Category Archives: Definition, typology and analysis of terrorism

Gabriel Weimann, Terrorism in Cyberspace (Book Review)

Gabriel Weimann, Terrorism in Cyberspace, Woodrow Wilson Center Press & Columbia University Press, 2015

Book Review by Elias Davidsson, 2 December 2016

The author’s book is presented by Bruce Hoffman, who wrote the introduction, as embodying “the hallmarks of Weimann’s decades of scholarship: presenting a comprehensive, thoughtful, and sober analysis – supported by voluminous empirical evidence and trenchant, revealing examples.” Gabriel Weimann’s book does not deserve such ode. One of the elementary tasks of a scholar is to substantiate the facts he or she is presenting by attaching to factual claims verifiable and trustworthy evidence. Another elementary task of scholarly writing is to refrain from omitting relevant facts. As shown below, Weimann’s book represents a collection of unsubstantiated claims and negligent omissions. His book lacks therefore scholarly value. Bruce Hoffman’s book on terrorism, is incidentally the subject of a review by myself.

The following are merely selections from Weimann’s unsubstantiated claims and negligent omissions, with the page number indicated:

p. 4: “Today, all terrorist organisations, large or small, have their own websites, Facebook pages, or uploaded Youtube videos” [The author failed, upon my written request, to indicate a single URL for such website]

p. 5: “Al-Qaeda core have publicly discouraged sympathisers from travelling to conflict zones in order to join them.” [The author does not provide any evidence for such call by Al-Qaeda]

The author provides on p. 9 the following explanation how he and his team succeeded to locate terrorist websites: “To locate the online terrorist websites, frequent systematic scans of the internet were conducted using the various keywords and names of organisations in the database [that preexisted the search for these organisations…] First, the standard search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo!, Bing) were used. The Internet is a dynamic arena: websites emerge and disappear, change addresses, or are reformatted [Note the passive language, as if no traceable human beings make these changes]. Years of monitoring the terrorist presence online has provided information on how to locate their new sites, how to search in chatrooms and forums of supporters and sympathisers for the new ‘addresses’ and how to use links in other organisations’ websites to update existing lists. This was often a Sisyphean effort, especially since in certain instances – for instance, al-Qadea’s sites – the location and the contents of the sites changed almost daily.” [Going by this explanation, only people like him – and not ordinary young Muslims – can through “Sisyphean efforts” locate jihadi sites whose location “changes almost daily”.  One is entitled to ask: Who has a motive to create a “jihadi” website and delete it almost immediately, if not those intending to prove that such websites exist but do not wish anyone to examine these sites?]

p. 10: “In 2003 there were more than 2,600 terrorist websites. The number rose dramatically, and by October 2013, the project archive contained more than 9,600 websites serving terrorists and their supporters.” [For these claims, the author provides not a shred of evidence, nor does he explain what is included by the term “terrorist websites”.]

p. 21: “The anonymity of the internet is very attractive for modern terrorists.” [The author fails to explain why anonymity is attractive to organisations that allegedly seek members and sympathizers. The author fails to mention that anonymity is absolutely necessary for intelligence agencies whose agents impersonate jihadists].

p. 22: “An abundance of more sophisticated measures and technologies also increase the difficulty of identifying the originator, recipient, or content of terrorist online communications. These include encryption tools, and anonymising software that are readily available online for download.” [What would organisations seeking members and sympathizers gain by concealing their identity? Concealing one’s identity would be, however, absolutely necessary for agents of intelligence services who impersonate Islamists. The author neglects to mention this fact]

p. 28: “On its website, AQIM published a computer game called ‘Muslim Mali’, in which players operate a military aircraft carrying AQIM’s black flag to attack and destroy French aircraft in the Sahara.” [The author does not indicate the webpage and no source for this claim is given]

p. 30: “In the planned attempt by terrorists to blow up fuel tanks at New Yorks’s John F. Kennedy International airport in 2007, court records indicate that the plotters utilised Google Earth to obtain detailed aerial photographs of their intended target.” [The author fails to mention that this “planned attempt” was led by an FBI informant]

p. 30: “‘It is not necessary […] for you to join a military training camp, or to travel to another country […] you can learn alone, or with other brothers, in [our arms] preparation program”, al-Qaeda leader Abu Hajir al-Muqrin announced in 2004.”  [The author mentioned earlier the difficulty in locating jihadi websites. Now he claims that wannabe terrorists do not need to travel to another country but can “learn alone”, presumably from websites whose locations “change almost daily”. The author does not provide the source for this alleged announcement.]

p. 31: “In November 2008, the SITE Intelligence Group reported that al-Nusra Media Battalion, a jihadist media group, had compiled into a single file a collection of explosives manuals totalling over a thousand pages and posted the file on jihadist forums.”  [SITE Intelligence Group, run by Rita Katz, an Israeli, Zionist, woman, is certainly no impartial source on Islamic terrorism. SITE does not provide evidence that a jihadist media group by the name of al-Nusra Media Battalion at all exists. The author does not mention the possibility that this “jihadist media group” might be located in the offices of Mossad, CIA or in Hollywood.]

p. 32-3: “The eleventh issue of Inspire published online in June 2013, devoted almost all of its forty-odd pages to glorifying what it calls the BBB: the “Blessed Boston bombings”. …The main takeaway from the June 2013 issue is that its editors are unabashedly pleased that copies of their magazine were found in the Tsarnaev brothers’ home.” [The author does not provide the source for this allegedly jihadi magazine – Inspire – whose publisher has no name, address, phone number or website]

p.33: “Al-Qaeda operatives relied heavily on the Internet for the planning and coordination of the 9/11 attacks.  Numerous messages that had been posted in a password-protected area of a website were found by federal officials on the computer of arrested AQ terrorist Abu Zubaydah, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks.” [The author appears to be completely ignorant about the 9/11 attacks. First, there is no evidence, whatsoever, that Al Qaeda operatives planned, coordinated or carried out these attacks (see my book Hijacking America’s Mind on 9/11 for details). This fact alone disqualifies the author from claiming the title of a scholar. Second, not even the US government has claimed that Abu Zubaydah has masterminded the 9/11 attacks. According to the official US legend, which in turn is fraudulent, the 9/11 attacks were masterminded by one Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who allegedly confessed from his prison in Guantánamo to have mastermind 9/11 as well as some other 30 terrorist plots, including an attempt on the life of the pope. The U.S government has shown no inclination to have him tried and sentenced]

p. 33-4: “Mohammed Atta’s final message to the other 18 terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks is reported to have read: ‘The semester begins in three more weeks. We’ve obtained 19 confirmations for studies in the faculty of law, the faculty of urban planning, the faculty of fine arts, and the faculty of engineering’ (quoted in Fouda and Fielding, 2003, 140)” [The author cites controversial authors, who in turn have provided no credible source for this bizarre message. No official source is known to have corroborated the above claim.]

p. 34: “Following a popular business trend, many [terrorists] have turned to e-commerce, selling CDs, DVDs, T-shirts, and books as a means of raising cash.” [The author fails to produce a single concrete and verifiable example of such commerce]

p. 34: “Many terrorist organisations have added links to their sites which advise visitors on how to donate funds electronically via bank transfer.”  [The author fails to produce a single concrete and verifiable example of such attempts at collecting money]

p. 35: “The terrorists who carried out the July 7, 2005 attacks on the London transportation system were also self-financed, in part through credit card fraud.” [The author does not provide any reference to his claim that the alleged authors of the London attacks engaged in credit card fraud. The author omits to mention that the official account of the London bombings is disputed]

p. 37: According to the author Osama bin Laden remarked in 2002: “It is obvious that the media war in this century is one of the strongest methods; in fact, its ratio may reach 90% of the total preparation for the battles.” [The author does not cite any verifiable source for this alleged remark by Osama bin Laden. This statement would not either make any sense, as neither bin Laden nor “Al Qaeda” owned any media with which to prepare a battle]

p. 40: “The most visible part of AQ’s online presence involves the spread of propaganda, which is created by the group’s media production branch, As-Sahab. [The author does not produce any concrete evidence that this “media production branch” exists.]  “This organisation uses modern technology and semiprofessional hardware to produce its video statements and distribute them worldwide.”[The author presents no source for these claims] “Al Qaeda also operates radio and television broadcasting online along with its online production facility, the GIMF, one of Al Qaeda’s mouthpiece groups.” [The author produces no evidence for this claim, either. A German court revealed, incidentally, that GIMF was a joint venture between the FBI, SITE Intelligence Group and German intelligence (BND), who bamboozled a handful of gullible young German Muslims to play around with jihadist materials that they posted on the internet under the name GIMF. The operative behind this scam was revealed as Joshua Devon, Rita Katz’s husband, and employee of SITE Intelligence Group. According to German media scholar Sabine Schiffer, German intelligence (BND) tasked SITE with this scam. These young people did not produce videos but merely posted videos they got from…somewhere. After being entrapped, they were arrested, tried and sentenced, and ensured the production of news reports about the continuous threat of terrorism.]

p. 45: “A simple search for jihadi videos on YouTube, will reveal hundreds of AQ video clips.”  [The author fails to refer to a single example of a video clip on Youtube that is produced by the ubiquitous Al Qaeda, an outfit specialized in promoting the fear from Islam]

Book Review of Bruce Hoffman’s “Inside Terrorism”

Book Review of Bruce Hoffman’s Inside Terrorism

By Elias Davidsson, March 25, 2014

Presumptuous and devoid of scholarly value

The author was for a long time a director at RAND Corporation in Washington, which he designates in his book as an “independent, objective, nonpartisan research institution” (p. xi).

As an external observer, researcher and author, I have followed with keen interest for many years the debate surrounding the phenomenon of terrorism: Its definition, rationale, execution, effects and legal aspects.

I came initially across Hoffman’s book when I examined the activities of Germany’s Federal Center for Political Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, or BpB), which is not, as it name might suggest, a university institute or a department in the Ministry of Education, but a propaganda institution that belongs to the Ministry of the Interior). The BpB promotes Hoffman’s book (in its German translation) to German schools and universities as a textbook on terrorism. After reading that book, I spent long hours writing a detailed critical review of it in German, which is posted on the internet. I thought I had fulfilled thereby my civic duty.

Then I discovered that Bruce Hoffman was not only an author of junk science, but is periodically invited to comment on CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times and other leading media, as an “expert” on terrorism. This discovery compelled me to share my exposure of Hoffman as a fraud with a larger audience, and particularly with unsuspecting potential buyers of his book. I do not intend, however, to provide a review of all the author’s scholarly sins, as this would require a volume exceeding in size the very book in review. I will limit myself to point to a few elements that demonstrate (a) the deceptive nature of the book; and (b) its utter lack of scholarly value.

(1) The deceptive appearance of erudition

Hoffman’s book (revised and expanded edition) consists of 432 pages. The author devotes no less than 45 pages to a bibliography on terrorism, a whopping 72 pages to footnotes and 18 pages for an index. This extraordinary accumulation of sources creates the outward appearance of erudition and comprehensiveness. Indeed, at first glance, one is led to believe that the author is extremely well informed and that his text is grounded on a comprehensive study of the literature. Yet, one discovers soon that this impression is deceptive, for the bibliography omits major critical works on terrorism.

Thus, the author omits from his bibliography critical works on the events of 9/11, such as those by Prof. David Ray Griffin and Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed. Prof. Griffin’s first book on 9/11 “The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11,” remains a landmark and a must for any student of these events. Dr. Ahmed, a scholar living in Ireland, deals at depth with the covert relationship between Western intelligence agencies and al-Qaeda. The same omission applies to critical studies regarding the London Underground Bombings of July 7, 2005, or to those of the Mumbai 2008 attacks. Any serious student of terrorism cannot avoid coming sooner or later across serious critical works which examine the forensics of various terrorist acts and governmental efforts to cover-up the events.

(2) Junk science

(a) Treatment of facts.

Good scientists are immediately recognized by the way they handle facts: They go to great pains to establish the empirical ground on which they base their theories. Before a theory is proposed, the underlying facts are tested for reliability on the base of credible sources and when doubt about a fact exists, an honest scholar will share that doubt with readers and steer clear from sweeping assertions.

True scholars are also known to treat with circumspection statements by third parties, particularly when these parties do not report their own observations but merely what they have been told or had read. True scholars do not rely on unidentified and unverifiable sources.

There would be no purpose in harping on such commonplace rules of good scholarship, were it not for Mr. Hoffman’s systematic violations of these basic rules. I have stopped counting the unsubstantiated allegations made by him in his book and the number of cases where he relies on obviously dubious sources, such as on statements pronounced by a figure resembling Osama bin Laden on a video recording of dubious provenance.

(b) Disregarding the two most potent types of terrorism

The author is presented by mainstream media as an expert on terrorism, a designation that he does not dispute. Yet, from the three types of terrorism, he ignores completely the two main and most potent types: Overt state terrorism and false-flag terrorism.

Overt state terrorism refers to the overt use or threatened use of force or violence by state governments against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments. Overt state terrorism includes, inter alia, carpet bombing cities, comprehensive economic sanctions, the institutionalization of arbitrary rule and mass surveillance. Actually, the very term terrorism was initially used only for state violence.

