A private intelligence firm issued a report today arguing that the recent attacks against government and military locations are indeed examples of domestic terrorism, despite what government officials and politicians say.
The report, "Terrorism: Defining a Tactic," revisits three recent incidents—Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's November shooting rampage at Fort Hood; Joseph Stack's suicidal plane crash into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, nearly a month ago; and John Patrick Bedell's shoot out at the Pentagon last week—and confronts the arguments that say these attacks do not qualify as terrorism.
"Arguments used to not classify these attacks as terrorism include the failure to generate large numbers of casualties, a lack of foreign ties and the absence of a larger conspiracy," observe Stratfor's Fred Burton and Ben West. The authors further note that not defining these incidents as terrorism conflicts with the Patriot Act's definition of what terrorism is under U.S. law.
Two days ago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appeared on a Washington, D.C., radio show and said Stack's attack against the IRS building in Austin, Texas, was not terrorism.
"To our belief, he was a lone wolf," Napolitano told the "Diane Rehm Show." "He used a terrorist tactic, but an individual who uses a terrorist tactic doesn't necessarily mean they are part of an organized group attempting an attack on the United States."
Stratfor's Burton and West disagree with this line of thought. First, violent attackers do not have to be part of a larger network or organization to qualify as terrorists, as Napolitano states. Actually, Burton and West say lone wolves can be a more dangerous form of terrorist because its harder to detect and deter their attacks. "Theodore Kaczynski (aka the 'Unabomber') is the archetypal lone-wolf operative who used violent attacks to publicize a social and political message," the analysts write. "Therefore his violent acts qualify as terrorism."
Furthermore, terrorist attacks do not have be catastrophic like 9-11. Rather, terrorist attacks historically have been the opposite. "Often these events are no more violent or consequential than a common criminal incident — what sets them apart are the political motivations of their perpetrators," Burton and West note. "Indeed, catastrophic attacks are the exception to the rule, though the memory of these spectacular incidents is burned indelibly into the public mind."
Also the geographical source of the attack has no bearing on whether or not an attack is terrorism. As Burton and West point out the majority of attacks historically against the United States have been conducted by domestic groups or individuals, such as Timothy McVeigh's 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
In the end, what matters most when determining whether or not a terrorist attack has occurred is whether or not the perpetrator's motivation was to coerce a population or a government to change policy because of political, religious, or ideological beliefs. And by this standard, recent attacks qualify, Stratfor says.
"According to the definition of terrorism laid out in the USA PATRIOT Act, the cases of Hasan and Stack clearly fit the label of terrorism and Bedell’s is certainly looking that way," write Burton and West.
Properly categorizing attacks as terrorism isn't just an academic debate, the authors argue. By designating an act that could be terrorism as simply a crime, investigators could miss evidence that suggests trends or further threats.
"But not examining the possibility of terrorism in the first place risks overlooking important pieces of information that could prove useful in preventing the next attack, or fully understanding the last one."
♦ Photo of the aftermath of Joseph Stack's attack on IRS building by fragility v2/Flickr