Center for Research on Population and Security

public report of the vice president's task force on combatting terrorism


Part 2

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U.S. Policy and Response to Terrorists


Since no country is immune to terrorism, it is imperative that governments have the appropriate policies, intelligence and flexible response options to deal effectively with terrorist acts. Trained personnel and programs must be in place before, during and after each crisis, both to respond to the problem and to answer inevitable criticism in the event of failure. Long-term policies to achieve these objectives are costly, complicated and difficult, yet essential as a defense against the importation of terrorism from overseas.



The U.S. position on terrorism is unequivocal: firm opposition to terrorism in all its forms and wherever it takes place. Several National Security Decision Directives as well as statements by the President and senior officials confirm this policy:

   The U.S. Government is opposed to domestic and international terrorism and is prepared to act in concert with other nations or unilaterally when necessary to prevent or respond to terrorist acts.

   The U.S. Government considers the practice of terrorism by any person or group a potential threat to its national security and will resist the use of terrorism by all legal means available.

   States that practice terrorism or actively support it will not do so without consequence. If there is evidence that a state is mounting or intends to conduct an act of terrorism against this country, the United States will take measures to protect its citizens, property and interests.

   The U.S. Government will make no concessions to terrorists. It will not pay ransoms, release prisoners, change its policies or agree to other acts that might encourage additional terrorism. At the same time, the United States will use every available resource to gain the safe return of American citizens who are held hostage by terrorists.

   The United States will act in a strong manner against terrorists without surrendering basic freedoms or endangering democratic principles, and encourages other governments to take similar stands.

U.S. policy is based upon the conviction that to give in to terrorists’ demands places even more Americans at risk. This no-concessions policy is the best way of ensuring the safety of the greatest number of people.



U.S. policy on terrorism has evolved through years of experience in combatting terrorism and is an outgrowth of responses by various Administrations.

Following the terrorist attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics, President Nixon established a Cabinet-level committee, chaired by the Secretary of State, to combat terrorism. Later during the Carter Administration this group was replaced with a more responsive program coordinated by the National Security Council. The program was designed to ensure interagency coordination and established the Lead Agency concept for managing terrorist incidents.

The Carter Administration also established a 10-member senior-level Interagency Executive Committee on Terrorism that eventually evolved into a group of more than 30 government organizations. The Committee was subsequently restructured along more functional lines.

During the first year of President Reagan’s Administration, an organizational structure for crisis management was established with a group chaired by the Vice President and supported by appropriate interagency working groups.

In April 1982, the President refined specific Lead Agency responsibilities for coordination of the Federal response to terrorist incidents:

   Department of State—incidents that take place outside U.S. territory

   Department of Justice (FBI)—incidents that take place within U.S. territory

   Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—incidents aboard aircraft that take place within the special jurisdiction of the United States.

In addition to the Lead Agency responsibilities, a number of interagency groups to facilitate coordination were established, including the Interdepartmental Group on Terrorism, to develop and coordinate overall U.S. policy on terrorism. Chaired by the Department of State, the group meets frequently to deal with issues such as international cooperation, research and development, legislation, public diplomacy, training programs and antiterrorist exercises.

The Antiterrorist Assistance Program was established in 1983 to provide counterterrorism training and law enforcement assistance to friendly foreign governments.



Terrorism requires a coordinated national response on three levels. First, the immediate problem of managing incidents must include measures taken before, during and after the event. Second, coping with the threat is a long-term task that involves protecting people and property, reducing threat levels, and influencing the users and sponsors of terrorism to desist. Finally, there is the challenge of identifying and alleviating the causes of terrorism.


Managing Terrorist Incidents

While not applicable in every case, the options for managing terrorist incidents are:

   Preemption—Such actions are designed to keep an attack from occurring. Preemptive success is limited by the extent to which timely, accurate intelligence is available. Every-day activities that can preempt attacks include altering travel routes or avoiding routine schedules. Successful preemption of terrorist attacks is seldom publicized because of the sensitive intelligence that may be compromised.

   Delay— Sometimes avoiding specific reactions until the circumstances are favorable is the best course. Delaying tactics are used during a terrorist incident in order to stall for time to position forces, keep the terrorists off balance, or develop other responses. Such tactics are particularly valuable when time is important to secure international cooperation in order to apply economic, diplomatic, legal or military pressures.

   Third-Party Arrangements—When incidents occur overseas the host country has primary responsibility for managing the situation. In other cases, for diplomatic or political reasons, the use of third-parties may offer the best opportunity for successful resolution of the incident.