False-flag terrorism refers to what is also designated as “false-flag” or “synthetic” terrorism. False-flag operations are carried out secretly by military or police forces with the purpose to incite a population against a particular “villain.” False-flag operations are staged to appear as if they had been carried out by the “villain.” Due to the need to conceal the links between the perpetrators and state agencies, such operations require a high degree of secrecy and compartmentalization and are thus very complex. Substantial efforts are typically invested in the subsequent cover-up of such operations. A classical case of false-flag terrorism was the burning of the Reichstag in Berlin in 1933, which was immediately seized by the new Nazi authorities to arrest communist and socialist leaders and establish a police state. Other well-publicized cases of false-flag terrorism include Operation Northwoods (U.S.), the Lavon Affair (Israel) and the Gladio network (West Europe). False-flag operations are thus a distinct type of terrorism that calls for a completely different analytical approach than traditional or genuine terrorism.

The author not only ignores the very existence of false-flag terrorism but attributes all probable cases of such false-flag operations to al Qaeda and to an alleged corruption of Islam. The author, thereby, not only confuses and misleads his readers, but engages in slander and contributes in his modest way to shield the true criminals of these operations.

(c) No assessment of terror investigations

As terrorism is essentially a violent form of political expression, it follows that states possess vital interests in either elucidating or concealing facts surrounding specific cases of terrorism. Due to the political nature of terrorism, States are never neutral observers of such crimes. For that reason, a serious scholar will meticulously scrutinize the direction, manner and zeal of governments to investigate the crime.

States are actually dutybound under human rights law to investigate cases of killings that occur within their jurisdictions. Such investigations must be carried out in good faith. State investigations into killings can be objectively assessed, using criteria of adequacy developed by the European Court of Human Rights, such as promptness, thoroughness, impartiality, the independence of the investigators and transparency. States who fail to fulfil these criteria of adequacy can be presumed to act in bad faith. They call on themselves suspicion. Such presumption arises, for example, with regard to 9/11, the investigation of which has been grossly inadequate, as demonstrated magistrally by Prof. David Ray Griffin in a book entirely devoted to the 9/11 Commission (“The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions”)

The author’s discussion of terrorism relies almost entirely on either dubious terrorist sources or on allegations made by governments. He does not bother to scrutinize the investigations conducted by governments after terrorist attacks, suggesting that we may trust these investigations. The author does not even hint that some of these investigations may have been rigged, a charge made even by the chairman and vice-chairman of the 9/11 Commission after the Commission was disbanded.

(d) Hoffman and the story of Mohamed Atta’s suitcases

The story of Mohamed Atta’s two suitcases found at the Boston Aiport on September 11, 2001, because they were not loaded onto the doomed aircraft, is well known. The story has been reported world-wide and used unsparingly to establish the official legend on 9/11.

Hoffman builds upon this legend to press his point that the 9/11 “hijackers” were motivated by religion. He thus wrote: “It only remains briefly to clarify the role religion played in the motivation of the hijackers. This can be seen very clearly in the ‘spiritual guide’ written for his accomplices by Mohammed Atta, the leader of the operation, and one of four pilots. The guide was found seven (sic) days after the attacks at the Boston Logan Airport because one (sic) of Atta’s suitcases was mistakenly not transferred from the Portland, Maine, flight to American Airlines Flight 11.”

Let us forgive the author for his harmless inaccuracies, such as the claim that the guide was found seven days after the attacks. Less forgiveable is the author’s lack of intellectual curiosity. For one of the persistent questions regarding this episode is: What prompted Atta to drive to Portland on September 10, 2001 and fly from there back to Boston on an early-morning flight? For had his connecting flight from Portland to Boston been delayed, he wouldn’t be able to carry out the first attack on the World Trade Center, meaning that no TV channels would be on the spot to film in real-time the impact of the second plane’s impact. His “life mission” would be a fiasco and would have betrayed the trust Osama bin Laden allegedly placed on him. The puzzling detour to Portland was noted by the 9/11 Commission, which was unable to provide a compelling explanation. But there exists an explanation, one that is ignored by author Hoffman.

Let us briefly describe what was found in Atta’s suitcases: When the police opened these suitcases, it found in them all the constituent elements for building the 9/11 legend: a portable electronic flight computer, a manual for aircraft simulators, a flight computer, a handwritten text in Arabic, a folding knife, pepper spray, three English grammar books, an Arabic- English dictionary, a bottle of perfume, three photographs, letters from the University of Cairo to Mohamed Atta, a picture of a visa, Alomari’s passport and much more. This finding was hailed as incredible luck, or as The Guardian wrote on October 1, 2001, “The finds are certainly very fortunate, though some might think them a little too fortunate.”

Were all these items packed into the suitcase in order be found by investigators? Perhaps. But in that case, the packers could not have been the “terrorists” because they could not have expected their suitcases to be forgotten in Logan “by mistake.” Did the “terrorists”, then, pack these items in order that they be destroyed in the aircraft crash? Perhaps. But in that case, why did they pack a folding knife and pepper spray into the suitcases, instead of taking these tools along on their bodies for use in the hijackings? Neither explanation makes sense.

Bruce Hoffman does not consider the possibility that Atta’s suitcases and their contents might have been planted there to be found. This possibility occurred, however, to may who observed with bewilderment the sheer quantity of incriminating items found almost immediately in the suitcases and in other locations. Hoffman can, however, be forgiven for ignoring what Philip A. DePasquale, a baggage expediter at Logan Airport in Boston, told the staff of the 9/11 Commission staff on February 10, 2004, regarding these suitcases (source: FBI document 302-46163, quoted in MFR04016228 of the 9/11 Commission). DePasquale told the staffers that the suitcases carried a “covert tag from US Airways [in Portland] to warn that Atta and his luggage were a security issue.” That means that someone at US Airways was told of Atta’s alleged “security threat” before the attacks had started. In other words: Someone knew who Atta was, monitored his movements, and ensured that baggage handlers at Logan will retain Atta’s bags.

Readers may reflect upon DePasquale’s testimony and its implications regarding the events of 9/11.

(e) Terrorist “manuals”

On page 251 the author cites “manuals” for the wannabe terrorist, that were allegedly found by unidentified persons on undisclosed dates in unspecified Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. These “manuals” are cited by the author as a result of al Qaeda absorbing “lessons” from previous experience “in order to help its operatives blend in in Western environments and avoid attracting attention.“ These manuals include advice such as:

• “Don’t wear short pants that show socks when you’re standing up. The pants should cover the socks, because intelligence authorities know that fundamentalists don’t wear long pants…
• Underwear should be the normal type that people wear, not anything that shows you’re a fundamentalist.
• Not long before traveling – especially from Khartoum – the person should always wear socks and shoes to [get] rid of cracks [in the feet that come from extended barefoot walking], which take about a week to cure…
• You should differentiate between men and women’s perfume. If you use women’s perfume, you are in trouble.”

Leaving aside these highly bizarre admonitions, it is interesting that the authors of these “manuals” used the term “fundamentalist” to describe their own movement. Is this how jihadists refer to themselves or were the authors perhaps half-baked orientalists working for RAND Corporation?

If the purpose of the “manuals” had been to help al Qaeda operatives “to avoid attracting attention” in Western environments, as argued by author Hoffman, there is no indication that these “manuals” warned wannabe terrorists to avoid the police in “enemy territory”. For the alleged 9/11 terrorists were repeatedly arrested in the United States for too fast driving and one of them even complained to the local police about being mugged. Mohamed Atta once attracted unusual attention to himself by leaving a small aircraft in the middle of the runway of Miami airport, because he did not know how to restart the engine. This would normally cause him to lose his flight license or trigger an inquiry. But not in his case. He apparently had some protectors at higher places.
Author Hoffman blithely ignores all these widely reported facts, which would have seriously dented the theories he promotes.


My findings above confirm what German intellectual Reinhard Jellen once wrote, namely that “ignorance and pretension [are today ] not obstacles, but on the contrary prerequisites for professional success.” This can be observed in the case of Bruce Hoffman and others in the same league. That such a book was published by Columbia University Press taints seriously the credibility of that publisher.

While utterly useless as a textbook on terrorism, Bruce Hoffman’s book can be profitably used by aspiring academic prostitutes.

Book Review of Robert Anthony Pape’s “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”

Book Review of Robert Anthony Pape’s “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”

by Elias Davidsson, April 20, 2014

Two major scholarly sins mar the quality of the book

Many of the authors dealing with the issue of terrorism can be dismissed as purveyors of junk science. One of those who does not deserve that label is Robert A. Pape. His seminal study on suicide terrorism remains till today the best in its kind. Yet, even he sins in a number of ways against the rules of serious scholarship. His work, based on examining 315 cases of suicide terrorism relies almost entirely on what third parties (governments, law-enforcement agencies, mass media, organizations claiming the act) have designated as a “suicide operation.” The author saved himself the effort to assess the forensics of the cases, i.e. to determine, independently, that the particular events under consideration were actually suicide operations. Admittedly, such work would have required efforts beyond his capacity. On the other side, taking into account the propagandistic nature of terrorism, a scholar cannot take at face value claims by interested parties regarding the nature of the operation. Another failure was to disregard entirely the phenomenon of synthetic terrorism (sometimes called ‘false-flag terrorism’), namely operations covertly staged by governments to appear as authentic terrorism. Was the author unaware of Operation Northwoods (USA, 1962) and of the synthetic terrorist acts committed in Italy and Belgium in the Cold War, commonly known as Operation Gladio?

These two sins by the author seriously mar the value of his study.

An impatient and informed reader might already close the book after reading the very first paragraph of the first chapter, in which the author claims, self-confidently, that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were perpetrated by Muslim terrorists. By 2005, the year of the book’s publication, the author should have been aware that the US authorities had not produced any evidence for their claim that 9/11 was the work of Muslim terrorists (the names of the alleged terrorists do not figure on any authenticated passenger list, no one has seen them board any of the four flights, their bodily remains were not identified, and even the FBI regards their identities as questionable [see appropriate FBI website]) He should have been aware of a large and growing skepticism among US scholars toward the official account. He should have been aware of a documented relationship between Western intelligence agencies and Al Qaeda. He should have taken note of the fact that none of the perpetrators or planners of 9/11 had been brought to court. Taking into account these facts would have led him to qualify his conclusions and examine whether some of the other cases of terrorism he listed might also have been synthetically manufactured by state agencies. To the extent that these scholarly sins can be attributable to a blind spot in the author’s perspective, they may be remedied by him. Having said so, readers might still find the book useful, keeping in mind that the conclusions of an author who relies on corrupt data, must be considered with great circumspection.

9/11 and the Orwellian Redefinition of “Conspiracy Theory”

9/11 and the Orwellian Redefinition of “Conspiracy Theory”

21 June, 2011

by Paul Craig Roberts

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS has had careers in scholarship and academia, public service, and journalism. He served as Congressional staff and as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration. He can be reached at:

While we were not watching, conspiracy theory has undergone Orwellian redefinition. A “conspiracy theory” no longer means an event explained by a conspiracy. Instead, it now means any explanation, or even a fact, that is out of step with the government’s explanation and that of its media pimps.

In other words, as truth becomes uncomfortable for government and its Ministry of Propaganda, truth is redefined as conspiracy theory, by which is meant an absurd and laughable explanation that we should ignore.

The purest example of how Americans are shielded from truth is the media’s response to the large number of professionals who find the official explanation of September 11, 2001 inconsistent with everything they, as experts, know about physics, chemistry, structural engineering, architecture, fires, structural damage, the piloting of airplanes, the security procedures of the United States, NORAD’s capabilities, air traffic control, airport security, and other matters. These experts, numbering in the thousands, have been shouted down by know-nothings in the media who brand the experts as “conspiracy theorists.”

This, despite the fact that the official explanation endorsed by the official media is the most extravagant conspiracy theory in human history.

Let’s take a minute to re-acquaint ourselves with the official explanation, which is not regarded as a conspiracy theory despite the fact that it comprises an amazing conspiracy. The official truth is that a handful of young Muslim Arabs who could not fly airplanes, mainly Saudi Arabians who came neither from Iraq nor from Afghanistan, outwitted not only the CIA and the FBI, but also all 16 US intelligence agencies and all intelligence agencies of US allies including Israel’s Mossad, which is believed to have penetrated every terrorist organization and which carries out assassinations of those whom Mossad marks as terrorists.

In addition to outwitting every intelligence agency of the United States and its allies, the handful of young Saudi Arabians outwitted the National Security Council, the State Department, NORAD, airport security four times in the same hour on the same morning, air traffic control, caused the US Air Force to be unable to launch interceptor aircraft, and caused three well-built steel-structured buildings, including one not hit by an airplane, to fail suddenly in a few seconds as a result of limited structural damage and small, short-lived, low-temperature fires that burned on a few floors.

The Saudi terrorists were even able to confound the laws of physics and cause WTC building seven to collapse at free-fall speed for several seconds, a physical impossibility in the absence of explosives used in controlled demolition.

The story that the government and the media have told us amounts to a gigantic conspiracy; really a script for a James Bond film. Yet, anyone who doubts this improbable conspiracy theory is defined into irrelevance by the obedient media.

In America today, and increasingly throughout the Western world, actual facts and true explanations have been relegated to the realm of kookiness. Only people who believe lies are socially approved and accepted as patriotic citizens.

If you believe that America was attacked by Muslim terrorists and is susceptible to future attacks, then a “war on terror” and a domestic police state to root out terrorists become necessary to make Americans safe. The idea that a domestic police state and open-ended war might be more dangerous threats to Americans than terrorists is an impermissible thought.
A country whose population has been trained to accept the government’s word and to shun those who question it is a country without liberty in its future.


Almost 10 Years After 9/11, U.N. Still Grappling to Define Terrorism

Almost 10 Years After 9/11, U.N. Still Grappling to Define Terrorism

Thursday, April 21, 2011

By Patrick Goodenough


( – As the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches, the United Nations is no closer to reaching a universal definition of terrorism than it was in 2001 – or indeed than it was five years before then, when negotiations first began on drafting a comprehensive convention on international terrorism.

