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Database Spotlight: Radiological and Nuclear Non-State Adversaries (RANNSAD)

Researchers from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) have released a dataset examining the characteristics of non-state users and attempted users of radiological and nuclear weapons. START Director for Special Projects Gary Ackerman, and former START researchers, Charles Blair and Maranda Sorrells, compiled data on 45 distinct non-state radiological and nuclear perpetrators to form the Radiological and Nuclear Non-State Adversaries Database (RANNSAD). RANNSAD builds on existing event-based data sets by identifying the non-state actors involved in past radiological and nuclear incidents.

"There is not much information on actors in radiological and nuclear incidents, but rather more on just the incidents themselves," Ackerman said. "RANNSAD shifts the focus to the actors involved." RANNSAD includes comprehensive information on these identified perpetrators. This information includes characteristics such as:

  • Organizational affiliations of the perpetrator,
  • Demographics of the perpetrator (gender, age, socio-economic status, education level),
  • General motivations of the perpetrator and specific motives for engaging in RN activities,
  • RN materials used by the perpetrator and how they were acquired,
  • RN activity of the perpetrator,
  • Results of the perpetrator's activity,
  • Capability level of the perpetrator,
  • Lessons learned from the perpetrator's activity.

RANNSAD forms part of a larger START project entitled Anatomizing Radiological and Nuclear Non-State Adversaries. Researchers developed RANNSAD as part of the first phase of the project, which focused on identifying non-state RN actors. Researchers used RANNSAD to develop early-warning indicators of non-state actors who might pursue RN weapons. Researchers also determined some key characteristics about the 45 actors profiled in RANNSAD.

The majority of these perpetrators were lone actors, all were male and most originated from the United States, Russia or Japan. In terms of type of actor, most non-state actors with nuclear ambitions were either violent jihadists or part of an apocalyptic cult. Jihadist ideology, mental illness, the desire for publicity, personal vendetta or assassination motivated most non-state actors pursuing or using radiological weapons. Researchers also noted that the majority of plots by these actors are interdicted rather than successful. Researchers hope that these findings will be useful in identification of future radiological and nuclear perpetrators.

"The data allows us to project the types of future perpetrator to some degree," Ackerman said. "It also indicates the variety of people, methods and motives involved."

The RANNSAD database can be found here.

A report on the RANNSAD database, including a full codebook and descriptive analysis, can be obtained at /radiological-and-nuclear-non-state-adversaries-database-rannsad.