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Childhood Love of the Navy Sparks a START Intern’s Counterterrorism Studies


Harrison Lee, Strategic Multilayer Assessment Research Group

I remember one of my first airshows as a kid, watching the Navy’s renowned Blue Angels. The squadron has some of the best combat pilots in the world assembled into an elite aero-acrobatics team. In my Blue Angels jumpsuit, I’d salute the service members as they passed. Sure, my salutes totally lacked proper form, but it was worth a shot. To my 5 year-old self, being a pilot was all I wanted in the world.

As I grew older, I rethought my combat pilot career path. It entailed frantic decision-making, strategic bombing runs, surveillance and a high amount of risk. Though I decided the skies were not meant for me, I never forgot my love and respect for the military and its members. That’s why I’ve dedicated my time and effort to joining the world of counterterrorism. I want to help save lives and allow people to enjoy freedom without the fear of tyranny and terror.

This fall, my dream of working to understand and help mitigate global conflict was realized. I joined START as an intern with the Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) research group. My team assesses sources of conflict and cooperation within the Southeast Asian region by examining interstate relations, non-state conflict, and various military and naval forces. It has provided a number of unique insights into American policy in the region and much of the world’s advanced naval weapons systems.

I’ve interned at START for several weeks, and the SMA project has been a natural fit for me. It combines foreign policy with assessments of global armed forces, which has helped immensely to provide a framework for our team’s newest project in maritime piracy.

On the maritime piracy team, I examine piratical behavior, incidents and attack styles. My shift from SMA to maritime piracy has given me the flexibility to help spearhead an exciting investigation. Piracy is a well-known issue, though many people don’t consider it in the proper context.

My job is to explain the context of piracy and look for trends others have missed. A large selection of research in piracy exists, but thus far, this research has not changed policies aimed at preventing piratical activities. After considering the factors in the increasing trend of pirates and terrorists working together for mutual benefit, the overall picture of organized crime at sea becomes alarmingly clear.

Piracy is no longer confined to peg-legs and eye-patches. These maritime bandits are increasingly violent, emboldened by past successes and supported by advanced technology. In areas like the Straits of Malacca, where roughly a third of the world’s trade passes, littoral states need support to effectively combat piracy and maintain maritime security. It’s a longshot, but I’m hopeful that our research will spark a change in maritime policy.


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This blog represents the opinions of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of START or any office or agency of the United States Government.