I realized as of late that I have forgotten to post some of my essays from the past year after the first one.  I won’t bother putting up the one that wasn’t as good, but this one was received rather warmly.  It took a lot of work for this essay, finding the sources that approximate what I have been trying to show was difficult.

The following essay below the fold is about the nature of counter-terrorism campaigns and their morality.  The fundamental difficulty is determine the difference in morality based on intent and actual result.  A terrorist can support at its core a worthy cause, but be deemed by supporting such a cause with utmost horrifying actions.  By the same token, this is true of counter-terrorist organizations who must separate terrorists from civilians when they are deliberately trying to avoid being found.

Intelligence Agencies: A Necessary Agent of Destruction and their Perception in Media

They are letters that are anthropomorphic personification of fear itself, CIA, KGB, MI6, ISI, Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and Mossad (tran. The Institute).  All of the above organizations have been involved in what they have deemed to be counterterrorism campaigns.  Their methods of operation are similar too, intelligence gathering leading infiltration, military strikes, and assassination.  All of the organizations represented above disallow extrajudicial killings except in the case of counterterrorism campaigns – a breakdown of traditional values.  In many cases the overall casualties of counterterrorism operations can exceed that of the terrorist’s initialization incident.  The application of a counterterrorism campaigns requires public perception to internalize an ideological separation between counterterrorism and terrorism that is partly created by media and journalists.

One of the most famous early examples of bypassing societal norms in the business of intelligence was Operations Mincemeat of World War II by Allied Intelligence.  Desecrating the dead, numerous fake documents including passports and birth certificates, and stealing identities; had the end result of saving thousands of Allied soldiers lives (Montagu).  The basis of such institutions is simple, the end justifies the means to achieve a greater goal of saving more lives than not acting would.  Like most successful intelligence operations, the media became obsessed with the story and resulted most well known the book and movie of the same name – The Man Who Never Was.  Why all the fuss?  Media organizations are obsessed with intelligence organizations because they are a source of news to which they are not privy too, and everyone wants what they cannot have.  Journalists are in the business of reporting the news and intelligence services produce news that journalists cannot know.

Just recently there have been two events by happenstance coincided together to showcase the effect of intelligence organizations.  The class Terrorism and the Press showing of “Munich” by Steven Spielberg took place in the foreground to the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.  Like most successful assassinations, the perpetrators remain unknown, though suspicion has fallen on Egypt’s, Jordan’s, and especially Israel’s intelligence agencies.  What is especially impressive is the obsession over this assassination of prior to other incidents in Dubai.  Back in 2009 a Chechan rebel general was assassinated in Dubai received substantially less coverage than the killing of the Hamas operative (AFP).  Other recent assassinations include that of an Iranian nuclear scientist (Mahnaimi) and an ex-KGB spy (Townsend).  These incidents in particular are believed to be the results of intelligence agencies because each death serves a nationalistic purpose for a certain country or countries.  Assassinations are extrajudicial executions and outside legal boundaries of democratic nations.  Yet, if T-shirt sales are to judge the assassination of al-Mabhoub, there is considerable monetary interest as sales of “Mossad” shirts are increased 1000% at one company (Weiss).

The extrajudicial nature of intelligence agencies with a primarily counterintelligence focus is very different from that of collecting intelligence on an enemy country.  One example of the former were the spy wars in Berlin during the Cold War.  In this case, an intelligence service only breaks the law of a single country at a time.  In contrast, in the latter an intelligence agency dealing with terrorism must be necessity spy on every country as terrorists occur in all countries.  Some countries – such as Iran (Hezbollah), United States (Afghan mujahedeen), and France (Irgun (source: Zamir))  – have supported terrorist groups with money and material support.  In other cases, countries such as Italy made a secret agreement with the PLO in the 1970s that no actions would be taken as long as both sides remained uninvolved with each other.  As a result, counterterrorism becomes an international diplomacy issue because different countries will consider different actions and groups terrorism.  Allied nations may even become enemies in wars between spies based on their support.

Extrajudicial assassinations of terrorists also serve as a useful weapon of victim, perpetration, and a victim that is also a perpetrator.  The declaration of themselves as victims while being perpetrated of terror is common.  One of the more obscure examples of this paradigm is a Nazi propaganda poster from 1944 courtesy Calvin College German Propaganda Archive.  In it, the poster text “DER LUFT TERROR GEHT WEITER: MUTTER SCAHFFT

Nazis accused Allied forces of being terrorists.

