ATbar Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Research and Academia in Changing Context
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Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Research and Academia in Changing Context

28/12/2014 | by ICT Staff  

* The workshop was held in the memory of Prof. Ehud Sprinzak z”l

Academics and government analysts need to do a better of job of collaborating and sharing information in order to more effectively implement counter-terrorism strategies and policies. Methods of decreasing the gap are underway, and programs such as START have been created in order to create more contact and information sharing between those inside government and those outside of it. Definitions are important, and an agreed upon definition for terrorism would be useful from an analytical perspective, as well as for a political one.

Co- Chair: Prof. Assaf Moghadam
Director of Academic Affairs, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) & Associate Professor and Director of the MA Program in Government, Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, IDC Herzliya, Israel

Co- Chair: Prof. Alex P. Schmid
Director, Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI), The Netherlands

Dr. Gary Ackerman
Director, Special Projects Division; Acting Director, Unconventional Weapons and Technology Program, START, University of Maryland, United States of America

Dr. Tricia Bacon
Lecturer, School of Public Affairs, American University, United States of America

Prof. Adam Dolnik
Professor, University of Wollongong, Australia

Prof. Steve Kornguth
Research Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, College of Education, University of Texas, United States of America

Prof. Alex Schmid
Prof. Alex Schmid explained that from statistical research, there is no relationship between terrorism and politics, but he has always maintained that there is a connection between employment and terrorism. Almost all studies on radicalization look at it from a particular perspective, and he believes that there’s more than one angle for this issue. If governments fund research directly, the relationship between the academic community and the intelligence community will always be tense.

Dr. Gary Ackerman
Dr. Gary Ackerman’s point of view is that there has been a lot of progress made in the last fifteen years in regards to security and academia. The CIA was wondering how to engage academia more in the counter-terrorism field, so the Department of Homeland Security set up institutions and universities of excellence on various topics. He defines the mission of this endeavor to combine the best science with homeland security, and to connect homeland security and decision makers with academia. The process is to take all the best science in counter-terrorism, and funnel it into the government. START and ICT are centers doing this research. Bruce Hoffman is considered a leader in this field. Some researchers looked at different hot spots in different locations for the global terrorism database. This became controversial for many, because questions were asked about the demographics, the language, etc.  START has done extensive research on radicalization, yet the government doesn’t care about all the details; they want to know only how this will affect policy. The government has become more comfortable asking questions, and academics are more comfortable answering the questions. Now government agencies are able to say, “we don’t know what we need to look at in five years, and we don’t have the capabilities to do that.” They focus on what is going on today because no one is going to be promoted by looking into the future; they get promoted from preventing things from happening right now, on a day-to-day basis. Dr. Ackerman comments that another big change is research and accessing data. The government is taking what START does and implementing it directly into policy. Government officials won’t use SPSS to use databases so the center created a simple way to look up information and data. The folks with the data don’t know what to do with it, and the folks who can do something don’t have the data. One of the things academics need to understand is to read your audience. They need to understand that they can’t write fifteen page papers and expect government officials to read them; they need the brief synopsis. 

Dr. Tricia Bacon
Dr. Tricia Bacon talked about the interactions between academia and government. For the last ten years, she worked in the most academic bureau at the State Department, where she sought to identify why and where there was so much disconnect between academia and government. She found no irreconcilable gaps, and although not all academics wanted to work with the government, for those who did, there was plenty of room for outreach. She thinks one of the problems is that it’s still a one-way conversation. Analysts are not very good at interacting with academics, so it’s basically academics talking and intelligence officials not giving anything back. A presidential daily brief is meant to be read in thirty seconds or less. That is the style that officials are used to writing and reading, which is very different from academic style. Intelligence officials need to know how to read academia better, and academics need to learn how to write for their audience. Often, these analysts don’t understand how these broad generalizations can apply to policy and understanding. Within the intelligence community, every piece of data is debated. A lot of academics are making work retrospectively, from past work, and have been criticized on not being able to predict the future. They can’t answer the question of what bomb will go off tonight or tomorrow and in the U.S., there is zero tolerance for mistakes. As an intelligence analyst, if something happens, it is you who will be investigated. The kind of pressure they are under means they can’t be wrong. There are widely accepted truths that are debated within the intelligence community. For example, academics found that Al-Qaeda was dealing with diamonds in West Africa. In the intelligence community, this was completely disputed. Also, not all agencies share information. Sometimes they will pay millions of dollars for a research project, so they don’t want to share it with others. Dr. Bacon believes there have been a number of improvements. For example, there have been efforts to get academics to obtain security clearances in order to give detailed feedback. There is now more integration between the two, and the trajectory is moving in a positive direction. 

