A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

DHS renews support for START terrorism research for next five years


DHS renews support for START terrorism research for next five years

December 20, 2011

UMD's START Consortium receives $3.6 million to study the human causes and consequences of terrorism

With $3.6 million in new federal funding, researchers in the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) will continue to expand the scientific understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism, specifically addressing crucial homeland security issues, such as terrorist behavior, violent extremism and counterterrorism. Funding for the new round of research comes from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, which has renewed START's status as a DHS Center of Excellence and continued funding support for the next five years.

The first installment of the award provides $3.6 million for the center's next 18 months. Based at the University of Maryland in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, START has researchers from more than 40 institutions worldwide who will use the new grant to: explore the social, behavioral and cultural factors that influence violent extremism, including political, financial and religious causes; examine the emergence and operations of domestic terrorists and how they interact with law enforcement strategies, community initiatives and government policies; and collect and code terrorist data so that it can be incorporated into behavioral models that can be used in homeland security decision making.

"START is delighted to have this opportunity to continue supplying timely, objective information on the human characteristics of terrorism and its impact on communities to decision makers and policy experts," says Gary LaFree, director of START and professor of criminology at the University of Maryland.

Planned research includes:

Social, behavioral and cultural factors that influence violent extremism

  • Analyzing terrorist attacks, groups and ideologies to identify the characteristics, structural compositions and individual roles in launching attacks;
  • Examining the effectiveness of efforts to delegitimize the justifications an individual has for engaging in terrorist activities;
  • Assessing the impact of Internet communications on a terrorist group's ability to convey ideology and recruit; and
  • Gauging how society, family and friends affect and respond to the process of becoming a violent extremist.

Emergence, operations and interactions of domestic terrorists

  • Identifying conditions and attacks associated with homegrown terrorism and determining the process by which right-wing extremists turn to violence;
  • Surveying minority group attitudes towards U.S. policies and terrorist activities;
  • Compiling a database of federal counterterrorism initiatives; and
  • Comparing failed, foiled and successfully executed terrorist attacks to demonstrate components of counterterrorism efforts that have been successful and to identify opportunities for prevention.

Collecting, coding and using data to inform decisions

  • Improving statistical modeling to better predict violence;
  • Updating and using the Global Terrorism Database, which is the world's largest, most comprehensive, open-source database including information on more than 98,000 terrorist attacks around the world from 1970 through 2010;
  • Creating the Terrorist and Extremist Organizations Database; and
  • Predicting which individuals will become leaders within violent and nonviolent organizations.

START began in 2005 as one of the Department of Homeland Security's Centers of Excellence, the first to focus on behavioral and social science. The current funding renewal follows a rigorous, competitive application process.

"Under the leadership of Dr. Gary LaFree, START has been a proactive and productive Center of Excellence that has served DHS well. We look forward to working with START for another five years," says Matthew Clark, director of DHS's Science and Technology Directorate's Office of University Programs.

With this grant, the University of Maryland continues to leverage its founding tradition as a land-grant institution, with a mission to shape research and education through the lens of public service. The new research program will provide the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with an integrated system, whereby research findings are directly incorporated into policy recommendations and, in turn, public and policy needs drive research explorations and career training for students and practitioners.