Ebook: Terrorism Risk Assessment Instruments
The search for a distinct "terrorist profile" has been going on for many years, and while it is generally agreed that nobody is born a terrorist, there is plenty of disagreement about why a person might become one. Whereas personal and situational push and pull factors can be combined to determine how and why young people become involved in terrorism, preventing an individual from following a path that ends in violence without moral restraint poses an enormous challenge, especially in an open society.
This book presents papers from the NATO Advanced Research Workshop titled "A Review of the Utility of Existing Terrorism Risk Assessment Instruments and Policies: Is there the Need for Possible New Approaches?", held in Berlin, Germany, on 29-30 November 2019. Researchers were asked to present papers for discussion sessions with invited participants and practitioners from a number of NATO member and partner countries. Various assessment instruments for identifying problematic individuals at an early stage were presented by experts. It was generally agreed that, due to cultural, religious and other differences, there is no simple way to identify the relatively few high-risk individuals among the larger population of politically radicalized but not necessarily violent individuals who pose no threat.
Framed by an Introduction and Conclusion, the 16 chapters in the book are divided into three parts: Theory and Risk/Threat Assessment Instrument Policy Themes; Implementation of Politically Motivated Terrorism Protocols; and Personality Traits/Disorders, Anti-State Terrorism Profiles and the DSM-5 Personality Trait Instrument.
This practice-oriented book will be of interest to all those tasked with protecting society from some of its most dangerous members.
While there is widespread agreement about the fact that nobody is born a terrorist, there is plenty of disagreement about why someone becomes a terrorist. Personal and situational push and pull factors combine as drivers to determine why and how usually young people become involved in terrorism. Rather than there being a single route to terrorism, there are many pathways for an individual to become a ‘violent extremist’ – a term often substituting for ‘terrorist’ (but even less well defined). To prevent an individual from following a path that ends in violence without moral restraints (namely attacking without provocation unarmed and unknown people) poses enormous challenges, especially in open societies typical of most North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members and most partner states as well. The search for a distinct ‘terrorist profile’ has been going on for many years, and, while most researchers have given up on the theme of finding the terrorist personality or a terrorist mind-set, others have not. However, the latter researchers readily admit that there are several personality traits rather than only one profile of persons who are much more likely than other people to become terrorists in a given political and social environment.
Currently, the problem of discovering and systematically assessing the intentions of a potential terrorist is mainly analyzed in terms of a ‘radicalization process’: a seemingly normal individual is attracted and socialized by others on the Internet or, more often, through direct personal contacts, to embrace a worldview which calls for more or less random attacks against enemies. These radicalized individuals then act either as lone-wolf actors or join a terrorist group at home or abroad. This transition from being an uncommitted but impressionable young man (less often: woman) to developing into a fanatical militant driven by absolutist convictions does not occur overnight. It is a process taking time – usually months, sometimes years. In this period of transition – which is often linked to a form of conversion – persons in the social networks surrounding the person at risk (the vulnerable individual) are supposed to notice changes which can offer detectable early warning signs of violence in the making. These radicalization-driven changes in previously unremarkable individuals can include religion-prescribed clothing, restrictive behaviour toward members of the opposite sex, training in martial arts, a break away from the old circle of ‘friends’, and other observable lifestyle as well as belief alterations. The ability to interpret such changes correctly and then plan interventions to bring an endangered individual back from a path toward violence and self-destruction involves complex analytical skills and tasks. These must include programs that draw together sensitive information obtained from family, friends, colleagues, teachers, and others. In order to intervene effectively along various points in the entire radicalization chain, police and national security officials require validated risk and threat assessment tools to recognize the risk signals of specific pre-attack behaviours. Specialists such as psychologists, community workers, probation officers, and mental health professionals play complementary roles in such interventions.
The present volume is the result of a gathering of academic and professional experts at a NATO Advanced Research Workshop (ARW) at the Harnack conference house of the Max Planck Society in Berlin in late November 2019. Participants were invited from various NATO member and partner countries while a number of researchers were asked to present papers based on their projects for discussion sessions with other participants, in particular, practitioners. These researchers and practitioners have in many cases wrestled for years with the problem of identifying potentially violent individuals in time to intervene.
It was refreshing to notice that new insights were surfacing in this NATO workshop as various assessment instruments for identifying problematic individuals at an early stage were presented by experts. However, these experts also made clear that, due to cultural, religious and other differences, there is no simple solution to identify the relatively few high-risk individuals (i.e., proverbial ‘bad apples’) among the vastly larger population of politically radicalized but not necessarily violent individuals who do not pose a threat. A major policy concern is the risk of false positives, i.e., because of positive scores on multi-risk personality profile assessment instruments an individual can be marked as high risk and yet poses no threat to society. Several experts at the ARW explained that such inaccurate assessments were inherent in existing assessment instruments because motivations are sometimes misinterpreted – something related to the difficulties of separating mental health disorders and individual idiosyncrasies from ideologically motivated individuals. In other words, fundamental validity challenges remain when it comes to methodologies assessing the transition from an “ordinary” person to a dangerous one.