EURE KINDERFORT”, or basically, “The air terror continues. Mothers, send your children to safety!” (Calvin).  Nazi propaganda often referred to the Allied forces as terrorists.  Simultaneously, the V2 bombing campaigns of Britain and the brutality of occupied Europe’s police forces are examples of state terror by the Nazis; and the Dresden bombings are examples as victims.  Clearly, the difference between terrorism and extrajudicial counterterrorism by nation states are murky.

One of the most common ways a country can differentiate between the unethical terrorism and ethical counterterrorism is by avoiding civilian casualties during extrajudicial actions.  In this, I would like to refer back to my previous paper covering Der Spiegel coverage of the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center’s destruction.  One of the interviews was with Leila Khalid who declared she was not a terrorist because she had not killed civilians in her plane hijackings.  Many see her as a terrorist for her actions, but she has constructed her own argument that creates a simple dividing line between terrorists and counterterrorist.  In some ways, this simple definition actually makes the distinction even more difficult.

Not every person killed by Mossad assassination teams after Munich were terrorists as made famous by the Lillehammer affair.  The Geneva conventions gives protection to the offending in the case of combatants hiding among civilians – but the killing of a Moroccan waiter does not qualify.  Additionally, suspicion of Mossad involvement in the error of Lillehammer is what led to journalists discovering the pattern of PLO assassinations in the previous and continuing years.  A dialogue between the PLO and Mossad in Europe through assassinations became a public media mess as journalists obsessed with uncovering other recent Mossad actions.

On the other hand, in many cases they were successful in identifying and killing perpetrators of indiscriminate bombings without civilian casualties.  Assuming the Mossad was responsible for the death of al-Mabhoub; he is an example of the latter.  Just recently, Pakistan captured a Taliban member, Mullah Abdul Baradar, “second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar” without civilian casualties (Mazetti).  It is difficult to argue against counterterrorism efforts that do not harm civilians. Therefore, the Mossad during counterterrorism work have occasionally acted both as terrorists and correctly based on the definition of Leila Khalid.

It is possible under that definition to be both terrorist and counterterrorist in the same campaign.  A more immediate of example of a nation acting as terrorist and counterterrorist is the United States CIA in the anti-Taliban missile strikes in Pakistan.  In some cases, they have been extremely successful, a robotic drone based strike on January 17 2010 killed 20 Taliban and Uzbek terrorists, wounded four more, and injured no civilians (Dawar).  In other cases the CIA has messed up horribly, when just a month later 27 civilians were killed, wounded 14, and no Taliban members were killed or wounded (UPI).

The media coverage rarely calls the CIA terrorists; at least not in any reputable media station.  Yet their mistakes have often times killed more civilians than the terrorists themselves.  Nonetheless, they are protected by the Geneva convention mentioned above.  Therefore, the above convention above implies that determining who commits terrorism is about intent regarding targets regardless of the result.  However, this definition has weaknesses by ignoring the victims killed in the pursuit of terrorists when their deaths were avoidable tragedies.

One cannot simply dismiss the avoidable mistakes of nation based intelligence services as the price of war.  At one point do a series of systematic mistakes become a policy of malign neglect?  And from there, where does a policy of malign neglect become a systematic, deliberate failure to reform?  A deliberate policy of failure to reform bad intelligence practices during extrajudicial killings in counterterrorism operations can be considered terrorism.  A deliberate failure to discover why extrajudicial operations result in unnecessary deaths has the same motivation as terrorism, a disregard for civilian death and injury.

In many cases known propagators of terrorism like to declare their enemies terrorists too.  In 2007, the Iranian parliament declared the United States Military and the CIA terrorists in an obviously overt political procedure (Debusmann).  A hypocritical move considering the current Iranian defense minister is wanted by Argentine authorities for planning the bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina in 1994 (BBC).  More recent examples of Iranian state terrorism includes the actions of the state sponsored Basiji militia following the disputed June 2009 elections.  In either of these cases counterterrorism is not a legitimate excuse; civilians were deliberately targeted and killed, fulfilling both the Geneva conventions’ and Leila Khalid’s definition of terrorism.

