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Terror marches on.

Terror Marches On

FOR THE PAST 20 years, governments, law enforcement officials, security professionals, and the media have tracked terrorist targets and techniques throughout the world. They have witnessed the growth of professional terrorist organizations capable of committing outrageously violent acts in the name of religious retribution, political revolution, or pernicious revenge. In most instances the terrorist atrocities go unanswered. People perceive themselves as vulnerable, so government and private industry harden their physical security.

But wait! Perhaps security initiatives have been successful. Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1989, published by the US State Department in April 1990, says, "The year 1989 saw a steep decline in the number of terrorist acts committed worldwide - one of the sharpest yearly drops we have recorded since the advent of modern terrorism in 1968." The report depicts a 38 percent decline in the number of terrorist incidents worldwide from 1988 to 1989. The report also notes a significant drop in the number of people killed or wounded by terrorists.

Security plans and budgets are normally driven by statistics, particularly government statistics. International firms and clients are attuned to the terrorist threat, and any marked statistical deviation in the level of threat affects security budgeting and planning. This close correlation between statistics and planning caused some security professionals to review their data bases to corroborate 1989 statistical indicators. One such indicator, the Risk Assessment Information Service (RAIS) of Business Risks International, offered a dramatically different view of worldwide terrorist activity.

On March 2, 1990, RAIS reported a record number of terrorist incidents in 1989, reflecting a 16 percent increase over 1988. The RAIS data, which has been privately compiled for the past 20 years, also indicated a 10 percent increase in lethal attacks in 1989. In addition, RAIS statistics showed a marked increase in attacks against US business interests.

Such contradictory data places security professionals in a quandary. How can security planning be done with such inconsistencies? A spread of 54 percentage points in describing worldwide terrorist violence seems impossible.

The problem is that definitions shape statistics. Historically, the US definition of terrorism has focused heavily on its political nature. The State Department defines terrorism as premeditated, politically motivated violence against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine state agents, usually intended to influence an audience. International terrorism involves the citizens or territory of more than one country.

Law enforcement authorities, recognizing that criminal statutes contain neither a definition of terrorism nor a specific crime of terrorism, have been forced to use another definition. Their definition states that terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property through a criminal act designed to intimidate or coerce a government, civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Whether to designate terrorism as a political act or a criminal act is a significant issue. The criminal act is generally codified in law. That means the elements of the crime have been spelled out and the evidence must directly relate to those elements. The political act, on the other hand, is defined by motivation and is therefore an extremely subjective offense. When a terrorist act is viewed primarily as a political act, a double standard is developed that sets motivation and moral judgments above the law.

The ambiguity associated with motivation in the US definition of terrorism has already caused serious problems in a number of extradition hearings, notably those involving the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). The overemphasis on political motivation results in a purging of significant incident data before it is presented to security professionals or the public.

The US requirement that more than one country be involved for an act to be considered international terrorism also has a questionable impact on statistical veracity. When a group of German terrorists known as the Red Army Faction (RAF) bombs the armored automobile of a leading national financier, thereby assassinating him, the incident is recorded as an international terrorist act. However, when a group of Colombians known as the Medellin cartel bombs a government bus and kills more than 20 police officers, it is not considered an international terrorist act.

Each event is aimed at economic or political destabilization, and neither incident overtly involves citizens of more than one country, yet it is immediately assumed that only the RAF has been supported by foreign training and technical assistance. However, intelligence and media reports have documented the expensive training and technical assistance the drug cartels are purchasing from foreign terrorist groups and mercenaries.

The statistics offered by the State Department are heavily skewed to reflect its perceptions of terrorist activity, not necessarily the views and interests of corporations and clients served by security professionals. Unfortunately, this limited focus may well obscure the probable shift in terrorist emphasis in the 1990s. I specifically mean the high probability of ethnic and religious terrorism in the former East Bloc countries and the Soviet Union. Clearly, that limited focus also fails to monitor the growing violent threat of narcoterrorism.

Political, ideological, or religious motivations aside, terrorism is the use of violence to create fear, "a pervasive atmosphere of insecurity, a widespread condition of anxiety,"(1) in a population to force the existing system to respond positively to specific demands or general objectives. International terrorism over the last 15 years has been characterized by increasing violence and brutality.