Prof. Adam Dolnik
Prof. Adam Dolnik explained that there are different ways to interview terrorists, government officials, and victims. Terrorism challenges many regularly held social norms. Much of the ethics standards in psychology experiments come from testing on patients, and one of the items the ethics committee prepares is consent forms; however, taking out a consent form with a terrorist and asking them to sign it is unimaginable. The next issue is empathetically listening to the interviewee – if you avoid the tough questions, are you assisting in legitimizing terrorism and political violence? Another issue is informed consent. If you are funded by a certain organization, must you come out and say that? If you are from a religious, ethnic, or sexual orientation, must you reveal this information? Ethics committees are not in a position to make those judgments. One thing that these ethics committees don’t understand is when an interviewee needs a psychologist. How should researchers respond during trauma? If the subject is clearly suffering as a result of the interview, how far do you go? Especially in the medical field, this can be very controversial. If you have a cancer patient, who has no hope or future, you can test different drugs on him. The researchers are not always the most powerful party, especially when you are dealing with terrorist organizations, but research on terrorism can be very dangerous. Prof. Dolnik explained training packages that researchers can do, and argues that the training should not just be about hostage survival, but should also be about how to interview. If there is one specific benefit of field research, it is that just being in these areas can teach you many things. 

Prof. Steve Kornguth
Dr. Steve Kornguth discussed detecting emerging threats. There are three points in his argument: first, vulnerability, or effective terrorism as a function between the agents and the vulnerability of the society in which it’s taking place. Second, coming from the bio-defense perspective, early detection of these threats is very similar to detecting cancer or other diseases. Third, is a variable threat, the variance of the terrorist groups. Analysts can’t look at endless data in real time and make any conclusions; there needs to be a data fusion. Some of the requirements needed to detect emerging threats are markers and signatures of agent virulence. The signature is a waving profile in which you need signatures of societal vulnerability. When we have a foreign body coming into the body, the body recognizes this by tagging what is not good.  It tags it so that when it sees it again, it amplifies the defense rapidly. Most critically, it needs to fuse the system and it has to be readable by someone who is not a chemist. Bridges and tagging are done well in academia. Bacteria float around before attacking when they have low numbers, but when they reach a critical mass, they understand they can then attack and that is what terrorists do. The goal is to identity alienation within indigenous populations. One of the vulnerability factors of society is that there is not a cohesive identity. Dr. Kornguth has identified types of profiles: agent, threat, and societal vulnerability. In terms of managing the system, if you are able to anticipate a disease, then you can take preventative measures. But in order to do this, you need enough information on the front end and if you’re not doing anything to address the vulnerable areas of society, you lose. He describes looking for a paradigm shift. If there is a sub group that can’t get a job, you have a high vulnerability and threat agent. There perception matters much more than the actual level of persecution. 

Prof. Assaf Moghadam
Prof. Moghadam concluded the workshop by describing a paper that has to do with the conceptual and international definitions of terrorism.  He asked when a group merits the name “terrorist group.” Hamas, Hezbollah, and ISIS are terrorist groups because they try to instill fear and influence a broader audience. However, they do more than just acts of terrorism; they are strong enough to seize territory. He referenced Bruce Hoffman’s book, and points to the part where it defines terrorist groups as not having the ability to gain and hold territory; this provides evidence that some terrorists are more than just terrorists.  He defines terrorism as using elements of fear that are aimed at non-combatants and are used as political instruments, while guerrilla attacks on the other hand target military targets. He argues that most of the terrorist groups today do both, and that only thirty percent of jihadist attacks target civilians. Using the term “insurgency” is better than using the term “terrorist” since it doesn’t solely rely on violence, and the term insurgency can help understand the group better for a variety of reasons. Thus, we should say “terrorist group” in a political context, but the analysts behind this should use “insurgent group.” This approach assists analysts in assessing the broader set of objectives of these groups. Adopting a counter-insurgency approach can help foster the formulation of counter-tactics, and governments can then widen their policy efforts. There are implications in academic studies as well. When you look at terrorism journals, there are almost no citations of the main creators of these groups. The point is to recognize that terrorism is usually part of a larger insurgency.