The main hurdle, then as now, is the insistence by the bloc of Islamic states that any definition of terrorism should leave a loophole for “resistance” against foreign occupation.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which was established in 1969 with “liberating” Jerusalem as its primary focus, is unwilling to give ground on the issue as many of its governments believe that doing so would be tantamount to betraying the Palestinian cause.

The “occupation” exemption is usually cited in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it would also provide cover for the anti-Indian jihad in Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both.

India has been a major target of terrorism, both in what some Islamic states call “Indian-occupied Kashmir” and elsewhere. Not coincidentally, New Delhi has spearheaded the push for a international terrorism convention since 1996.

A U.N. General Assembly resolution passed that year established an “Ad-Hoc Committee” to elaborate on the draft convention proposed by India. It has met every year since then, for a one- or two-week period usually in the spring, but consensus on a terrorism definition remain elusive. Its 15th session was held in New York last week.

According to Anne Bayefsky, editor of the Hudson Institute’s Eye on the U.N. project, the OIC once again raised the argument that there is a “distinction between terrorism and the struggle for the rights of self-determination by people under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination.”

The customary report issued by the Ad-Hoc Committee after each year’s session has yet to be released, but a review of previous years’ reports illustrates how the definition issue has dogged the process.

At its 2002 meeting, the committee considered a definition that referred to the intentional causing of “death or serious bodily injury to any person; or serious damage to public or private property … when the purpose of the conduct, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.”

Some states raised concerns about the implications for armed forces, so the meeting coordinator suggested adding a clause saying that “the activities of armed forces during an armed conflict, as those terms are understood under international humanitarian law … are not governed by this Convention.”

The OIC then proposed broadening that clause. Instead of covering just armed forces, the Islamic bloc said, it should apply to “the parties during an armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation.”

A full eight years later, at the April 2010 meeting, the committee was still stuck on the issue.

“Several delegations stressed the need for the convention to include a clear definition of terrorism,” the report on the 2010 meeting stated. “It was reiterated that it should distinguish between acts of terrorism and the legitimate struggle of peoples in the exercise of their right to self-determination under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination.”

‘Equating terrorism with Islam’

This week, terrorism is again on the U.N.’s agenda, this time at a meeting in Strasbourg, France of the U.N. Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee, a body set up in response to the 9/11 attacks, and the Council of Europe, a grouping of 47 European countries.

The meeting, which runs through Thursday and has the theme “prevention of terrorism,” was addressed Tuesday by OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

In his speech, he observed that the international community was “still debating on a consensus definition of terrorism.”

He said OIC member states supported the U.N.’s global counter-terrorism strategy, but “stressed that the strategy must address the root causes of terrorism, including the unlawful use of force, aggression, foreign occupation, prolonged conflict of peoples and denial of the rights to self-determination living under foreign occupation.”


The global counter-terrorism strategy, adopted by the U.N. in 2006, does not define terrorism. It merely reaffirms member states’ commitment to resolve “the outstanding issues related to the legal definition.”

Ihsanoglu told the meeting that the OIC’s efforts to combat terrorism were hampered by the fact that “a handful of errant and irresponsible individuals” carry out attacks and “falsely claim affiliation to the Islamic faith and seek to justify their acts as being carried out for the cause of Islam.”

“In the wake of such developments,” he continued, “we have witnessed a gradual rise of anti-Islam sentiments and activities in different parts of the West.”

“We noticed that radical right wing extremists including politicians in the West, who bear some inexplicable grudge and animosity against Islam, are active in equating terrorism with Islam and Muslims.”

In turn, this was “estranging many in the Muslim world against the West,” he said, describing the process as a “vicious circle.”

‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s terrorist’

In its own convention on combating international terrorism, produced in 1998, the OIC declared that “peoples’ struggle including armed struggle against foreign occupation … shall not be considered a terrorist crime.”

That stance has impacted many initiatives taken by Muslims in the years since 9/11 aimed at distancing their religion from terrorism. Among them:

— As a direct response to the al-Qaeda attack, OIC foreign ministers met in Malaysia in April 2002 with the declared aim of defining terrorism and dissociating it from Islam. The gathering ended with a statement including the line: “We reject any attempt to link terrorism to the struggle of the Palestinian people in the exercise of their inalienable right to establish their independent state with al-Quds al-Sharif [Jerusalem] as its capital.”

— During a Saudi-hosted international counter-terrorism conference in February 2005, the terror definition issue was sidelined after delegates from Egypt, Sudan, Syria and Saudi Arabia pressed for exemptions for struggles against occupation.

— OIC foreign ministers meeting in Yemen in June 2005 condemned “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” but added, “while recognizing the importance of distinguishing between it and legitimate resistance to occupation.”

— A resolution passed at an OIC meeting in Islamabad in May 2007 stated that “the struggle of peoples plying under the yoke of foreign occupation and colonialism, to accede to national freedom and establish their right to self-determination, does not in any way constitute an act of terrorism.”

— A four-day conference of religious scholars and experts in Saudi Arabia in April 2010 ended with a declaration condemning terrorism “regardless of the place or the perpetrators.” But it also recommend the adoption of a definition of terrorism as agreed upon by a meeting of Arab ministers a month earlier – a definition that “emphasized the need to differentiate between terrorism and the legitimate struggle of people against occupation.”

After suffering deadly terrorist bombings in London in the summer of 2005, the British government argued that the failure to produce a clear and unequivocal declaration against terrorism had benefited radicals.

The then British envoy, Emyr Jones Parry, told the U.N. in a speech that August that for years, “agreement has been stalled over a legal definition of terrorist acts. Prevarication and delay have provided a smokescreen for the terrorists.”

“The old dictum that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ is past,” he added. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s terrorist – a criminal, and all too often a murderer.”

UN: defining terrorism


UN: defining terrorism


The UN remains unable to draw a distinction between “freedom fighters” and

“state sponsored terrorism”. 


Thalif Deen Last Modified: 24 Nov 2010 13:19 GMT 


Thoughts of Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) leader, Subcomandante

Marcos, evoke a myriad of emotions, depending foremost on context and

perception [EPA]


When Israeli commandos killed nine mostly Turkish activists during a raid on

a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Palestinians last May,

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the attack as a prime

example of “state terrorism”.


“Even tyrants, bandits and pirates have their own rules of ethics,” he said,

but not terrorists killing on behalf of a UN member state.


And when several internationally renowned artists, including the rock band

Pixies and British rocker Elvis Costello, responded by cancelling scheduled

concerts in Tel Aviv, Shuki Weiss, one of Israel’s leading promoters, called

the growing boycott movement “cultural terrorism”.


“Music and politics should not mix,” he said, even as the Palestinian

Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was picking up



Perhaps not surprisingly, a UN Ad Hoc Committee to Eliminate Terrorism,

created by the General Assembly back in December 1996, has remained

deadlocked as it tries to reach agreement on a comprehensive draft

convention to eliminate terrorism.


Last month, it made another unsuccessful effort at drawing a distinction

between “freedom fighters” and “state sponsored terrorism”.


“One knows terrorism when one sees it,” said Ambassador Palitha Kohona of

Sri Lanka, a former chief of the UN Treaty Section.


The draft convention, tabled in 2001 by India, has won agreement by several

delegations to a substantial extent. However, it is bogged down on a few

crucial issues. For example, it has been proposed by some that state

sponsored terrorism or certain acts of states be covered by the draft,

Kohona said.


Many others have resisted this proposal on the basis that acts of states are

governed by other existing rules of international law and therefore, it was

superfluous to cover this aspect under the draft.


Similarly, said Kohona, a proposal has been made to exclude certain acts of

liberation movements from the ambit of the draft convention. But this has

also met with wide resistance.


The proposed new comprehensive convention was intended to provide umbrella

cover for situations not already addressed by the 13 existing sectoral

conventions on terrorism concluded under the auspices of the United Nations.

Mouin Rabbani, contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East

Report, said that achieving and applying an objective definition of

terrorism is rather beside the point.


He said terrorism has become a political epithet designed to place enemies

beyond the pale as opposed to a technical term the purpose of which is to

define certain criminal acts that violate the laws of war and for which the

perpetrators can be held accountable.


“Thus, in the Middle East, it has reached the point where Palestinian or

Arab armed activities that target Israeli military personnel are

characterised as terrorist acts, while Israeli armed activities that

deliberately target civilians are characterised as legitimate acts of self-

defence,” he said. “We could even conclude that at least in the Middle East,

terrorism refers to the ethnicity of the perpetrator as opposed to the

perpetrator’s actions,” said Rabbani.


“Thus we enter into the realm of the absurd, where campaigns to boycott

Israel or more narrowly illegal Israeli phenomena, such as settlement

products – acts that are by definition non-violent and don’t require so much

as a water pistol – are termed terrorism,” noted Rabbani.


The collective punishment of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, an

ongoing act that has cost numerous lives with the sanction of the United

States and the European Union, is by contrast justified as a legitimate

anti-terrorist campaign, he said.


Dr. Rohan Perera, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee to Eliminate Terrorism,

claimed the only way to reach a consensus on the issue is to follow the path

of adopting an operational or a criminal law definition of terrorism, rather

than a generic definition.


The former approach has been followed in the 13 sectoral conventions on

terrorism, and avoids the pitfalls of the latter approach which involves

excluding certain types of conduct such as those committed by national

liberation movements (NLM).


Accordingly, he said, the draft contains a criminal law definition.

“The question of state terrorism will continue to be governed by general

principles of international law, as it is not possible to deal with this

aspect in a law enforcement instrument, dealing with individual criminal

responsibility, based on an ‘extradite or prosecute’ regime,” he said.


Similarly, said Perera, acts committed in the course of armed conflicts by

NLMs will continue to be governed by international humanitarian law. “The

negotiations started in 2000 and we were close to agreement in 2001, in the

aftermath of 9/11 (terrorist attacks on the United States)”. But since then,

it has remained stalled, with little significant progress.


He said that negotiations would resume within the framework of the UN’s

Sixth Committee dealing with legal issues.


Asked if there will ever be a new comprehensive convention to eliminate

terrorism because of the continuing deadlock, said Kohona: “Of course, there

will be a convention.”


The international community has repeatedly condemned the use of terrorism as

a tool of political expression and for any other purpose and therefore will

seek to address the gaps in the existing international legal framework by

concluding this convention.


“It will also wish to send another unequivocal message to those who rely on

terrorist force to achieve their goals,” he said.


This article first appeared on the Inter Press Service News Agency.

The definition of terrorism

The definition of terrorism

A new US government report illustrates that any classification of terrorist groups is fundamentally motivated by self-interest, writes Brian Whitaker

    * Brian Whitaker
    *, Monday 7 May 2001 10.12 BST

Decide for yourself whether to believe this, but according to a new report there were only 16 cases of international terrorism in the Middle East last year.

That is the lowest number for any region in the world apart from North America (where there were none at all). Europe had 30 cases – almost twice as many as the Middle East – and Latin America came top with 193.

The figures come from the US state department’s annual review of global terrorism, which has just been published on the internet. Worldwide, the report says confidently, "there were 423 international terrorist attacks in 2000, an increase of 8% from the 392 attacks recorded during 1999".

No doubt a lot of painstaking effort went into counting them, but the statistics are fundamentally meaningless because, as the report points out, "no one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance".

That is an understatement. While most people agree that terrorism exists, few can agree on what it is. A recent book discussing attempts by the UN and other international bodies to define terrorism runs to three volumes and 1,866 pages without reaching any firm conclusion.

Using the definition preferred by the state department, terrorism is: "Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant* targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." (The asterisk is important, as we shall see later.)

"International" terrorism – the subject of the American report – is defined as "terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country".

The key point about terrorism, on which almost everyone agrees, is that it’s politically motivated. This is what distinguishes it from, say, murder or football hooliganism. But this also causes a problem for those who compile statistics because the motive is not always clear – especially if no one has claimed responsibility.

So the American report states – correctly – that there were no confirmed terrorist incidents in Saudi Arabia last year. There were, nevertheless, three unexplained bombings and one shooting incident, all directed against foreigners.

Another essential ingredient (you might think) is that terrorism is calculated to terrorise the public or a particular section of it. The American definition does not mention spreading terror at all, because that would exclude attacks against property. It is, after all, impossible to frighten an inanimate object.

Among last year’s attacks, 152 were directed against a pipeline in Colombia which is owned by multinational oil companies. Such attacks are of concern to the United States and so a definition is required which allows them to be counted.

For those who accept that terrorism is about terrorising people, other questions arise. Does it include threats, as well as actual violence? A few years ago, for example, the Islamic Army in Yemen warned foreigners to leave the country if they valued their lives but did not actually carry out its threat.

More recently, a group of Israeli peace activists were arrested for driving around in a loudspeaker van, announcing a curfew of the kind that is imposed on Palestinians. Terrifying for any Israelis who believed it, but was it terrorism?

Another characteristic of terrorism, according to some people, is that targets must be random – the intention being to make everyone fear they might be the next victim. Some of the Hamas suicide bombings appear to follow this principle but when attacks are aimed at predictable targets (such as the military) they are less likely to terrorise the public at large.

Definitions usually try to distinguish between terrorism and warfare. In general this means that attacks on soldiers are warfare and those against civilians are terrorism, but the dividing lines quickly become blurred.

The state department regards attacks against "noncombatant* targets" as terrorism. But follow the asterisk to the small print and you find that "noncombatants" includes both civilians and military personnel who are unarmed or off duty at the time. Several examples are given, such as the 1986 disco bombing in Berlin, which killed two servicemen.

