Clara Nevins
Aug 30, 2017

The definition of terrorism


How do you define terrorism? I think it's fascinating (and maybe a little disturbing) that each US governmental department has a different definition of terrorism. I've noticed that each definition fits the motivations and goals of the specific department. I personally think the different definitions may be dangerous, especially when it comes to counterterrorism. If each department has a different definition, I worry about how they will come to a consensus on how to combat terrorism. What happens if one department classifies a violent act as terrorism and another department does not? What do you think?



The Intelligence Community is guided by the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d):

  • The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.

  • The term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving the territory or the citizens of more than one country.

  • The term “terrorist group” means any group that practices, or has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.1


Under Section 2 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002:

(15) The term ‘‘terrorism’’ means any activity that— (A) involves an act that— (i) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and (ii) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and (B) appears to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.2



“NCTC uses the definition of terrorism found in Title 22, which provides that terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”4


US Department of State:

Section 2656f(d) of Title 22 of the United States Code defines certain key terms used in Section 2656f(a) as follows:

  1. the term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country;

  2. the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents; and

  3. the term “terrorist group” means any group practicing, or which has significant subgroups which practice, international terrorism.8

Valerie Gregorio
Aug 31, 2017

I define terrorism as an act of violence against a certain group of people. People who do it have a reason to target the cetain group.

Rachna Shah
Sep 2, 2017

That's a really interesting point that you bring up, Clara! I never knew that terrorism was defined differently by each department. If one department defined an act as terrorism and another didn't, do you believe that executive power or legislative power would make the final decision?

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