Counter Terrorism Degree
Following the 9/11 attacks, counterterrorism (also spelled counter-terrorism) has become a major point of emphasis for the US federal government, which aims to defend US citizens from the growing threat of terrorism originating at home and abroad. Individuals who pursue a counter-terrorism degree can find many opportunities to contribute to this important mission. Counterterrorism professionals usually possess at least a four-year bachelor's degree and earn a median salary of $79,970 annually.1,2
Counter Terrorism Training and Courses
There are several objectives in a counter-terrorism degree program. First, graduates should learn about various terrorist organizations in detail along with their motives, threats, tactics, and so on. Second, they should be able to independently conduct basic counterterrorism and counter-intelligence operations. Third, they should be able to plan and execute programs for intelligence gathering. Fourth, they should be able to analyze the collected data to separate the relevant information regarding possible threats from the so-called “noise.” Finally, they should be able to conduct contingency planning around terror threats.
To strengthen their understanding of this field, many students looking to obtain a bachelor's degree in counterterrorism will specialize in a particular region of the world, such as the Middle East or North Africa. Related coursework will include cultural studies and language training. These specialists in terrorism hotspots are highly desirable, and their fluency in a relevant language can lead to higher salaries.
Examples of courses in a counter terrorism degree curriculum include:
- Global Politics
- Terrorism and Society
- Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism
- Advanced Counterterrorism
- Advanced Domestic Terrorism
- Cults and Charismatic Leaders
- Cyberterrorism, Cyberwarfare, Cybercrime
- Strategic Intelligence
- Extremist Organizations
- Advanced Intelligence Collection
Traditional Counter Terrorism Degree Programs
The University of Massachusetts-Lowell is home to the Center for Terrorism & Security Studies, which awards counter-terrorism degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice offers a concentration in homeland security, giving undergraduate students the opportunity to pursue an interest in counterterrorism as early as possible in their academic studies. The degree offers courses such as Weapons of Mass Destruction, Terrorism (international and domestic), and Issues in Technology and Security. Students must also complete several other requirements to prepare for the working world, including proficiency in a foreign language or significant statistics training and a field placement to gain real-world experience in a related setting. This degree can also be completed online through the university's online education program.
The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey awards a Master of Arts in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies to students who complete its comprehensive graduate program in nonproliferation. The highlight of this program is its interdisciplinary approach to study, which combines the study of policy analysis, security, history, and technology among other subject areas to prepare professionals for careers in counter-terrorism. The intensive 60-credit hour curriculum includes foundational and advanced courses, including a required 12 credit hours in language and intercultural studies. The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey was the first school in the world to offer a graduate degree in weapons of mass destruction curtailment and terrorism response. The school is also home to the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program, which are globally recognized counterterrorism research centers that provide students with opportunities to access internships and assistantships at firms and government entities across the globe.
Online Counter Terrorism Degree Programs
Southern New Hampshire University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. The curriculum introduces students to the history of terrorism, the study of specific terrorist groups, and response campaigns through interdisciplinary courses in psychology, politics, and law. All students must also complete the university's required general education curriculum, although transfer credits are accepted for students who already have an associate's degree or prior college studies. Because of the emphasis on criminal justice, the curriculum includes significant study of legal systems related to counter terrorism, such as international law, criminal law, and threat assessment. Courses are offered during six nine-week terms throughout the year and students can complete coursework at any time, offering excellent flexibility for part-time students or working professionals.
The School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona offers an online Master of Arts in International Security Studies designed to teach both civilians and military personnel key skills in intelligence gathering and analysis and international service. Core courses required to earn the degree include The Politics of Cybersecurity, Domestic Politics and American Foreign Policy, and Emerging Powers in the Global System. Students also complete a capstone project resulting in an individualized professional portfolio. The portfolio helps students demonstrate their expertise in specific areas of counter terrorism and security to help look for related work after graduation. Completing a thesis is also possible for students interested in research. A shorter certificate program is also offered comprising four courses centralized around a particular security issue of the student's choosing.
Counter Terrorism Job Description
The task of sifting through the myriad of online and physical media to collect and share information relating to terrorism is so great that not only federal agencies are involved. In fact, as many news outlets have reported, there is a growing number of civilian firms that are involved in data mining and other activities supporting counterterrorism efforts. Careers include but are not limited to those in the private computing and security industries as well as careers in the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the military, and various state agencies interfacing with these organizations.
Wondering what jobs you can get with a counterterrorism degree? Some possible job titles include:
- Border Patrol Agent
- CIA Analyst
- CIA Officer
- Counterterrorism Enforcement Agent
- Criminal Investigator
- FBI Agent
- Import Specialist
- Intelligence Analyst
- Intelligence Research Specialist
- Mission Support Assistant
- NSA Agent
- Transportation Security Officer
- Transportation Security Screener
Counter Terrorism Professional Certification
National certification is not required for counterterrorism professionals, although some private organizations, such as Certified Counter Terrorism Practitioner, do offer a credential resulting in this title. For some positions, candidates may need to be certified as law enforcement officers or have other special experience. Check job descriptions for any required certifications.
Counter Terrorism Salary and Job Outlook
Pay is strongly linked to the government pay scale, as most work in counter-terrorism is found within the federal government. As of 2017, the median annual salary for criminal investigators, special agents, and intelligence analysts was $79,970.1,2 Keep in mind that most federal agencies require at least a bachelor's degree and many state agencies require at least 60 credit hours of college coursework, though the trend is moving towards a bachelor's degree minimum. Positions such as analyst may require a master's degree.
- CIA & the War on Terrorism: Chronological listings of CIA updates on the war of terrorism dating back to the mid-1990s.
- National Counterterrorism Center: The national intelligence agency providing updated information on domestic terrorism issues and job postings for related positions.
- The International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals: An international organization providing networking opportunities and a research journal on counterterrorism issues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What is the difference between a counterterrorism degree and a cybersecurity degree?
Answer: Although a counterterrorism degree may include courses on cyber threats, the focus is broader and includes psychological, sociological, and legal perspectives in addition to technological analysis.
Question: Do you need a degree in counterterrorism to be an intelligence analyst?
Answer: No. Many degrees related to counterterrorism, such as homeland security and security studies, may be sufficient to work in the field despite having slightly different requirements.
Question: Can I earn a counterterrorism degree online?
Answer: Yes. Many schools offer counter terrorism degrees fully online, offering a flexible option for busy students.
1. O*NET OnLine, Intelligence Analysts: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3021.06
2. O*NET OnLine, Criminal Investigators and Special Agents: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3021.03
3. Federal Bureau of Investigation Joint Terrorism Task Forces: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/terrorism/joint-terrorism-task-forces