The most lethal bombing in the Middle East last year was the suicide attack on USS Cole in Aden harbour which killed 17 American sailors and injured 39 more.

As the ship was armed and its crew on duty at the time, why is this classified as terrorism? Look again at the small print, which adds: "We also consider as acts of terrorism attacks on military installations or on armed military personnel when a state of military hostilities does not exist at the site, such as bombings against US bases."

A similar question arises with Palestinian attacks on quasi-military targets such as Israeli settlements. Many settlers are armed (with weapons supplied by the army) and the settlements themselves – though they contain civilians – might be considered military targets because they are there to consolidate a military occupation.

If, under the state department rules, Palestinian mortar attacks on settlements count as terrorism, it would be reasonable to expect Israeli rocket attacks on Palestinian communities to be treated in the same way – but they are not. In the American definition, terrorism can never be inflicted by a state.

Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is classified as a human rights issue (for which the Israelis get a rap over the knuckles) in a separate state department report.

Denying that states can commit terrorism is generally useful, because it gets the US and its allies off the hook in a variety of situations. The disadvantage is that it might also get hostile states off the hook – which is why there has to be a list of states that are said to "sponsor" terrorism while not actually committing it themselves.

Interestingly, the American definition of terrorism is a reversal of the word’s original meaning, given in the Oxford English Dictionary as "government by intimidation". Today it usually refers to intimidation of governments.

The first recorded use of "terrorism" and "terrorist" was in 1795, relating to the Reign of Terror instituted by the French government. Of course, the Jacobins, who led the government at the time, were also revolutionaries and gradually "terrorism" came to be applied to violent revolutionary activity in general. But the use of "terrorist" in an anti-government sense is not recorded until 1866 (referring to Ireland) and 1883 (referring to Russia).

In the absence of an agreed meaning, making laws against terrorism is especially difficult. The latest British anti-terrorism law gets round the problem by listing 21 international terrorist organisations by name. Membership of these is illegal in the UK.

There are six Islamic groups, four anti-Israel groups, eight separatist groups and three opposition groups. The list includes Hizbullah, which though armed, is a legal political party in Lebanon, with elected members of parliament.

Among the separatist groups, the Kurdistan Workers Party – active in Turkey – is banned, but not the KDP or PUK, which are Kurdish organisations active in Iraq. Among opposition groups, the Iranian People’s Mujahedeen is banned, but not its Iraqi equivalent, the INC, which happens to be financed by the United States.

Issuing such a list does at least highlight the anomalies and inconsistencies behind anti-terrorism laws. It also points towards a simpler – and perhaps more honest – definition: terrorism is violence committed by those we disapprove of.

Definitions of Terrorism Often Vary

The CQ Researcher : Combating Terrorism

From the July 21, 1995 issue of The CQ Researcher, Volume 5, No. 27, p. 646.

Definitions of Terrorism Often Vary

By Mary H. Cooper

To FBI investigators, the bombing of the federal building inOklahoma City was clearly an act of terrorism. The FBI defines a terrorist incident as “a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, in violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state, to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social goals.” [1]

The prime suspect in the bombing, Timothy McVeigh, has refused to cooperate with investigators. But people who know McVeigh, a decorated veteran of the Persian Gulf War, say he intensely hated federal law enforcement agencies, which he blamed for the deaths of more than 80 people in the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. Investigators think that McVeigh timed the bombing to coincide with the second anniversary of the Waco raid.

But some experts see little in the Oklahoma City bombing to suggest a terrorist’s aim to “intimidate or coerce a government.” According to David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University’s Law Center, “The Oklahoma City bombing was obviously a tragedy and terrible, but I don’t see it as evidence of some conspiracy to engage in terrorism.”

A second suspect, Terry Nichols, also has been arrested in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing. But even if it turns out that only one person was involved, under the FBI’s definition the bombing would still be considered as terrorism.

“Domestic terrorism involves groups or individuals whose terrorist activities are directed at elements of our government or population without foreign direction,” the agency states. The FBI defines international terrorists as “groups or individuals who are foreign- based and/or directed by countries or groups outside the United States, or whose activities transcend national boundaries.” [2]

However, the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Terrorism appears to rule out individuals acting alone as a source of terrorism. It defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” [3]

The anti-terrorism bill working its way through Congress would define terrorism under U.S. law. The House bill introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry H. Hyde, R-Ill., contained a controversial provision that would have broadened the definition to include the use of an explosive or firearm “other than for mere personal monetary gain, with intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.” That provision was later dropped as overly broad.

The House bill makes no distinction between individual acts and conspiracies in committing terrorism. It defines terrorism as “the use of force or violence in violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State . . . that appears to be intended to achieve political or social ends.” The bill could go to floor as early as next week; the Senate passed its version of the bill on June 7.

If government agencies can’t agree on a single definition of terrorism, the public’s perception is even more confused. The term is called into play to describe a growing range of criminal activities. Few commentators would have described Mafia violence during Prohibition as terrorism. Yet today’s counterpart, violence by South American drug cartels against law enforcement efforts, is widely known as “narco-terrorism.” Violence directed at abortion-clinic workers and patients also falls into the category of terrorism, in the eyes of pro-choice advocates. [4]

“If you can brand your foes as terrorists, that’s an important moral and political victory,” says Brian M. Jenkins, a terrorism expert at Kroll Associates, a Los Angeles-based international security firm. “However, despite the efforts within the analytical community to define terrorism, the term is used promiscuously, and we have seen all sorts of hyphenates. These by no means represent the strict definition.”

But any such strict definition of terrorism is open to challenge. Stymied by political differences, the United Nations General Assembly was unable to pass a resolution denouncing terrorism until 1985. Over the years, member nations had approved a number of treaties condemning specific terrorist acts, such as aircraft hijacking and violence against diplomats. “So ultimately, when they condemned terrorism, they specified that by terrorism they meant the acts already prohibited by treaties,” Jenkins says, “and that included a significant number of events.”

Nonetheless, the Oklahoma City bombing would not be considered terrorism under the U.N. resolution because bombings are not among the acts prohibited by U.N. conventions. “It is extremely difficult to get agreement on the distinction between dropping a bomb on a city from 20,000 feet as an act of war vs. driving a truckload of explosives into a building,” Jenkins says. “Bombs by their nature are indiscriminate weapons, and the issue is, why is it legitimate to drop a lot of bombs on a city, knowing full well that hundreds of thousands of innocents may be killed, but not legitimate to set off a bomb in a city in which scores may be killed?”

Although U.S. and international law enforcement agencies are eager to better coordinate their counterterrorism efforts, they may never arrive at a watertight definition of terrorism. “Reasonable men and women could probably reach agreement on as much as 90 percent of the elements that go into a definition of terrorism,” Jenkins says, “and that’s probably about as close as it’s going to get.”

[1] Federal Bureau of Investigation, Terrorism in the United States, 1993, p. 28.

[2] Ibid.

[3] U.S. Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism 1994, April 1995, p. vi.

[4] For background, see “Abortion Clinic Protests,” The CQ Researcher, April 7, 1995, pp. 297-320.

Terrorism: The Problems of Definition

August 1, 2003   
Terrorism: The Problems of Definition
Mark Burgess

Defining terrorism has become so polemical and subjective an undertaking as to resemble an art rather than a science.  Texts on the subject proliferate and no standard work on terrorism can be considered complete without at least an introductory chapter being devoted to this issue.[1]  Media coverage of terrorist incidents over the years has further confounded the difficulties of defining terrorism, which is variously described as the work of, among others, ‘commandos,’ ‘extremists,’ fundamentalists,’ and ‘guerillas.’  As David Rapport cautioned of this phenomenon almost three decades ago; “In attempting to correct the abuse of language for political purposes our journalists may succeed in making language altogether useless.”[2]  The negative connotations associated with the word ‘terrorism’ have further complicated attempts to arrive at an objective definition of the term.

Some experts on terrorism are skeptical as to whether the seemingly interminable attempts to define terrorism are capable of bearing fruit.  As, one, Walter Laqueur, opines: “Even if there were an objective, value-free definition of terrorism, covering all its important aspects and features, it would still be rejected by some for ideological reasons […]”[3]  This assertion will probably remain true.  However, if such a definition is a destination, the journey towards it can almost be an end in itself.  Arriving at a working definition also has uses other than increasing our understanding of terrorism.  For by defining terrorism one can also define the preferred means of countering it. Defining terrorism also allows terrorists to be defined (or not), justifying (or not) any action that is being taken against them.


U.S. Definitions of Terrorism

Often, a uniform definition of terrorism will not even exist across the various concerned agencies of a given country.  Such is the case with the United States , where the range of definitions listed below is currently applied.[4]

Department of Defense definition: The calculated use of unlawful violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.[5]

FBI definition: [T]he unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives[6]

State Department definition: [P]remeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.[7]

Such definitions are made more equivocal by the rhetoric surrounding the so-called ‘Global War on Terrorism,’ as the current American administration describes the series of military campaigns and other initiatives that were provoked by the al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 .  As with the journalistic tendencies referred to above, such a broad reading of ‘terrorism’ as this usage engenders risk rendering the term meaningless.  It also lays the government open to charges that that it is undermining its own counterterrorism efforts through the use of such wide terminology in compiling the statistics attached to them.[8]

All the American definitions above feature some element of the three inter-related factors that most attempts to arrive at a workable definition of terrorism have tended to revolve around ? namely, the terrorists’ (or persons being termed terrorists) motives, identity and methods.


War, according to the Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz’s famous dictum, is “the continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means.”[9]  Much the same has been said of terrorism, a violent phenomenon often seen as distinguished partly by its practitioners’ political motivations.  This view of terrorism as political violence possibly stems from its roots as a political term applied to the French Revolutionary tribunals active during that country’s ‘Reign of Terror,’ with terrorism’s political connotations continuing to feature throughout much of its historical development.[10]  As one long-time scholar of the phenomenon puts it: “Terrorism, in the most widely accepted contemporary usage of the term, is fundamentally and inherently political.”[11]  However, as with many definitional characteristics of terrorism, this view of it as always being political is not universally accepted.  Nor is motivation always considered a factor in deciding what is and is not terrorism.

This was the position of the late Eqbal Ahmad, who argued that motivations “make no difference.”[12]  Jessica Stern agrees, seeing any definition of terrorism as being unlimited by either “perpetrator or purpose.”  This approach, while not excluding political goals as a terrorist aim, also allows for other motivations, such as the purely criminal, or even religious.  To Stern it is the “deliberate evocation of dread is what sets terrorism apart from simple murder or assault.” [13]  Such a reading underlay the recent judicial ruling that the chief suspect in the rash of ‘sniper’ murders that occurred in the Washington, D.C., area last year could be charged under Virginia’s new post-Sept. 11, 2001 anti-terrorism law.

The question over whether the snipers should be classified as terrorists, although they clearly did ‘terrorize’ the D.C. metropolitan area for a time, highlights the dilemma of broadening the definition of terrorism to include violence that is not primarily political in intent.  Such a widening has drawbacks.  As a brief survey by one scholar shows, by the 1990s, the word terrorism had been applied to issues as diverse as:  Apartheid; ‘consumer terrorism’ (the poisoning of food products in supermarkets by criminal extortionists); ‘economic terrorism’ (i.e. ‘aggressive’ currency speculation); ‘narco-terrorism’; obscene phone calls; pornography; rape; and, state terrorism.[14]  Such a broad interpretation of terrorism risks making the term so elastic as to deprive it of its meaning.

In addition, the assumption that the psychological effect of terrorism is uppermost in terrorists’ minds when they act is also debatable.  Often, despite its name, the primary intent of terrorism appears to be to kill rather than frighten.  This has been contended to have been the case with the 1998 bombing of an airliner over Lockerbie, with Libyan involvement most likely retaliation for the bombing of that country by the United States in 1986.[15]  Certainly, revenge seems to have at least partly provoked the periodic rounds of ‘tit for tat’ killing that characterized much of Northern Ireland ’s ‘troubles.’ (although, here, as with Lockerbie, political considerations also played a role, with such killings seeking to consolidate loyalist and republican terrorists’ self-proclaimed role as protectors of their respective communities).  The Sept. 11 attacks on the United States also appear to have been at least partly motivated by revenge (for what the perpetrators viewed as American actions against Muslims), a desire to kill large numbers of people, and the political aspirations of al Qaeda.

Political motivation is persuasively argued by Paul R. Pillar to be a prerequisite of terrorism, although he concedes that criminal activity is not only often undertaken by terrorists, but can often have political repercussions of its own.  As Pillar states:

Terrorism is fundamentally different from these other forms of violence, however, in what gives rise to it and in how it must be countered, beyond simple physical security and police techniques.  Terrorists’ concerns are macroconcerns about changing a larger order; other violent criminals are focused on the microlevel of pecuniary gain and personal relationships.  ‘Political’ in this regard encompasses not just traditional left-right politics but also what are frequently described as religious motivations or social issues.[16]

While terrorism can be identified as political violence, it is far from the case that all political violence can therefore be regarded as terrorism.  War, for instance, is a form of political violence, but one which is, generally speaking, differentiated from terrorist action.  This trend is partly connected to the tendency to label certain acts of political violence terrorism on the basis of their perpetrator’s identity.


The connection between terrorism and political goals is related to the perceived illegitimacy of political violence – especially in the West.  This in turn reflects the legitimacy of the liberal democratic state ? as perceived by other liberal democracies.  In such states, democracy is considered to provide an alternative to violence as an agent of political change, with the state viewed as sole custodian of the monopoly of legitimate force.  Political violence against the state is therefore more apt to be termed ‘terrorism’ ? with all the negative connotations the term denotes – than is political violence on the part of the state.

