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Terrorism 101: “A Firm Grasp of the Obvious”: 

Terrorism 101: “A Firm Grasp of the Obvious”

A firm grasp of the “obvious?”: 

A firm grasp of the “obvious?” Is that useful?

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know that ain’t so.” : 

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know that ain’t so.” -- Will Rogers?

Terrorism: “A Firm Grasp of the Obvious”: 

Terrorism: “A Firm Grasp of the Obvious” Is Terrorism “War?” Definitions Terrorism War Politics Conflict Patterns Since 1945 Warning -- Problems? The Need for Open Discussion Black September Attack at the Munich Olympics

The Debate(s): 

The Debate(s) Is terrorism “war”? Does this matter? Yes – “war” and simple “crime” vary a great deal in important ways: Motivations Objectives Targets Scale of effort Effective responses and defenses

Is Terrorism “War?”: 

Is Terrorism “War?” Definitions = important? We’ll look at: Terrorism? War? Politics? Conflict?

Defining Terrorism?: 

Defining Terrorism? Hotly debated definition. Emotional aspects. A relative term? (One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.) Used as a “pejorative.” Actually fairly simple?

Some definitions are clearly nationalistic to the extent that terrorism is defined as something which can only be done by others against “us.” (Serves a legal purpose – but is hardly objective or accurate.): 

Some definitions are clearly nationalistic to the extent that terrorism is defined as something which can only be done by others against “us.” (Serves a legal purpose – but is hardly objective or accurate.)

They limit the concept to subnational “players.”: 

They limit the concept to subnational “players.”

Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d):: 

Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d): Definitions as used in this section: (1) the term ''international terrorism'' means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than 1 country; (2) the term ''terrorism'' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents; and (3) the term ''terrorist group'' means any group practicing, or which has significant subgroups which practice, international terrorism.


Therefore… Nation States can not be terrorists?!?!

Irony here is multifaceted:: 

Irony here is multifaceted: “Terrorism” historically has been used by individuals, political groups, and nations since the beginning of “politics by other means.”

Term First Appeared? C. 1793: 

Term First Appeared? C. 1793 Precise and specific use of the term “terrorism” originated in the French Revolution to describe actions taken by the national government against its own citizens – “Robespierre and the Enlightened Technology of Dr. Guillotine” – “The Terror.”

“Terrorism” Continued to be Used: 

“Terrorism” Continued to be Used Term reappears in the 19th and 20th centuries to describe state and non-state actions (e.g. aerial bombardment).

In short, there is a long tradition of using the term terrorism to describe actions by nations and subnational groups.: 

In short, there is a long tradition of using the term terrorism to describe actions by nations and subnational groups. Changing definitions strikes many as hypocritical and may undermine our credibility – a valuable commodity in fighting terrorism.

Luckily, the confusion is easily dispelled.: 

Luckily, the confusion is easily dispelled. 1. Remember, it is a simple word with a simple definition. 2. Respect the historical continuity. 3. Keep the functional utility of the term. 4. Use MY definition (no gratuity necessary):

My “Working Definition” in the 1980s:: 

My “Working Definition” in the 1980s: Terrorism is the intentional use of terror to achieve political purposes.


Some have addressed the “subjectivity” issue:


For example, the slightly modified version used by the Irish author Conor Cruise O’Brien: “Terrorism is the use of terror to achieve political objectives you do not agree with.”

A “more better” post 9-11 definition?: 

A “more better” post 9-11 definition? Terrorism – the calculated employment of violence, or the threat of violence by individuals, subnational groups, and state actors to attain political, social, and economic objectives in violation of law, intended to create an overwhelming fear in a target group larger than the victims attacked or threatened. (Yonah Alexander and Michael S. Sweetman, Usama bin Laden’s al-Qaida: Profile of a Terrorist Network Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers, 2001.)

Using the Alexander and Sweetman definition terrorism could be both “war” and “crime.” (After all, we do have the concept of WAR CRIMES – it does not have to be an either/or proposition): 

Using the Alexander and Sweetman definition terrorism could be both “war” and “crime.” (After all, we do have the concept of WAR CRIMES – it does not have to be an either/or proposition)

So…what is war?: 

So…what is war? The “western” definitions have tended to focus on the concept as a political process. The US military has a particular favorite:


War? “War is…politics by other means.” Carl von Clausewitz, 1831

Politics = ?: 

Politics = ? Organization of human societies to achieve group objectives. Often said to have begun with the advent of civilization.

