Counterterrorism after 9/11

  • Grades 9 to 12
  • Lesson Duration: One class period
  • Theme: Repercussions of 9/11

Essential Question: How did counterterrorism measures evolve in the immediate aftermath of 9/11?

Learning Goals

Students will explore how intelligence agencies tracked Osama bin Laden over the course of 10 years.

Students will discuss how changes in strategy and technology impacted the hunt for Osama bin Laden.


al-Qaeda: This international Islamist extremist terrorist network is responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda is responsible for multiple terrorist attacks since its founding in the 1980s by Osama bin Laden and others who were involved in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Their aim has been to overthrow governments in the Middle East, and elsewhere in the Muslim world, which do not strictly enforce a narrow, fundamentalist version of Islam.


1.  Show the two video clips below from The Hunt: Who Is Harboring Bin Laden? and The Hunt: Sharing Intelligence, which explore how intelligence agencies began tracking bin Laden and sharing intelligence across agencies.




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2.  After showing the clips, ask students to read the section overview below and as a class consider the following questions:

  • What were considered key steps in fighting al-Qaeda?
  • Who were intelligence agencies looking for in addition to bin Laden?
  • How were agencies gathering information? What challenges did they face?

Osama bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora in December 2001, leaving no trace.

While the hunt for bin Laden continued for years, it was not the U.S. government’s sole priority. America’s strategy to find bin Laden now hinged on tracking al-Qaeda’s global network. 

More intelligence and better integration were key to fighting al-Qaeda. Intelligence and law enforcement officers now deployed alongside troops overseas to help plan special operations. Raids increased in frequency and importance. Materials recovered from these missions, along with aerial imagery, information from detainee interrogations as well as local allies, and other sources, produced a flood of intelligence, all of which needed to be shared and analyzed rapidly. 

When a lead to bin Laden’s location finally emerged in 2010, the U.S. applied a decade of knowledge and experience against the ultimate high-value target.

3.  Review student answers and tell them that they are going to focus on the ways in which intelligence agents worked to track bin Laden through al-Qaeda's network.

4.  Show students a third video clip from The Hunt: Identifying the Courier that details how identifying those close to bin Laden could aid in finding him. 


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5.  Direct students to read The Counterterrorism Toolkit and as a class consider the following questions:

  • What counterterrorism efforts were being used to find bin Laden? 
  • Based on the strategy laid out in the toolkit and video clip, why was it important for intelligence analysts to know who was closest to bin Laden?
  • How did analysts believe bin Laden was communicating? 

6.  Review student answers and conclude the activity by facilitating a discussion about how changes in communication, strategies, and technology impacted the hunt for bin Laden. What challenges do rapidly changing modes of communication present for analysts working in counterterrorism? Can you think of possible benefits or opportunities they present?