Key Developments in Terrorism and the Media’s Role in Counter-terrorism


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20140831

Terrorists are not an insane clown posse. Achromatically, this paper aims to demonstrate key developments in terrorism and draws from the historical presentation of Arthur H. Garrison in an article entitled, Terrorism: The Nature of its History. Garrison did well to point out “terrorists are rational, deliberate, and know why they are using terror. Terrorism, regardless of the reasons for the use of terror, is a method of changing behavior through the use of fear and intimidation” (2003, p. 40). Below, a comprehensive overview of events, types of terrorism, and tactics will be convoyed by a glimpse of the most modernized forms of terrorism while retaining an emphasis on the fundamental consistencies of terroristic methodology.

To bring the climax of discussion points into view, it is pertinent to elucidate the tactics or weapons used in terrorist acts, which, Garrison triadically-categorized as weapons of mass destruction, mass casualty, and mass disruption (2003, p. 41). Weapons of mass destruction affect infrastructure such as “bridges, dams, water treatment plants, computer systems, and any other structures” (Garrison, 2003, p. 41). Massive sickness and death producing agents (such as biological and chemical) compose mass casualty weapons. Weapons of mass disruption are characterized by disruptions to computer operations, food supplies, manufacturing, and bank and government records (Garrison, 2003). As discussed later, these weapons reflect development but have not transcended the special preferences element of terrorism. Further, the motives of terrorism have been dyadically-categorized as “objective driven” and “terror-driven” (Garrison, 2003, p. 42). That is, terrorists objectively intend to change a government’s policy and intend to retaliate to perceived injustices or warn of future acts if changed is not realized (Garrison, 2003).

For starters, the Jewish resistance group known as Sicarii-Zealots dates back to AD 66-72 (Garrison, 2003), The group used assassins, kidnappings for ransom, and large scale poisoning to terrorize Roman legionnaires and Jewish collaborators in Roman-controlled cities of Judea. These killings were intended to retaliate against the perpetration and support of Roman invasions and included women and children (Garrison, 2003).

Maximilien Robespierre (1793-1794), acclaimed as the first organizer of national terrorism (currently known as state terrorism), used terrorism as a tool to achieve and sustain governmental power (Garrison, 2003, p.44). According to Garrison, “Robespierre justified arrests, executions, torture, banishment, and other acts of terror” (Garrison 2003, p, 44). He used a government sponsored national surveillance program to identify potential dissidents and had thousands put to death by the guillotine while claiming to work for the betterment of society (Garrison, 2003).

The anarchists, such as the Russian Narodnaya Volya, believed in employing individual terrorism (namely, against kings, queens, and nobility) to incite the mass population to awaken to their capacity to revolt against government oppression (Garrison, 2003). Narodnaya Volya successfully assassinated czar Alexander II in 1881. Between 1890 and 1908, anarchists killed the kings and queens of Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Portugal, and France (Garrison, 2003, p. 44).

The Irish Rebellion of 1919 inspired a development in terrorism characterized by selective targets, need for sustainability, and cell operations (Garrison 2003). The targets selected by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) involved representatives of the British government (selection) and was intended to break down the government’s will (sustainability) over time. Thirdly, cell operations were established to decentralize the implementation of the acts and conceal the organization as to prevent the destruction thereof (Garrison 2003).

As diverted students of Robespierre, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin used terror against the entire society because, “fear provided a motivational factor for public compliance with government, and terror proved useful for controlling a society” (Garrison, 2003, p. 45). Stalin subdued power in Russia (1921) and eventually influenced the Soviet Union and Eastern European nations to use identical methods of terror to resist the imperialism and capitalism of the West (Garrison, 2003).

Resistance against British rule appeared again in 1929 with the Hindustan Socialists Republican Association (HSRA) and their manifesto entitled, The Philosophy of the Bomb (Garrison, 2003). Contained therein, were five principles that could be used by terrorists to morally justify violence and murder, especially against oppressive governments which culminated into the sequitur that terrorism was an absolute necessity for freedom (Garrison, 2003).

Garrison proffered the targeting of civilians replaced targeting of governmental officials between the 1940s and 1960s (2003). Particularly, after the Israeli defeats and territory acquisitions of Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, terror became the preferred method for generating attention and attempting to destroy Israel (Garrison, 2003).

1966 marked the beginning of the internationalization of terrorism as Cuba hosted the Tri-Continental Conference and “terrorism became transnational” (Garrison, 2003, p. 47). German, Palestinian, French, Italian, and Japanese terrorists groups united by socio-political and personal objectives that undermined national boundaries (Garrison, 2003).