   Negotiating—The United States has a clear policy of no concessions to terrorists as the best way to protect the greatest number of people. However, the United States Government has always stated that it will talk to anyone and use every available resource to gain the release of Americans held hostage.

   Counterattacking or Force Options—Forceful resolution of a terrorist incident can be risky as evidenced by the recent episode involving the Egyptian airliner on Malta; careful planning and accurate, detailed intelligence are required to minimize risks.

Our principles of justice will not permit random retaliation against groups or countries. However, when perpetrators of terrorism can be identified and located, our policy is to act against terrorism without surrendering basic freedoms or endangering democratic values. We are prepared to act in concert with other nations, or unilaterally when necessary, to prevent or respond to terrorist acts. A successful deterrent strategy may require judicious employment of military force to resolve an incident.

Recent legislation has greatly expanded federal criminal jurisdiction over international terrorist incidents involving U.S. citizens. Violent terrorist acts are crimes. Accordingly, the United States will make every effort to investigate, apprehend and prosecute terrorists as criminals.


Coping with the Threat

Dealing effectively with terrorism requires long-term measures for providing physical and personal security, training personnel, and enlisting the cooperation of other governments in protective measures, in gathering and sharing intelligence and in the elimination of terrorist threats.

The growth in frequency and violence of terrorist acts has increased physical and personal security costs, and changed lifestyles and work habits. Expenditures for security programs have grown sharply, but attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in the Middle East, Europe and Latin America show that more must be done to provide security systems and to sensitize and train employees to better manage the threat.

Cooperation with host governments is essential, since they have the primary responsibility for providing security for U.S. citizens and facilities abroad. Their ability to monitor and

control terrorist activities, as well as participate in cooperative measures to collect and share intelligence, is extremely important. Improving aviation and other international security programs and sharing benefits of terrorism-related research and development are equally critical. Securing cooperation in applying political or economic pressures on states that sponsor terrorism is a difficult yet vital part of the overall program.


Alleviating Causes of Terrorism

Terrorism is motivated by a range of real and perceived injustices that span virtually every facet of human activity. The resulting grievances provide the basis for recruitment and the terrorists’ justification of violence. A cooperative international effort to mitigate the sources of grievances, such as pursuing the peace process in the Middle East, is an essential yet complicated and long-term objective. The issues are complex, highly emotional and seldom amenable to outside solutions. However, efforts that promote democratic societies with guaranteed personal freedoms continue to be the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.



Most resources committed to combatting terrorism are incorporated into a variety of diplomatic, military, legal and law enforcement programs. As a result, a precise identification of U.S. Government resources devoted to terrorism alone is difficult. At present more than 150 specific activities to combat terrorism are carried out by various federal departments and agencies.

Since 1970, federal expenditures to combat terrorism have increased severalfold. While it is extremely difficult to break out specific activities from those agencies that perform multiple functions, about $2 billion was spent in 1985 to combat terrorism both at home and abroad. The total number of people—calculated in terms of man-years—assigned to these various programs in 1985 was approximately 18,000.

The majority of the 150 activities included in this country’s effort to combat terrorism fall within eight broad categories: research and development; administration and support; command, control and communications; intelligence; personnel security; physical security; counterterrorist operations; and education and training.

While agency estimates for funding and manpower needs for most of the categories are projected to continue at modest rates of growth through 1990, substantial increases in funding and manpower for physical security are expected at home and abroad.

Other program emphasis during this period is projected to occur in the following areas:

   More law enforcement, prosecution of terrorists

   Better security for civil aviation and maritime activities

   Increased assistance to other governments

   Better, more timely intelligence

Historically, security concerns have not received the high priority from government that they do today. Over the past few years, the dramatically changing situation has resulted in vastly increased financial and human resource expenditures to deal with the threat. By 1990, physical and personal security funding is expected to make up 40 percent of our resources committed to combatting terrorism.



Several federal and local government agencies are responsible for domestic protection of foreign missions, resident diplomats and visiting dignitaries. Although excellent relations exist, occasional coordination problems occur among agencies of the federal and local government. This affects reciprocal foreign government protection provided U.S. visitors, personnel and installations. Decisions to resolve the problems of overlapping jurisdictions are complicated and require comprehensive study.

Frequent and violent attacks overseas have become a major concern. Necessary reliance on host country protection of U.S. installations and personnel, the most visible and difficult to protect terrorist targets, complicates the security issue. U.S. efforts to minimize vulnerabilities, increase awareness, and provide maximum protection have, nonetheless, made progress.

