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Terrorism as a Communication Strategy Essay


Terrorism is currently a global problem. The United States and United Kingdom, among other nations, declared war on terror in 2001. This was immediately after the 2001 US bombing linked to al Qaeda. Most governments are on high alert when it comes to terrorism. However, are the governments focusing their efforts on the correct stronghold of terrorism operations?

This is the question that many scholars in the field continue to ask. Extremists continue to evolve as the world evolves, especially technology wise. Terrorists hijack important areas of organizational and government operations. This is the knowledge base and communication strongholds. By laying their hands on these crucially-placed aspects of government and social set up, they gain advantage as noted by Kegley (2002).

The media also plays a part in the spread of terrorism. Scholars and observers have not been able to quantify its role. However, there is discussion as to what role it plays. When there is a terrorist action, the final decision to air the goings-on is in the hands of a media house. Most governments exercise media freedom.

Therefore, investigation journalists have a right to report whatever information they gather: whether it compromises investigations by state bodies or it aids enemy operations. This way it helps in their operations.

This paper critically analyzes the communication strategy that terrorists have adopted to conduct their operations. While governments’ shifts all their energies on nuclear annihilation, terrorists are taking advantage of the information they can hinder and information they already have at their disposal according to Combs (2010).

Global Security versus Insecurity

Global security has tremendously increased in the advent of internet and other technological advancements such as satellites, media growth and file encryptions. This technology is also an Achilles wheel when it comes to tackling the same terrorism. Criminal gangs continue to take advantage of these developments to adequately hide their clandestine operations according to White (2008).

Although the fundamentals of terrorist organizations remain the same, the techniques through which to carry them out have radically changed. These techniques center on an intricate communication strategy that the groups have adopted. They are engaging trained personnel in all fields to be able to keep pace with government agencies against terrorism.

In most cases they have even supersede these agencies in tact and preparedness. Hence, they catch them off guard. Government budgets to make their territory safe continue to burgeon. This is because hiring and retaining sensitive employees in the various fields is quite an expensive affair. This is the view of Combs (2010) in her book.

Most governments have had their priorities wrong. A perfect example is the united sates government. They continue to allocate resources to nuclear annihilation programs and treaties with nations to reduce proliferation.

On the other hand, terrorists have given up laying their hands on the nuclear weapons and have employed the ‘information advantage’ strategy. This way they are doing whatever possible to lay their hands on information. Later, they use the same to launch attacks as reliably noted by Combs (2010).


Many organizations and government bodies revolve their operations around the internet. Criminal organizations are working whichever way possible to lay their hands on the information available on the internet. Most of the time, this is very sensitive government information.

It is usually not available even to the highest ranking officers of police. Keeping pace with these terrorist organizations become an uphill task. This is especially true when they have information advantage accrediting to Combs (2010).

Efforts by governments to use encryption technology to annihilate terrorist efforts continue to fail. Government files have on many occasions been made commercially available on the internet. There has been exponential growth in terrorist groups that have highly trained hacking havens.

These people work day and night trying to unmask encryption codes to quite sensitive government files (White, 2008). Once they lay hands on these files, they can easily intimidate the police and national security bodies.

Wiki-leaks are not a terrorist organization. Recently, however, it has been able to access many government files. These include diplomatic cables, files on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and country analyses. This is an example of how a terrorist group can get information, and instead of making it public like Wiki-leaks, uses it to attack the government or the public.

Generally, this is called cyber terrorism. Laws that govern this are not clear on penalties. This is especially true considering the fact that the united sates government has been unable to charge Mr. Julian Assange because of the lack of definitive laws on that issue according to Kegley (2002).

The internet provides a perfect area for a terrorist group to spread propagandas. This can be anything from war, attacks, retaliations and misguided intelligence. This often misleads government agencies tasked with anti terrorism. The internet is faceless.

This means that expansion of terror gangs is very much possible under those circumstances. It follows that efforts to curtail operations or to simply observe and analyze movements and changes is impossible. It requires a lot of input from governments and an even larger input from the public as noted by White (2008).

This is also the base from which governments have been easily nabbing criminal gangs. By using technologies such as Google maps, they can easily pin point gang hot points. In case of attacks aimed at gang elimination, there is so much easiness. It is also easy to locate where they hide. If government agencies are to use the growing internet usage, it will easily be able to indentify criminals.

This is because internet is faceless making it easy for a person to report any criminal activities without fear of been know as the whistleblower. However, this requires the government to establish people contacts so as to gain confidence when giving information.

Most organizations store their data online. Physical backup is no longer fashionable. This knowledgebase has provided terrorist organizations with a potentially harmful soft landing which can cost a company so much money. By knowing this fact, many terrorist groups have occasionally targeted these companies for cyber attacks and hackings. What they basically seek is information advantage.

Most companies fear for their information in future in the advent of the recent happenings. This is especially affirmed by the United States government recent attacks by Julian Assange’s group. This group, which says it’s a media freedom association, has glaringly shown how unsafe internet information is. In light of this, many companies are developing hard to crack encryption codes to safeguard this information (Stohl, 1999).