One recent book discussing comparison between counterterrorism language and its relation to terrorism appears in a book by the name of Writing the war on terrorism: language, politics, and counter-terrorism by Richard Jackson a Lecturer in International Security at Manchester University.  According to Jackson:

The actual practice of counter-terrorism gives concrete expression to the language of counter- terrorism  – in effect, it turns the initial words into reality. Language and practice, in other words            are inextricably linked; they mutually reinforce each other; together they co-constitute social             and political reality.

He goes on to describe that counterterrorism such as the United States in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without creating a language that differentiates between the two.  In addition, such operations “are not possible without a significant degree of social and political consensus.”  The actions taken during counterterrorism that inflict avoidable civilian casualties requires an internal orientation of separating counterterrorism from terrorism itself.  The question then becomes who is responsible for the social consensus towards counterterrorism as justified regardless of results.  Moeller of Packaging Terrorism states that “how government frames an event or policy becomes the standard way the media talks about it [terrorism].”  Journalists become promoters of counterterrorism activity in the same way that they could promote terrorism.  In either case, the definition is murky even when the actions may be completely without fault or primarily affects civilians.

Eventually, based on the above evidence, it is clear that counterterrorism could result in the degradation of common values such as the prohibition against extrajudicial assassination.  However, due to the coverage of counterterrorism the degradation of values will not be noticed due to social and political consensus to take action against terrorism.  Legitimate counterterrorism operations is protected action since legal bodies look at intention over actions.  It would not surprise me to find out that the number of people killed and injured in the aftermath of the Iranian elections would be less than the casualties of the CIA’s Pakistani counterterrorism campaign.  On the other hand, Iran is self-incriminating when it comes to intent.  Perhaps one can only hope that more counterterrorism operations are similar to al-Mabhoub’s assassination, clear motivations and without civilian casualties.  That assassination appears moral regarding results compared to many counterterrorism campaigns through the past decade.


AFP. “Chechny’s trail of blood now stains Dubai.” Agence France-Presse: Paris. Apr 14 2009. March 6       (2010).

BBC. “Iran ‘minister’ on Interpol list.” BBC: London. August 21 2009. March 8 (2010).                                         < http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8215293.stm>

Calvin College. “The air terror continues.” Calvin College: German Propaganda Archive. March 8                (2010).                 <http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm>

Dawar, Rasool. “Pakistani officials: Suspected US drone kills 20.” Salon, Associated Press: January 17        2010. March 8 (2010).

< http://www.salon.com/wires/allwires/2010/01/17/D9D9HOMG0_as_pakistan/index.html>

Debusmann, Bernd. “Iran MPs brand U.S. army, CIA “terrorists.”” Reuters: Tehran. September 29            2007.  March 8 (2010). <http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSDAH96407720070929>

Jackson, Richard. Writing the war on terrorism: language, politics and counter-terrorism. Manchester     University Press: Manchester, United Kingdom. 2005. March 6-8 (2010).

Mahnaimi, Uzi. “Iranian Dissident Masoud Ali Mohammadi ‘killed by Arab hitmen'”. The Sunday Times: London. January 17 2010. March 6 (2010).     <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6991081.ece>

Mazetti, Mark and Filkins, Dexter. “Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban’s Top Commander.” New York       Times. February 15 2010. March 8, (2010).


Moeller, Susan D. Packaging Terrorism. Blackwell Publishing, John Wiley & Sons: Chichester, West            Sussex, United Kingdom. 2007. March 8 (2010).

Montagu, Ewan. The Man Who Never Was: World War II’s Boldest Counterintelligence Operation. Naval Institute Press: Annapolis MD.  1953. March 6 (2010).

Townsend, Mark. “Poisoning of Russia agent raises fears of UK vendetta.” The Observer: Guardian:        Manchester. November 19 2006. March 6 (2010).        <http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/nov/19/russia.world>

United Press International. “NATO Afghan airstrike kills 27 civilians.” UPI. February 22 2010. March 8        (2010). <http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2010/02/22/Efforts-to-avoid-civilian-casualties-  noted/UPI-54251266820471/>

Weiss, Mark. “Demand for Mossad T-Shirts up tenfold after Dubai assassination.” The Irish Times:           Dublin. February 24 2010. March 6 (2010).


Zamir, Meir. “A burning ship on Jerusalem Beach.” Ha’aretz: Tel Aviv, Israel. March 6 (2010).