For example, the Secretary of State’s Advisory Panel on Overseas Security convened in 1984 with a mandate to consider the full range of issues related to improving the security of U.S. interests abroad and protecting foreign visitors at home. The recommendations, many already implemented, concern organizational structure, responsibility assignments, personnel systems, training, equipment, accountability and physical strengthening of facilities. The physical security program alone, which would modify existing structures and require some new buildings, is currently budgeted for $2.7 billion over the next five years.



Most agencies’ activities related to combatting terrorism are closely meshed with their other national security functions. To a large extent, their resources are also used for normal diplomatic initiatives, law enforcement, intelligence collection and analysis, research and development, and broad crisis management functions.

The National Security Council (NSC) advises the President on national security matters. Working closely with concerned interagency groups such as the Interdepartmental Group on Terrorism and the Crisis Pre-planning Group, it also coordinates the development and implementation of programs to combat terrorist attacks or threats. In the event of a terrorist incident, the NSC staff serves as liaison between the White House and the responsible Lead Agency.

As previously mentioned, three Lead Agency assignments are in place for managing terrorist incidents: the Department of State for incidents occurring outside the United States; the Department of Justice (FBI) for incidents within the United States; and the Federal Aviation Administration of the Department of Transportation for hijacked aircraft in flight.

Lead Agencies assume coordination responsibilities in addition to their statutory functions. The Lead Agency cannot exercise exclusive jurisdiction, but has the lead because of primary operational and policy responsibilities in the area concerned. It is expected to discharge its own functions and ensure that interests of other departments and agencies are reflected in recommendations to the National Security Council. Between incidents, the Lead Agency works with other agencies to develop policy approaches, maintain necessary relationships with other governments and organizations, keep current on intelligence and other developments in the field, and maintain a readiness to respond whenever an incident occurs. During an incident, the Lead Agency establishes and maintains a Working Group to coordinate with other agencies and to discharge its own primary responsibilities. Accordingly, State, the FBI and the FAA maintain operations centers with staff support, secure and nonsecure voice communications, and satellite capabilities worldwide.

The specific functions of each of the Lead Agencies, as well as those of other key federal departments, agencies and interagency working groups that are part of the national program are covered in detail in Appendix II.



The national program to combat terrorism operates before, during and after an incident. Any strategy must include measures for deterrence, crisis management and response options. The first line of defense in every phase is international cooperation.

International cooperation offers the best hope for long-term success. More and more states recognize that unilateral programs for combatting terrorism are not sufficient. Without a viable, comprehensive, cooperative effort, terrorism and its supporters will benefit from the uncoordinated actions of its victims. International cooperation alone cannot eliminate terrorism, but it can complicate the terrorists’ tasks, deter their efforts and save lives. In fact, numerous actual or planned attacks against U.S. or foreign targets have failed or were circumvented through multinational cooperation.

The United States pursues international cooperation through bilateral or multilateral agreements with like-minded nations and by serving as a member of various international organizations.

The United States has found the best multilateral forum for the discussion of terrorism to be the industrialized democracies which constitute the Summit Seven (United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, West Germany, Italy and Japan). This group has issued four joint declarations of unity (Bonn, 1978; Venice, 1980; Ottawa, 1981; and London, 1984), which have outlined areas of common concern. Additionally, the United States is looking for ways in which it can cooperate more closely with other countries outside this group. For example, there was strong emphasis in 1978 on anti-hijacking measures. The Bonn Declaration, signed in July 1978 by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and Japan, called for member countries to terminate civilian airline service to any country failing to prosecute or extradite a hijacker.

On December 9, 1985, the United Nations General Assembly, with strong U.S. support, passed by consensus vote its first unequivocal resolution condemning terrorism. Eleven days later the U.N. Security Council adopted a U.S.-initiated resolution condemning

unequivocally all acts of hostage-taking and urging the further development of international cooperation among states to facilitate the prevention, prosecution and punishment of hostage-taking as international terrorism. While such resolutions lack implementing procedures and are thus largely symbolic, they are important to the development of a consensus among all nations that terrorism is unacceptable international behavior.

Another important international initiative is the State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program designed to enhance the ability of foreign governments to deal with the security and crisis management aspects of terrorism.