This is not universally accepted to be the case however.  Some commentators see terrorism as a tool of states also, viewing, for instance, the allied strategic bombing campaigns during World War II, and the dropping of two atomic bombs by the United States against Japan during the same conflict, as examples of state terrorism.[17]  The oppressive measures imposed by totalitarian regimes such as those which once existed in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalinist Russia, as well as, more recently, the military dictatorships which have previously ruled some South American countries, could also been debated to use terrorism.  So, too, could some of today’s governments such as that in Zimbabwe , or until very recently, the Baathist regime in Iraq .  In addition, state-sponsored terrorism has been practiced by countries like Iran , Iraq , Libya Syria, and North Korea – the latter further muddying the definitional waters by themselves directly participating in covert acts which could be described as terrorism, such as the kidnapping of Japanese citizens.

Despite such considerations, some, such as Bruce Hoffman, contend that “such usages are generally termed ‘terror’ in order to distinguish that phenomenon from ‘terrorism,’ which is understood to be violence committed by non-state entities.”[18]  Such a state-centric reading is Western in outlook, and would probably be questioned by those non-state actors who regard themselves as politically disenfranchised.  Moreover, while the application of the term ‘terrorism’ may bestow illegitimacy on those it is applied to (or their cause), it can likewise confer legitimacy on the governments combating it and their methods.  Sympathy for a cause or disapproval for the regime or methods used to counter it can therefore lead to inconsistency in deciding what is and is not terrorism.

As a consequence of such reasoning, what might be viewed as terrorism by the West (if it occurs in a ‘Westernized’ or liberal democratic state) may be regarded differently when it happens in less ‘legitimate’ states, such as are often regarded by the First World to exist in less politically stable regions of the world.  As Adrian Guelke states, “any doubts about the regime’s legitimacy naturally tend to be reinforced by signs of political instability, including violence.”  An increase in violence (as Guelke further notes) makes the Western media less inclined to term it terrorism – a trend possibly reinforced by the lessened pressure they feel to condemn political violence which occurs outside the West.[19]  As this indicates, terrorism resides in the eye of the beholder.  Or, as one much-quoted and overly-trite truism has it: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Similarly debatable is the assertion that; “To qualify as terrorism, violence must be perpetrated by some organizational entity with at least some conspiratorial structure and identifiable chain of command beyond a single individual acting on his or her own.”[20]  Arguably, a lone operator, if politically motivated (rather than pursuing economic or egotistical ends as is the case with his criminal or mentally unbalanced counterparts) and using the methods of terrorists, should also be called a terrorist.  Unless such an approach is adopted the politically motivated acts of individuals such as Mir Aimal Kansi (who killed two CIA employees outside the organization’s headquarters in 1993) and Sirhan Sirhan (who assassinated Sen. Robert Kennedy in 1968) would be classed as criminal rather than terrorist.[21]

If observers are often divided as to who is and is not a terrorist, this is less true of terrorists themselves, who uniformly oppose being described thus.  Indeed it has been some 60 years since a terrorist organization ? the Jewish group known as the Stern Gang (after its founder Abraham Stern) ? publicly described itself thus.  Not even the Sternists officially labeled their group terrorist, instead opting to call themselves the Lohamei Hermut Yisrael (or Fighters for Israel ).[22]  This reluctance to accept the moniker ‘terrorist’ is reflected not only in the proclamations of many groups but in their adoption of neutral-sounding names for themselves, or ones which often invoke their purported causes – such as freedom, liberation, justice, revenge, resistance or self-defense.[23]

This contrasts sharply with the attitude displayed by the such groups’ victims, who are more inclined to call their attackers ‘terrorists’ – further demonstrating the term’s negative connotations.  These connotations, along with the other factors mentioned above, make any attempt to define terrorism based on the identity of its perpetrators so subjective as to be unusable.  Attempts to carry out such an identification based on the status of the terrorist’s victims (i.e. whether they are non-combatants or not) do offer a more useful basis for definition, however, this is only true insofar as a consensus can be arrived at as to what constitutes a non-combatant.  For instance, should members of a state’s security forces be considered legitimate targets even if they are off duty or not in a position to defend themselves?[24]  This latter consideration particularly encroaches on the third factor that is often considered in defining terrorism – namely the means employed by the terrorist.


Terrorists tend to justify their methods by insisting these are forced upon them due to a lack of resources, and renounce attempts to describe their actions as terrorism.  Often, as is the case with the names adopted by such groups, the assertion is made that, rather than terrorists, they are fighters or soldiers in a cause, albeit ones forced by circumstances to use differing strategies, tactics, and methods from better-equipped national armies.  This insistence (which ignores the benefits attached to terrorist methods – unless these are viewed as serendipitous side-effects) extends to terrorists demanding that they be treated as prisoners of war and not criminals.  The conviction with which this assertion is often held was demonstrated by Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoners in the 1980s when 10 of them died on hunger strikes in protest at the U.K. government’s decision to end their ‘special category status’ – a move which meant they would now be regarded at criminals rather than the prisoners of war they wished to be regarded as.

However, war is regulated by a series of laws (in theory if not always in fact) that prohibit certain weapons and tactics as well as precluding attacks on certain categories of targets (most notably non-combatants) and placing restrictions on the treatment of prisoners.  The terrorist often ignores such laws as are codified in the Geneva Conventions, targeting non-combatants, operating in civilian clothes, and taking (and often mistreating or killing) hostages.  From that point of view, anyone using such tactics is waging terrorism rather than war.  One UN report on the topic takes this further, suggesting that a simplified definition of acts of terrorism could see these as the “peacetime equivalents of war crimes.”[25]  Such an approach not only offers a way of identifying terrorists via their methods, but provides a framework for punitive action against those found guilty of terrorism, offering a potential solution to the controversy this often entails – as evidenced by the current controversy over the status of the suspected terrorists currently being held by the U.S. authorities at Guantanamo Bay .

An emphasis on method over purported aims also tends to make terrorist acts appear less legitimate.  In the words of one analyst:  “Categories of ends, such as revolution, coup d’etat, and counter-insurgency, are far less emotive or derogatory than categories of means, such as assassination, bombings, and torture, despite the evident interdependence of means and ends.”[26]  Terrorism, as a sort of catch-all for such tactics, is, as seen, a similarly vitriolic term – perhaps even more so.  As such it is unsurprising that those who hold that that it is the means adopted by terrorists that distinguish them as such tend themselves to identify with the victims of terrorism.  Frequently, the advocates of this approach have been on the receiving end of the violence they term terrorism.  They also often represent, or belong to, those interests (usually states) which seek to maintain the status quo that the terrorist often seeks to change.[27]

On first appearance, the methods of the terrorist appear almost identical to those of the guerilla, with both bombing civilian areas, carrying out assassinations, and seizing hostages.  Moreover, the same intention to influence behavior through intimidation is also present in both groups.  However, guerillas differ from terrorists in that they tend to form larger, more heavily-armed organizations that control territorial zones.  While groups will sometimes conduct both guerilla and terrorist campaigns, often simultaneously ? such as is currently the case with al Qaeda for instance – terrorism and guerilla warfare are not the same thing.

As this illustrates, while identifying terrorism by the methods used is perhaps the most practical means of arriving at a workable definition of the term, this is only true if general agreement can be reached as to how to differentiate terrorist means from non-terrorist means.  Where such terrorist means co-exist with the political motivation discussed above, defining terrorism becomes easier.  In addition, while their identity alone is insufficiently subjective a basis to help identify the perpetrators of political violence as terrorists, the identity of their victims – namely their status as ‘legitimate’ or ‘illegitimate targets’ – is not.  Again, the use of such a determinant is dependent on agreement being reached as to what constitutes a non-combatant in such instances.

None of which is to say that Laqueur’s warning on the impossibility of formulating a generally agreed upon definition of terrorism is likely to become any less true any time soon.  However, as argued, this does not necessarily make such a definition ? or efforts to arrive at it ? any less desirable.

[1] Most of the texts referred to below include extensive sections which address the issue of defining terrorism, and the reader is referred to these for a more detailed analysis of the problems this entails.

[2] David Rapport, ‘The Politics of Atrocity,’ in, Yonah Alexander, and Seymour Maxwell Finger (eds.), Terrorism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (New York: John Jay Press, 1977), p. 46.  Quoted in, Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, (Columbia University Press: New York, 1988), p. 37.

[3] Laqueur, Walter, The Age of Terrorism (Boston; Little, Brown and Company, 1987). pp. 149-150.

[4] For a fuller discussion of the potential pros and cons of each of these definitions see, Hoffman, pp. 37-39.

[5] United States Department of Defense, Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 1-02: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms ( Washington , DC : United States Department of Defense, 12 April 2001 – As amended through 5 June 2003 ), p. 531.  Online at:

[6] Counterterrorism Threat Assessment and Warning Unit, National Security Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Terrorism in the United States 1999: 30 Years of Terrorism – A Special Retrospective Edition, (Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice, 1999), p. i.  Online at

[7] Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2002, US Department of State Publication 11038 ( Washington , DC : State Department, April 2003), p. 13.  Online at:  This document further states: “For purposes of this definition, the term “noncombatant” is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.”

[8] See, Alexander Gourevitch, ‘How John Ashcroft’s Inflated Terrorism Statistics Undermine the War on Terrorism,’ in, The Washington Monthly, June 2003, which makes just such a claim.

[9] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated. by Michael Howard, and Peter Paret, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 605.

[10] See, Mark Burgess, A Brief History of Terrorism, ( Washington DC: Center for Defense Information, 2003) for more on the historical development of terrorism.

[11] Hoffman, p. 14.

[12] Eqbal Ahmad, ‘Terrorism: Theirs & Ours,’ in, Russell D. Howard, and Reid L. Sawyer, Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding the New Security Environment, ( Guilford : McGraw-Hill/ Dushkin, 2003), pp. 46-53, p. 50.

[13] Stern, Jessica, The Ultimate Terrorists (Harvard University Press, 1999), p.11.

[14] Adrian Guelke, The Age of Terrorism and the International Political System, (New York: I. B. Tauris, 1998), p. 1.

[15] Guelke, p.5.

[16] Pillar, Paul R., Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy (Brookings Institution Press, 2001), pp. 13-14.

[17] Stern, p. 14.

[18] Hoffman, p. 25.

[19] Guelke, p. 9.

[20] Hoffman, pp. 42-43.

[21] Bruce Hoffman cites Sirhan’s case as representative of the difficulty of considering such instances of individuals carrying out such acts alone (albeit with political motivations), whereas Paul R. Pillar cites the example of Kansi in arguing that such actions should be considered terrorism.  See, Hoffman, p. 42, and Pillar, p. 43.  On balance, Pillar’s argument seems the most sustainable.

[22] Hoffman, pp. 28-29.

[23] See, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2002 for a listing of those groups designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations – none of whom describe themselves thus.

[24] For one definition of ‘non-combatant’ see note 7, above.

[25] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Definitions of Terrorism, Online at: Downloaded, 7/28/03 .

[26] Guelke, p. 28.

[27] Clearly this is not universally the case.  For instance loyalist terrorist groups in Northern Ireland could be argued to have begun life with the intent of defending the status quo.
Author(s): Mark Burgess

Understanding terrorism





Terrorism became a hot topic in the 1980s, and as a result the number of publications devoted to the subject far outweighed the merit of their contents. If the topic were purely historical, with no applied dimension whatsoever, that shortcoming would be more tolerable, if no less unsettling for scholars. Unfortunately the problem of terrorism is too important to be ignored without significant consequences in the so-called "real world" that exists outside of the academic’s study. In its campaigns against irregulars, the U.S. Army has frequently found its enemies resorting to terrorist acts. Sadly, some members of the army have responded in kind. Although not officially sanctioned, terror was used at times by soldiers in virtually all of the army’s major campaigns against irregulars. In Vietnam, however, the destructiveness of modern weaponry worked to blur the line between terror and legitimate warfare beyond recognition. Even when employed in ways sanctioned by common usage, if not always in accordance with the strictest interpretations one might make of the laws of war, modern weaponry inflicted a devastating toll on the innocent.

My experience with the literature devoted to terrorism mirrored to some extent that with the scholarly literature on revolution. As far as I could see, analysts too frequently took not only an ahistorical view, but also a highly political one. As a result, the popular understanding of the phenomenon is frequently distorted. The first publication to break through the fog created by the self-serving literature that I remember encountering was an article by Frederic C. Hof, a U.S. Army officer writing in Parameters in 1985.1 Later I discovered the equally perceptive work of Professor Michael Stohl.2 Between those two events I prepared the lecture that is the basis for this chapter. As will soon be clear, my views on terrorism are much less developed than they are on revolution or the specific campaigns surveyed in other chapters. I am certain of one thing, however. We will never understand terrorism until we depoliticize our thinking about it. The material which follows has that objective in mind, and in its original form it made up one of the six lectures delivered in Tokyo in 1986. It is presently undergoing revision, but because of the relevance of the topic, I have included the original in the book on a temporary basis.



* * * * * *


In the 1980s perhaps no problem related to the use of violence concerned the developed world as much as that of terrorism. People who engaged in terrorist acts were viewed in a variety of ways, depending as much on the perspective of the person making the assessment as on the terrorists themselves. Thus, the same individuals could be described as valiant revolutionaries or champions of the weak by some people and insane murderers or criminals by others. As one American scholar observed, "one man’s terror is another’s patriotism."3 The kinds of activities in which terrorists have engaged are similarly varied, including bombings, assassinations, hijackings and other forms of hostage taking.