Throughout the 1960s, not only did individuals and groups participate in transnational terrorism, but states did. Iran and Libya supported terrorist groups such as Hezbollah while Iraq, Cuba, Sudan, and Algeria offered training, economic, and political support at the international level (Garrison 2003). The Middle East became a central focus of terrorism as the Arab-Israeli conflict was undergirded by U.S. support for Israel and Soviet support for Arabian countries (Garrison 2003). The 1970s involved hijacking, bombing, and hostage taking incidents against European and American airlines deriving from various sectors of society (Garrison 2003).

Garrison’s attention swelled on Islamic fundamentalism, pointed to the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran (1979) as evidence of a return to religion-based terrorism and militant Islam as a justification for terrorism (2003). Terrorism during the 1980s was characterized by hostage takings, kidnappings, and airplane bombings that affected American interests abroad. As evidenced in Osama bin Laden’s Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders fatwa (1998), the seven Middle Eastern inspired terrorists attacks that occurred between 1993 and September 11, 2001 and claimed more than 3300 lives, was committed “with destruction as their goal” (Garrison, 2003, p. 50).

Conclusively, the natural essence of a butterfly is found in the developmental process staged by its life as a caterpillar. Likewise, modern terrorism (and all of the developments it has entailed encompassing individual terrorism, state terrorism, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear terrorism, cyber terrorism, air terrorism, religious terrorism, and so on), has not detracted from its antediluvian methods and primitive motives. Individuals and groups still seek change to governmental policies they perceive as negatively affecting them. Individuals and groups, and sometimes states, still consider indiscriminate killing of civilians as a legitimate means for garnering attention or controlling power. Finally, terrorists, still especially prefer to employ mass destruction, mass casualty, and mass disruption to achieve their goals while subscribing to moral, ideological, or psychological justifications.

Media Aspirations

As Brian Jenkins notoriously argued, “terrorism is aimed at the people watching, not the actual victim. Terrorism is theatre” (Jenkins, 1974). Terrorists seek media coverage because mass publicity equals mass penetration into the conscious of a massive amount of people in order to alert them of a problem that needs to be addressed. They seek sympathizers and a low-cost, if not free, communication platform for their cause. They want to awaken, through media, a sleeping society to the justness of their cause and believe there are no alternative means to effectively achieve their goal. Terrorists wish to leverage media coverage to recruit members and financial contributions (Perl, 1997). Likewise, they aim to legitimize nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and study centers that may be used to conceal “fundraising, recruitment, and travel by terrorists into the target country” (Perl, 1997). In hostage situations, the media can be used to provide details on hostages such as identity, value, rescue attempts, public exposure, and potential military responses. Moreover, terrorists seek media coverage to provoke fear and panic in an attempt to damage the credibility of the targeted government’s capacity to protect its citizens (Perl, 1997).

Counter-terrorism & the Media

Raphael Perl stated,

“the challenge for policymakers is to explore mechanisms enhancing media/government cooperation to accommodate the citizen and media need for honest coverage while limiting the gains uninhibited coverage may provide terrorists or their cause” (1997).

Ultimately, the government is tasked with providing security against terrorism. Accordingly, the media must recognize that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. The media can support international counter-terrorism efforts by recognizing the competing interests between themselves, governments, and international terrorists and working within a security-oriented framework. The media must recognize the potential of advancing the goals of terrorists and work cooperatively with the government to mitigate this risk. The media should make every attempt to remove terrorists from the spotlight as to avoid glamorization or to give the impression that the terrorists’ cause may be condonable. The media must recognize that security-sensitive information leads to intelligence that can improve or compromise the security of the larger society, and therefore, should not be grudgingly withheld, exploited, or manipulated for private motives or gain. The media should avoid sensationalism when covering terrorist events and especially avoid intentionally triggering public anxieties. They should not confuse their right or ability to operate freely as to totally disregard a security-oriented approach to reporting. A security-oriented approach to reporting would involve responsibly screening against traditional tactics that aim to increase ratings but may work counterproductively to national security. Finally, the media should work zealously to ensure the democratic freedom afforded to the media does not become a license to erode national security and a pathway to celebrity stardom for terrorists. As the Terrorism and Media project concluded, when the media fosters a cooperative relationship with the government “democratic values can be kept in place, people can remain well informed, while terrorists will find it harder to use the media as a weapon in their struggle” ( (European Commission, 2008, p. 72).



European Commission. (2008, July 23). Terrorism and the Media. Retrieved from

Garrison, A. H. (2003). Terrorism: the Nature of its History 1 This article is based on presentations at the Northeastern Association of Criminal Justice Sciences annual conference, June 2002; the National Criminal Justice Association annual conference, July 2002; and.. Criminal Justice Studies, 16(1), 39.

Jenkins, B. (1974, June). International Terrorism: A New Kind of Warfare. Retrieved from

Perl, R. (1997, October 22). Terrorism, The Media, and the Government: Perspectives, Trends, and Options for Policy Makers. Retrieved from



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