Substantial progress in international cooperation also has been made in the areas of aviation and maritime security. For example, in June 1985, following the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) moved quickly to upgrade its Standards and Recommended Practices for airport and aircraft security. The Departments of State and Transportation are seeking ways to take legal action against countries that do not maintain adequate airport security or refuse to extradite or prosecute hijackers. Procedures also are under consideration to provide international inspection teams to examine airport security arrangements worldwide.

In November 1985, following the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) acting on a U.S. initiative directed its Maritime Safety Committee to develop, on a priority basis, measures for the protection of passengers and crews aboard ships. Additionally, an interagency working group, chaired by the Department of Transportation, was established to assess worldwide port and shipping security. Its recommendations are being worked through the IMO, with bilateral and multilateral security initiatives being pursued as needed.



The United States can retaliate politically, economically and militarily. The utility of these actions depends in great measure on cooperation from other countries, but they can have a positive, long-range deterrent effect.

Use of our well-trained and capable military forces offers an excellent chance of success if a military option can be implemented. Such use also demonstrates U.S. resolve to support stated national policies. Military actions may serve to deter future terrorist acts and could also encourage other countries to take a harder line. Successful employment, however, depends on timely and refined intelligence and prompt positioning of forces. Counter-terrorism missions are high-risk high-gain operations which can have a severe negative impact on U.S. prestige if they fail.

A U.S. military show of force may intimidate the terrorists and their sponsors. It would not immediately risk more U.S. lives or prestige and could be more effective if utilized in concert with diplomatic, political or economic sanctions. There are, however, some distinct disadvantages: a show of force could be considered gunboat diplomacy, which might be perceived as a challenge rather than a credible threat; it may require a sizable deployment of support activities; it may provide our enemies with a subject for anti-American propaganda campaigns worldwide; and most important, an active military response may prove necessary to resolve the situation if a show of force fails.

Political or economic sanctions directed against sponsoring states offer the least direct danger to lives and property and are more likely than military force to gain international support. Such sanctions could stimulate domestic opposition to a government’s support for terrorists, particularly if multinational in character. However, multilateral sanctions are difficult to organize and even then may not be effective. Further, they could unify the country against the United States, since sanctions often harm the general populace more than terrorists. In every case the advantages of sanctions must be weighed against other foreign policy objectives.



Success in combatting terrorism is predicated on the availability of timely and accurate intelligence. One approach to assuring timely information in combatting terrorism involves conventional human and technical intelligence capabilities that penetrate terrorist groups and their support systems, including a sponsoring state’s activities. An equally important approach is through investigative police efforts. Collecting tactical police intelligence aids in monitoring terrorists’ activities and may be crucial to tracking subnational groups or small terrorist bands. The national intelligence effort relies heavily on collection and liaison arrangements that exist with many friendly governments. This effort must be augmented with the results of investigative police work and law enforcement liaison arrangements, which are currently being expanded.

Long-term intelligence programs to combat terrorism involve collection and analysis that address regional history, culture, religion, politics, psychology, security conditions, law enforcement and diplomatic relationships. The requirement for accurate analysis applies both to long-term threat assessments and to support incident management. All terrorism related intelligence collection and analysis must be directed toward production and dissemination of clear, concise, and accurate threat warnings and assessments to decision makers in time for them to take necessary action.



The Role of Congress in
Combatting Terrorism


Terrorism is a bipartisan issue and as the threat has increased, so has the resolve of Congress to ensure appropriate punishment of terrorists. In recent years, Congress and the Executive Branch have worked closely together to close existing statutory loopholes in our ability to prosecute terrorists and reduce their sources of support.



In 1984, several significant bills were passed that have enabled the United States to expand its jurisdiction over terrorists. These bills have greatly enhanced the U.S. role in prosecution of hijackers, making it a federal offense to commit an act of violence against any passenger on a government or civilian aircraft. The U.S. also now has the authority to prosecute any person who destroys a foreign aircraft outside of the United States if the terrorist is later found in this country.

Legislation covering crimes against the families of high-ranking federal officials provides for the prosecution of acts of violence against the immediate family members of the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, all federal judges, the heads of executive agencies, the Director of the CIA and federal law enforcement officials.

New 1984 “Murder-for-Hire” legislation makes it possible for the United States to prosecute anyone who travels or uses transportation or communications facilities in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to murder for compensation.

The Attorney General and the Secretary of State received new authority from Congress in 1984 to reward any individual for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person who committed terrorist acts against U.S. citizens or property. The Attorney General has delegated this authority to the Director of the FBI. The State Department currently has a $3 million budget to pay rewards in international terrorism cases.