Conflict = ?: 

Conflict = ? When two or more political entities have mutually exclusive objectives.

Ergo: War = armed and violent conflict between political entities.: 

Ergo: War = armed and violent conflict between political entities.

Conflict is common!: 

Conflict is common! War is rare!

There are Contrary Definitions: 

There are Contrary Definitions Again – legal distinctions pop up. War is a legal state of conflict which depends upon a formal declaration of war. (Problems?) War is armed conflict between nation states. (More problems with this definition?)

Warfare Since 1945: 

Warfare Since 1945 Complicated by the Cold War “Balance of Terror” between the “Superpowers” – Nuclear Deterrence Further complicated by the legal definitions generated by the new United Nations and other international bodies/agreements. As a result, most “wars” since 1945 have not resembled the conventional “force on force” wars common to Europe from c. 1450-1945.

Modern Warfare (continued): 

Modern Warfare (continued) Actually, over the past 200 years there has been a rise in what is sometimes called “irregular warfare.” Other terms to describe these types of operations? Guerrilla Warfare Partisan Warfare People’s War “Non-Trinitarian Warfare” “Asymmetrical Warfare.”

These include and overlap Terrorism: 

These include and overlap Terrorism (Yes, terrorism is a form of warfare.)

The Lure of “Terrorism”: 

The Lure of “Terrorism” A weapon of the weak? Does not require large numbers of trained personnel. Does not require sophisticated technology. Is not necessarily expensive. Is difficult to detect, defend against, and retaliate against. Extremely “cost-effective” on the tactical level.

Is terrorism effective over the long term?: 

Is terrorism effective over the long term? This is hotly debated. See Caleb Carr, The Lessons of Terror New York: Random House, 2002.


Our “conflicts” with Al-Qaeda?

Political Conflicts with Al-Qaeda*: 

Political Conflicts with Al-Qaeda* Presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic Holy Land. U.S. Support for Israel. U.S. Support for “Moderate Arab States” U.S. (and Western) consumption of Islamic Resources (current market price of oil = $55/barrel vs. Al-Qaeda estimate of true worth at $ 150/barrel?). * See Al-Qaeda, Second Fatwa, 23 February 1998 at

Al-Qaeda linked attacks include:: 

Al-Qaeda linked attacks include: February 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center = First al-Qaeda attack on the US? Some doubt the links to al-Qaeda. The empirical evidence? Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the militant cleric convicted in the 1993 plot, once led an Egyptian group now affiliated with al-Qaeda. Two of his sons are senior al-Qaeda officials. Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who was convicted of masterminding the 1993 attack, planned al-Qaeda’s foiled attack on American airliners over the Pacific Ocean. Yousef is also the nephew of the former senior al-Qaeda terrorist Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, who is now in U.S. custody.

Al-Qaeda Activity Since 1993: 

Al-Qaeda Activity Since 1993 October 3, 1993 – Killing of 18 US soldiers in Somalia – links to Al-Qaeda funding and training. June 25, 1996 – Truck bomb at Khobar Towers barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 19 US servicemen and women killed. August 7, 1998 – Bombing of US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 224 people.

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued): 

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued) October 12, 2000 – Bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, 17 US sailors killed. September 11, 2001 – Destruction of the World Trade Center and attack on the Pentagon, killing 3,044.

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued): 

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued) April 11, 2002 – Truck bomb near the ancient Jewish shrine of El Ghriba on Tunisian island of Djerba, killing 14 Germans, 5 Tunisians, and a Frenchman. May 8, 2002 – Suicide bomb attack outside Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan kills 14 (including 11 French citizens).

