John Gearson

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Person.png John Gearson   LinkedIn PowerbaseRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
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BornMarch 1963
Alma materKing's College London, University of Wales

Dr. John Gearson is a Professor of National Security Studies, Director of the Freeman Air & Space Institute, and Director of the Centre for Defence Studies in the Department of War Studies at King's College London.


Gerson completed his MA and PhD degrees in War Studies at the University of London as a King's College Scholar, and he also holds a BSc (Econ) in International Politics with Strategic Studies from University of Wales, Aberystwy.


Gerson was Director of the MA in Defence Studies at the Joint Services Command and Staff College at the UK Defence Academy, where he was the subject lead in terrorism and asymmetric warfare. Previously he worked as a management consultant and was a special advisor to the City of London Corporation on the terrorist threat to the City following the Bishopsgate bombing of 1993.[1]

From 2002 to 2007 he was seconded to the House of Commons where he acted as the principal defence policy adviser to the Defence Select Committee and as a Parliamentary Clerk to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee. While at Parliament he was responsible for inquiries into UK Defence and Security, the Iraq War, the New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review, the 2003 Defence White Paper, and the Freedom of Information Act. After leaving Parliament he acted as a senior adviser to the UK Ministry of Defence study into the Military Role in Counter-Terrorism and more recently contributed to background work for the 2010 UK Strategic Defence and Security Review.

He has taught at the University of London on the inter-collegiate history programme.



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]

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  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
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