For the people who perceive themselves to be the victims of terror, reactions also vary. Many individuals take a rather fatalistic view, particularly when the terror confronting them is sanctioned by or implemented by their own government. Other people, however, can not overcome the frustration that accompanies the threat of terrorism. They are filled with anger and manifest a tremendous desire to fight back. Often, however, the target against which they can release their rage remains obscure.

The frustration has been clearly evident in the response of the United States to acts of terrorism. The American people do not want to remain unresisting victims. They want to fight back, but against whom? Sometimes they are not even able to identify the motivation for what they perceive to be terrorist acts (not knowing whether they are the victims of the criminal actions of individuals, the work of revolutionaries, or well hidden acts of warfare against the U.S. by some enemy nation). Finding the agents responsible for acts of terrorism and punishing them has proven even more difficult.

The analysis presented here attempts to do at least three things. First, it seeks to develop a definition of terrorism that will improve understanding of the phenomenon. Much of the current frustration of many individuals comes from the failure to comprehend the nature of terrorism and its place in the contemporary world. People can only develop a meaningful response to terrorism if they understand it.

Second, this essay will try to place terrorism in the framework of the evolution of war and revolution presented in the previous chapter. Part of the failure to understand contemporary terrorism comes from a failure to understand the greater phenomena of which it is often a part. Unlike war or revolution, terrorism is not an entity in and of itself. Instead it is a tactic or a method that can and has been used by a variety of people in a variety of contexts. A final point to be made concerns the primary question often asked in Washington and at international conferences: "What is to be done about terrorism?" Should one’s response be moderate, calculated to save lives even at the risk of letting terrorists go free, or should it be more forceful? Should one think of terrorism as a police problem or as a military one?

For many people in the United States, terrorism is defined by acts such as those occurring the mid-1980s. They think of such events as the hijacking in June 1985 of a TWA jet carrying 153 passengers. The two Lebanese Shiite Moslems who seized the plane killed one passenger and held the rest hostage, demanding the release of some 700 Moslems held prisoner by Israel.

The summer of 1985 seemed to be a period of particularly intense terrorist activity. In one day, for example, on June 19, a bomb exploded in the international airport in Frankfurt, West Germany, wounding 42 people and killing 3, while in El Salvador guerrillas gunned down 13 people including 4 U.S. Marines in a street cafe in the capital. Only a few days later, on June 23, an Air India jet travelling from Toronto to Bombay crashed into the sea, killing all 329 passengers on board, the suspected work of Sikh terrorists, and at almost the same time a piece of luggage from another flight from Canada exploded in Japan’s Narita airport.

In October Palestinian terrorists seized an Italian cruise liner, the Achille Lauro and killed an elderly American before surrendering to Egyptian authorities. The U.S. later forced an Egyptian airliner to the ground to take the terrorists prisoner. During 1986 comparable acts of terrorism took place, including the bombing of a disco in Germany and an explosion on a TWA jet over the Mediterranean. All of these examples highlight the kind of actions that Americans and many other people in the world think of when one speaks of terrorism.

When many Americans and others think of terror, however, they frequently ignore another form of the phenomenon that is no less frightening and disturbing to the people who suffer its consequences: the use of terror by governments against their own citizens who oppose them. In the mid-1960s, for example, when the Uruguayan government found itself engaged in a struggle with the leftist revolutionary movement of the Tupamaros, torture was used as a police method for interrogation. When the Uruguayan military took control of the anti-revolutionary campaign in 1971, the use of torture increased, and by 1975, according to Amnesty International, torture had become "routine treatment for virtually any peaceful opponent of the Uruguayan Government who fell into the hands of military units."4 In Guatemala, army counterinsurgency units terrorized the rural population to keep it from supporting leftist guerrillas, while in Guatemalan cities right-wing death squads assassinated suspected opponents of the government. Throughout the country agents of the police and military tortured people as a punishment or a warning to others. Similar government terror has been evident in other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile and El Salvador.

Such terror, of course, is not limited to governments in Latin America. Amnesty International has noted that torture was used in Afghanistan "to obtain intelligence information about the guerrillas, to intimidate the population from supporting them, and to discourage strikes and demonstrations in the towns."5 In the Republic of Korea students demonstrating or distributing anti-government leaflets were tortured by police; in the Soviet Union political prisoners were administered pain-causing drugs during confinement in mental institutions. In the summer of 1986, TV viewers in the United States witnessed the beating of peaceful and unresisting student protesters by police in South Africa. From the victims’ point of view, all of these actions are examples of terrorism comparable to the hijacking of a TWA jet or the explosion of bomb in an airport.

In defining terrorism, however, people frequently speak of the phenomenon in ways that limit understanding. As J. Bowyer Bell, a student of revolutionary warfare, observed, the term terrorism "has become a convenient means to identify evil threats rather than to define a special kind of revolutionary violence . . . the very word," wrote Bell, "has become a touchstone for postures and beliefs about the nature of man and society, and the relation of law, order, and a justice."6 Few people can speak of terrorism without a degree of emotional involvement, and there is a strong tendency on the part of potential victims to associate the technique only with enemies who might use it against them.

Much of the writing on terrorism in the United States, for example, would lead readers to conclude that acts of terrorism are only undertaken by people who oppose the United States and its domestic or foreign policies. Such a viewpoint was captured vividly in a 1986 editorial cartoon that appeared in many American newspapers. It was labeled "The Reagan Guide to World Affairs." In one frame a rough looking man in dark glasses appeared with a rifle. Under the picture was a definition: "Terrorist . . . One who subverts governments and kills innocent people for a cause we don’t like. (ex.) A PLO member." A duplicate picture of the same rough looking man in dark glasses appeared in the cartoon’s second frame. Under that picture, however, one found a different definition: "Rebel . . . One who subverts governments and kills innocent people for a cause we do like and deserves over $90 million in Federal aid. (ex.) A contra."7 Surely in the eyes of the people being terrorized little significant difference exists between living in fear of leftist revolutionary guerrillas or right-wing counterrevolutionary death squads.

In the political rhetoric of the United States, however, violent actions of American allies or actions that further government policy are rarely identified as terrorist, even when those actions are calculated to influence the observers politically through the inducement of fear. During the Cold War, for example, American leaders portrayed Soviet support of "wars of liberation" and the actions of revolutionaries on the left very differently from the fundamentally similar actions of the United States in support of counterrevolutionary "freedom fighters." The absurdity of such an emotionally laden and politically charged approach to defining terrorism would seem to be obvious were it not for the large number of so-called experts and government officials who have adopted it.

One definition claimed that "terrorist violence" is meant to "create widespread disorder that will wear down a society’s will to resist terrorists, and to focus attention on the terrorists themselves."8 In fact, however, such a statement is only true of some terrorists. The terrorists who constitute the death squads and torturing security forces of existing governments have a different goal. They seek to create order through fear, and they would prefer that the press not report their activities. Unlike many revolutionary terrorists, the repressive terrorists of counterrevolutionary and totalitarian states do not seek media publicity. In fact, they attempt to do their dirty work in secret. Where the state controls the media, a repressive government will try to convey to the world an image of a country that is not terrorizing its citizens. The agents of such repression are terrorists none the less, and nothing is achieved but self delusion if they are defined out of a discussion of terrorism.

Although some terrorists wish to destroy the status quo and resort to terrorism because of their weakness, others seek to protect existing systems and act from the strength they possess as agents of government. Thus, the ranks of international terrorism have included more than the members of groups such as the PLO, Moslem fundamentalists, or the IRA. They have also included agents of established regimes such as the Pinochet government in Chile and the racist government in South Africa. All such groups are terrorists because all seek to gain their ends through engendering widespread fear by their violent and often indiscriminate actions.

Still, because the entire discussion of terrorism has been so emotional and political, no widely accepted definition of it exists. In December 1985, for example, at a meeting of the Ohio Arms Control Seminar that focused on terrorism, one speaker, Professor Abraham Miller of the University of Cincinnati, a political scientist, called terrorism a form of theater, a substitute for political impotency. He viewed it as a tactic of people who wanted to change the political balance without the power needed to accomplish that end.

Such a definition limits one’s thinking about terrorism, however, because of the assumptions included in the definition. It assumes, for example, that terrorists must be people without power who, as theatrical producers or news makers, seek media coverage of their acts. The use of terror thus becomes a barometer of the strength of a political movement, an indicator of weakness.

An overly narrow conception of terrorism led the highly regarded historian Walter Laqueur to make statements that defy common sense. He claimed, for example, that "effective dictatorships are immune to terror"9 and that terrorism is only successful "against democratic regimes and ineffective (meaning obsolete or half-hearted) dictatorships."10 With a better definition of terrorism, Laqueur would have recognized that the very power of strong dictatorships and totalitarian regimes is based on their effective use of terror.

Agencies of the United States government have also adopted seriously flawed definitions of terrorism. The U.S. Defense Department, for example, defined it as "the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a revolutionary organization against individuals or property, with the intention of coercing or intimidating governments or societies, often for political or ideological reasons."11 As Lt. Col. Frederic Hof observed in a 1985 article in the U.S. Army War College Journal, however, "by limiting the applicability of the term to the activities of ‘revolutionary organizations,’ the directive [of the Defense Department] was overlooking the obvious: that states are fully capable of using terrorism; that they have used it and continue to use it both against their own citizens as well as against other states."12 Unfortunately, the problems identified by Hof continue to exist in such fundamental statements of military doctrine as the joint U.S. Army and Air Force publication Military Operations in Low Intensity Conflict.13

Ironically, attempts to define terrorism have been so muddled that an event that provoked considerable discussion of terrorism in the United States in 1983 and after was not really an act of terrorism at all. The October 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut, which killed 241 Americans, took the Marines completely by surprise, but the use of a very unconventional method of attack did not make the highly successful bombing an act of terrorism. The attack was not carried out against innocent civilians or in a nation nominally at peace. A number of the warring factions in Beirut believed that the United States was taking sides in an ongoing conflict, and in their eyes that made the U.S. Marines a legitimate military target. Instead of terrorism, the bombing was an act of war, carried out in a war zone against uniformed troops perceived to be taking sides in the conflict. For similar reasons, the shooting of the four American Marines in El Salvador in 1985 was also not an act of terrorism, since at the time of the killings the United States was aiding the Salvadoran government in an ongoing war. The inability of the U.S. to take proper security precautions or to understand its own role in such situations does not make the attacks upon it in such circumstances terrorism, and people will never understand terrorism or learn how to respond to it if they do not adopt a clearer and less politicized definition.

Unfortunately, many claims about terrorism only make sense if one ignores the terror of governments against their own citizens or if one defines the term in some way that leaves out many examples of the very activity to be understood. To comprehend terrorism, however, one must look at more than highly selective examples, particularly if the examples are selected for political rather than intellectual reasons, as has frequently been the case in the United States. If the Sandanistas in Nicaragua were terrorists, as President Reagan proclaimed, then so were the Contras he supported. If the rebels in El Salvador were terrorists, then so were the death squads and torturers of the government’s security forces.

Only with a broad but clear definition of terrorism can one gain significant insight into it. Most useful would seem to be a definition such as that provided by Benjamin Netanyahu when he was Israel’s Ambassador to the UN. Ambassador Netanyahu defined terrorism as "the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends."[14] When applied apolitically, Netanyahu’s definition includes the terror used by governments and agents of states against their own citizens. It includes terror used both for revolutionary and counter-revolutionary purposes. It includes terror as an act of war, but by using the term "innocent" to describe the victims of terror, it wisely excludes clandestine operations against military forces such as the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.

Thomas Milburn, an Ohio State University professor of psychology at the Mershon Center in Columbus, Ohio, has observed that "terrorist acts are . . . intended to influence politically the observers and audiences to the violence, more than the victims who are its primary targets."[15] His statement highlights an extremely important dimension of terrorism: terrorist attacks are intended to influence audiences by engendering fear. The victims of terrorism are what Prof. Jordan Paust of the University of Houston law school has called "instrumental" targets. They are attacked "in order to communicate to a primary target a threat of future violence." The objective is "to use intense fear or anxiety to coerce the primary target into certain behavior or to mold its attitudes in connection with a demanded power (political) outcome."16 As the French scholar Raymond Aron noted, "the lack of discrimination helps spread fear, for if no one in particular is a target, no one can be safe."17

Considerable confusion will continue to exist regarding the nature of terrorism, however, as long as people refuse to recognize it for what it is: a violent method that can be used by any group (weak or strong, in or out of power, politically left or right of center). Unfortunately, in the United States terrorism has been perceived as a technique of revolutionaries so often that Americans frequently overlook the fact that anyone can use terror in an attempt to further widely varied, even opposing goals.

Of interest also is the question of why terrorism seems to have increased in the last third of the twentieth century. One explanation, of course, is that no rise in terrorism has taken place, only an increase in media reporting and popular awareness of terrorist incidents. In the past, travellers were often at risk, and for centuries both governments and revolutionaries used terror in their attempts to accomplish their respective ends. At the same time, one senses something is different about the current situation in the world, although a change is not easyily documented.

The primary reason for the existence of widespread terror in the late twentieth century would appear to be the breakdown of other methods for solving various kinds of national and international political problems. Chapter Nine briefly described the way in which revolution became stalemated through the development of improved techniques of both revolution and counterrevolution. One result of that change has been the resort to terror by revolutionaries who see no other alternatives for action and counterrevolutionaries who are unable or unwilling to use reform and cooptation to preserve their wealth and power.

