Industrial Terrorism - Real Threat or Political Hype?

What do you think of, when you hear the word terrorism?  Most people picture bombings, hijackings, shootings and other acts of violence.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense defines terrorism as acts or threats of violence to create fear, in order to influence governments or societies.  However, a handful of large corporations have come up with a new definition and are working on special political support to enforce their new version.

This new terrorist is not armed with a bomb, gun or explosives, nor any other type of weapon.  The industrial terrorist uses a camera instead.  Not one laced with explosives or biochemical tools of mass destruction - just a simple, hidden video camera.

The so-called industrial terrorist will infiltrate agricultural corporate operations, directly through the HR department - by applying for a job opening.  The terrorist then secretly videotapes how other employees treat animals in the operations.  This could include dairy farms, feedlots or poultry operations.  The video will be edited to highlight the worst abuses and posted online, usually by a group advocating veganism.

In the past, this would have simply been called an expose or investigative journalism.  Certainly not a form of terrorism.  Now, a handful of large corporations are pushing for legislation to define these undercover videos as industrial terrorism.

There are several real dangers in calling this type of expose, or whistle-blowing, terrorism.

Using the word terrorism for “gotcha” journalism undermines the very real threat that terrorism poses around the world.  Each year, real terrorists with real weapons kill real people.  They don’t just embarrass them with bad videos.  It makes as much sense as calling someone a murderer after they insulted you with some name-calling.

The term industrial terrorism tries to make this issue society’s problem rather than the corporations’ by creating a sense of physical danger to the community and re-directing law enforcement resources to deal with a terrorist threat.

Another potential problem is that these proposed laws may discourage future, legitimate whistleblowers.  An individual who sees a real problem or health risk may be afraid of coming forward with critical information if they risk being labeled a terrorist and prosecuted.  To support their claims, they may want to gather information, including photos or video.

Businesses have a right and obligation to protect themselves from threats.  Their employees, stockholder and customers expect and need that.  The real question is what is the best approach in these types of circumstances?

The first step is to create environments that eliminate any unethical treatment of animals.  We all understand that these agricultural corporations do provide a key source of food.  How that is done is another question.  Make sure that employees are not acting in ways that seem to promote needless violence or poor treatment of animals.  Sound policies and oversight are key to make those changes.

The next step is to conduct screenings on prospective employees.  Even simple background checks to verify past work history, personal references etc should be done to help eliminate anyone trying to get hired under false pretenses.  This should be done regardless of concerns about so-called industrial terrorists.  There have been legitimate concerns that terrorists could target food sources as a way to harm the public.

When negative or bad publicity does come out, instead of trying to shift the blame or demonize those exposing problems, take positive steps to improve public relations.  Release counter-videos, stressing how the operations should work and how employees are trained to treat livestock ethically instead.  Fix the problem and continue to strive for a better environment, not just the cheapest way to mass-produce meat products.  Talk about the strict policies, which should be in place to get rid of anyone who acts cruelly and follow through.  Any employee who enjoys hurting or mistreating animals should be fired immediately.

Instead of overblown new laws and political battles, agricultural companies should focus inwards on fixing the problems that created the bad publicity rather than trying to outlaw the messenger.


Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense.  He has extensive experience in law enforcement as well as security management.  Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces.  To learn more visit 

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  1. Well said, Eric. Secretly filming industrial processes can certainly be espionage or trade secret theft, but it is not terrorism. As for food producers and animal testers cleaning up their act I'm sure there is room for improvement, but there is also an ethical obligation for consumers to understand where their hotdogs, quarter pounders, and sirloins come from. Nice post.

  2. There are certainly lots of ways businesses can protect themselves and, as you said, meet their ethical obligations, without re-defining terrorism and diluting the real meaning.