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  • Is it really terrorism? A debate...

    Bill sent me this story b/c it happened in his hometown.

    {Woman accused of terrorism:
    http://news.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs...WS01/803120362 }

    I'm glad they caught them. People should have to pay for those kind of damages. However, the story had me thinking about how to define terrorism. I wrote back the following because I'm concerned about how the term "terrorism" is being used by media and law enforcement today.

    "Do you really think this is terrorism? Sounds like she was not doing terrorism, because IMHO, terrorism means killing people or at least trying to injure them. To equate spray-painting and setting fire to a lab with something like 9/11 by saying "terrorism" seems like media and government fear mongering. There's no terror here. She went into a lab after-hours and tried to destroy it and completely failed (apparently the genetic stuff she disliked wasn't harmed at all). IMHO, it would have been terrorism if she had fire-bombed the lab while people were working...

    What do you think? Where do we draw the line on what to call "terrorism". I've just been hearing that term so misused lately that it grinds me to think the attacks on USS Cole and Twin Towers are being equated with environmental vandalism and intentionally set fires. I just feel like there has got to be a better litmus test for "terrorism". Sure, the ELF movement is very radical, but are they out to kill people? I don't think so... I think what that group is doing is more like intentional felony-level property damage...."

    Another friend replied:

    "I couldn't agree more. This a total media creation. When we begin assigning fringe organizations like PETA and ELF the same status as Al Quada it not only dilutes the message related to international Islmo-Facism but thwarts efforts to keep the distinction between what is a real threat and what is a media-manufactured threat seperate. Remember, we are dealing with Americans who get their news and information from MTV and live in an environment that dictates if someone says something loud enough it apparently is true!!"

    So, we're just two opinions on where we draw the line between what's terrorism and what's just felony-level crimes. By no means do we have the lock on the only possible opinions for this. I wanted to throw it out to all of our security forum members, from CSOs to techies to S/Os because we all think about "terrorism" at some level.

    What do you think, is terrorism being thrown around too wildly? Is this usage appropriate?

    Geoff
    SecurityInfoWatch.com

  • #2
    What is the Denifition of Terrorism?

    I recently attended a conference where Mr. David Cyd, Director of MIPT [ Memorial Institute for Prevention of Terrorism ] spoke on international terrorism and "home grown" terrorism. While I agree the incident outlined in the article is not an example of terrorism - I fully believe that groups like ELF are indeed terrorist.

    Here's a link to, what I think, is a pretty good definition of terrorism.

    So, do you think Timmothy McVeigh was a terrorist?
    Retail Security Consultant / Expert Witness
    Co-Author - Effective Security Management 6th Edition

    Contributor to Retail Crime, Security and Loss Prevention: An Encyclopedic Reference

    Comment


    • #3
      Terrorism, if I'm not mistaken, is defined as use of force or threatened use of force in order to cause political change. (That MIPT definition is good, but "fear and alarm" is too vague- armed robbery would likely be terrorism if that were the criteria). ELF spray painting stupid things is not terrorism, it's vandalism.

      The question is, when does destruction of property become terrorism? ELF burns down houses and developments all the time:



      Should arson be considered terrorism? I'd say it should, because there is a very real likelyhood that these fires could get out of hand and kill people.

      Any time you commit a violent or potentially violent act or threaten to do so with the sole intention of forcing political change, that's terrorism. Thus, punching a random stranger in the nose would be a misdomenor, stabbing someone would be a felony, but doing either of those things to people standing in line for a voting booth would be terrorism.

      I don't even think that the political message has to be explicit, although I admit it gets quite murky here. Say I burn a pile of wood on your front lawn. That's criminal mischief or possibly destruction of property or whatever. Say I burn a cross on your front lawn. Say I don't do or say any more than that. Terrorism? I think so- I used the symbols of a political group. I don't need anything more than that to make my political intent known.

      In answer to Mr. Baillie's question: yes, McVeigh was a terrorist. He hit a government building, thus it's a political message.
      Last edited by CameraMan; 03-13-2008, 12:47 PM.
      The CCTV Blog.

      "Expert" is something like "leader". It's not a title that you can ever claim for yourself no matter what you might know or might have done. It's a title that others bestow on you based on their assessment of what you know and what you have done.

      -SecTrainer

      Comment


      • #4
        As a former psychological operations soldier, I believe groups such as these clearly understand the concepts of creating mass effect through the planning and execution of psychological actions. Every general contractor in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere will undoubtedly be effected to some degree by these ongoing crimes.