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued): 

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued) June 14, 2002 – Bomb outside US Consulate in Karachi kills 12 Pakistanis. October 6, 2002 – Bomb attack on the French oil tanker Limburg off the Yemeni coast, killed one crewman. October 12, 2002 – Bali nightclub bombings in Indonesia kills 202 (most are Australians)

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued): 

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued) November 28, 2002 – Suicide bomb attack kills 16 at the Paradise Hotel, Mombasa, Kenya. May 12, 2003 – Suicide attack kills 34, including 12 bombers, at an expatriate housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued): 

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued) May 16, 2003 – Explosions kill 45 people including 12 suicide bombers targeting Jewish, Spanish, and Belgian sites in Casablanca, Morocco. August 5, 2003 – Suicide car bomb kills 12 and wounds 150 outside a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued): 

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued) August 19, 2003 – Truck bomb levels UN Headquarters in Baghdad, killing 22, including the UN Special Envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello. November 8, 2003 – Explosions in a residential compound in Riyadh kill 17 people, mainly Arab workers.

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued): 

Al-Qaeda Activity (continued) November 15, 2003 – Bombers attack the HSBC HQ in Istanbul, Turkey kill 32. March 11, 2004 – Ten bombs explode during rush hour in train stations in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 – influenced Spanish elections? June 12-18, 2004 – American civilian Paul Johnson a 49-year-old Lockheed Martin Corp. employee, kidnapped and beheaded in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.


On March 11, 2004, Madrid suffered the worst-ever terrorist attacks on a railway system with a total of 10 explosions that were set off at the height of the commuter train rush hour. The Atocha, Santa Eugenia, and El Pozo stations were all involved. According to early news reports, the explosions killed more than 180 people and wounded over 1,000.


Close-up of the Atocha Railway Station in Madrid, Spain

Note #1:: 

Note #1: All of these attacks correlate to the political conflict Al-Qaeda sees itself engaged in versus the United States and other states.

Note #2:: 

Note #2: None of these attacks, in and of themselves, seriously weakened the United States. None of these attacks even remotely achieved the goals Al-Qaeda pursues. Not in the short run.

Note #3:: 

Note #3: None of these attacks were preceded by effective warning.

Warning Failures Are Common?: 

Warning Failures Are Common?

Warning Failures Since 1941 (Partial List): 

Warning Failures Since 1941 (Partial List) Pearl Harbor (1941) Battle of the Bulge (1944) Korea (1950 - Twice) Sputnik (1957) Missiles in Cuba (1961) Tet Offensive (1968) Yom Kippur War (1973) Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan (1980) Falklands Invasion (1982) Beirut bombing (1983) Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait (1990) Bombing of Khobar towers (1996) U.S.S. Cole (2000) World Trade Center & Pentagon (2001)

Warning Problems?: 

Warning Problems? Warning = the primary intelligence function. It has been the historical reason for the creation of formalized intelligence organizations (from Byzantines and Ottomans  CIA DNI. Warning’s primary function is to avoid harm --- a simple objective. Nevertheless, the “track record of warning intelligence is poor. Warning intelligence is problematic.

Why ?!?!?: 

Why ?!?!?

Popular View Incompetence?: 

Popular View Incompetence?

Serious and rational answer is more complicated.: 

Serious and rational answer is more complicated.

Why Is Warning Problematic?: 

Why Is Warning Problematic? Threats = Varied (from rock throwers in Macedonia to thermonuclear war) Options rest in the hands of the attacker: Timing Method Targets Cancellation “Cry Wolf” Syndrome The “Paradox of Warning” Volume of Information Ethnocentrism/Mirror-Imaging Fragmentation and compartmentalization of intelligence

Why Is Warning Problematic? Part 2: 

Why Is Warning Problematic? Part 2 Inertia of Rest Deception Inverse relationship of the utility of intelligence to its credibility over time --- the earlier you know something the more useful it is, but early information is less certain, less reliable, and usually incomplete. As time goes by the intelligence becomes clearer, but the utility of the information is reduced.

Why Is Warning Problematic? Part 3: 

Why Is Warning Problematic? Part 3 Threat = Intentions combined with Capabilities – a logical observation Unfortunately, this has grown more complicated


During the Cold War it was logical to focus on capabilities? Intentions are mercurial Intentions are difficult to collect against and to analyze In conventional scenarios capabilities generally reveal potential for hostile action (and possibly reveal an adversary’s intentions -- via force structure, readiness, etc.) Ergo: a focus on capabilities was traditionally a safe policy.


