Terrorism Is Dead, and Britain Has Killed It

Terrorism Is Dead, and Britain Has Killed It

No, not actual terrorism, “[c]riminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons, or particular persons for political purposes.” That’s still going strong. I’m talking about the concept of terrorism, which has officially lost all meaning whatsoever:

British authorities claimed the domestic partner of reporter Glenn Greenwald was involved in “terrorism” when he tried to carry documents from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden through a London airport in August, according to police and intelligence documents.

Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained and questioned for nine hours by British authorities at Heathrow on August 18, when he landed there from Berlin to change planes for a flight to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

After his release and return to Rio, Miranda filed a legal action against the British government, seeking the return of materials seized from him by British authorities and a judicial review of the legality of his detention.

At a London court hearing this week for Miranda’s lawsuit, a document called a “Ports Circulation Sheet” was read into the record. It was prepared by Scotland Yard – in consultation with the MI5 counterintelligence agency – and circulated to British border posts before Miranda’s arrival. The precise date of the document is unclear.

“Intelligence indicates that Miranda is likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of UK national security,” according to the document.

“We assess that Miranda is knowingly carrying material the release of which would endanger people’s lives,” the document continued. “Additionally the disclosure, or threat of disclosure, is designed to influence a government and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism…”

Terrorism: now defined as any act that a government finds inconvenient. Actually, check that: now defined as any act that a good government finds inconvenient. Similar acts committed against a bad government like Iran — and even real acts of terror, like assassinating scientists — are called “promoting freedom.”

RIP, terrorism. I thought the Americans would kill you, but it turns out the British beat them to it. Regardless, we mourn your untimely passing.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Foreign Relations Law, International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law, National Security Law
Notify of
Miles h
Miles h

Careful, KJH, your post sounds like glorification of terrorism! http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2013/64.html


you are correct to challenge overly broad, even ludicrous, definitions of “terrorism” that do not require that at least two elements of an objective definition of “terrorism” occur: (1) an intent to produce terror (or intense fear or anxiety), and (2) a terror outcome.  If there is no terror outcome, perhaps there has been attempted terrorism, but not “terrorism” objectively defined. As the chapter on terrorism in our International Ciminal Law casebook notes, there are too many overly broad definitions and they have inhibited more effective sanctions against terrorism through cooperative efforts of the global community despite the fact that the UN GA has condemned all forms of “terrorism” by whomever, wherever, for any reason, since 1985 and the UN SC has often reaffirmed these expectations.  Paust, Bassiouni, et al., International Criminal Law chpt. on terrorism (4 ed. 2013). see also http://ssrn.com/abstrct=1583437
Whether or not an element of “political” (and “ideological or religious”) motivation should be added is a question for the community to resolve.  The community should attempt to formulate an objective definition with the two elements noted above.


[…] on Opinio Juris by Kevin Jon Heller about the David Miranda “terrorism” situation. The first one is aptly mocking of the British approach to the issue and the second highlights how scarily […]