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27 February 2006

Perceptions and influences

The indefatigable Ms. Dauber again highlights one of the core problems of the modern media environment – the editorial decision-making processes which drive coverage of terrorist events. Once upon a time, say back in the 80’s, when CT was a specialist’s game; certain conventions evolved in order to minimize the impact of terrorism as media phenomena. The choices regarding the coverage given to terrorist demands, and the way in which terrorist actors were permitted to present themselves, was at least given consideration. Ethics was once a factor.

Clearly this era has long been no more. Whether because of the 24/7 news cycle, the internal re-definition of the media as some sort of illusionary neutral party, or the presence of foreign media outlets with ties to terrorist entities; the old norms have been discarded. Media is now actively involved as a weapon, not merely as a channel for a message.

It is for this reason we also look again at John Robb’s Global Guerillas. While we disagree that the recent Al Qaeda attack on the Saudi oil facility was a black swan event, having been previously predicted and operational mitigation measures emplaced, it is interesting to note that his reasons for defining this as such extend out to a much larger audience than traditional warning theory would suggest. In this case, it is the market as a whole which must be warned and prepared for the adverse consequences of a terrorist event – something which also has media implications in terms of risk communication and consequence management. (One should also give credit to the fine authors over at Terrorism Unveiled for their excellent after action report on the Saudi incident.)

You can see something of the successful management of these balances in the recent anthrax event in New York, a naturally occurring incident that nonetheless demanded a delicate approach to ensure transparency and clear communication.

The realms of IO and intelligence are becoming ever more intertwined as the Parallel World's borders become more porous. The questions of what tools and techniques should be developed to add to our tradecraft in order to understand these issues becomes more pressing.