Three Dilemmas in Counterterrorism


By: Gerald F. witherspoon, Sr.

Media Coverage of Terrorists Attacks

Terrorists rely on media to communicate their messages and tactics of intimidation to the masses. On the other hand, journalists work to protect the democratic public’s right to know and therefore assume a right to no interference. Terrorists aiming to influence public opinion and compel the masses to influence a government’s policy secure an indirect partnership with media as the coverage of events gain widespread attention. Through this indirect partnership, terrorists are able to recruit members and financial contributions through media (Perl, 1997).

Defining the Threat

Ganor argued that effective counterterrorism strategies are hindered by an inability to sever ties between the terrorist organizations and the countries that support them because of a lack of an international consensus on how to define terrorism (2005). He further explained how this inconsistency impeded cases of extradition and muddied the water on assigning responsibility. Additionally, governments, politicians, states sponsoring terrorism, and journalists may refer to the same incident in absolutely contradictory terms while others use the term to identify events that have nothing to do with terrorism (Ganor, 2005). Additionally, in an article entitled, Do Past U.S. Acts Constitute Terrorism? Implications for Counterterrorism Policy, Lankford demonstrated how different government agencies within the U.S. did not subscribe to the same definition (2010).

The Demand for International Cooperation

In chapter 10 of The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle, Boaz Ganor points out how radical Islamic terrorism does not stem from one individual or a single organization, but an “international network with global reach, which includes activists from different backgrounds living and working in Arab and Muslim nations, as well as in Western states and Third World countries” (2005, 274). He then defined several characteristics that make fighting the threat an international demand. These characteristics, and I paraphrase, include a divine command to use violence to spread their beliefs globally with uncompromising dedication; global reach; members from an educated middle class with prior military experience; highly networked; a  religiously passionate commitment to suicide terrorism; a willingness to employ non-conventional weapons (chemical, biological, nuclear, etc.) (Boaz, 2005).






Ganor, B. (2005). The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle. The Interdisciplinary Center for Herzliya Projects.

Lankford, A. (2010). Do Past U.S. Acts Constitute Terrorism? Implications for Counterterrorism Policy. International Criminal Justice Review, 20(4), 417-435. 10.1177/1057567710384993

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


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