Before 9-11, there was no comprehensive terrorism database. There was no comprehensive data on terrorist organizations and very little systematic data on what the government was doing to fight terrorism. After 9-11, advances in social science took a leading role in developing ways to react, and in many cases prevent, another terrorist attack in the United States. These were among the thoughts shared by panelists examining the unprecedented challenges that came after 9-11. They spoke at day two of the National Institute of Justice 2011 Conference.
“Imagine trying to fight cancer without knowing how much cancer there is,” Gary LaFree, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, said.
Global Terrorism Database Developed
After the attacks LaFree helped research and design a database of all terrorist events from 1970 to 2010. The Global Terrorism Database
tracks rates and patterns of attacks over time and the impacts of terrorist countermeasures. “We are in much better standing from ten years ago when it comes to social and behavioral understanding of terrorism,” LaFree said.
One overall trend shown by the data is that attacks have become more deadly over time. “Terrorists want more people watching and more people dead,” LaFree said.
Not surprisingly, the data also show that organizations with democratic ideologies are less likely to engage in terrorism. Separatist groups, groups with violent rhetoric, groups with foreign support, and groups with state repression were all more likely to engage in terrorist activities. Groups with all of these factors present had an 89 percent chance of turning to terrorism, LaFree said.
He also notes that urban populations have become a prime target for terrorists over time. Attacks in New York make up 20 percent of attacks in the database. And in wartorn Iraq, 2,000 attacks happened in Baghdad.
Field Testing New Technology
After 9-11, security research took on more urgency and importance, Jay Nunamaker, principal investigator and director of the Center for Management of Information at the National Center for Border Security and Immigration, said. More and more researchers began publishing information on terrorism, but Nunamaker says that they were forgetting an important step--the importance of testing new technologies and programs in the field, not just writing about them. “It’s not coming up with the idea, but what you do with it that makes it worthwhile. You’re not going to get answers if you guess from your office chair,” he said.
One new technology that he’s worked on for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a kiosk that would work like an advanced polygraph for people coming through U.S. Customs. The machine would show people passing through customs a series of photos while measuring their blood pressure via the carotid artery using a laser, a thermal camera to measure body temperature, and an eye tracker that measures eye movement and pupil dilation. Initial tests impressed researches, but subsequent field tests revealed flaws.