In effect, it is no secret that – until more recently – the profiling of potential terrorists has more often than not been more of an art than a science, even in cases where the well-established structured professional judgment approach has been used. The ambition of the contributors to this volume is to make threat and risk assessments more of a science. The scientific method is characterized by careful observations, the collection of evidence, the formulation of hypotheses via inductive reasoning, the testing of the chosen hypotheses with a larger sample of empirical data, and, subsequently, the use of well-supported hypotheses for theory formation which, ideally, should allow prediction via deduction – in this particular case, allow analysts to identify those individuals with a set of personality- and milieu-characteristics that make them highly likely to engage – or re-engage – in terrorism in the near future.
Developing a validated risk assessment instrument as a reliable prognostic tool to determine harmfulness of a dangerous individual was the key ARW objective. However, due to the considerable array of social and political factors as well as psychological profiles associated with a wide heterogeneity of terrorist types (e.g., homegrown lone-wolf terrorists and foreign fighters, terrorist leaders and terrorist foot soldier, secular terrorists and religious terrorists, male and female terrorists, university-educated and uneducated terrorists, rational and irrational terrorists, suicidal and non-suicidal terrorists) the identification of potentially dangerous persons is a very complicated challenge.
Participants discussed the many obstacles to overcome to construct reliable terrorist risk assessment instruments. Researchers presented data from several NATO member and partner countries that indicated multiple pathways to different types of involvement in terrorism directed against state and society. A major methodological problem of identifying those at risk of becoming violent extremists was the difficulty of extant research designs in obtaining sufficiently large control groups, that is, comparing a sizeable number of convicted terrorists with ordinary members of the general population and then apply the findings to suspected potential terrorists. A common policy theme that emerged was that once a reliable and valid instrument for risk assessment and evidence-based policies has been developed, risk or threat management guided interventions needed to be developed. Such intervention programs have the goal of first detaching a vulnerable individual or an already radicalized extremist from their radical milieu, and then surrounding them with protective factors to prevent a relapse into radicalization and extremism leading to terrorism.
I have focused here on some of the key issues that professional experts at the NATO ARW in Berlin tried to tackle. As a long-time student of terrorism, I witnessed the experts in Berlin wrestling with a truly “wicked” problem – ‘wicked’ in the sense that this problem of identifying potential terrorists is impossible to solve in a way that is simple, universal, and applicable across countries and cultures. I am sure that the readers of the chapters of this volume will share this writer’s appreciation for this practice-oriented book which is likely to become a must read for all those tasked with protecting society from some of its most dangerous members.
Alex P. SCHMID
Director of the Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI)
Corresponding Author, Alex P. Schmid; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. About the author: Alex P. Schmid is the Director of the Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI), a consortium of institutes and individuals who seek to enhance security through collaborative research. Dr. Schmid is Editor-in Chief of ‘Perspective on Terrorism’, an open access online journal. Prof. em. Schmid is also a Research Fellow of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague and editor of the Handbook of Terrorism Prevention and Preparedness (available online at www.icct.nl).
This chapter examines the task of preventing harmful behaviour motivated by a violent extremist ideology. It begins with a brief review of the history of practice in the field of risk assessment and management in order to highlight the latest learning and recommendations, which the violent extremism field would do well to follow. Risk and threat assessment and management practice is then compared and contrasted in order to highlight differences that account at least in part for the wide variety of guidance and expectations currently available. The final part of the chapter focuses on practical issues in the prevention of violent extremism through its assessment, formulation, and subsequent management. Specific key issues are addressed: (i) the application of the structured professional judgement approach in practice, from triage through to extended or live risk management; (ii) the challenge of establishing a violent extremist intent in a person who is the focus of concern, in order that the most appropriate guidance and management strategies are put against his or her harm potential; and (iii) the task of embedding and evaluating harm prevention into counter-terrorism practice. The chapter ends with concluding remarks and practice recommendations.
This chapter updates builds upon previous descriptive analyses of lone-actor terrorists, their behaviours, ideological backgrounds and degrees of ‘loneness’. It offers greater conceptual clarity, updated data and a more expansive set of variables from previous analyses. Individual vulnerability indicators examined here include potential indicators of cognitive susceptibility to moral change, and self-selection and social selection into radicalizing settings, notably membership of a social network containing one or more radicalized individual. We also examine exposure settings, attack-preparation behaviours and explore sub-set analyses of the data. The analyses informed by a Risk Analysis Framework which offers a multilevel, integrated meta-model of these events and allows for the synthesis of disparate findings. The analyses provide key insights into the behaviour of lone-actors, which could inform intelligence gathering and investigative practice, as such analyses already do in other crime prevention domains.
This chapter describes two studies in which Palestinian assailants underwent interviews and psychological tests intended to learn about factors that influenced their decision to carry out a terrorist attack and their behaviour before, during, and after the attack. The first study examined would-be suicide bombers, a control group of non-suicide terrorists and organizers of suicide attacks, and the second study examined lone-actor assailants. Differences in personality characteristics, psychopathology and motivations for carrying out terrorist attacks were found between the various types of assailants in the two studies. Conclusions pertinent to the issue of terrorists’ risk assessment are discussed.
