Small Wars Journal Is Back: Political Violence Prevention: Profiling Domestic Terrorists

The five factors used to identify potential terrorist perpetrators are plausible. However to be considered plausible some of the factors had to be placed in the correct context. The factor of religious, ethnic, or political affiliation had to be adjusted to apply to relevant groups, not just muslin or Arab groups. This was supported by quantitative data on the total number of terrorist plots from 1999-2009. Still this has the potential to change based upon the criteria used to define which data of terrorist actions to include. The goals of all included cases were acts of violence intended to cause casualties or catastrophic damage to critical infrastructure. As such 135 animal rights and environmental group attacks were discarded because they were smaller in scale and did not target critical infrastructure such as dams, bridges, power plants, etc. (Storm, Hollywood, Pope, Weintraub, Daye, and Gemeinhardt 2010, 4). Being nearly 200% of the attacks counted, small scale animal and environmental incidents could greatly change the results if included.

The five factors, though plausible, are not the most feasible or the most effective historical method in preventing terrorist attacks. In 80% of the foiled plots, initial clues were identified by law enforcement and from public reporting (Storm, Hollywood, Pope, Weintraub, Daye, and Gemeinhardt 2010, 12). In these cases law enforcement would not need to profile any of the individuals involved as the initial clue is sufficient to identify the plan or to begin an investigation. These clues did not involve estimating an individual’s potential terror but on more tangible elements such as criminal activities, suspicious documents, suspicious activity, and paramilitary training (Storm, Hollywood, Pope, Weintraub, Daye, and Gemeinhardt 2010, 1). If tangible evidence is present it reduces the need for profiling. Because of the reduced need the five factors would likely fall under the remaining 20% of foiled terrorist plots and there is no easy way to determine how many of those may or may not have used or benefited from profiling. There is also no way to definitively answer how many more terrorist operations would be foiled if the five factors were incorporated into a standard-but it can be speculated that the number would increase.


h/t Matt Bracken

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