Risk Management. Do the events of 9/11 and beyond presage an era of new terrorism?

Essay, 2012

20 Pages




1 Introduction

2 Definitions
2.1 Terrorism
2.2 Risk
2.3 Risk management

3 Terrorism from antiquity to Al Qaeda

4 The events of 9/

5 Risk management before 9/
5.1 Limitations of the CIA
5.2 Limitations of the FBI
5.3 Limitations of airport security

6 Risk management after 9/
6.1 The USA Patriot Act
6.2 Airport security

7 Conclusion

8 References

1 Introduction

The given question frames two points for discussion, namely whether the events of 9/11 and beyond presage an era of ‘new terrorism’ and what problems this poses in terms of risk management.

Many regard 9/11 as a watershed moment in the history of terrorism, (Guardian, 6 September 2011) this viewpoint will be critically analyzed in this paper.

The essay opens with a definition of the main terms to which the essay question is referring to, namely ‘terrorism’, ‘risk’ and ‘risk management’. Using this terminology as a framework for analysis the essay studies the phenomenon of terrorism throughout the ages in its different expressions. Following this timeline, contemporary religious terrorism and the events of 9/11 are considered in detail. Then, the limitations of risk management practices of intelligence agencies and airport security pre 9/11 are studied. This is followed by a study of the ‘Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism’ Act (USA Patriot Act), which was adopted after 9/11 to compensate these limitations. These legislation changes are then followed by a further study of the new practices at airports. The essay concludes with stating that the events of 9/11 did not presage a new era in terrorism, but were rather a continuation of contemporary religious terrorism, which exploited the existing weaknesses in risk management practices. Arguably, initial responses to the question can be found in terminology and definitions.

2 Definitions

2.1 Terrorism

There is no generally accepted definition of the term ‘terrorism’. That is because the term has different meanings for different people. In an attempt to find common characteristics of the definitions of terrorism Schmid and Jongman (Chaliand et al., 2007: 13) approached the problem by collecting 109 different academic and official definitions and analyzed them for common components. The results showed that 83.5% of definitions had in common the element of violence. Further on, 65% of definitions claimed that terrorism was conducted in light of achieving political goals, while 51% of definitions emphasized the element of inflicting fear and terror. Further down the scale, only 21% of definitions included the element of arbitrariness and indiscriminate targeting. Last but not least, in only 17.5% of definitions the victimization of civilians, non-combatants, neutrals, or outsiders was found as part of the definition. However, above results should be noted with reservation since Schmid and Jongman’s studies reflect Western perceptions of the term (Chaliand et al., 2007: 14).

In this essay the definition of terrorism as defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been adopted for several reasons.

Firstly, the FBI’s definition contains most of the elements previously identified by Schmid and Jongman and secondly, because the focus of this essay is on the events of 9/11. Therefore, it is considered appropriate that the definition adopted for this paper originates from the lead domestic intelligence agency in the US (Dyson, 2012: 20).

The definition of terrorism adopted by the FBI is as follows: “The unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” (Dyson, 2012: 20).

2.2 Risk

Similar to the term ‘terrorism’, ‘risk’ can have different meanings depending on the perspectives of those defining it. Consequently, there is not a consistent and shared definition of risk in regards to terrorism. For instance the OECD circumvents the problem of defining ‘terrorism risk’ by defining ‘terrorist acts’ (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2005: 14) and suggesting to review those periodically (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2005: 19).

The research carried out by the world’s leading provider of research on terrorism, i.e. RAND Center for Terrorism Risk Management Policy (RAND CTRMP), is in this respect notable as being a joint project of three organisations bringing together researchers from the risk management, safety and justice area (RAND, 2005: III).

RAND CTRMP defines risk in regards to terrorism as “the anticipated consequences over some period of time to a defined set of targets, resulting from a defined set of threats” (RAND, 2005: 10).

2.3 Risk management

RAND CTRMP’s definition of risk in regards to terrorism suggests that risk can be managed through focussing on threats, vulnerabilities and/or consequences but does not provide a clear definition of risk management (RAND, 2005: 11). Therefore, the definition of risk management of the Royal Society is adopted, as it considers the same components as suggested by RAND CTRMP, although the wording is more general in nature. According to the Royal Society risk management is “the process whereby decisions are made to accept a known or assessed risk and/or the implementation of actions to reduce the consequences or probability of occurrence.” (1992: 5)

Having outlined the definitions the essay now continues to study how the phenomenon of terrorism evolved throughout the ages.