War between nations has undergone a similar evolution. The coexistence of antagonistic superpowers armed with extremely dangerous nuclear explosives helped make war too dangerous to contemplate, even in situations where it would certainly have been used as an instrument of state policy in the past. The United States and the Soviet Union, for example, were enemies that had to avoid open warfare at all costs because of the risk of nuclear disaster that such a war would create. As enemies, however, they continued to vie with each other for advantage on the international stage. In that Cold War struggle acts of terror provided a means of conflict that avoided the risk of nuclear holocaust.

Nonnuclear states and revolutionary governments that aspired to be states often lack the conventional power to fight against each other or the nuclear giants in total war, or they do not want to run the risks of total failure inherent in such conflicts. They have also found terror to be a weapon of war that appears to have relatively low risk coupled with potentially high reward.

The world is filled with discontented states and groups, each seeking a redress of grievances from the governments that they believe are responsible. Communist and other revolutionaries, Islamic fundamentalists, ethnic or sectarian nationalists including such diverse groups as Basques, Kurds, and Palestinians have all used terror as a weapon, as have the forces fighting against them. As world problems of immense proportions have furthered world-wide discontent, the result has been global warfare in which the use of terror has played an important role.

World War II, the war in Vietnam, and other twentieth century conflicts have blurred distinctions between combatants and noncombatants until even within the existing laws of war the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate targets is no longer clear. By the end of World War II, it was difficult to find any act of violence that some people would not argue was legitimate in a total war for survival. By the 1990s the ethical limits of violent conflict had become exceedingly difficult to define, leaving people with no clear standards for behavior. As Benjamin Netanyahu observed, for the terrorist who has declared "total war on the society he attacks . . . everyone is a legitimate target. A baby is fair game; he may, after all, grow up to be a soldier. So is the baby’s mother; she gave birth to this future soldier. No one is spared, ordinary citizens and leaders alike."18 Because so many people appear to take the view Netanyahu described, terror has become an integral part of modern warfare.

The twentieth century has become an age of total war in which no weapon has been too horrible to be used if the user thought it would be effective and advantageous. In fact, in some circles terror has been incorporated into military doctrine. Roger Trinquier, a French military officer who authored an influential text in the 1960s, called terrorism "the principal weapon of modern warfare."19 For him, the terrorist who placed a car bomb in the middle of a crowded city was no different from the pilot who dropped similar devices from a plane. To fight against such terror, Trinquier advocated the use of torture to force information from captured terrorists that could be used to destroy their organizations. In short, he proposed that the terror of the bomb be met with the terror of interrogation at the hands of professionals skilled in the art of torture. It was only a small step from Trinquier’s theorizing to the repressive governments established throughout the world in the last third of the century.

In some situations the use of terror was certainly encouraged by the fact that it seemed to work. In Latin America in the 1970s, for example, governments using techniques such as those advocated by Trinquier managed to stop the wave of revolutionary activity evident in such countries as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. Even earlier, terrorist acts had played an important role in the development of many successful revolutionary and independence movements in places as widely divided in time and space as Russia before the revolution of 1917, Ireland before its independence, Cuba before Castro’s 1959 revolution, and Vietnam from the 1950s onward. Aspiring revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries thus had little incentive to avoid using a technique that had proven effective in the hands of others.

A few scholars have argued that a certain degree of violence is a part of normal democratic politics. Clearly terror is a part of normal totalitarian and dictatorial politics, but it may also play a role in the evolving discussion of political problems within established, nonviolent channels. Providing it is kept under control and used in moderation, terror or threats of violence can result in reforms or compromises that might otherwise have been unattainable, although one should not confuse success, even in a good cause, with moral or ethical affirmation.

Without doubt terrorism is an exceedingly complex phenomenon that can and has been used to accomplish a variety of ends. Governments and revolutionary organizations have used it to coerce mass acceptance, gain obedience, enforce discipline, display their power and undermine that of their opponents. The phenomenon’s complexity may even help to explain why the many authors who have attempted to categorize terrorists and their motives have met with limited success.

People seeking generaliztions, however, can think of terrorism being used in at least three distinct situations: first, by people not in power seeking to establish their movements and subvert the existing political, social, and/or economic order; second, by regimes and self-selected defenders of the status quo to quash opposition by their own citizens; and third, by national governments and other groups to fight against their enemies in a state of declared or, more likely, undeclared war. Unfortunately, in many instances more than one party is involved in the terrorist activity, leading to a blending of motives. Waring parties in Nicaragua and El Salvador, for example, used terror for the first two reasons, while their supporters in the United States, Cuba, and the Soviet Union were engaged in activities that fit better into the third category.

Writing in the U.S. Army’s Military Review, Stephen Daskal identified a subgroup within terrorism that he labeled the "urban terrorist," people "motivated by a desire to rebel regardless of whether a clear or rational grievance warrants armed action. They are, virtually without exception, the products of middle-class or wealthy families and are often well-educated and intelligent. Yet, they reject their background and potential and assault the society that gave them these benefits." Their demands are often vague and sometimes "inconsistent." It is even possible that "their real motivation is the excitement and ‘romance’ of being a noble revolutionary." Daskal noted that "some psychological experts believe they are subconsciously trying to punish their parents or gain their attention."20

Daskal’s "urban terrorist" is of particular importance because of the implications of the description, for many of these individuals seem to have turned to terrorism out of frustration in situations where no reform or compromise could satisfy them. Unable to achieve their goals, they lash out in rage. Their terrorist acts become goals instead of means, and they engage in terror for its own sake. Such terrorists may even recognize that their ends can not be accomplished, but they continue to engage in acts of terror to prevent their enemies from enjoying the benefits of peace and order.

After noting that urban terrorists were "more oriented toward anarchy than justice," Daskal concluded that "no amount of reform is likely to prevent urban terrorism or significantly curtail it." So defined, the urban terrorist is more accurately described as a sociopath rather than a revolutionary, and Daskal’s conclusion that they "must be treated as violent criminals rather than political or military opponents" would appear to be a valid one.21 From the viewpoint of the society in which they operate, sociopathic terrorists are little more than criminals or outcasts, to be hunted down and captured or killed.

Other forms of terrorism are clearly different. Rural guerrillas or government security forces using terror in the midst of a revolutionary war are engaged in a struggle in which issues are paramount. The problem presented is political in nature. From the point of view of government, the revolutionary terrorists who seek change through specific programs identify a set of issues that must be addressed by the forces of government if order is to be achieved without resorting to a policy of unenlightened repression, itself a form of terrorism. Military force may work to hold the revolutionary terrorists in check, but reform is needed if cooptation is to take place and a lasting peace is to be achieved. In the absence of reform, brutal repression would seem to be the only significant policy alternative.

In the late twentieth century organizing and carrying out terrorist acts became easier, complicating efforts to deal with the problem posed by terrorism. In an age of virtually instantaneous world-wide communication, efficient global transportation, and relatively cheap but highly destructive weapons, terrorists have many advantages not available to them in the past. They can strike targets far from home using methods limited only by their imaginations in many cases. Miniaturization and other high-tech applications that revolutionarized conventional warfare revolutionized terrorism as well. As terrorist threats increased, the means of carrying them out multiplied as well.

One result is that terrorist attacks increasingly kill and wound larger numbers of people than they did in the past. Where a few individuals might be taken hostage or assassinated in the past, now entire plane loads of people can be victimized by terrorism. Where only the most outspoken political dissidents might have been victims of government repression in the past, now entire nations can be terrorized by their own governments. Increasingly people worry that some group will escalate terrorism to the point where entire cities are subjected to chemical, biological, or nuclear threats or attack. Even where the daily level of terrorist violence appears to be relatively low, the costs can be high over time. In Northern Ireland, for example, approximately 2,500 people have died since 1968. If an equal percentage of the population in the United States had been lost in a conflict at that level of violence, the total having died would be close to 400,000.

The problem is compounded as various purveyors of terrorism have begun to cooperate, each for his or her own particular reasons. Nations, revolutionary groups, and even sociopathic urban terrorists have cooperated, supplying weapons, funds, and other support, even carrying out missions for one another. The fear engendered by such developments can be tremendous.

The frustration that has been created by the terrorist threat is itself a danger in a world where miscalculation in a response by a nuclear power could mean disaster. Nevertheless, in the United States the pressures to respond forcefully to acts of terrorism grew so great that by 1986 Secretary of State George Shultz had evidently become convinced that "if you raise the costs, you do something that should, eventually, act as a deterrent."22 Commenting on the American air strikes against Libya following the disco bombing in Germany, President Reagan claimed the action "will not only diminish Colonel Gaddafi’s capacity to export terror, it will provide him with incentives and reasons to alter his criminal behavior."23 Defending the President’s actions, Secretary Shultz said "if you let people get away with murder, you’ll get murder."24

Unfortunately, even if one penalizes people for murder, one still sees murder, as states with capital punishment have discovered. If Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger was correct when he observed in 1986 that the wave of terrorism against the United States is "a method of waging war,"25 then President Reagan and Secretary Shultz should have concentrated on identifying the warring parties and the issues causing the war rather than on finding ways to retaliate. Seeking ways to end a war is clearly preferable to developing better techniques for fighting it.

Instead of assuming that forceful action will deter terrorists, one might more logically conclude that an escalation of force will take place on both sides, leading to an undeclared war of attrition. The commission of acts of terror as well as acts of retaliation is relatively cheap and easy, both within nations and outside of them. But a country such as the United States cannot stop every act of terror against its citizens without achieving both the total destruction of all anti-American terrorists and also the deterrence of all the regimes supporting them. Destroying the regime of a Colonel Gaddafi or a Saddam Hussein, for example, would not be sufficient.

Leaders attempting to deal with terrorism often find themselves pursuing more than one goal. First, they want to prevent acts of terror. One approach to achieving that end would aim at resolving the problems that have led terrorists to act in the first place: resolving differences between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, for example. Obviously, given the extent of discontent in the world and the diversity of the issues that motivate the terrorist response, such an approach is more easily described than implemented.

Another policy aimed at preventing terrorism would emphasize the enhancement of security. Better intelligence, better police work, improved security at key targets and other, comparable activities would obviously help to prevent certain acts of terrorism. Unfortunately even the most astute methods, well applied are unlikely to prevent all terrorist action, although in the United States such preventative measures might well entail a significant diminution in civil liberties. At best, enhanced security is only a partial solution to the problem.

A third approach relies on deterrence. This particular approach is evident in the rhetoric of the United States and the actions of Israel; its essential element is the promise of swift retaliation. The problems with such a policy are many. First, one can not always identify the proper target for retaliation. Second, to the extent that the retaliation kills, maims, or terrorizes innocent people, it is itself an act of terrorism. Third, a number of terrorists are willing to give up their own lives for whatever cause they serve, and they are therefore not deterred by the thought of death through retaliation or any other means. Finally, in some cases terrorists hope to bring about retaliation, particularly if they believe that the victims of the retaliation will be perceived as innocent. As a result, the promise of swift retaliation may sometimes act as an incentive rather than a deterrent to terrorism.

When prevention fails, as it most surely will in at least a few cases, one must focus on a second general goal: the solution of whatever problem the acts of terrorists present. In the case of a hijacking or hostage taking, for example, one has the lives of the hostages to consider. In a bombing, one must deal with the casualties and disruption caused. In an environment of torture based repression, one must deal with the refugees that are invariably produced. Rarely, however, does the resolution of specific crises prove to be a satisfying response to terrorism, and it clearly does very little to solve the problem of terrorism itself.

When acts of terrorism are planned and/or committed, the people who are the targets want to bring the perpetrators to justice and punishment, but the urge to punish is a highly emotional one. It matters little to angry citizens and leaders whether or not the act of punishment helps or hinders in pursuing the broader policy goal of abolishing terrorism. The urge to punish may even contribute to the continuation and escalation of terrorism, but that will often make little difference to the frustrated individuals crying out for retribution. As one might guess, the desire to punish can easily disguise itself as a seemingly more rational policy of deterrence.

In the final analysis, how one responds to terrorism may depend upon how one views the phenomenon. Viewing terrorism as an act of war to be deterred by threat of retaliation or, deterrence failing, to be met with a military response seems relatively unproductive. It provides neither a means of dealing with any underlying problems that might cause terrorism nor a method for minimizing the damage that results from terrorism that is not deterred.

If one sees the terrorism one confronts as a tactic of individuals or groups who are involved in a rational, goal oriented action, then a political or diplomatic approach would seem to be indicated. If one can solve whatever problems led the terrorists to undertake their attacks on innocent civilians, the terrorism should disappear.

Some terrorism, however, may not appear to be the result of rational, goal oriented behavior. In such cases, terrorism becomes a phenomenon much like crime; it can be controlled but not eliminated. One must take a police approach to the problem and develop an ability to live with a low level of terrorist activity in the same way people adjust to living with a degree of criminality in their societies.

Before effective remedial action can be taken against terrorists that will help diminish the problem throughout the world, however, many of the people concerned with the problem will need to alter their perceptions of it. People in the United States, for example, must recognize that they cannot obtain support in their efforts to end terrorism in one area or of one type if they are not willing to condemn terrorism of other kinds in other places. As Americans have found in the past, gaining allies to fight against Islamic terrorists in Europe and the Middle East was sometimes made more difficult by U.S. support of counterrevolutionary terrorists in Central America and the reluctance of U.S. leaders to work more forcefully to end government terror in countries such as South Africa. At the very least, consistency in defining terrorism and greater uniformity in dealing with terrorists of all kinds would base United States policy on principle instead of expediency.

