Statistically, few of us will ever be killed by the actions of a terrorist. Yet our and other governments spend vast sums of money fighting terrorism. Why? Terrorists prey on our fears; the sudden death of a small group of people will strike fear into the hearts of a large group. As the Chinese leader Chairman Mao said, "Kill one and terrorize a thousand."
The US alone spends roughly $5 billion a year combating terrorist. We do so to secure the peace, and peace of mind, of our citizens both at home and abroad. In the age of mass media and international live-feed satellite driven broadcasts, the power of terrorists has been increased tenfold. The shift to weapons of mass destruction has made it even more important that terrorist actions be stopped before they are carried out.
Counter terrorism teams have existed in one form or another since the 1920's, when Colombia formed a team to free hijacks passenger planes. But the modern form of counter-terrorism got its start after Palestine terrorists hijacked an El Al B-707 in 1968. Most countries lacked any counter-terrorism (CT) ability until after the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed by members of the Black September terrorist group. Since that time, innocent civilians have continued to be targets for groups seeking political action or power. Terrorists find it easier and more productive to plant a big bomb and blow up an entire neighborhood rather than trying to pinpoint and surgically remove an enemy.
Because of this, nearly every nation now has at least a rudimentary counter-terrorist team. These teams are usually either military units or part of a police force. They are elite and highly trained. Since their creation, terrorist hijackings have dramatically decreased. Today, teams from different countries share information and cross-train with each other in an effort to better understand and eliminate these threats.
Because of the positive effect these CT teams have had, terrorists have started to utilize bombings, a highly effective way of instilling fear in a populace. Bombings are highly sensationalized affairs; even if no one is killed it makes the evening news the world over. They are also extremely difficult to prevent.
The killing of 247 Marines in Beruit in 1983 and the 1992 World Trade Center bombing demonstrated the need for both anti-terrorist and counter-terrorist capabilities. Anti-Terrorism refers to acts which prevent terrorism (such as passenger screening at airports) while Counter-Terrorism is the actual take down of a terrorist stronghold or freeing of hostages held. To the right are some of the teams that specialize in Anti-terrorist and Counter-terrorist operations.