Schneier Interview in The Edge

Here.

Posted on June 27, 2008 at 12:42 PM • 15 Comments

Comments

Brandioch ConnerJune 27, 2008 2:44 PM

"We all know what terrorism is; it involves innocent people being killed in a very public way, in an attempt to cause terror in the greater population."

Excellent point. And one that is too often missed in the media.

JasonJune 27, 2008 2:49 PM

"cyber-crime war on Internet civilians"

Is that really what the average non-geek thinks is going on?

It is a scary and sobering thought. How can you convince people that cyber-terrorism is non-existent if they don't even understand the terminology.

Bruce, I'm glad you answered the questions they way you did. Thanks.

EricJune 27, 2008 3:01 PM

Bruce says: "We all know what terrorism is; it involves innocent people being killed in a very public way, in an attempt to cause terror in the greater population."

So I'm curious, by that definition would dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, or the bombing of Dresden be considered terrorist acts?

If not, why not? Or is it just a bad or incomplete definition of terrorism?

JasonJune 27, 2008 3:03 PM

Re: Eric

Yes, those were terrorist acts. They just happened to be condoned and supported by the side that won, so that makes it okay.

JasonJune 27, 2008 3:05 PM

Re: Eric again

Wouldn't that mean that almost every war would be classified as a series of terrorist acts?

I mean, each side does pretty much call the other side terrorists to elicit support and sympathy.

Your terrorist is someone else's hero.

What matters is who, in the end, gets to decide which is which.

BobJune 27, 2008 3:18 PM

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were demonstrations of irresistable force that allowed the Japanese government to surrender without an invasion.

The US military did *not* want to invade the home islands. They had already invaded Okinawa.

The estimates were over a million US casualties. The casualties on the Japanese side would have been far more numerous. They would have included many more civilians than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The US killed many more Japanese civilians in firebomb raids. Japanese industry was much more widely distributed than in Germany. It was difficult to pick targets, and General LeMay didn't want to lose any more aircrews than he had to.

VictorJune 27, 2008 3:25 PM

@Eric

No, Tokyo, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not terrorist acts because the perpetrators won the war, and wound up writing the histories.

More seriously, terrorist acts carried out by agents of a nation at war are considered either war crimes or effective strategies, depending upon the balance in the objectives (both planned and achieved) between military effectiveness and mere terror.

They are 'merely' terrorist acts when carried out by ostensibly non-governmental agents, since there is no nation to declare war upon in reprisal, and no legal context for agression (in the sense that a war between nations is recognized as a legal reason to kill the other fellow).

If it were discovered that specific terrorist acts were in fact carried out by a nation's agents against another nation it would be considered an act of war (and possibly a war crime).

All of which raises a good argument for merely calling 'terrorist' acts 'criminal' instead of 'terrorist'.

Kevin PetersonJune 27, 2008 5:20 PM

"Terrorism", when used by someone who isn't a politician or "journalist", specifically refers to the use of violence or threat of violence against non-military targets for the purpose of instilling fear in the populace in order to achieve political social or religious ends.

If you are engaged in asymmetric warfare against a state sponsored military force, you are probably an insurgent or part of the resistance, depending on whether you win. If you are a member of the military attacking military or militarily important industrial targets outside the accepted bounds of warfare, then you are a spy or saboteur. If you are not doing it for the purpose of accomplishing some sort of political or social goals, then you are a simple criminal.

It is useful to differentiate terrorism because the methods to protect against it are different. Words have meanings, it is useful to have a word to refer to a specific group of activities that share common features.

Dresden, Nagasaki, Nanking and Melos were not terrorist actions because they were carried out by state actors in the course of a declared war. Whether they were war crimes is a separate question, but it is foolishness to confuse war crimes and terrorism. The motivations of those who carried out those acts were not the same as the motivations of those who engage in real terrorism.

Ross SniderJune 27, 2008 6:33 PM

The Sons of Liberty, to some considered heroes, were the first American terrorists. Remember all those tar and feathering incidents they told you about in middle school? How about the riots of British taxcollectors? How about the minutemen that fired to kill soldiers from windows as they marched through towns? All of those things killed and maimed people. It was done to scare British supporters (remember we had plenty of them amoung the casual citizens) and to scare the soldiers. It's the same functioning we're seeing with terrorists today. Why? It's really, really effective. Nothing says "Hey everyone, we're serious!" than violent, widely publicized deaths. Boston tea party, anyone?