People who live in the developed world should recognize that they can do a great deal more than they are now doing to help solve a number of serious global problems. At times, inhabitants of wealthy nations lose sight not only of the problems plaguing people throughout the world, but also of the way in which the wealthy can be perceived as being responsible for the continuation of those problems. Unless people are willing to attempt to view their own behavior through the eyes of their critics, even if the critics are also terrorists, they may never gain the understanding needed to curb terrorist attacks and the steady erosion of civilized life that those attacks have caused. At best, solving the problem of terrorism promises to be a very long and difficult task, and we can only hope that it will not prove to be an impossible one.

1 Frederic C. Hof, "The Beirut Bombing of October 1983: An Act of Terrorism”," Parameters, 15 (Summer, 1985), 69-74.

2 See, for example, Michael Stohl, "Demystifying the Mystery of International Terrorism" in Charles W. Kegley, Jr., ed., International Terrorism: Characteristics, Causes, Controls (New York, 1990), 81-96. Intelligent analysis of the topic can also be found in Robert O. Slater & Michael Stohl, eds., Current Perspectives on International Terrorism (New York, 1988).

3 J. Bowyer Bell, "Transnational Terror and the World Order, South Atlantic Quarterly, 74 (1975), 405.

4 Amnesty International, Torture in the Eighties: An Amnesty International Report (1984), 5.

5 Ibid.

6 J. Bowyer Bell, "Trends of Terror: The Analysis of Political Violence," World Politics, 29 (1977), 477.

7 1986 newspaper cartoon signed Meddick I D.

8 "International Terrorism: In Search of a Response," Great Decisions ’86 (1986), 36.

9 Walter Laqueur, "Interpretations of Terrorism: Fact, Fiction and Political Science," Journal of Contemporary History, 12 (1977), 15.

10 Ibid., 14.

11 Hof, "The Beirut Bombing," 71.

12 Ibid.

[13] See, in particular, Ch. 3 of Departments of the Army and Air Force, Military Operations in Low Intensity Conflict (Washington, D.C., 1990).

[14] Benjamin Netanyahu, "Terrorism: How the West Can Win," Time (April 14, 1986), 48.

15 The Daily Record (Wooster, Ohio, February 5, 1986).

16 Hof, "The Beirut Bombing," 72.

17 Ibid.

18 Netanyahu, "Terrorism," 49.

19 Roger Trinquier, Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency (London, 1964), 16.

20 Stephen E. Daskal, "The Insurgency Threat and Ways to Defeat It," Military Review, 66 (1986), 38-39.

21 Ibid., 39.

22 "Hitting the Source," Time (Apr. 28, 1986), 23.

23 Ibid., 17.

24 "Targeting Gaddafi," Time (Apr. 21, 1986), 20.

25 "Hitting the Source," Time (Apr. 28, 1986), 23. Shultz also saw terrorism as "a form of warfare," The New York Times (Apr. 4, 1984), 13.


Return to Table of Contents

Return to Home Page

Typology of ‘false flag’ terrorism

False Flag Terror Of The New World Order
Methods used to facilitate staged attacks

Paul Joseph Watson
Prison Planet
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The fact that states, intelligence and security agencies engage in false flag staged terror to further political agendas is documented throughout history, but it’s too naive to simply characterize every act as an "inside job." Different methods are utilized to facilitate attacks using three different basic templates.

1) Unwitting Dupes

In this case, role players are used to test "security responses" by being told they are part of an exercise for a dummy terrorist attack, an operation that will help the state prevent similar attacks in future. The controllers tell the unwitting dupes that no harm will come to them and that their help will be greatly rewarded.

– London Bombings

The 7/7 bombings are a prime example of the unwitting dupes method. Mohammed Siddique Khan, the alleged ringleader of the 7/7 London bombings, was working for British intelligence agency MI5 as an informant at the time of the attacks. Family and friends described the accused bombers as friendly, westernized and having no interest in politics. Metropolitan police career experts in criminal psychology concluded that the bombers’ behavior clearly indicated they did not know they were about to die. In an impossible coincidence, the attack paralleled a security drill that targeted the exact same locations at the exact same time. This is a clear example of where unwitting dupes were told that the operation was a security test and yet were strapped with real bombs and a real attack took place.

2) Provocateurs & Patsies

This is by far the most used method. In this case, radicals with past ties to terrorist groups are hired as informants to infiltrate mainly Islamic political groups and encourage them to carry out acts of terror. In almost every case, the materials required to carry out the attack are directly provided by intelligence agencies or via the hired provocateur. Agent provocateurs also take the guise of undercover government agents, who radicalize otherwise harmless groups over a long period of time and provide financial and material support and safe passage for the group to carry out the attack.

– 1993 WTC Bombing

The first World Trade Center bombing was provocateured by the government. In 1993 the FBI planted their informant, Emad A. Salem, within a radical Arab group in New York led by Ramzi Yousef. Salem was ordered to encourage the group to carry out a bombing targeting the World Trade Center’s twin towers. Under the illusion that the project was a sting operation, Salem asked the FBI for harmless dummy explosives which he would use to assemble the bomb and then pass on to the group. At this point the FBI cut Salem out of the loop and provided the group with real explosives, leading to the attack on February 26 that killed six and injured over a thousand. The FBI’s failure to prevent the bombing was reported on by the New York Times in October 1993.

3) Complete Complicity

Acts of complete complicity, where the state controls and dictates the attack every step of the way, are only used for major bellwether terrorist atrocities with clearly defined and planned outcomes. Pre-arranged patsies are set-up to take the fall for the attack, but they play very little or no role whatsoever in actually carrying out the attack. 9/11 is the obvious example, but another major case where this method was first used dates back to the 1950’s.

– Bombing Campaign Against Mossadegh’s Iran
Kermit Roosevelt admitted on NPR radio that in 1953 the CIA and British intelligence carried out a wave of bombings and shootings in Iran to overthrow the democratically elected Premier following Mossadegh’s declaration that he would nationalize foreign oil holdings. He then went on to brag about how they subsequently blamed the bombings on Mossadegh himself. The CIA’s own account of the overthrow, reported on by the New York Times in April 2000, states that the agency "directed a campaign of bombings" as part of the coup d’état.

Watch a clip from Alex Jones’ movie Terror Storm , where additional acts of false flag staged terror are discussed and characterized.

Typology of modern terrorism (draft)

Typology of modern terrorism (draft)

by Elias Davidsson, February 2008

Terrorism, for the present purposes, is understood as a violent act against innocent civilians by non-state actors, perceived by external observers as having been committed for an ideological or political purpose.

It is submitted here, that there exist two distinct categories of terrorism.

The first category has the following characteristics:

  • The terrorist and his society do not enjoy fundamental human rights.
  • The purpose of the terrorist is to contribute to liberation from oppression (military occupation, apartheid, etc.).
  • The terrorist expects to risk his own life or liberty in the act.
  • The terrorist is convinced of the morality of his deeds and, if arrested, would attempt to justify his act.
  • The terrorist act is aimed against the society of the terrorist’s perceived oppressors.
  • The terrorist is spiritually and materially supported by his society, including by the provision of money and weapons.
  • The terrorist act is claimed by a political organisation that seeks legitimacy.

The second category has the following characteristics:

  1. The terrorist enjoys civil and political rights where he resides.
  2. The political purpose of the terrorist is not explicited or remains vague.
  3. The terrorist does not expect to risk his own life or liberty in the act.
  4. The terrorist will not attempt, if arrested, to justify his act.
  5. The terrorist act is an attack against the society in which the terrorist resides.
  6. The terrorist is not supported by the surrounding society.
  7. If the terrorist act is claimed at all, it is claimed by a dubious or bogus, organisation, that does not seek political legitimacy.

While not every single terrorist act neatly falls into one of these two categories, I suggest that the above model provides the best operational categorisation of terrorism. By using this typology, the analysis of contemporary incidents designated as terrorism will be simplified and expedited.

An exchange on the legitimacy of terrorism

An exchange on the legitimacy of terrorism on ASIL forum, 23 August 2005:

Mortimer Sellers:  Ms. Knightly raises the interesting point whether the chivalric rules of "civilized" warfare should ever be suspended — inotherwords, can the nature or behavior of combatants ever justify variations in the usually accepted standards of ius in bello?  The same question has come up in earlier discussions of Hiroshima and Guantanamo.  Many people on this list do seem to think that terrorism (for example) may sometimes be justified.  That should not mean, however, that it is always justified.  I think that those who excuse terrorism should try to articulate more clearly an objective list of circumstances under which terrorism would be justified.  The threshold ought to be very high, perhaps insuperably high.  I do not think that mere asymmetries of power are enough.

Can any normal rules of civilized warfare be suspended in response to terrorism?  If so, when and why?

Charles Gittings: I wouldn’t say "justified," but it is understandable in the same way that someone committing an armed robbery to feed his family is.

I would also say that it is unreasonable to expect that the poor and the weak will passively suffer abuse in a world where the rich and the powerful deal in violence so readily, indiscriminately, and *profitably*.

And I don’t think it’s really possible to objectively evalute these considerations. We have a ready model: Nazi-occupied territory from 1939-1945.

The Resistance, partisans, and our own O.S.S. all staged attacks that would qualify as "terrorist" by the "standards" applied now — yet who would claim those attacks were unjustified?

Oh, but that’s different the neo-cons would say — "we aren’t Nazis" — yet I have no difficulty imagining that a Palestinian Arab might disagree.

And clearly, there are some very substantial objective differences. For example, the Nazi occupations only lasted 7 years; Israel has occupied Palestine for 58.

For another, Buah and Sharon are elected representatives of democratic republics, while Hitler was a dictator. But Hitler was also a very popular dictator who no doubt could have won elections had he bothered. Would a legitimate electoral process have justified the acts of a Hitler? Did it justify the rape of Iraq by George W. Bush? The ancient philosophers were
mostly agreed that the biggest problem with democracy was precisely that it was the form of government most prone to tyranny.

Tolstoy had it right: "The only way to get rid of an enemy is to love him."

As for the last question, to assert that "terrorism" justifies "suspending" the rules of civilized conduct is to deny that any such rules actually exist or that there is any significant difference between human civilization and a pack of hyenas. A good summary of what can be said intelligently about that topic on both sides of the question is readily available in Black’s Law Dictionary in the entries relating to NECESSITY.+

Elias Davidsson: As a contribution to the debate on terrorism, I suggest that individuals who do not enjoy some specific human rights, including the right to have an independent judicial body determine whether their substantive rights have been violated, cannot be regarded as legal subjects and thus cannot be held responsible for breaches of the law, including murder.

As an example, I suggest that persons treated as sub-human beings (such as slaves), subjected to inhuman conditions of existence (including torture) or denied the most basic procedural legal rights such as effective access to judicial remedies, cannot be held responsible for what are regarded as penal offenses.  In principle obligations by individuals to respect the Law only exist when such individuals also enjoy the protection of the law, and ideally the capacity to influence the enactment of the law by peaceful means.

The link between rights and obligations is most often disregarded in the discussion about the legitimacy of "terrorism".

On the other hand, it would be right to say that individuals who do enjoy human rights  may not engage in terrorism nor induce or promote the use of terrorism by others.

If this approach to terrorism is accepted, the question remains at what point individuals stop to be true subjects of the law, and become merely objects in the hands of others.  Are individuals subjected to military occupation and denied the protection of the law, legally responsible for their acts?

Suicide bombers have distinctive personality traits.

Suicide Terrorism

By: Kaja Perina
in  Psychology Today

Summary: Suicide bombers have distinctive personality traits.

Find a therapist
near you.
Enter your City or Zip:

In 1983, when Shiite Muslims died in suicide attacks on American military barracks in Beirut, psychologists labeled them mentally unstable individuals with death wishes. Today experts agree that the acts of suicide bombers are more attributable to organizational masterminds than to personal psychopathology. Yet they continue to debate just how religion and social reinforcement transform sane human beings into sentient bombs.

Ariel Merari, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Tel Aviv University in Israel, argues that terrorist groups such as Hamas appeal to recruits’ religious piety or patriotic sentiments, but neither fanaticism nor nationalism alone are “necessary or sufficient? to foment suicide terrorism. The key ingredient may be susceptibility to indoctrination. In a recent study of 32 suicide bombers, Merari found no illuminating socioeconomic or personality factors, such as social dysfunction or suicidal symptoms. But almost all the subjects were young, unattached males, a cohort vulnerable to violent organizations in any society.

Attempts to understand suicide terrorism are understandably culture-bound. Western media emphasize a Palestinian society awash in calls to self-destruct: Iraq and Saudi Arabia pay thousands of dollars to the families of suicide terrorists, and schools teach reverence for martyrs alongside arithmetic. Palestinian mental health professionals counter that Westerners ignore the despair inherent in this logic. Mahmud Sehwail, M.D., a psychiatrist in Ramallah, says that post-traumatic stress disorder abounds among the potential “” and eventual “?s uicide bombers he treats and cites surveys indicating that more than a quarter of all Palestinians are clinically depressed.

But the rationale of despair is a “double discourse aimed at Western audiences,” according to Scott Atran, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France. “Muslims are told that these bombers have everything to live for, otherwise the sacrifice doesn’t make sense.” Atran’s book, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, cites a recent study of 900 Muslims in Gaza who were adolescents during the first Palestinian intifada(1987 to 1993). Exposure to violence correlated more strongly with pride and social cohesion than with depression or antisocial behavior. Indeed, the Gaza teens expressed more hope for the future than did a control group of Bosnian Muslims.

Ultimately, profiling suicide bombers may be a fascinating but futile psychological parlor game. Terrorism experts such as Ehud Sprinzak, Ph.D., an Israeli professor of political science, argue that the best way to halt the attacks is not to study suicide bombers themselves, but the terrorists who press these young men and women into their last, ghastly service.