In the early 1970s, some terrorist groups claimed that their violent activities would be specifically directed at institutions, notably governments, that refused their demands. This self-restraint was short-lived, however, due to the groups' frustrations and the self-fulfilling prophesy inherent in the interaction between terrorists and the news media.

This self-fulfilling prophesy plays itself out very simply. The terrorist needs media coverage. Violence always attracts media coverage. The public will watch violence, but it becomes indifferent to a recurring visual effect. If viewers are not attracted by a subject, the news media, particularly the electronic media, will look for other subjects.

Thus, to keep media attention, terrorists must resort to new techniques and greater violence. The confusing confluence of news, propaganda, editorial expression, and theater all exist in the coverage of a terrorist incident. But it is the violence that draws the media and attracts the viewers.

Brian Jenkins of Kroll Associates, formerly the chief terrorism analyst of the Rand Corporation, has described the phenomenon in this way:

At the same time terrorism has increased in volume, it has become bloodier. The number of attacks directed against persons as opposed to property has increased. The number of incidents with fatalities has gone up. The proportion of incidents with multiple fatalities has increased to more than half of all incidents with fatalities. It used to be a third. The most alarming trend in the 1980s is the increased number of incidents of large-scale, indiscriminate violence as terrorists set off car bombs on city streets or plant bombs in airplanes, airports, department stores, and discotheques - all actions calculated to kill in quantity.(2)

If headlines are a key goal of the terrorist, bombings provide the best vehicle for increased violence. In the past 10 years, bombs have become the favored technique of terrorist groups around the globe. Terrorist incident statistics compiled by the US government, research organizations, and for-profit security firms, each having different data collection guidelines, confirm that bombings have accounted for approximately 50 percent of all terrorist incidents in the past few years. Bombs have been responsible for 23 of the 25 most vicious terrorist massacres in the last 15 years.(3)

For a terrorist, the benefit of bombing is that it can be accomplished by one or more persons, requires no elaborate planning, uses routine electronic technology to ensure safe escape, and is indiscriminate in its violence - it kills or injures anyone within its range.

When combined with such initiating techniques as radio control, long-term timers, pressure switches, and barometric switches, bombs supply the variety and violence necessary to attract media coverage. Tragic incidents such as the Pan Am flight 103 bombing illustrate the innovative nature of terrorist bombs as well as security's inability to detect them.

Drug-related terrorism may well be the most destructive aspect of international terrorism in the 90s. Narcoterrorism refers to the linkage between international terror organizations and international drug cartels. Both groups operate with underground infrastructures and engage in societal disruption through violence.

According to one author, "Narco-terrorism is a weapons system that can be aimed, either with precision or with random effect, upon target societies. It serves to terrorize, to disrupt, to subvert, to destabilize, and to undermine the very foundations of those target societies."(4)

Expedience was probably the reason for the earliest linkages between terrorism and drug trafficking. In an obvious marriage of convenience, drug cartels purchased professional protection for their drug growing and production activities and at the same time aligned themselves with an international network of potential drug couriers.

For their part, terrorists received the basic necessities of their trade - money and weapons. Both groups adhered to the basic objective of using violence to undermine government through a concerted violent attack against law and order. Their goal was a complete break-down of public confidence in government and ultimately the collapse of government due to terrorist activity.

The most vivid illustration of the narcoterrorist working relationship can be found in Colombia, a country under siege by both drug cartels and political terrorists. Since August 1989, the Medellin cartel, considered the most violent of the Colombian cartels, has dramatically escalated its attacks on the national government.

In response to government assaults on drug operations, the cartel unleashed a reign of terror on Colombian society. A leading presidential candidate was assassinated as were senior police officials and judges. More than 300 bombs were directed at politicians, bankers, news establishments, and the government. Many of the terrorist devices equaled the technical proficiency of explosive devices used in Europe and the Middle East. The cartel is believed responsible for the November 1989 bombing of an Avianca jet, an attack that killed 107 persons, and the December 1989 bombing of special police headquarters in Bogota, an attack that took 62 lives and left hundreds wounded.