I'm not purposefully trying to sound unpatriotic or whatever (also not trying to assume everyone who reads Schneier's comments are American), just supporting what Jason had said. Fear is a wonderfully effective weapon, and one that can be used cheaply and skillfully. We get fed a lot of media bullshit and a lot of groupthink bullshit from ourselves. It's perspective only.

"[Attila the Hun] relied on terror tactics and fear alone for victory" [source: http://www.allempires.com/article/index.php?... Just search for terror through that article. To the Huns, Attila was a great man.

John David GaltJune 28, 2008 12:46 PM

It seems to me that your definition of terrorism is just a little too narrow.

Terrorism is the use of any kind of destructive or threatening "demonstration" to compel other people to follow your orders.

The classic US terrorists were the Ku Klux Klan. Once they hanged a few black people for trying to vote, and burned down some houses for daring to shelter a black person in "their" town, word got out, and eventually such acts as placing a noose in a tree or burning a cross on somebody's lawn served the purpose of expressing the KKK's message: "Do what we want or we will kill you."

Thus an act does not have to kill to be terrorism, so long as it puts victims in fear.

This also shows, in my view, that "hate crime" laws should be viewed in a new light. These laws are not "thought crimes" at all; they are attempts to deter crimes of coercion/extortion -- terrorist crimes. In a more sensible US, judges and juries would be allowed to infer the coercive intent behind acts such as burning that cross or putting that noose in the tree, and punish it by convicting the perpetrators of coercion or extortion, thus making hate crime laws unnecessary.

The beatings at Tulia would have been unnecessary if the local police had done their job and prosecuted the people who put the nooses in the trees for making felony death threats. I'd like to see them investigated for collusion with the bad guys by not doing so.

NuggetJune 28, 2008 8:22 PM

Bruce, I admire your cyber-patience and your cyber-ability to respond to the cyber-hyperbole employed by the cyber-interviewer at The Edge.

Cyber-kudos.

Davi OttenheimerJune 29, 2008 2:25 PM

@ Bob

Good points. In "The Fog of War" Robert McNamara lays bare US military intent, as described in a comment on IMDB:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317910/

"He has no problem admitting his major role in firebombing Tokyo in WWII, killing 100,000 Japanese in one night; his boss, General Curtis LeMay, would have had it no other way."

The US has been a world leader at using air-based explosives to terrorize civilian populations. You could point to Italy, Turkey, France or even Portugal for similar intent, but I think Bush senior still holds the record for sheer magnitude of terror from above.

Davi OttenheimerJune 29, 2008 2:31 PM

@ Bob

Good points. In "The Fog of War" Robert McNamara lays bare US military intent, as described in a comment on IMDB:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317910/

"He has no problem admitting his major role in firebombing Tokyo in WWII, killing 100,000 Japanese in one night; his boss, General Curtis LeMay, would have had it no other way."

The US has been a world leader at using air-based explosives to terrorize civilian populations. You could point to many others such as Italy (extra credit for originality), Turkey, France or even Portugal for similar intent, but I think Bush senior still holds the record for sheer magnitude of terror from above.

Davi OttenheimerJune 29, 2008 2:51 PM

@ Bob

Good points. In "The Fog of War" Robert McNamara lays bare US military intent, as described in a comment on IMDB:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317910/

"He has no problem admitting his major role in firebombing Tokyo in WWII, killing 100,000 Japanese in one night; his boss, General Curtis LeMay, would have had it no other way."

The US has been a world leader at using air-based explosives to terrorize civilian populations. You could point to many others such as Italy (extra credit for originality), Turkey, France or even Portugal for similar intent, but I think Bush senior still holds the record for sheer magnitude of terror from above.

Tom WelshJuly 1, 2008 7:27 AM

As we have seen, governments often carry out "terrorist" acts on a very large scale. Indeed, government terrorism has utterly dwarfed the "freelance" kind, by four or five orders of magnitude, throughout recent history.

One reason governments get so puffed up and indignant about what they call terrorism may well be that the terrorists are infringing on the governments' monopoly of terror. Consider 9/11, perhaps the largest scale terrorist attack in living memory, which killed fewer than 3,000 people. The US government's reprisals against Afghanistan and Iraq have (to date) killed well over 1 million people - a factor of about 300 to one.

Since terrorists kill so few people - far fewer than road accidents, for example - it is unclear why governments would worry much about them, unless they are concerned to maintain their monopoly on lethal violence. (If you doubt that monopoly, by the way, try not paying your taxes).

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