Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 9, 2014

Ottawa Attacks Reveal Public’s Confusion About Terrorism

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on December 9, 2014

Today’s post was written by Jason Nairn.  It appeared originally on the Homeland Security Roundtable blog.


The US media and news-consuming public are known for their short attention spans when it comes to domestic events.  A novel major story quickly refocuses attention, often leaving important issues without context or follow-on reporting.  This phenomenon, one that I like to call “Issue Attention Deficit Disorder (IADD)”, is exacerbated when the event in question is not domestic.

Major issues in Africa, Asia and Europe are simply underreported in the US media, and though they often do not, major events in Canada should merit our attention.  Ottawa is only a 9-hour drive (471 miles or 911 kilometers) from Washington DC, the rough equivalent of driving from Detroit, MI, to Marquette, MI (455 miles), or from Nashville, TN to Chicago, IL (471 Miles).

Canadian media coverage of the recent attacks in Ottawa involving the gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau has revealed a glimpse of the Canadian public’s attitudes about terrorism.  Two stories that ran recently in the National Post provide some valuable lessons for followers of homeland security trends.  First, according to a poll conducted in Canada of over 1500 citizens, only 36% of those that responded would characterize the attack on Parliament as terrorism.  Second, in a propaganda magazine ISIS took credit for inspiring both the attack on Parliament and an earlier attack on a Canadian Warrant Officer by another individual said to be a “jihadist”.

Homeland security professionals have been heard to lament the “nothing happens until something moves” effect of support for homeland security.  The idea is that only after a disaster or major event, like a terrorist attack, is attention refocused on the support of homeland security goals and objectives.  Based on the Canadian news reports, even serious attacks may not drive the public’s support of security priorities.

If an attack on the seat of government does not qualify as terrorism in the eyes of the public, but qualifies as supporting the mission in the eyes of the terrorist group, then something is awry.

Even if our neighbors don’t use the phrase “homeland security” as we do, a fundamental issue remains.  Getting the word out about what terrorism is, what homeland or domestic security is, and how to support resilience in our communities and institutions should be a focus that we maintain beyond the next headline.

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11 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 9, 2014 @ 9:21 am

Yes the John Q. Public confused with good reason! Many many benefit from the confusion including the terrorists. But those who are terrorists or potential terrorists are usually smart enough to use the confusion to their benefit.

How? With most if not all nation-states operating largely on a bureaucratic basis huge gaps are left for disruption and destruction by violent means. What I find most interesting is that we are probably seeing the end point in a GLOBALIZATION EFFORT that rested on the internal security of each nation-state and the ability to control its own borders. That system is now largely failing and what the future holds is unknown.

What is clearly is that thoughtless communications technology have left us more isolated and real communications have largely stopped together with critical thinking and conversation.

Information overload by those who can profit from that overload. Cameras on cops will never replace training and judgment.

And most of the leadership cadres believe communicating in gibberish all that is necessary.

It used to be DON’T BELIEVE ALL THAt YOU READ and now perhaps the additional caveat DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU HEAR!

HAVE COMPLETE SENTENCES AND THOUGHTS BEEN OUTLAWED?

Comment by Max

December 9, 2014 @ 9:44 am

“People say believe half of what you see,
son, and none of what you hear.
I can’t help bein’ confused
if it’s true please tell me dear?” – Marvin Gaye

Comment by Christopher Tingus

December 9, 2014 @ 11:23 am

Breaking News:

The Washington Post

News Alert

National/global news alert • Tue., Dec. 9, 2014 11:13 am

Senate CIA report details brutality, dishonesty

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s long-awaited report on the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation program catalogs dozens of cases in which agency officials allegedly deceived their superiors and authorized previously unknown levels of brutality.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

December 9, 2014 @ 11:37 am

Oh, what a KGB report would detail and its far more reaching and effective tactics….Again, shirtless Putin et all chuckling at this report….and the dire consequences for the US populous of having a Chicago city street slicker at the helm and the timely opportunity Vladimir will now take as he steps forward!

Unless we understand that We must have a strong arsenal in Democracy, committed to our Judeo-Christian principles in protecting our nation and the Constitution against the many who seek our demise, so willing to commit dastardly act upon our great Republic and unless we thwart the present perverse and divisive WH from continuing its objectives in embarrassing us even more so and utilize the political checks and balances to change course, War looms ahead!

God Bless America (and Canada)!

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 9, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

CIA still a rogue agency–Senator Frank Church–1976!

President Truman reluctantly signed the National Security Act of 1947 that in part was his personal opposition to creation of a CIA! De we really need 17 different organizations in the INTEL Community [IC}?

Did you know that the CIA has its own federal retirement system that is almost twice as generous as the FERS used elsewhere?

Best CIA Hollywood movie ever IMO–Three Days of the Condor!

Comment by Arnold Bogis

December 9, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

I’m not entirely sure that something is awry. Of course a terrorist organization that has yet to show any reach outside of the Middle East will take credit for anything that it can.

And in that same poll you cited 38% of respondents thought the attack could be due to mental illness — and the attackers mom has publicly mentioned his drug addictions and mental issues. Perhaps the Canadian public is exhibiting resilience and not jumping to any conclusions?

One should also ask if U.S. citizens have become less adept in terms of identifying terrorism, as it is becoming more clear that unless a Muslim is involved it ain’t considered terrorism. Man flys a plane into a government building (IRS)? Man not Muslim and it is not considered terrorism. Man fires hundreds of bullets at government office buildings, including police headquarters and a federal courthouse, in Austin? Man not Muslim and not widely considered a terrorist attack. Man recently fired from job returns to work and decapitates an ex-colleague? Muslim and called terrorism by many in the media.

What is awry?

Comment by Jason Nairn

December 10, 2014 @ 6:39 pm

Thanks Arnold. I appreciate the importance of using the word “terrorism” wisely. I also think it is important to separate this type of attack from common criminal activity or violence perpetrated as a result of mental illness. Zehaf-Bibeau’s beef was with Canada, and his target was specifically selected and surveilled. Zehaf-Bibeau, according to the RCMP, made a pre-attack video stating that his actions were “in relation to the foreign policy of Canada and his religious beliefs”. The use of unlawful force intended to intimidate a government for political or social objectives is terrorism, regardless of specific religion or mental status. I am concerned that if we do not call this “terrorism” as appropriate, the public will fail to recognize the threat, and that as a result we will rely on local resources and existing tools to prevent terrorism, when what is needed is the broader collaboration that is the homeland security enterprise.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

December 11, 2014 @ 1:47 am

So, if the “use of unlawful force intended to intimidate a government for political or social objectives is terrorism,” would you label the plane crashing into the IRS building or shots fired at police stations and federal courthouses in Austin terrorism?

And what exactly is the threat that local resources could not reasonably handle in the Canadian case? What do you propose to prevent this type of “lone wolf” attacks? And is that level of observation/monitoring acceptable to Americans (never mind Canadians…and here I have to add that I grew up on the border and have a Canadian “family” that didn’t seem too worried about the ramifications of the attack. Perhaps this is a sign of resilience?)

I guess I don’t see a role for some broader collaboration of unnamed resources that probably couldn’t do a thing to prevent this, or future, attacks in the first place. I suppose I prefer my homeland security to focus on sensible reactions to inevitable events rather than doomed attempts at prevention.

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January 5, 2015 @ 2:35 am

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January 6, 2015 @ 3:04 am

[…] of homeland security professionals.  The conversation about this topic has continued on … Homeland Security Watch, as well as in professional […]

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