One of the unique phenomena associated with international terrorism is that while American citizens and property have been the principal target throughout the world, the use of terrorist techniques in the United States has scarcely been exploited. Among the reasons for this shortfall are good intelligence, professional law enforcement, and barriers to entry. Perhaps the most important factor is the terrorists' ability to strike representatives of the United States elsewhere in the world.

While foreign terrorist groups are generally assumed to have some infrastructure in place in the United States, only the narcoterrorists have an active network of operatives already engaged in violence in our communities. Just look at the crime statistics for many of our cities. New homicide records have been established in most major cities, with Washington, DC, and Detroit competing for the title of Murder Capital USA. The District of Columbia reported a record-breaking 438 homicides in 1989 and was running 20 homicides ahead of that figure in October 1990.

The Washington Metropolitan Police Department has confirmed through investigation that more than half of those killings were drug-related. This violence remains largely unseen as the drug merchants fight for turf much like the bootleggers of the 1930s.

The violence appears on our television screens when innocent children are caught in the cross fire, when a particularly gruesome murder occurs, or when a community leader publicly attempts to mobilize a neighborhood. Interviews with inhabitants of those neighborhoods portray intense feelings of isolation, the belief that government cannot protect them, the anxiety and fear of trying to survive in their own communities, and the hopelessness that accompanies their loss of freedom. Their expressions reflect terror; their world has disintegrated into violence. They are experiencing terrorism in the United States.

Some would argue that the drug violence occurring in many of our communities is not terrorism. They would be correct if terrorism were only defined as destabilization of a segment of society by foreign agents. That is certainly the most popular definition in America because we have accepted the thesis that terrorism is something done to us by foreigners. But what if we apply another definition of terrorism? Does drug violence become more threatening when we call it violence against persons and property designed to intimidate government or a segment of the population in furtherance of political or social objectives?

Narcoterrorists have the motivation, the resources, and the ruthlessness to increase the level of violence in the United States substantially. The threat is not merely the movement of experienced hit squads into the United States but also the training and activation of an infrastructure that has already demonstrated a proclivity for violence.

On September 20, 1989, Oliver "Buck" Revell, associate deputy director of the FBI, told the Senate Committee on Government Affairs, "I don't believe that if there was an intent on the part of these cartels to have blood running on the streets of America we would be in a position to preempt it to the same degree that we have against the domestic [terror] groups."

The appearance and character of the terrorist threat to both government and private enterprise has changed during the past 10 years. The recurring image of the Middle Eastern terrorist slipping across borders with forged passports has been enlarged to include the indiscriminate violence associated with narcoterrorists. New opportunities for terrorist activities, particularly ethnic and religious versions, have arisen in countries recently liberated into the free enterprise community.

The challenge facing security professionals is twofold. First, the level of terrorist threat must be monitored accurately. Data bases must be evaluated for accuracy and reliability, specifically in the context of corporate or client objectives. Hidden agendas, misleading definitions, and unidentified preconceptions must be exposed lest they become the underpinnings of a security proposal or plan.

Second, security professionals must engage in an active program of training and research on subjects such as terrorism to be able to develop their own hypotheses as the foundation for security planning. Poor security predictions cannot be blamed on someone else's unevaluated statistical presentation.

Terrorism in the '90s is not on the wane. The increase in indiscriminate violence associated with terrorism and narcoterrorism is well documented and represents a threatening reality. Attempts to categorize and minutely define aspects of terrorist incidents have unfortunately clouded our view of the big picture. Any perceived decline in terrorist activity or violence as we enter the '90s is merely an illusion.

(1) Neil C. Livingstone, The War Against Terrorism (Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath and Company, 1982), p. 4.

(2) Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Terrorist Devices and Methods (Washington, DC: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1987), p. 9.

(3) The Bomb: Favored Terrorist Weapon (Washington, DC: FBI Bomb Data Center, 1989), pp. 2-3.

(4) Rachel Ehrenfeld, Narcoterrorism and the Cuban Connection (Washington, DC: The Cuban American National Foundation, 1988), p. 2.

Robert C. Quigley, CPP, is executive vice president of Threat Research Inc., an international consulting firm in New York City specializing in terrorism, bomb threats, and physical security. He was formerly chief of the FBI Bomb Data Center. He is a member of ASIS.
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Author:Quigley, Robert C.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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