-661. Web.

Dyson, W. E. (2015). Terrorism: An investigator’s handbook. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis.

Jacquier, J. D. (2014). An operational code of terrorism: the political psychology of Ayman al-Zawahiri. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 6(1), 19-40. Web.

Shields, C. A., Smith, B. L., & Damphousse, K. R. (2015). Prosecuting terrorism: Challenges in the post-9/11 world. In M. Deflem (Ed.), Terrorism and counterterrorism today (pp. 173-195). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

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