        As an antiterrorism professional and arson investigator, I fully believe these fall within the realm of the classical defintions of terrorism. Fire/arson work is one of the most difficult, contentious realms in which to operate from an investigative standpoint, in my view. --K.
        Bitter clinger to my guns and religion....

        "When I die, I desire no better winding sheet than the Stars and Stripes, and no softer pillow than the Constitution of my country."--Andrew Jackson

        Psychological Operations: Because physical wounds heal.

        Comment


        • #5
          "The unlawful use of force or 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." - FBI Denifition of Terrorism
          Retail Security Consultant / Expert Witness
          Co-Author - Effective Security Management 6th Edition

          Contributor to Retail Crime, Security and Loss Prevention: An Encyclopedic Reference

          Comment


          • #6
            Geoff, Curt:
            Terrorism is not a word that is batted around for the sake of another word.
            This word has been in dictionaries since at least 1795 and means: the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion. That is exactly what ELF and PETA have been doing.
            Also it should be understood by those of us in the security discipline that one of the definitions of the word terror: violence (as bomb-throwing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands (insurrection and revolutionary). A synonym is Fear.
            Two of my former bosses, Colonel Joseph A. Barry, CPP, CFE and Colonel Charles A. Hammaker, Jr., CPP, CFE discussed terrorism at length in the late 1970s and early 1980s long before it became fashionable. Two voices crying out in the wilderness and looked upon by the "Deep Thinkers" of both Army Staff and DOD as nut cases.
            In a briefing to the Army Staff in 1983, Hammaker discussed the vulnerability to government facilities both civil and military and tall skyscrapers, such as New York's Twin Towers, repeat Twin Towers, and suffered open ridicule when he suggested federal and state governments lacked plans for dealing for such a threat. He cited one example as a hijacked civilian airliner being flown into one of these high value targets.
            In 1999, Professor Stephen Gale, University of Pennsylvania, along with other panelists briefed FAA there was a probability of civilian aircraft being used in such a fashion. FAA disregarded that warning because hijackers had not commandeered aircraft for that purpose before, berside FAA had invested millions of dollars in sophisticated screening equipment to thwart hijackers and other miscreants.
            Travel from one airport and observe the operation of walk-through detectors. At some airports they only alarm when they detect metal. Others, are in constant hard alarm even when nobody is near. FAA insists that is not an esploitable weakness. Right, "Check is in the mail" and "I'll still love you in the morning." Billie Vincent, a friend of ST&D Magazine, Former Chief of FAA Security, tried to make fundamental changes to the System, the System sulked, and Billie was forced into retirement.
            As was pointed out, we do not have to look to foreigners for terrorism, screaming in Arabic; we need only look to the heartland and those screaming in English.
            We need to keep an eye pealed for those people we in security and law enforcement identify as the "Three C's."
            Enjoy the day,
            Bill

            Comment


            • #7
              Fire as a weapon was written about as early as Sun Tzu's Art of War. Let's also keep in mind, that this tactic is not limited to domestic terrorists, it is a topic of philosophical discussion and consideration of potential employment by more nefarious elements:

              World Tribune: U.S. officials monitoring terrorist web sites have discovered a call for using forest fires as weapons against “crusader” nations, in what may explain some recent wildfires in places like southern California and Greece.
              A terrorist website was discovered recently that carried a posting that called for “Forest Jihad.” The posting was listed on the Internet on Nov. 26 and reported in U.S. intelligence channels last week.

              The statement, in Arabic, said that “summer has begun so do not forget the Forest Jihad.”

              The writer called on all Muslims in the United States, Europe, Russia and Australia to “start forest fires.”

              The posting quoted imprisoned Al Qaida terrorist Abu Musab Al-Suri, as saying “Jihad is an art just like poetry, music, and the fine arts. There are people that draw and there are others that are jihadists. They both act upon inspiration.”

              Al-Suri is a senior Al Qaida leader captured in Pakistan in 2005 who is believed to be in U.S. custody.

              “The idea of forest fires is attributed to him, may God set him free, as is in this short clip,” the writer stated.

              The posting said that setting forest fires were legal under extremist Islamic law as part of a “eye for an eye” and that can produce “amazing results.”

              Wildfires in California burned more than 500,000 acres beginning in October and authorities said arson was to blame for some of the fires. In August, wildfires broke out in Greece that authorities say were deliberately set.

              The writer stated that it was permissible to burn trees in carrying out jihad.

              “Scholars have justified chopping down and burning the infidels' forests when they do the same to our lands,” the writer said.

              The writer stated that “targeted forests” are in the nations that “are at war with Muslims,” including the United States, Europe, Russia, and Australia.

