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‘A mini Jack Bauer’: The PIRUS Project Experience

‘A mini Jack Bauer’: The PIRUS Project Experience

Friday, December 20, 2013

Rachel Burdette, PIRUS Project Intern

Summer 2013


“So basically I’m a mini Jack Bauer, but behind a desk.”

That is how I explained my summer internship at START to my mom. I was so excited to have found my “summer-employment home;” I couldn’t help but be a little overzealous in the description. While I myself am not racing around the world taking down terrorists, the research team I am aiding this summer makes these kinds of missions possible. Without the analyzed intelligence and data START provides, the government could not draft missions with complete comprehension of current global situations nor with full confidence that they are executing the best course of action. START analyzes everything from the methods regarding how terrorists gain access to weaponizable materials to the effectiveness of counterterrorism tactics. My specific team, the PIRUS project (Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States), studies extremist individuals who adopted their radical beliefs within the United States. With our results in hand, the U.S. government can adapt their counterterrorism tactics to intervene in the radicalization process.

The life of a PIRUS intern is similar to that of Alice in Wonderland. We’re given a clue and we follow it down the rabbit hole finding more and more clues and leads until we exhaust them all. As we strive to compile a list of names to include in our Radical Database, we must thoroughly investigate as many known terrorist organizations and individual radicals as possible, particularly those in the States.

I find it so amazing how relevant my work is. Our current efforts could directly influence policy once our project is completed. Even more so, the individuals I am researching and coding have already had a hand in shaping our society. Some showed us that terrorism is not simply a foreign crime.

As I have spent time combing through these individuals and getting into their heads, I have realized that being radical does not always make you a violent madman. Radicalization prompts society to progress and evolve; however, the method in which one professes his extremism dictates whether he goes down in history as an innovator rather than criminal. As U.S. citizens, we are blessed with a government that allows us to voice opposition. The Civil Rights movement and those currently fighting for LGBT rights exemplifies the effectiveness of these nonviolent pathways. With patience, determination and conviction, radical beliefs can be accepted and integrated into society’s norms. With violence, terror and destruction, radical beliefs can be feared and further isolated from society’s standards. The PIRUS project’s goal is to provide the government with a map and course of action as to where to intervene and how to guide radicals onto the nonviolent path.

I have found passion in the PIRUS project and faith that our nation is searching for a nonviolent and permanent solution to global terrorism. I may not be Jack Bauer – I may not be flying around the world, brawling with terrorists, but my team is working to help the government end the War on Terror and that is plenty of excitement for me.


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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.