3 Terrorism from antiquity to Al Qaeda

To be able to evaluate changes in the expression of terrorism, the phenomenon is examined from antiquity until the contemporary era. For this purpose Rapoport’s historical model (2002) of the ‘four waves theory’ is used amended with classical examples of religious terrorism.

The model illustrates that the dominant expression of terrorism appears in waves, lasting approximately 30 - 40 years, before being replaced with another expression of terrorism. As the theory neglects the time prior to 1880 the essay complements the theory by including two classic examples of religious terrorism dominating in the first and the thirteenth century and introducing therewith another wave which precedes Rapoport’s theory.

The Zealots were a nationalist religious movement opposing Roman occupation, active during the first century in Palestine. In order to achieve their goals they were spreading terror among occupiers and collaborators through assassinating them in public places (O’Kane, 2007: 6). The ‘Ismaili Assassins’, from which the term ‘assassination’ originates, were a religious terrorist group active between approximately 1090 - 1275 (O’Kane, 2007: 7) in today’s area of Iran and Syria. They employed suicide missions to spread fear among Muslim Sultans and Christian Crusaders alike (Lewis, 2003: XII)

Having examined early religious terrorism, preceding the Rapoport’s ‘four waves theory’ (see Table 1), the essay builds on this by presenting the evolution of terrorism.

Table 1: Rapoport’s Four Waves of Terror (from Richards, 2010: 57)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

According to the theory, the first ‘Anarchist’ wave of terrorism appeared approximately 1880 in Russia and lasted until the WWI. In this time terrorists mainly employed assassination plots (Rapoport cited in Cronin et al., 2004: 52). The second ‘Anti-colonial’ wave consisted mainly of national aspirations. This reached its climax in the two decades after WWII, engulfing colonial territories of Western states, such as Israel and Cyprus. These terrorist nationalist movements typically employed both guerrilla and terrorist tactics in their aspirations of national independence (Rapoport cited in Cronin et al., 2004: 53-55). The third or the ‘New Left’ wave resulted in the wake of the new political environment in the 1960s. Radical groups such as the West German Red Army Faction (RAF) emerged. A major characteristic of the third wave is the hostage crisis (Rapoport cited in Cronin et al., 2004: 56-57). The fourth ‘Religious’ wave of terrorism emerged in the 1990s. Al Qaeda, being one of the figureheads, broke new ground in its scale of ambitions, its globally franchised organization, audacity of operations, and indiscriminate targeting (Rapoport cited in Cronin et al., 2004: 63).

Although separated through centuries, parallels between historic and contemporary religious terrorist groups, in particular Al Qaeda, can be drawn. All groups belong to universalist religions, which are by their very nature rivals to political power as they strive to gain social control through integrating theological issues and political considerations into a common structure (Chaliand, 2007: 59). While considering the fourth wave of Rapoport it becomes clear that the nature of religious terrorism posed fundamentally challenging questions for security and intelligence actors, which were not recognised adequately. Indisputably, 9/11 marked the ‘masterpiece’ of Al Qaeda’s campaign against the Western society and the US in particular. This is demonstrated by the findings of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. These showed that during the time period from 1970 to 2010, excluding 9/11, only approximately 500 people have died in terrorist attacks in the US in contrast to the events of 9/11 which claimed 2997 lives (HSToday.us, 9 January 2011).

4 The events of 9/11

According to the 9/11 Commission’s report (2004) the plan of Al Qaeda to crash four commercial aircrafts into symbolic buildings in New York and Washington unfolded on the morning of 9 September 2001, approximately 08:14 a.m. (Eastern Daylight Time). That minutes all radio communications ceased between the pilots of American Airlines (AA) 11 and air traffic controllers thus marking a possible hijacking. The second hijacking on that day happened around 08:42 a.m. on board of United Airlines (UA) 175. The third aircraft UA 93 was hijacked around 08:42 a.m. and the fourth AA 77 at about 08:51. In three of the four cases the terrorists succeeded to crash the planes into predetermined targets – the World Trade Centre was hit twice while one plane crashed into the Pentagon. According to the 9/11 Commission’s report only the struggle of the passengers of UA 93 prevented the plane from reaching its target (9/11 Commission, 2004: 1-9). Precipitating these attacks, 19 terrorists managed to successfully depart from four airports although several layers of defence were in place to prevent terrorist attacks.


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Risk Management. Do the events of 9/11 and beyond presage an era of new terrorism?
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Anonymous, 2012, Risk Management. Do the events of 9/11 and beyond presage an era of new terrorism?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/293254


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