Blue Line

Terrorism – The “new” threat

December 2, 2011  By Steven J. Rocke

September 11, 2001. On that date many people throughout North America became familiar with the word Terrorism. Was this some new threat now faced by people?

In the days and weeks following the attacks of 9/11, many media outlets spoke of this new phenomenon as something that had never been seen before, but were they right? What exactly were they speaking of that had never been seen before? 

The attack of terrorists resulting in significant loss of life on American soil was not new; just ask the people of Oklahoma City. The attack on the World Trade Center was not new, just eight years earlier an attempt to destroy the towers (a failed attack) had resulted in several deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The use of aircraft to fly into buildings was not a new idea either as Air France Flight 8969 had demonstrated. 

So what was new about this event?
What I believe was truly new and unique was the age of instant worldwide media coverage which allowed people the world over to watch the events as they unfolded. This brought what many people viewed as something which had always happened “over there” right into our own kitchens and living rooms “over-here”. It forced people to admit that there was a real and credible threat posed to society by groups or individuals who would seek to attack our way of life. 


What was new was the sense of immediacy. I even watched as prominent Canadian politicians took to the floor of the House of Commons to claim that Canada was safe, as nothing of this nature had ever occurred here. However, just 6 years earlier not one, but two aircraft had left Canadian airports carrying explosive devices planted by terrorists operating on Canadian soil. One device resulted in the deaths of 329 people off the coast of Shannon, Ireland; the other killed two and wounded four in Narita Japan. These were far from the only terrorist attacks which had occurred on Canadian soil.

What the events of 9/11 truly did was to focus attention on past, present and future threats posed by individuals within our own borders wishing to do us harm. It also focused many law enforcement resources into gathering information on these groups and individuals and putting into place strategies to combat these groups to prevent attacks from occurring. It also focused thinking and planning on developing effective strategies to deal with such events should they occur. Terrorism was in fact not a new threat at all, but one that had fatefully and finally moved up the priority list to job #1. 

Front line law enforcement and security officers were now tasked with investigating many reports of potential terrorists or terrorist activity but few had the training or knowledge to effectively deal with many of these reports. Many of these same officers went looking for information or resources to learn about this threat but were frustrated to find the courses or material were either not available or available only to those with specific security clearances. The task of providing training and education on terrorism to officers in the field was both immediate and overwhelming.

I should point out that there were many people working the security and counter-terrorism field in Canada, prior to 9/11 who were well aware of the potential dangers and who worked tirelessly to disrupt this type of activity. These people were and are dedicated, well trained and enthusiastic about their work to keep us safe. After the events in NYC, Pennsylvania and Washington thousands more were added to their ranks.

As a student of terrorism for almost 30 years now, I know that terrorism has been carried on throughout the ages and throughout the world. It existed in the first century AD when the Sacarii Zealots attacked and killed many Jewish citizens who were believed to be collaborating with Rome. It has been carried out through many attacks by various groups in both the United States and Canada. To believe that we are immune to this type of activity in Canada is in my view both naïve and dangerous.

The word terrorism has almost as many definitions as there are groups worldwide but is generally believed to involve violence or threats of violence, directed at a person or groups of persons to either get them to do or not to do something. The motivation is generally rooted in some idealistic, political and more recently religious ideology and cause. Terrorists groups are not generally criminal organizations and as such do not seek to benefit financially from their actions. Having said that, they do need to acquire funds for their operations and therefore the need to follow the money trail and tighten up on financial tracking procedures is now a crucial part of the fight on terrorism.

Because of its political nature Terrorism is often open to interpretation and it is difficult to come to absolute agreement on the definition. What is important is not whether terrorism is new or not, whether it can happen here or not but that Terrorism is real. It is real right now. It is real in our part of the world. We must educate ourselves regarding the groups and their methods of operation and how we currently respond and investigate them.

We must be able to understand terrorism and plan prevention, mitigation and response strategies that are both efficient and effective. As the famous warrior and philosopher Sun Tze once wrote “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”

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