Since January 1, 1985, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations have been expanded to require a license for anyone in the United States to train any foreign national (who is not a permanent resident alien of the United States) in the use, maintenance, repair or construction of any item included on a specified list of munitions.



There are several significant initiatives in the Congress that are aimed at correcting many of the remaining statutory shortfalls. If passed, they could give the Administration greater capability in the legal battle against terrorism.

One of the major pieces of legislation that is under consideration is an amendment to the Hostage-Taking Act of 1984. This measure permits a death penalty if a terrorist takes the life of a person during a hostage-taking situation. The present maximum penalty is life imprisonment, even if a hostage is killed.

Another legislative measure would significantly expand federal criminal jurisdiction to allow prosecution of any terrorist who kills, seriously assaults, or kidnaps a U.S. citizen outside the United States, or conspires outside of the United States to murder an American citizen within the United States.

Recent decisions of U.S. courts have blocked the extradition of persons accused or convicted of terrorist acts abroad on the grounds that their violent crimes, including murder, were political offenses. Moreover, similar provisions in foreign extradition laws have frustrated efforts to bring accused terrorists to this country for trial. To correct this situation, the United States has begun negotiations with selected countries to revise extradition treaties to preclude the use of the political offense exception in cases involving violent crime.

Another pending initiative would permit nuclear reactor licensees access to FBI criminal history files. The review of these files could prevent hiring known or suspected criminals or terrorists to fill sensitive positions.



Two areas require review to determine whether legislation or other administrative measures are necessary. The first is airport and port security. Continuous review and upgrade of security measures are needed; however, no federal statutes currently mandate development of measures to protect ports, vessels, passengers or crew members.

The second is a review of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to determine the validity of reported abuses. It is alleged that terrorists and terrorist organizations, in addition to unfriendly foreign governments, have used the Act to gain sensitive information. Should a review confirm such abuses, a revision will be required.

One area in which there is concern both in Congress and the Executive Branch is the issue of Congressional oversight of proposed counterterrorist operations. It may be appropriate to pursue informal discussions between the Congress and Executive Branch to clarify reporting and oversight requirements in this area. Because hostage rescue and counterterrorist operations are sensitive and involve a variety of different circumstances, no set of specific procedures would be appropriate in all cases.

Legislation calling for the formation of a Joint Committee on Intelligence has been introduced in the House, but is still in the early stages of development. The advantages are essentially twofold—streamlined procedures for intelligence oversight and reduced numbers of people who have access to sensitive information.

Finally, consideration should be given to legislation which gives the federal government primary jurisdiction over terrorist acts committed against federal officials and property as well as against foreign officials and facilities within the United States.



Viewpoint of the American People


Terrorism deeply troubles the American people. A Roper Poll conducted before the TWA 847 hijacking showed that 78 percent of all Americans consider terrorism to be one of the most serious problems facing the U.S. Government today, along with the deficit, strategic arms control and unemployment.

Public sentiment about how to deal with terrorism also has political ramifications. The Iranian hostage situation demonstrated the political liabilities in failing to meet the expectations of American citizens. The standing of British Prime Minister Thatcher’s government was enhanced in the aftermath of the 1980 rescue of the hostages at the Iranian Embassy in London. A Washington Post-ABC news poll showed that President Reagan received a large boost in standings from his success in dealing with the Achille Lauro hijacking— 80 percent said they approved of the action. Frustration was also evident in the same poll with many Americans skeptical that apprehension of the hijackers would do much to alleviate terrorism.

Attacks on Americans in Beirut in 1983 and 1984 precipitated national grief and public frustration and resulted in significant changes in our foreign policy in the Middle East. The Americans currently held hostage in Lebanon continue to receive the concern of the American people and the highest priority of the U.S. Government.

A special group interview project, conducted in November 1985, helped to document the attitude of the American public. Individuals interviewed do not believe that terrorism has a direct effect on their lives, but the indirect effects evoked strong reactions. Americans feel fearful, vulnerable, victimized and angry. Most of all, they are frustrated by a sense of helplessness.

Also, the research project shows that Americans believe terrorism affects perception of the United States as a powerful country and world leader. Terrorism reduces America’s status to being seen as a “pawn”—powerless, easily manipulated and at the mercy of attackers because Americans cannot or do not fight back.

The President is seen as ultimately responsible for fighting terrorism, although the group polled recognizes that government agencies are also involved. Most believe that the government is responsible for keeping them safe wherever they go.

