John Gearson

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John Gearson

Gearson is based in the War Studies Department at King's College London and is director of the Centre for Defence Studies:

Dr John Gearson is Reader in Terrorism Studies; from 2002 he was on secondment to the House of Commons where he was advising the Defence Select Committee on Defency Policy. Previously he worked as a management consultant, was a special advisor to the City of London Corporation on the terrorist threat to the City, and advised the U.S. Congress National Commission on Terrorism. Until his secondment John was Director of the MA in Defence Studies and he continues to lecture in terrorism and defence policy. He has taught at the University of London on the inter-collegiate history programme, where he completed his MA and PhD degrees in War Studies, the latter as a King's College Scholar, and also holds a BSc (Econ) in International Politics with Strategic Studies from University of Wales, Aberystwyth. John was a Research Fellow of the Nuclear History Project and the German Historical Institute, London, and is a regular contributor to media outlets including the BBC, ITN, Sky News, Reuters and various foreign news organisations. John resumed his teaching at the JSCSC as of 1 Feb 2007.[1]



John Gearson at Kings College, London, traces the birth of superterrorism to six years before the September 11 attack, when the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo used sarin gas to kill 12 people on the Tokyo underground, with a further 5000 affected. Gearson states the effect was that "the way in which terrorism was understood changed for ever. For the first time an independent substate group, acting without patronage or protection, had managed to deploy biochemical weapons on a significant scale".[2]

Criticism of the 'Superterrorism' Debate

The U.S. focus on superterrorism as a product and extension of rogue states was disproved by the al-Qaeda example: Afghanistan was a terrorist-sponsored state, rather than a state sponsoring terrorism. al-Qaeda's case also refuted the presumed reliance of 'superterrorists' on sophisticated weapons of mas destruction: it sucessfully combined the tactics of 'old' terrorists (ideologically motivated sub-state groups) with the use of new technologies that assist both the trans-national organization and comunnication and the repertoire of weapons.[3]

On Anthrax Scare in 2001

"Anthrax is proving a very effective weapon of terror, simply by the mass panic it is causing. But look at the facts...In two weeks, one person has died of anthrax and 1,000 in car accidents...The source of the letters and the anthrax within them is still not known and may yet prove to be the work of a deranged individual rather than a global terrorist conspiracy. Meanwhile, America has been hit by almost 2,500 false alarms and hoaxes which have caused more disruption than the letters themselves...We need to remember that chemical and biological weapons remain a potentially high consequence, but (still) very low probability weapon of choice for terrorists. However, as a weapon of fear and panic, bio-chemical terrorism may now become the weapon of choice for any group seeking to terrorise its enemies."[4]

On UK counter-terrorism police in December 2003: 23 suspects arrested

"Actions speak louder than intelligence. And the fact of the Istanbul bombings, the previous threats against British interests in the Middle East in countries like Saudi Arabia, also in east and west Africa on various occasions, were all concerning, but were theoretical.... The arrests we're seeing in Britain at the moment demonstrate that there are some cells, some structures of people who might want to do harm to the United Kingdom. But we still have not had an arrest of somebody about or carrying out an attack in Britain who is a British citizen. So far we've had preventative arrests as far as I can make out."[5]

Selected Publications/Conference Papers

  • 'The Nature of Modern Terrorism,' in Lawrence Freedman (ed.,) Superterrorism: Policy Responses, (Blackwell: Oxford, 2002)
  • 'Terrorist Targeting of Financial Centres: the IRA's City of London Campaign,' in Martin Gill (ed.,) Crime at Work Three, (Perpetuity Press: Leicester, 2003)
  • 'The Challenge of Terrorism,' (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003)
  • with Rathmell, Overill and Valeri 'The IW Threat from Sub-State Groups: An interdisciplinary approach,' Journal of Financial Crime, Vol. 6, No. 2 (October 1998)
  • with K. Schake (eds.,) 'The Berline Wall Crisis: Perspectives on Cold War Alliances,' (Basingstoke: Macmillan/Palgrave, 2002)
  • with Lawrence Freedman 'Interdependence and Independence: Nassau and the British Nuclear Deterrent,; in Kathleen Burke and Melvyn Stokes (eds.,) The United States and the Western Alliance, (London: Berg, 1999)
  • 'Officer Education in the United Kingdon - the Development of the Joint Approach,' in Giuseppe Caforio (ed.,) The European Officer - A Comparative View on Selection and Education, (Pisa, 2000) [6]


  1. Academic Staff Pages Dr John Gearson, accessed 14 February 2008
  2. The Sunday Herald Tribune Nov 17, 2002 by James Cusick, posted on findarticles
  3. [Abridged from "The Nature of Modern Terrorism" The Political Quarterly 2002]
  4. BBC News UK 19 October, 2001
  5. Correspondents Report Australia on Sundays at 08:00 on ABC Radio National
  6. Academic Staff Pages Dr John Gearson, accessed 14 February 2008