              Other nations, including Brazil are “off limits” because Brazil has not joined the “armies of the crusade.”

              On damage caused by wildfires, the report said that the fires typically take months to put out which means that “this terror will haunt them for an extended period of time.”...


              The effects of fire are mutifaceted and, when done properly, could significantly and negatively impact political, economic and military/strategic spheres...much like the attacks of 9/11.... --K.
              Last edited by SpecialAgentKC; 03-13-2008, 01:31 PM.
              Bitter clinger to my guns and religion....

              "When I die, I desire no better winding sheet than the Stars and Stripes, and no softer pillow than the Constitution of my country."--Andrew Jackson

              Psychological Operations: Because physical wounds heal.

              Comment


              • #8
                KC, that was an intersting article about fires. Thanks for posting.

                Going back to some other points, maybe there are different levels of terror (there are definitely different levels of murder in our judicial system). Maybe that's how we approach it. Some ELFer burning down a logging truck when no one is around is still far different than flying a plane into an office tower and it seems it should be categorized differently.

                OK, another scenario. I think this one is credited to ELF again. Supposedly, they burned some mansions in Seattle last month, causing millions of dollars in damage. No one was hurt; from what I recall reading, they burned them at night when no one was at the under-construction homes. Terrorism? Or just arson?

                1 more scenario. A hate crime against someone of a different color or sexual preference. Is it terrorism? Equality of race/sex/religion/etc. is a politicial element, so does that mean there was coercion against the government to change such policies? Some of these cases have been billed as terrorism. Some have simply been hate crimes. Which would you call such a crime?

                This isn't an easy issue... I think hate crimes and eco-attacks are very close to terrorism; I am just wrestling with the issues of whether they truly are terrorism. Of course, the FBI and the Supreme Court get the final words, but we're all voters and should at least be paying attention and making decisions for ourselves.

                Geoff

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by SIW Editor View Post
                  Going back to some other points, maybe there are different levels of terror (there are definitely different levels of murder in our judicial system). Maybe that's how we approach it. Some ELFer burning down a logging truck when no one is around is still far different than flying a plane into an office tower and it seems it should be categorized differently.
                  The only thing that's different is how many people die. The intent is the same... more or less.

                  OK, another scenario. I think this one is credited to ELF again. Supposedly, they burned some mansions in Seattle last month, causing millions of dollars in damage. No one was hurt; from what I recall reading, they burned them at night when no one was at the under-construction homes. Terrorism? Or just arson?
                  Terrorism, I think... those fires can easily get out of control and kill people. We have criminal negligence and manslaughter, maybe we need to create different levels of terrorism?

                  1 more scenario. A hate crime against someone of a different color or sexual preference. Is it terrorism? Equality of race/sex/religion/etc. is a politicial element, so does that mean there was coercion against the government to change such policies? Some of these cases have been billed as terrorism. Some have simply been hate crimes. Which would you call such a crime?
                  I'd like someone to explain the difference between hate crimes and domestic terrorism. Until someone can do that, they're the same thing to my mind. There's an implicit political message in hate crimes, and that is "The government should get rid of (fill in the blank) and not let them around us decent (fill in the blank).

                  This isn't an easy issue... I think hate crimes and eco-attacks are very close to terrorism; I am just wrestling with the issues of whether they truly are terrorism. Of course, the FBI and the Supreme Court get the final words, but we're all voters and should at least be paying attention and making decisions for ourselves.
                  True. It's a toughie.
                  The CCTV Blog.

                  "Expert" is something like "leader". It's not a title that you can ever claim for yourself no matter what you might know or might have done. It's a title that others bestow on you based on their assessment of what you know and what you have done.

                  -SecTrainer

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Definitely terrorism. I don't think the body count makes much difference. Would the twin towers be an less of a terrorist attack if it had happened when the buildings were unoccupied and they hadn't collapsed?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I'm going to have to rehash other's points cause they got to what I was going to say already.

                      1. Certain "Activist Groups" are domestic terrorists. They meet the FBI's definition, as well as the classical definition, of terrorism. They cause terror in a population segment or a government to attempt a change in social or political events.

                      Terrorists have always done this. "You live in the world we want, or we'll make you too afraid to live in yours." 9/11 was just that. "You do what we want, or we'll blow your country up."

                      Several activist groups, on the other hand, use psychological terror against its targets. Look up "spiking" for a perfect example. Loggers are afraid to cut down trees because the spikes may kill or injure them. Even if the "activists" define where the spikes are, they use the terror and fear caused their actions to shut down a segment of industry.

