The undertaking consists of four projects chronicling terrorist attacks and groups, extremist crime, and profiles of individual terrorists—all integrated into a relational database. START hopes the database will give law enforcement the ability to do a deep dive on terrorism-related subjects and achieve situational awareness faster than they can now.
Since 9-11 and the creation of the DHS, local law enforcement’s responsibilities have expanded to include counterterrorism. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has repeatedly called local law enforcement the nation’s first preventers because they can distinguish what’s normal and abnormal in their areas and, therefore, are in the best position to thwart a nascent terrorist attack. This belief in the capabilities of local law enforcement has led the DHS to distribute $34 billion in homeland security grants to states and localities since 9-11, according to data from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
But the relatively new responsibility can seem daunting, says LaFree. “How could a guy working out in North Dakota or Arizona be up on what’s going on internationally, nationally, or even locally” when it comes to terrorism trends?
START researchers believe TEVUS will be a big part of the information-sharing solution. LaFree’s Special Advisor Kathleen Smarick says the goal is to have TEVUS become the “one-stop shop” for counterterrorist stakeholders, particularly local police officers.
“Because it is inclusive of all groups that have engaged in extremist violence and extremist crime, it allows an officer in Montana, who is not as worried about the al Qaeda-type threat, to really look at data about the types of threats she is concerned with,” says Dr. Allison Smith, director of the Motivation and Intent Program at DHS S&T’s Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division.
If a terrorist group comes to an area, it’s important for the local police to understand that group’s profile. “The international groups tend to plan for sometimes years. Al Qaeda is a great example of this,” says LaFree. “On the other hand, environmental groups from the time they get the initial idea to commit an act until they execute it is very short. So you don’t have much time to wait around if you have an environmental group coming up.”
Just knowing whom you’re dealing with can affect tactical choices. How law enforcement deals with a potential cell of al Qaeda-inspired militants would conceivably be different from how it deals with the Earth Liberation Front, which primarily eschews violence against people and engages in property destruction.