Secret Communications

Satellites communication has enabled terrorism to thrive. It is possible to easily communicate without any trace possible. This possibility was initially devised to enable government agencies to make secret communications to reduce the ever happening possibility of phone conversation hacking.

However, the technology has now evolved to criminal organizations that conveniently use the tool to plan their clandestine operations. This is a very useful communication to them. They can easily plan a water proof operation and make surprise attacks as noted by (Mihaila, 2010).

Satellite technology also enables government agencies to secretly transmit sensitive files. This includes army reports, war reports and diplomatic cables. However, this is what terrorist are also employing to do just that. The only difference is that their files are meant to do harm.

They have also managed to hack into the files en-route the satellite. A perfect example is the recently hacked into diplomatic cables which the Wiki-leaks founder disputed had any linkage to terrorist groups. Observers argue that he says it is meant for media use to avert the harsh terrorist policies that govern such release. However, media freedom supersedes this and hence Julian Assange wins according to (Mihaila, 2010).


Many observers and communication experts continue to argue on the role that media plays in abetting criminal groups. Media coverage on terrorism is too much. Since the war on terrorism was declared by NATO leaning states in 2001, the media has featured many terrorist stories (Mihaila, 2010).

The audience has become even more receptive to the news. This has attracted commercial interests from the various advertising companies. The overall effect is that when a story that touches on terrorist groups is run in a news outlet, many advertisers will come. This translates the media love for such stories (Mihaila, 2010).

This media affiliation to terrorists stories, however, has been translated a deterrent to government efforts to curb its spread. This is because the reports go to extra miles to unravel the mystery surrounding the government operations (Mihaila, 2010). Once that goes on air, it is public information.

The audience is not defined by good people. There are many terrorists in it. Many laws have been flouted in different countries to curtail such media actions. However, most of them had already drafted media cats with strong support for media freedom. It would be a hard task to reverse media freedom on that issue.

Many terrorist fundamentalists have also used media coverage to propagate and spread their messages. Osama bin laden is a man on the run. He has on many occasions released videos with different messages to the world through the internet.

These messages always feature in the different news channels: TV stations, radio, YouTube etc. hence media exposure has been touted as a tool that criminal organizations use to pursue their interests (Hoffman, 2006).

The media is also used to spread terror and panic. These are the two widely used weak points that attackers use to gain advantage over victims. They can easily report on the planned attacks by terrorists. This greatly gives advantage as it gives them the illusion of a big size. This way a small terrorist group can be widely feared. When a killing happens, it is common to hear of a certain terrorist group claiming responsibility for the death.

This is given so much media attention that it gives them confidence to attack again. In the academic circles, however, no enough research has been commissioned to ascertain the level at which media influences terrorism. Not enough research has been done also to correctly analyze terrorist groups, their tactics, dynamism and growth according to Hoffman (2006).

Many people argue that in the Israeli Palestinian conflict that is currently there, media attention has increased the number casualties (Hoffman, 2006). They argue that the deaths are attributable to the media and that it should be held accountable for abetting that crime. With less media attention, the number of casualties would greatly be reduced. They allude to past conflicts to substantiate that argument.

For example, the united states war with Cuba. This is also the case with African media. This section of the media has led to mass killings after elections. A perfect example is what happened in Kenya after the disputed 2007 poll. Disgruntled opposition leaders openly refused to accept the results and blatantly refused to seek legal redress. Mass killings and evacuations followed and it received enough media attention.

Because of the media attention that the evacuations of Mr. Kibaki’s supporters attracted, other parts of the country soon erupted with cases of violence. Soon the whole country was engulfed in a war that had only affected a small area of the country. Cases of reprisal and counter reprisals soon made the headlines. This form of coverage easily oiled the fire and the whole country almost sank into anarchy.

This is the same thing that is happening in Ivory Coast. One of the radio presenters in Kenya during that period of the violence is named as a key suspect by international criminal court for investigation. He is accused of having contributed largely to the execution and evacuation of peoples form the rift valley province of that country (Mihaila, 2010).

This is an example of the effect media coverage has on spreading terror. An attack in one country is covered and exhaustively discussed. This serves as a motivation to the aggressors to launch further attacks to enjoy media bliss. Does this mean that the government should curtail media coverage of such events?

This is a very controversial topic which directly touches on media freedom. This explains why many governments shy away from this (Mihaila, 2010).

The media argument is that its interest is covering the plight of victims of those atrocities. This is the basis from which media is founded. News that touches on human interest receives attention than any other news.

This news splashing on the television increases the possibility of further attacks. Therefore, the morality surrounding media coverage of terrorism acts should be an area for research to better understand its impact (Decker, 1980).

It is rather appalling to imagine the disastrous effects media plays in situations of war. On the other hand it plays a major role in revolutions. The recent scenario where Middle East has been grappling with masses who want change is perfect example. This is what media is called to do.

Clearly, the media championed for causes that saw dictators in the Middle East to be rooted. The role that Media plays should be according to ethics of communication.