                      2. Body counts do not matter. If you kill one person, you are a murderer. If you kill two thousand, you are still just a murderer, you just did it a lot. You may get another charge for the mass murder, but you're still just a murderer.

                      This doesn't mean that its "just a murderer," morally, but in the eyes of the law, one is enough.

                      3. We're assigning this odd concept of "normal criminals" and "islamo-fascists." The truth is, islamo-fascists are just another criminal. The FBI has arrest warrants for Osama Bin Laden, just like they have previously sought for the leaders of several "animal rights activist" and "environmental activist" group leaders.

                      You don't need to be a radical Islamic cleric to sow fear, cause terror, and scare the crap out of a segment of America.

                      You just have to terrorize. And you can do it without crashing two jet-liners into large structures.

                      Do not venerate certain terrorists by creating a separate classification for them. They're all just criminals, they're all just people who commit crimes to put pressure on a country for political or social change.
                      Some Kind of Commando Leader

                      "Every time I see another crazy Florida post, I'm glad I don't work there." ~ Minneapolis Security on Florida Security Law

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        My vote is that it constitutes terrorism. Any act that attacks the infrastructure or a government installation could be classified as such. One needs to look at the motive. Was the person simply damaging property for the "fun of it" or was/is there a calculated premeditated plan to attack based on belief? The latter is terrorism.
                        Security: Freedom from fear; danger; safe; a feeling of well-being. (Webster's)

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                        • #13
                          ELF is a domestic terrorist group and these attacks are terrorist acts. Lets look at the modis operandi of terrorism:
                          (FBI Definition)
                          1. The unlawful use of force or violence
                          2. With criminal intent to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives

                          In the case of these arson attacks, we have an unlawful use of force or violence (arson) with the intent to coerce a political change (end the use of lumber).

                          I do take some exception with the FBI definition, as by it the act needs to be forceful or violent. By that definition, calling in bomb threats would not be considered an act of terrorism. In fact making terrorist threats (California Penal Code §422) would not be a terrorist act.
                          -Jedi-
                          Semper Paratus

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Mr. Security View Post
                            My vote is that it constitutes terrorism. Any act that attacks the infrastructure or a government installation could be classified as such. One needs to look at the motive. Was the person simply damaging property for the "fun of it" or was/is there a calculated premeditated plan to attack based on belief? The latter is terrorism.
                            Mr. Security you've hit on one of the latter definitions i.e., to intimidate a population. The government is lothe to prosecute certain denominational churches burnings for fear of deminishing the affects of prosecuting international terrorists.
                            Nathan put his finger on it when he wrote we will attack you until you believe what we believe. The clarion call of "God wills it" harkens back to a darker chapter in Christian history during the Crusades. Terrorism now can be claimed by anyone as a reforming enterprise undertaken with zeal.
                            Enjoy the day,
                            Bill

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              A number of forms of terrorism do not target humans at all, such as agroterrorism or cyberterrorism, which intend to disrupt economic and other systems upon which society depends for its proper functioning. While disrupting an electrical grid by cybertechniques might inadvertently cause, say, the death of a person dependent upon an iron lung, that is not the objective.

                              And it is in fact the objective that distinguishes terrorism from "crime". With all respect to those who believe them to be equivalents, they are not. The objective of murder is precisely that - i.e., to kill one or more people. The objective of terrorism, while it might look the same as murder, is not specifically the death of any particular people, but to:

                              a. Achieve social, political or religious objectives in a society, or...
                              b. To punish a population for perceived wrongs.

                              Thus, I might hack into a computer in order to shut down the electrical grid. Whether the act is classified as cybercrime or cyberterrorism depends entirely on what my objective was. If I was just showing off my hacker skills to my buddies, or trying to shut down my school so I wouldn't have to take an exam, or creating chaos in burglar systems so I could get into the museum and steal some art, then even that is a cybercrime. But, if my objective was to punish the United States for its support of Israel, or to induce the country to withdraw such support, then it is cyberterrorism.

                              Or, I might burn down a house, and if I do so in order to collect the insurance that is arson - a crime. But, if I do it so that construction in the region will be curtailed (and perhaps also to punish those who go forward with construction anyway), that is terrorism.

                              Now, some believe that this issue of the difference between crime and terrorism amounts to nothing more than a distinction without a difference. After all, it is true that either way, the electrical grid was shut down or the building was burned down, so the result is the same, right? Hardly. In fact, the difference is anything but superficial, and it is terribly important that we differentiate crime from terrorism on practical, legal and ideological levels.

