Framing Homeland Security

24 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2008

See all articles by Amos N. Guiora

Amos N. Guiora

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: 2007


In discussing homeland security and terrorism, it is necessary to work with clear definitions of the terms and concepts that frame this strategy. One of the greatest hindrances to a cogent discussion of terrorism and counter-terrorism has been that the terms lack clear, universal definitions. Strategic analysis must begin with clearly articulated and precise definitions of terrorism, counter-terrorism, and homeland security, as proposed in this article. To that extent, the recommended definition of terrorism is: acts of politically based violence aimed at innocent civilians with the intent to cause physical harm, including death, and/or conducting psychological warfare against a population aimed at intimidating it from conducting its daily life in a normal fashion.

Ultimately, there are many approaches that we could take to define terrorism. We could look at the definitions currently employed domestically and abroad. We could look to academic debate on the subject. We could consider the inverse of terrorism in other words, define first what terrorism is not. We could also try to craft a definition that encompasses all of the terrorist groups and individuals our government is currently targeting or has captured in the War on Terror.

The recommended definition captures the core elements of terrorism in clear and concise language. In reviewing scholarship and terrorists' writings, the overwhelming impression is that causing harm (physical or psychological) to the innocent civilian population is the central characteristic of terrorist action. The available literature articulates that harming civilians is the most effective manner from the terrorist mindset - to effectuate their goals.

While causing death or injury to the innocent civilian population is the means to the end, I also suggest that intimidation of the population is of equal importance from the terrorist perspective. The emphasis whether resulting in death, injury, property damage, or intimidation is the attack, in whichever form, on the innocent civilian population. Accordingly, we must develop counter-terrorism policies that protect the innocent civilian population for whose protection and safety the government is responsible.

In addition, the importance of impacting daily life cannot and should not be underestimated. Terrorism is a daily grind; it must be understood in the context of daily attacks rather than one-time, dramatic-effect attacks (such as 9/11). Smaller, more frequent attacks, while perhaps less dramatic, have a much greater long-term effect on an innocent civilian population than does a one-time major event whose undeniable short-term effects may not linger. In that vein, the proposed definition emphasizes the effect on the daily life of an innocent civilian population and the commensurate requirement for the state to respond to the continuous, constant threats that represent modern-day terrorism.

Keywords: homeland security, terrorism, comparative counterterrorism, defining terrorism, defining counterterrorism, defining homeland security, PATRIOT ACT, effectiveness, structuring homeland security, national security, balancing, policy, civil rights, international law, human rights

Suggested Citation

Guiora, Amos N., Framing Homeland Security (2007). U of Utah Legal Studies Paper No. 07-11, Available at SSRN: or

Amos N. Guiora (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States
801-581-4295 (Phone)
801-581-6897 (Fax)


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