Terrorism and the Commercial Sector
Updated: Apr 8
Terrorism is the calculated use of violence designed to create climate of fear in a population in order to change or achieve political objective.
They are predetermined and designed to create a climate of extreme fear.
They are directed at a wider target than the immediate victims
They inherently involve attacks on symbolic targets, including civilians.
They are used primarily, though not exclusively, to influence the political behavior of governments, communities or specific social groups.
The US government definition (US Code Title 22 Section 2656f (d)) describes ‘terrorism’ as premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.
Terrorism has been practiced by political organizations, nationalistic and religious groups, revolutionaries and state institutions throughout history. America won their freedom against the colonist rule of Great Britain largely due to irregular warfare operations involving volunteer militias. Terrorism is an effective strategy because:
It can help weaken the enemy by a campaign or attrition.
It is a useful way of inflicting hatred and vengeance on a hated enemy.
Spectacular damaging attacks will gain high publicity in order to draw others to the cause.
It can be used to provoke an overreaction in government forces, thus driving up support for the insurgents.
They may gain the release of imprisoned terrorists.
Low cost to finance which may produce high returns.
Prior to the group Al-Qaeda (and its affiliates), the greatest threat posed to the United Kingdom was the Irish Republican Army (IRA) –a revolutionary paramilitary organization with a quest for national independence from Great Britain. During the evolution of the IRA, the organization divided into sub-cells/departments that included a military wing and political wing (Sinn Féin).
The long-term strategy of the IRA was to create a long, expensive and unpopular war that would force British forces to withdraw. The strategic objectives of IRA’s military arm consisted of a bombing campaign targeting Britain’s financial interests. During the height of “The Troubles” large businesses including the McDonald’s restaurant franchise, paid the IRA millions of dollars annually to not bomb their stores.
The funding of terrorism drew criticisms, however, the political voice of the movement “Sinn Féin” maintained a propaganda war that diverted talking points and public attention, ultimately encouraging blackmail (and other intimidation methods) to become a profitable fundraising strategy.
Further reading: Clandestine Organizations: The Irish Republican Army (IRA)
In the Commercial Sector
Large scale acts of terrorism are rare occurrences, and this unpredictability makes them difficult to plan for. When they strike, they are indiscriminate acts of violence that usually occur without warning and using varying methods of execution. Since these large-scale attacks are infrequent, mitigation resources are usually directed into other areas of concern (criminal acts).
Failing to plan or Inadequately preparing provides opportunity, soft targets are more attractive to competitors. Following the events of the 2005 London transport bombings, the city of London Police commissioner, James Hart reported that only half of firms in the City had adequate contingency measures in place following a terrorist attack (BBC News, 2005).
In the 911 attacks, the twin towers were selected for their iconic value and the financial implications it would create. The 9/11 Commission Report (2004) estimated the cost to finance the 9/11 attacks cost between $400,000-$500,000 to execute. The result caused several billions of dollars in damages through revenue loss and created huge financial incentives for media giants in overseas coverage.
The response to the attack prompted the ‘war on terror’ which included the invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003). These wars eventually evolved into an expensive administrative formality, largely due to other organizations with incentivized financial interests with US presence in the Middle East. This prolonged presence increased the rise in domestic terrorism and the threat of potential attacks in western interests.
(figure.1) is a bar chart displaying attacks by target type.
During the year 2000 – 2012 there were a reported 316 successful and unsuccessful attacks in the United States and United Kingdom.
In present day, as technology improves, hacking, data theft and other cyber-crimes are becoming a growing concern. With the ability to launch attacks remotely, cyber terrorism would seem as an attractive alternative to traditional clandestine operations. With most modern organizations operating online, commercial businesses are having an elevated level of exposure when connected to a global network.
Single Issue Terrorist Groups
Eco warriors, animal rights campaigners are single-issue activists with a history of causing financial damage to business premises. The Earth Liberation front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) –for example, typically target property and not people in their attacks. Common targets include meat or food processing plants, animal testing centers. In 2012 a single operative from a terrorist cell known as “The Family” surrendered herself to the FBI after causing £24.33m in arson attacks against forest ranger stations and meat processing plants.
According to a report by a Bermuda-based insurance firm (Catlin Group Ltd.’s 2012), the commercial sector is a high value targeted; with physical attacks directed at commercial enterprises and critical infrastructure. By mitigating threats based on historical methods, data would provide results based on the latest trend –hijacking public transport systems being the most devastating so far; chosen for their ease of regular public access with the ability to inflict a greater body count.
Wort 2014 (and electronic business paper) discusses the financial implications of creating a domino affect in other countries following the London suicide bombings of 2005. The result saw London stock markets fall 3.8%, markets in Paris, fall 5.4% reports that Germany was also hit. The E-paper also highlights the long lasting the impact of an attack, following the 1996 Manchester bombing by the IRA. Out of 400 of businesses affected by the blast, 40% never recovered.
Although Large scale acts of terrorism are rare occurrences, the lack of preparation creates soft targets, making them an attractive target of opportunity to cause disruption. With more organizations operating online, the evolving threat of cyber-warfare exposes businesses to a new kind of threat from hackers that have the ability to launch operations remotely.
The use of terrorism has been used throughout history. It can work in conjunction with traditional warfare, or as a standalone campaign. It’s a cost-effective strategy for politically motivated militias that doesn’t require a significant amount of funding to be effective. The commercial sector is a particularly high value targeted; with physical attacks directed at commercial enterprises and critical infrastructure.
For a relatively small sum, terrorist cells have the ability to cause significant financial implications to the commercial sector, making them a worthy and credible threat that shouldn’t be underestimated.
BBC. (2005). City a target, police chief fears. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4137068.stm. Last accessed 16 Feb 2014.
BBC. (2012). Canadian 'eco-terrorist' surrenders in US. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20551571. Last accessed 17 Feb 2014.
Catlin Group Ltd. (2012). A business approach to terrorism. Available: http://www.catlin.com/flipbook/terrorism/files/inc/1585927987.pdf. Last accessed 17 Feb 2014.
Christopher Harres. (18 Feb 2014). Obama Says Cyberterrorism Is Country's Biggest Threat, U.S. Government Assembles "Cyber Warriors". Available: http://www.ibtimes.com/obama-says-cyberterrorism-countrys-biggest-threat-us-government-assembles-cyber-warriors-1556337. Last accessed 18 Feb 2014.
Gill, M. 2006. Terrorism. In: Gill, M. Ed. The Handbook of Security. Palgrave: MacMillan, pp. 328-357
National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2013). Global Terrorism Database [Data file]. Retrieved from http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd
THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT. (2004). Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Available: http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report_Exec.htm. Last accessed 16 Feb 2014.
White, Kevin. “Clandestine Organizations: The Irish Republican Army (IRA).” Chegansrm,
Wort. (2014). The financial impact of terrorism and how to limit and prevent it. Available: http://www.wort.lu/en/view/the-financial-impact-of-terrorism-and-how-to-limit-and-prevent-it-52fe3eece4b0bf471e9756ca. Last accessed 18 Feb 2014.