Perspectives on practitioners and agencies in counter-terrorism
Thursday June 20, 11.15 - 12.45
Session 1, Auditorium 4, Eilert Sundt building
Chair: Ann-Sophie Hemingsen
- Intelligence failures to anticipate new forms of terrorist organizations: A new approach to understanding the factors and biases which lead to the American intelligence failure to anticipate the rise of the Islamic State - Matan Uberman
- To Err is Human: Assessing the Inter- and Intra-rater Reliability of Assessments of Risk using the Violent Extremism Risk Assessment (VERA-2) - Jared R. Dmello and Neil D. Shortland
- Dilemmas in Counter-Terrorism Data Collection – Conflict and Cooperation in Information Exchange between the Public and Private Sector - Nicholas Barnes, Erika Smith and Allison McDowell-Smith
- Late 20th and early 21st Century Terrorism: The View from an FBI Field Office - Edward J. Valla
Intelligence failures to anticipate new forms of terrorist organizations: A new approach to understanding the factors and biases which lead to the American intelligence failure to anticipate the rise of the Islamic State
Matan Uberman, Tel-Aviv University, Israel
The rise of the Islamic State in 2014, which manifested as a rapid conquest of territories in Iraq and Syria, an establishment of a functioned state, continued conquests while defending already occupied territories, and creation of worldwide resonance for its proclaimed independence, constituted as a strategic surprise to the American intelligence community. This research analyzed the key reasons that lead to the Americans’ surprise: the pace and capacity of the operational campaigns to conquer territories in Iraq and Syria, collapse of the Iraqi military, and establishment and management of a sovereign state governed by religious law. By disassembling them into their causal factors, identifying the intelligence failure related to each factor and the biases at the core of these failures, new conclusions were reached. In the framework of this new approach, formal statements of both rivaling actors - the U.S. Intelligence and IS - in the years preceding IS's rise were used. Two cross-factored commonalities were found: First, Biases related to cultural gaps indicate that intelligence research and estimation processes were lacking socio-cultural expertise and input. Second, the fixation on similar adversaries’ historic strategic decision-making lead to an inability to identify new strategic approaches of a new kind of adversary.
To Err is Human: Assessing the Inter- and Intra-rater Reliability of Assessments of Risk using the Violent Extremism Risk Assessment (VERA-2)
Jared R. Dmello and Neil D. Shortland, University of Massachusetts Lowell
Risk assessment plays a vital role in resource allocation for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and researchers have increasingly sought to develop methodologically rigorous, empirically validated methods to assess riskiness of violent extremists; however, the ability of individuals to accurately and reliably use these measures to assess the presence of risk factors has not been previously studied.
This study investigates the reliability of human coding for the Violent Extremism Risk Assessment (VERA-2) scales. In this research, and using a 14-week immersive training program, individual coders used open-source materials to assess 44 U.S. citizens charged with ISIS-related crimes. By using measures of inter-rater reliability between cases and longitudinal intra-rater reliability, we analyzed the variations that can occur in the assessment of risk. We also identified the types of risk factors that cause the most inter-rater variations. Our results show that assessments of beliefs and attitudes caused the most inter-rater disagreement (46%) and that increased training and experience over the 14 weeks did not significantly increase inter- or intra-rater reliability across scales. While risk assessments serve an important role, this research demonstrates that the individual subjectivity around what each risk factor contributes warrants further research.
Dilemmas in Counter-Terrorism Data Collection – Conflict and Cooperation in Information Exchange between the Public and Private Sector
Nicholas Barnes, Erika Smith and Allison McDowell-Smith, Nichols College
The “data revolution” in counter-terrorism has presented new ethical and regulatory challenges that require examination, particularly those involving potential conflict or coordination between public (government, military) and private sectors. These challenges may include: infringements of privacy; inadequate oversight mechanisms currently in place may lead to the misuse of this information; or concerns by the business community about costs and liability associated with expanded government access to privately held data.
This interdisciplinary research will draw from the fields of law, political science, and criminal justice to explore these issues in more detail through a series of case studies that illustrate the challenges of applying current ethical frameworks and professional practices (government regulation or private industry standards) to mass data collection in pursuit of counter-terrorism strategies. By examining cases in Western contexts, specifically the United States, Canada, and Europe, we will question: What information do we want to acquire, retain and disseminate? What rules and/or oversight mechanisms should govern the acquisition, retention and dissemination of that information? How can technology help with both tasks—assuring that we can use the information effectively while protecting civil liberties?
Late 20th and early 21st Century Terrorism: The View from an FBI Field Office
Edward J. Valla, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, USA
A rich literature regarding myriad aspects of international terrorism has emerged since the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Scholars from across the globe have produced monographs, journal articles, and reports which provide insight into the activities of various terrorist groups, how they recruit new operatives, and leverage new and emerging technologies. Much has been written regarding how individuals become radicalized and about major terrorist figures such as Usama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and others. The proposed paper seeks to illuminate, from the perspective of one FBI Field Office, how the threat posed by international terrorist groups has evolved by examining some of the major investigations conducted by the FBI’s Boston Field Office from the late 1990s to 2016. The paper will also describe how the FBI adjusted to the post 9/11 environment by seeking to strengthen its capability to perform strategic analysis. In keeping with the main theme of the conference, the paper offers several challenges intelligence analysts face in assessing and interpreting massive amounts of data collected as a result of FBI investigations.