This report seeks to validate the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative by comparing pre-incident activities of terrorists and violent criminal extremists in the United States, or “SAR indicators,” to the 16 SAR categories. Data on terrorism cases and associated SAR indicators come from two open-source terrorism projects known as the Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) and the American Terrorism Study (ATS). Though both projects include data on terrorism cases in the United States, each have relied on unique inclusion criteria, coding schemes, and primary sources of information. These fundamental differences have resulted in unique strengths that allow each project to address similar and different questions regarding the extent and nature of terrorists’ pre-incident activities, as well as the extent to which these activities align with established SAR categories. The following four general questions will guide the remainder of this report:
1) What is the prevalence of terrorists’ pre-incident activities aligning with existing SAR categories (or “SAR indicators”), and how does this vary by terrorism movement and crime type?
2) To what extent are SAR indicators observable versus actually observed, and how does this vary by terrorism movement and crime type?
3) How do SAR indicators relate to “successful” completion of terrorism cases?
4) What are examples of pre-incident activity committed by terrorists that do not fit within the 16 SAR categories and how prevalent are these activities?
This analysis draws on two databases which limit inclusion of cases to extremist crime (the ECDB) and terrorism-related indictments (ATS). Therefore, the analysis cannot assess the ability of SAR indicators to predict terrorist behavior. However, the data from these sources can help verify that the SAR categories include activities that we frequently see in terrorism cases.
Gruenewald, Jeff, William S. Parkin, Brent L. Smith, Steven M. Chermak, Joshua D. Freilich, Paxton Roberts Brent Klein “Validation of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative: Identifying Suspicious Activities from the Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) and the American Terrorism Study (ATS).” Report to the U. S. Department of Homeland Security. College Park, MD: START, 2015. https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_ValidationofNationwideSARInitiative_Feb2015.pdf