Communication strategies that terrorist use, also, include intimidation of media houses. This is very common in countries like Somalia where there is no rule of law. Sometimes media in those countries are forced to report stories that do not reflect the position they factually gathered. Al shabaab is the terrorist organization that does that. Recently, it has engaged the Kenyan army in gun battles at the border.

The reports from the Kenyan media have been little. Mainly, this is a directive fro the government of Kenya so as to reduce the impact of people panicking. The government of transitional Somalia recently passed an amendment that sought to increase its term in the office.

This greatly infuriated a section of the Somalia population who immediately started demonstrating. The media reports in those two countries may impact so badly to the border relations of the people. Hence, the media is advised to report prudently.


Almost every infrastructure nowadays uses the internet as the center of its operation. Criminal gangs take advantage of this to launch their attacks. Banks, for example use debit cards for transactions. These are subject to attack all the time. Most of the time they attack for people who are well known. In a manner that is spiraling news flows fast and they have media attention.

Airways are the most notorious for this form of terrorism. An aircrafts have been grounded many times after take off was interrupted by criminal gangs. They have established contacts that allow them critical information regarding takeoffs and control. This way they hijack airplanes and aircrafts. Another area that terrorists hold governments and public at ransom is mobile phone communication lapses (Chaliand, 2007).

They hack into systems that allow them information to easily manipulate clients. Most governments have been accused of focusing attention to the international terrorism and neglecting everyday’s terrorism acts that affect the public. This form of terrorism is quite critical as it affects the everyday lives of the victims according to Chaliand (2007).

Communication Research and Strategies

Researchers should study the dynamics of media and communication. This way the government will understand the effect of media coverage. This will form basis for regulation and control. On the other hand, media owners will understand the effect its coverage of the various acts of terrorism can be morally adjusted.

There are areas from which research can be conducted. This includes intercultural communication, small group communication, applied and mass communication. The other area of interest should be ethics of communication according to Chaliand (2007).

By looking at the relationships between all these areas, the various stakeholders will better understand communication as a cause for spread of terrorism. The government should not shy away from coming up with reasonable regulation for the same. Media houses should also uphold ethics that bind its operations to reduce deaths occasioned by its coverage.

All the arms of governments are coming up with strategic ways to combat communication propagated terrorism. This is an uphill task, however. For example most terrorists do not actually send emails. This is because its flight can easily be detected. The pool many unsent messages in drafts which they periodically read and answer. This way they cannot be easily detected.

The government, however, works on the concept of a cell when dealing with such groups and communication. A cell can easily be undetectable. As many cells grow, however, the cease to be hideous and easily show up as organisms.

This is likened to terror groups whose communication is curtailed by the growth of it in size. Their communication becomes complex and complicated. This radically eases the possibility of detection be federal and state agents as noted by Chaliand (2007).

NATO has also formed a defense against terrorism initiative which seeks to engage members of the public in fighting terrorism. This includes building relations and reducing media facilitation. This way it will be easy to get information from the grassroots.

However, this is deterred by intercultural communication problems which are subject to research to ascertain how well to do that. Most governments are also integrating their antiterrorism information and strategic actions so as to better combat the vice globally as noted by Chaliand (2007).


Communication strategies that terror groups continue to employ are superseding governments’ efforts to curtail terrorism. This terrorism is across the board. The focus has shifted from the desire to acquire weapons of massive destruction to the need to have information advantage.

Most antiterrorism organization in the world is less equipped to tackle this growing desire to acquire information. This is because they are less trained and ill prepared to tackle it head on. It is quite unfortunate that many governments are still grappling with the need to disarm governments and terrorist groups while they have shifted focus (Sageman, 2004).

When it became apparent that it was impossible to acquire the desired weapons of massive destruction, the terrorist groups went small scale. Now they focus on areas where there are many people involved (Kisangani, 2007). For example, they can easily tamper with clean water, satellite communication of sensitive files, mobile phone security and banking procedures. They can also tamper with flight controls.

This way they are sounding an alarm to the future of knowledge bases within and outside governments. It is no longer secure. NATO and other bodies have also come up with counter communication strategies aimed at annihilating enemy strategies. The aim is to be ahead of the enemy at all times according to (Kisangani, 2007).

Reference List

Chaliand, G. (2007) The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda. New York: Wiley.

Combs, C.C (2010) Terrorism in the 21st Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Decker, W. (1980) Terrorism as Communication. George Mason University. .

Hoffman, B. (2006) Inside Terrorism. London: Oxford University Press.

Kegley, C.W (2002) The New Global Terrorism: Characteristics, Causes And Controls. London: Wiley.

Kisangani, E. (2007) The Political Economy Of State Terror. Defense and Peace Economics, 18.5: 405–414.

Mihaila, V. (2010) NATO’s Strategic Communication In Combating Terrorism. NATO. Web.

Sageman, M. (2004) Understanding Terror Networks. Columbia: Columbia University Press.

Stohl, M. (1999) Terrible beyond Endurance? The Foreign Policy of State Terrorism. Atlanta: International Studies Association.

White, J.R (2008) Terrorism And Homeland Security: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

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