In the “New World Order” numerous political entities have hostile intentions. Their physical capabilities are limited and difficult to track (box cutters !) --- resulting in the need to readdress warning methodologies?

One of the most important and valued characteristics of terrorism as a method is that it is exceptionally difficult to warn about regarding threats.: 

One of the most important and valued characteristics of terrorism as a method is that it is exceptionally difficult to warn about regarding threats.

One Last Rant?: 

One Last Rant?

Thinking “outside of the box?”: 

Thinking “outside of the box?” What is wrong with this “sound bite?” This  is a box What is “outside the box?”


So… Constructive observations based on the study of terrorism and warning intelligence?

Those “obvious things” we need to grasp.: 

Those “obvious things” we need to grasp. Terrorism is not a new or special activity. Let’s not make it “more evil” than the other cruel practices of “politics by other means.” War has always been unpleasant. Hypocrisy in this war can only be counter productive. Warning will always be problematic. Terrorism is more effective tactically than strategically.

Utility of History?: 

Utility of History? “The past does not repeat itself, but it may rhyme.” -- Mark Twain Samuel Clemmons

Last, but never least : “Knowledge is Good” -- Faber College Motto: 

Last, but never least : “Knowledge is Good” -- Faber College Motto Blutto Blutarsky

The End: 

The End

The Guardian, 2001: 

The Guardian, 2001 © Steve Bell 2001

British Poster: 

British Poster

AL QAEDA'S SECOND FATWA 23 February 1998 : 

AL QAEDA'S SECOND FATWA 23 February 1998 Praise be to God, who revealed the Book, controls the clouds, defeats factionalism, and says in His Book: "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)"; and peace be upon our Prophet, Muhammad Bin-'Abdallah, who said: I have been sent with the sword between my hands to ensure that no one but God is worshipped, God who put my livelihood under the shadow of my spear and who inflicts humiliation and scorn on those who disobey my orders. The Arabian Peninsula has never -- since God made it flat, created its desert, and encircled it with seas -- been stormed by any forces like the crusader armies spreading in it like locusts, eating its riches and wiping out its plantations. All this is happening at a time in which nations are attacking Muslims like people fighting over a plate of food. In the light of the grave situation and the lack of support, we and you are obliged to discuss current events, and we should all agree on how to settle the matter.


No one argues today about three facts that are known to everyone; we will list them, in order to remind everyone: First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the Americans' continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless.


Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million... despite all this, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation. So here they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors.


Third, if the Americans' aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews' petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel's survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula.


All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, his messenger, and Muslims. And ulema have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries. This was revealed by Imam Bin-Qadamah in "Al- Mughni," Imam al-Kisa'i in "Al-Bada'i," al-Qurtubi in his interpretation, and the shaykh of al-Islam in his books, where he said: "As for the fighting to repulse [an enemy], it is aimed at defending sanctity and religion, and it is a duty as agreed [by the ulema]. Nothing is more sacred than belief except repulsing an enemy who is attacking religion and life."


On that basis, and in compliance with God's order, we issue the following fatwa to all Muslims: The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God." This is in addition to the words of Almighty God: "And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? -- women and children, whose cry is: 'Our Lord, rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will help!'"


We -- with God's help -- call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it. We also call on Muslim ulema, leaders, youths, and soldiers to launch the raid on Satan's U.S. troops and the devil's supporters allying with them, and to displace those who are behind them so that they may learn a lesson. Almighty God said: "O ye who believe, give your response to God and His Apostle, when He calleth you to that which will give you life. And know that God cometh between a man and his heart, and that it is He to whom ye shall all be gathered." Almighty God also says: "O ye who believe, what is the matter with you, that when ye are asked to go forth in the cause of God, ye cling so heavily to the earth! Do ye prefer the life of this world to the hereafter? But little is the comfort of this life, as compared with the hereafter. Unless ye go forth, He will punish you with a grievous penalty, and put others in your place; but Him ye would not harm in the least. For God hath power over all things." Almighty God also says: "So lose no heart, nor fall into despair. For ye must gain mastery if ye are true in faith."

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