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Terrorism: Indicators & Implications

By: James F. Pastor, Ph.D., J.D., CPP
Principal Expert/Managing Member
SecureLaw LLC, a Security & Legal Consultancy
Tel: (239) 327-9283
Email Dr. Pastor

Implications of Terrorism

In order to effectively deal with the threat of terrorism, it is important to understand the concept. Terrorism has been around for centuries, dating back to Roman times. It has been a deadly, and effective technique, throughout the ages. However, the affects of terrorism can be diminished, and even negated, if appropriate attitudes and techniques are utilized.

One of the first aspects of terrorism which needs to be understood is that it is different from "normal" crime in some important ways. First, the motivation of a typical criminal is usually financial gain or benefit. The motivation of terrorism is larger than financial gain, with political, ideological and religious motivations at the core of the true terrorist. While it is true that terrorists have financial desires, these are secondary to the larger political, ideological or religious motivations. In this way, financial desires are only a means to an end. The end is the destruction of the society or political system, or at least, substantial concessions or changes in basic policies.

Second, the typical criminal seeks to commit a crime without much, if any, publicity or acclaim. Conversely, the terrorist desires publicity and acclaim, which is often the reason for committing the particular act. In this sense, the target of terrorism is chosen to foster publicity or acclaim. Further, once the direct action is "accomplished", the terrorist usually seeks notoriety for the act. This basic motivation is why terrorism experts roundly agree that terrorism is primarily theater. It is theater because the target of the violence is not the person who is killed, wounded or robbed. Instead, the target is society and the political system. In this way, the audience (society) is the true target, not the person(s) who happen to fall prey to the violence (the victims). Consequently, the motivation to kill and create destruction is to create fear within the larger society. The fact that people are actual victims of the violence is secondary. The true desire is to create fear. The creation of fear is intended to bring down the government by demonstrating to the "people" that their government is unable to protect them from the violence.

The use of violence to create fear can also backfire against the terrorists. It is possible that this violence could foster patriotic responses from society, such as what we saw after 9-11. In this way, the violence served to bring people together as a people and a country. When this occurs, the terrorists become the target, with the resources of the political system used against the terrorists. However, the imposition of prolonged climates of fear can change this delicate equation. Over time, the constant threat of fear, or the assertion of government power deemed unreasonable or improper, can result in certain segments of the population turning against the government. This possibility always exists, and must be considered by both government and business leaders in their decision to institute certain security methodologies.

Finally, another distinction between criminals and terrorists regards the focus on "symbolic" targets. Criminals typically do not care about symbolic targets, except possibly when gang members mark their "turf" with graffiti. In this way, graffiti is the symbol of the particular gang's control over a geographic area.

Terrorists, however, are much more selective in their targets, with the "symbolic significance" of such an important reason why the action is planned. Said another way, the target is often selected specifically because it stands for a symbol of the larger society. For example, the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon were not just buildings with people who can be killed or destroyed. They were symbols of American financial and military power, respectively. In this sense, the symbol was larger, and more important, than the building. A rather poignant description of symbolism has developed within the lexicon. The notion of a "trophy building" is a fitting, but disconcerting description of the symbolism contained within terrorism. This is not to say that only trophy buildings are subject to terrorist attack. If attacks against some targets are deemed too difficult, terrorists may decide to attack "softer" targets, such as parking areas, cafés, movie theaters, and the like.

Terrorism Prevention Concepts

The techniques used to prevent terrorism are similar to those used to prevent "normal" crime. While it is important to consider the mindset and motivations of terrorism, the defense against terrorist attacks are largely related to existing security methodologies. In this sense, the notion of "target hardening" is instructive. Target hardening relates to the methods and techniques used to make the commission of a crime (or terrorist action) more difficult to achieve. Hence, the key is to use various security mechanisms, such as extending the perimeter, developing layers of different security methods, integrating systems of overlapping security techniques, and analyzing existing security procedures, policies, and personnel.

The goal of these methods and techniques is to make the environment dedicated to security and the culture sensitive to security. Achieving these dual goals, however, must be tempered by the realities of the workplace, and of the community. While being safe and secure is critical, it must be balanced by other viable goals, such as expediency and profitability. In this sense, being secure within an environment also implies that the people with the environment have a degree of convenience associated with their actions and movements. Further, security procedures and policies must be implemented within the realities of doing business. As such, proper business practices and security methodologies must be reconciled. The goal is to maximize protection while maximizing productivity and profitability.

These competing goals are similar to the tension between security and liberty within the societal context. The desire to maximize security can adversely affect the extent of liberty afforded to citizens within this country. It is generally accepted that the more draconian security methods employed, the less freedom people will have in their everyday lives. Conversely, the more freedom people have, the less secure they will be in their everyday lives. Consequently, the goal is to achieve a balance between security and liberty within society, with a similar balance between protection and profitability within the workplace.

The achievement of this delicate balance is a very fact specific assessment. The appropriate balance depends on the circumstantial, financial, organizational, political, and cultural aspects of the business. Being sensitive to these factors are critical to any sound risk management and security assessment. Our technique is to work closely with corporate decision makers, in order to truly appreciate the nuances, challenges and objectives of the business. We do not work at cross purposes with the organization. Instead, we work with the organization, as we realize and appreciate that fundamental security decisions are made within the context and circumstances of the environment.

Dr. James F. Pastor, PhD, JD, CPP, brings a unique and remarkable 40+ year career in SecurityPolicing, and Public Safety, starting as a tactical officer in Gang Crime Enforcement for the Chicago Police Department, one of the most active policing units in the country. Augmented with a doctorate in Public Policy Analysis, he understands that policies create incentives and drive human behavior. As these directly impact public safety and crime, few possess his experience, his unique insight and his security sense.

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