                              On the practical level, for instance, you cannot prevent or investigate what you do not really understand. You're not going to build cages for monkeys if you're expecting a carload of gorillas, however much a gorilla might resemble a monkey. To understand why something was done is one of the very first steps in identifying the perpetrators. To misunderstand a set fire as arson (as a crime) would focus your attention on the property owner, whereas you would look elsewhere if you understand the fire to have been an act of terrorism.

                              Continuing the practical consideration of set fires, prevention of arson is almost impossible, but prevention of terrorist fires is not quite so impossible. The targets of known terrorist groups that set fires are fairly well understood, and they have this disadvantage over a property owner setting a fire: They must plan and surveil their targets, which provides some opportunity for interdiction if security forces know what they are doing. A property owner knows the property already, when it will be vacant, etc., and has free access to the property. He need do nothing but bring his can of gasoline and matches to the party at a time entirely of his own choosing.

                              Having yet still other practical implications with respect to the prevention of a crime versus the prevention of terrorism is seen in the emergence of the suicide-terrorist. To take the most superficial of these implications, you assume that a criminal (one that is organized, anyway) must plan both his approach to the target and his escape from it...there is no such assumption when planning for a suicide bomber. No getaway car awaits him. Likewise, you assume that the criminal will conduct certain types of crime during conditions that maximize his ability to escape detection, but the suicide bomber hopes for just the opposite.

                              As a final example of practical differences, terrorist operations are apt to be better funded and more carefully planned and staged than most criminal operations. If you were conducting EP for a subject and believed his greatest risk was from terrorists, you would plan his protection very differently than you would if you believed he was at the most risk of street crime.

                              And, on a legal level, the difference between a crime committed for personal gain and one that is committed on ideological grounds is important for both the evidentiary and punitive or "corrective" aspects of the law.

                              From an evidentiary standpoint, proving terrorism is a higher bar to hurdle than proving criminal involvement, so why should we put ourselves to such trouble and incur the added legal liability? We do so because there are a number of reasons to impose a much stiffer prison term on a terrorist who sets fires for ideological reasons than on a property owner who was trying to defraud the insurance company (as despicable as that might be). While I will not go into all the justifications for enacting stiffer terms for the terrorist, at least one reason that is highly convincing is that terrorist ideologues are not likely to be "converted" or persuaded that their cause was evil by any term in prison. As high as the recidivism rate is among ordinary criminals, it is even higher among ideologues, and the sole practical value of prison for them is to protect society from them. If anything, bitter experience shows that giving terrorists "typical criminal" terms in prison does nothing to revise their beliefs. There should be life sentences for terrorists, domestic or otherwise.

                              On an ideological level, an arson to collect insurance money has no social or political consequences. The building was torched for the money, so what's the question? There isn't any. But, whether we like it or not, acts of terrorism do succeed in raising questions and debate in society about whatever policies or practices are believed to be associated with the terrorist act. This is not to say that anyone can approve of the means that are used to raise such issues in the social conversation, but the political debate that follows terrorism is an outcome that, on a practical level, social leaders must anticipate and take steps to preempt in a manner that is psyops-savvy.

                              I think the Bush administration has been particularly inept in this regard, incidentally. They certainly did not seem prepared for the storm of controversy regarding a variety of aspects of US policy in the Middle East that erupted after the initial shock and outrage of 9/11 had abated. Terrorism always carries with it the potential for critical political fallout (that is the whole point of terrorism, after all)--as witnessed by the election results in Spain that followed the terrorist attack in that country, and other less obvious but equally critical political consequences that have followed terrorist attacks in France, Germany, England and the Netherlands. Such consequences must be anticipated and effectively countered in order to mitigate the incident and to discourage other terrorists waiting in the wings.

                              There are lots of other significant differences between acts of terrorism and crimes, but I've already crossed the line of readable posting length, for which I apologize.

                              The bottom line is this: Terrorism is a very different animal from crime, however much the terrorist act itself might resemble crime on a superficial level, and should be clearly distinguished from crime for practical, legal and ideological reasons. To think of terrorist acts as "crimes" is to miss the mark in a rather profound way, and to run the very real risk of dealing with terrorism in a totally ineffectual way.
                              Last edited by SecTrainer; 03-23-2008, 04:45 AM.
                              "Every betrayal begins with trust." - Brian Jacques

                              "I can't predict the future, but I know that it'll be very weird." - Anonymous

                              "There is nothing new under the sun." - Ecclesiastes 1:9

                              "History, with all its volumes vast, hath but one page." - Lord Byron

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