Even though those Americans surveyed believe the government is virtually helpless when it comes to catching terrorists, they feel something should be done. Solutions recommended include international cooperation among countries, including economic sanctions, and tighter security at airports and aboard aircraft. Active measures such as military actions are much more controversial among those interviewed, although welcomed by many.

With regard to policy on terrorism, most responded that there was no cohesive policy, but said there should be one. There is an awareness that the United States will not negotiate with terrorists. Those interviewed believe a policy on terrorism should reflect national values: respect for individual life, respect for law, and respect for the sovereignty of nations.

Under the umbrella of such a policy, Americans would still welcome actions against terrorists that are swift, forceful and even aggressive. There is growing evidence the American people support timely, well-conceived, well-executed operations, such as the capture of the Achille Lauro hijackers. They endorse similar actions even if inadvertent casualties result.

Also, those surveyed think Americans need to be made aware and reassured that U.S. counterterrorist forces are highly trained and capable.



Terrorism and the Media


Terrorism is a form of propaganda, demanding publicity to be effective. Among the factors cited for the increases in both the number and sensational nature of incidents is the terrorists’ success in achieving wider publicity and influencing a much broader audience. Terrorists see the media’s role in conveying their messages worldwide as essential to achieving their goals. Tithe violence is spectacular, wide coverage is usually assured.

Terrorist acts are newsworthy, and the media see coverage as a professional, competitive responsibility. Some in the media have claimed that intense coverage helps to resolve an incident and that putting the hostages on television may actually save their lives. The other side of this argument is that untimely or inaccurate information released by the media can interfere with resolution of an incident, foreclose options for dealing with it, or unwittingly provide intelligence information to terrorists, which prolongs an incident or endangers lives.

It is essential, therefore, that the government and the media cooperate during a terrorist incident, which almost inevitably involves risk to human lives, human rights and national interests.

One difficulty for the press is that it cannot provide accurate coverage that takes into account risk to government action unless it has some accurate sense of what the government is attempting. Government thus can assist by providing as much timely, factual information as the situation allows.

Media practices that can lead to problems during an incident are:

   Saturation television coverage, which can limit or preempt the government’s options.

   Political dialogue with terrorists or hostages.

   Coverage of obviously staged events.

   Becoming part of the incident and participating in negotiations. The media in the role of an arbiter usurps the legal responsibilities of the government.

   Payments to terrorist groups or supporters for interviews or access.

   Coverage of military plans or deployments in response to terrorist incidents.

The solution to these problems is not government-imposed restraint that conflicts with the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and the press. The media must serve as their own watchdog. Journalistic guidelines have been developed for use during wartime to protect lives and national security, and in some circumstances should be considered appropriate during a terrorist situation.

The government has a responsibility to maintain effective communications during a terrorist incident. Officials should keep their comments within cleared guidance, avoid sending inadvertent signals, or leading other governments astray. Conflicting statements by different departmental spokespersons give an impression of disarray, which meets one of terrorism’s objectives.

Many Americans believe that terrorists use the media to achieve their goals, according to the previously mentioned research study. While they also believe that the media exaggerates and sensationalizes incidents, they firmly support absolute freedom of the press as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Television coverage received the most criticism, with some coverage perceived as inaccurate, incomplete and not reflective or analytical. According to those interviewed, it has the potential for making heroes out of criminals and exploiting the privacy and grief of affected families. Television also dramatizes the entertainment value of an event. Newspapers were judged as offering more detailed information and news magazines as offering more perspective.

The Task Force found that much of the media coverage concentrates on the families of hostages as human interest stories. Their public statements understandably reflect the perspectives of distraught individuals principally concerned with the safe return of their relatives. Some of these statements may unintentionally play into the hands of terrorists, who reinforce the families’ concerns by claiming the lives of the hostages are in danger. Family members sometimes turn to the media to bring pressure on the Administration to take action that may not be appropriate or possible.

While both the American public and the Administration have debated the role of the media in terrorist incidents, the media has questioned its own policies. The coverage of the TWA Flight 847 hijacking in June 1985, where 104 Americans were taken hostage and one was murdered, stimulated a professional review within the media to reexamine the balance between the desired goal of keeping the people informed and the vital issue of public security. Individual media organizations have discussed professional reporting guidelines, and ethical standards have been adopted by some members of the press, including television networks. However, there is no industry consensus on either the need for or the substance of such guidelines.




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