Years before the formal inauguration of the “War on Terror” following the September 11, 2001 “terror attacks” the CIA has shaped the way news media recognized, defined and reported on “terrorism.” This continues to be accomplished via “word adaptations that will exclude state terrorists and capture only the petty terror of small groups and individuals,” classifying the latter as “international terrorism,” notes economist and media critic Edward S. Herman.
The CIA defines “international terrorism” as “’Terrorism conducted with the support of a foreign government or organization and/or directed against foreign nationals, institutions, or governments.’” Thus countries having friendly relations with the United States and its allies that perchance may be directly carrying out terrorist activities on their subject populations are removed from consideration.
“In short,” Herman observes, “if you use ‘death squads’ to kill 7,000 of your own citizens, this is ‘terrorism’ but not ‘international terrorism.’ Unless, of course, you do this with ‘the support of a foreign government.’” Throughout the Cold War the US government provided direct aid to dictatorial regimes in South America, Africa, and Asia that has dwarfed Soviet backing of independent organizations such as the Irish Republican Army or the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Yet the CIA and in turn the news media address this stark contradiction “[b]y simply assuming, without the slightest discussion, that the United States is not supporting any official terrorists—only Libya and the Soviet Union do that sort of thing; the United States only supports independent governments, protecting them against terrorists, by definition.”
Edward S. Herman, The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda, Boston: South End Press, 1982, 21-23.