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Inside the Inferno - Counterterrorism Professionals Reflect on Their Work

Inside the Inferno

Counterterrorism Professionals Reflect on Their Work

Dr. Ursula M. Wilder

Entering its 60th year of exploring the work of intelligence, this journal has served to illuminate many aspects of the profession and its people. Most often it has addressed the field’s history, its methods, and future development. Less often have Studies authors examined the personal and psychological impact on intelligence professionals of the work itself.

In this article, clinical psychologist Dr. Ursula Wilder explores the impact on counterterrorism professionals of the high intensity and high stress environments in which most of them have functioned, often for many years. For some, the work has involved actual combat or engagement with terrorists and their violent acts; for others it has meant bearing the weight of making decisions that affect many lives; and for still another group it has involved the intellectual labor of piercing through masses of intelligence reports and great uncertainty to locate terrorists or to warn others of potential terrorist acts.

While consideration of such questions may be relatively new to Studies, the examination of the effects on human psychology of violence and difficult decisions is as old as recorded history, appearing in the West, for example, in works attributed to Homer and Shakespeare. Addressing war’s consequences, moral dilemmas for leaders and led, the continuing presence in human memory and behavior of experience in violence, and the interaction of combat veterans with those who stayed home, these masterworks would provide insights for Dr. Jonathan Shay, the prominent early US researcher on posttraumatic stress in the Veteran’s Administration, whose books on the subject, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994) and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (2002), would have great impact on this editor’s understanding of his own responses to service in Vietnam as a young Marine infantry officer nearly 50 years ago. Shay’s work would also spearhead a great deal of new scientific study—some of it highlighted in the appendix to this article—that seeks to refine the understanding of trauma, both under conditions that resemble battlefields and in high stress workplaces that focus on the kinds of issue and events that CT professionals, including intelligence officers, follow.—Editor.

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All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed in this journal are those of the authors. Nothing in any of the articles should be construed as asserting or implying US government endorsement of their factual statements and interpretations. Articles by non-US government employees are copyrighted.


Posted: Jan 12, 2015 01:24 PM
Last Updated: Jan 12, 2015 01:24 PM