As an active law enforcement officer the United States government, the State of Arizona and departmental policy bestowed the definition of terrorism upon me. I was not afforded the opportunity to pursue alternative definitions nor did I find it pertinent to seek them out. Additionally, had I developed my own personal definition of terrorism, it would have remained ancillary to the government’s explicit legal definition, and most likely would have convoluted my objectiveness as a law enforcement officer. Now, however, I am a retired officer and this has allowed for exploration and self-reflection to determine and develop my definition of terrorism.

Through my current studies, I have been exposed to the academic and mass media perception of terrorism but not a true definition. The truth of the matter is the universal concession is that there is not a universally accepted definition of terrorism (Moeller, 2009).  As a matter of fact, “the United Nations spent 17 years trying to come up with a universally accepted definition, and failed (Moeller, 2009, p. 17). An additional study “discovered 109 different definitions of the word” (Moeller, 2009, p. 17). The lack of a definitive definition opens a Pandora’s box and obfuscates terrorism. Rendering terrorism difficult to perceive and understand [allows] any government [to] can direct and “sell its policy to its citizens” (Moeller, 2009, p. 17) that serves the administration’s political agenda.

Susan Moeller states that “terrorism and terrorist often have little ‘real’ meaning – they are instead political epithets” (Moeller, 2009, p. 17). I agree and I have used this as the springboard to my definition of terrorism. In her book, Moeller quotes British academic and former foreign correspondent Anatol Lieven, “terrorism is not a movement, terrorism is not a state, terrorism is a tactic” (Moeller, 2009, p. 18). To define terrorism as a tactic, it provides clarification, “real” meaning and vindicates criminal prosecution – nationally and internationally. Further more, a tactic is identifiable and can be defined. The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) identifies three key tactics to define terrorism: 1. Terrorism deliberately targets civilians. 2. The victims and the intended audience of a terrorist act are not the same. 3. The psychological impact of a terrorist act is intended to be greater than the physical damage caused. The goal of terrorism is the send a message, not defeat the enemy (Moeller, 2009, p. 18). This, of which, is my definition of terrorism.


Moeller, S. D. (2009). Packaging terrorism: Co-opting the news for politics and profit. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.