A Department of Homeland Security Emeritus Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Terrorism and Targeted Violence in the United States

 

Terrorism and Targeted Violence in the United States

Investigators: 

Project Details

Abstract: 

Building on more than 50 years of combined experience systematically collecting, integrating, analyzing, and disseminating structured data related to terrorism, the T2V research team at START will develop and execute a plan to: 1) establish and maintain an open-source event-level dataset on terrorism and targeted violence in the United States, 2) provide relevant and insightful analysis and training materials, and 3) disseminate the data and analytical products widely. The objective is to create robust, comprehensive resources that are accessible to a variety of audiences and provide critical insights on key questions about patterns of terrorism and targeted violence in the United States. To accomplish this, the project team will combine the fundamentals of social science with state-of-the-art technology and information science, creating effective and efficient workflows and repeatable processes that produce important analytical results during the period of performance, while also positioning the project for sustainability and future improvements.

START researchers have focused specifically on the issue of terrorist violence in the United States since 2009, when DHS S&T funded the project now known as TEVUS (Terrorism and Extremist Violence in the United States). TEVUS involved the collection, integration, and visualization of multiple relevant datasets, including thousands of U.S. events from START’s Global Terrorism Database (GTD) and a newly created group-level dataset on Profiles of Perpetrators of Terrorism in the United States (PPT-US). In 2013, START began work on the project now known as PIRUS (Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States). Since then, the PIRUS project portfolio has expanded to include several auxiliary datasets examining the characteristics and behaviors of individuals radicalized in the United States.

The START researchers responsible for T2V have extensive experience developing these efforts, and will build upon their data collection and analytical methods and frameworks as appropriate. Although this new task will capitalize on expertise, networks, and important lessons learned through the GTD, PIRUS, and TEVUS initiatives, it is conceptually distinct and will produce separate outputs.

Primary Findings: 

The initial T2V effort in 2020 and 2021 focused on requirements gathering and research in preparation for codebook and research methodology development. This included reviewing the codebook and data collection workflow for the Global Terrorism Database to identify promising areas of expansion, adaptation, and challenge. This preparation informed the substance of five working group meetings, designed to solicit input from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) analysts on the following topics:

  1. Definitions and Sources
  2. Variables, Part 1: Implications for Prevention
  3. Variables, Part 2: Implications for Response
  4. Data Analysis
  5. Data Dissemination

The working group meetings were held in February and March 2021 and were attended by a total of 14 analysts, out of 62 invitees. Participants included personnel from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA); Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC); Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties; the Office for State and Local Law Enforcement (OSLLE); the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (OTVTP; now known as the Center for Prevention, Programs, and Partnerships); the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A); the Office of Partnership and Engagement (OPE); and the Science & Technology Directorate. In March and April 2021, the research team circulated a survey soliciting input from a broader group of DHS analysts. Building on the discussions that took place during the working group meetings, this survey asked respondents to rank their priorities from a list of selections organized around the five topics above. Twenty-seven respondents participated in the survey, out of 180 invitees. The results highlighted the importance of:

  • Including information on:
    • Information about the grievance, motivation, or ideological movement as it relates to an attack.
    • Information about the goals of the attack (e.g., targeting crowds, luring and targeting first responders, mass casualties, interfering with critical infrastructure, influence policies, etc.) and whether or not they were achieved.
    • Information about the background of the perpetrator or the contextual causes that may have led to the attack.
  • Providing these types of data analysis
    • Infographics (1-2 pages, primarily contains graphical statistics about a topic)
    • Fact Sheets (1-2 pages, primarily contains bullet points of information about a topic)
    • Research Briefs (summaries of research findings on a topic, integrating results from a variety of sources)
    • Ad hoc - as new developments happen or key events take place, produce timely analysis to provide context or better understand the changing environment.
    • Quarterly updates - regular reports providing a general overview, spaced out to examine trends over a slightly longer period of time to better capture patterns.
  • And these types of data dissemination tools:
    • Tools to help surface information about emerging trends and related content (instead of requiring the user to know what information they’re looking for).
    • Tools that allow users to easily create and share data visualization, such as heat maps and charts/graphs.
    • A personalized “dashboard” where users can login and save searches and data visualizations to be more easily updated as new data becomes available.

Although data collection for T2V is not yet underway, T2V researchers have produced analytical reports based on existing datasets. See “Publications” below.

Methodology: 

The requirements gathering phase involved strategic working groups and survey methodology to establish opportunities and priorities for data collection, analysis, and dissemination. This process leveraged the T2V team’s extensive experience designing and developing data collection tools, dissemination platforms and analytical strategies for related projects. When T2V data collection is approved to begin, the team will build on the Global Terrorism Database workflow and Data Management System to systematically collect information on additional cases (of targeted violence) and additional variables. This data collection process blends automated and manual strategies to produce rigorous data accessible to a wide audience.

Timeframe

Project Period: 
September 2020 to January 2022