In the last decade, radicalization has been assumed to be a heterogeneous phenomenon, often overcoming ideological barriers. Moving from a set of premises, emphasizing the crucial role of current societal changes and contexts where radicalization processes take place, the added vision discussed here is an innovative paradigm focusing on the importance of emotions, feelings, and sentiments within the communication strategy adopted to prevent and reveal radicalization, defined accordingly as a “mood strategy”. What emerges from this analysis is methodologically threefold: a new model of communication strategies; a promising format tool to assess the radical milieu where the radicalization attitudes incubate, fostering radical processes; a comprehensive FEAR Model, leading to a new emotional dimension of communication strategy. Moreover, from a theoretical perspective, the prominent finding is that terrorism has to be identified as a violent and cultural act, going beyond the motivational reasons for the terrorist actions.
There is growing concern in Australia about the residual risk of acts of terrorism or violent extremism posed by offenders after their release to the community from jail. A number of legislative measures have been passed that attempt to address this particular risk. Terrorism risk assessment tools are central to the effective operation of these new laws. Although existing tools demonstrate potential in assisting decision makers in identifying and managing persons that pose a risk of extremist violence there remain several challenges. These tools provide a useful guide to information gathering and analysis, however the assessment process is time consuming and resource intensive. Further, existing tools are currently given limited weight by the courts which impairs the effectiveness of legal measures designed to address residual risk.
In this chapter the authors discuss the establishment of the Belgian ‘Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis’ (CUTA), its remits and fields of competence and how its scope was widened in the last few years because of changes in the threat landscape of problematic radicalization, extremism and terrorism and the changing tactics of the Belgian government to tackle them. In the second part of this chapter the authors elaborate on ‘RooT37’, a risk assessment tool that was tailor-made by CUTA to address its newly assigned tasks in the framework of the revised Belgian Action Plan on Radicalism. The tool takes several risk indicators into account to aid CUTA’s experts in making structured professional judgments about threats and risks posed by monitored individuals, and semi-automatically produces a threat level. Furthermore, it provides CUTA’s support agencies with clues for further investigation based on discovered information gaps through the assessment. Finally, it also points out opportunities for coordinated intervention by partner services to reduce the risk posed by monitored individuals. Certain characteristics of the methodology of the tool are described in more detail, as well as its advantages and some challenges for the future.
The model for assessment for concerns about extremism (MACE) is a process-model developed for a multi-agency collaboration where relevant authorities assess concerns about extremism in a Danish context. This assessment is made with the sole purpose of early prevention. The concerns can range from mild to very serious concerns where there is need for some kind of preventive measure or intervention. This chapter introduces the development of the model as well as a description of the phases of the model and the assessment tools that support that process. Finally, a range of learning points and recommendations are listed to sum up the chapter.
RADAR-iTE is an actuarial risk assessment instrument developed specifically for the German Police in the field of state protection. The purpose of the instrument is the prioritization of individuals of the Islamist spectrum known by the police in terms of their risk to commit politically motivated serious violence in Germany. The specific requirements of an instrument developed for the police and the adapted research process are outlined. This is followed by the description of the evaluation and revision of the instrument after one year of application by the German police. The result of this process, the current version 2.0 of RADAR-iTE is introduced and an insight into the implementation process of the instrument is also provided. Finally, the limitations of RADAR-iTE are discussed
In the Netherlands, police use IR46 as a Terrorism Risk Assessment Instrument for identifying radicalized individuals and the risk or threat they pose. Originally, its focus was on ideological radicalization as a precursor to terrorist violence. Here, it reflected mainstream thinking in terrorism studies, which held that terrorists overall are ‘normal’ in terms of mental health and socio-economic backgrounds. New empirical research called this ‘normality paradigm’ into doubt, and IR46 has changed accordingly. One example of this research was a 2015 study in Dutch police files describing behavioural problems and disorders in jihadist travelers to the Middle East. This chapter presents new findings from a follow-up study from 2019. The studies, and similar research elsewhere, have indicated that jihadist travelers on average have a history of adverse socio-economic conditions, high criminality, and more mental health problems than their peers. Individual backgrounds may have contributed to their susceptibility to extremist messages. These backgrounds can be quite diverse though, which does not allow for an accurate prediction of those who actually commit a terrorist crime. Nevertheless, insight in these backgrounds provides new angles for identifying and managing risk in individuals of concern.
This chapter charts the author’s own learning pathway as a senior forensic psychologist working with those convicted of terrorist offences in the UK, from the Maze prison in Northern Ireland as a senior member of HM Inspectorate of Prisons during the period of the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998, through to casework in England & Wales with those convicted of terrorist offences between 2008 and 2011. These experiences created an ongoing research interest into the etiology of terrorist offending from a psychological perspective. Empirical work with convicted terrorist offenders over three years within a small team of psychologists informed a methodology for the assessment and management of the risk of terrorist re-offending for the British correctional system in 2012, and interventions to assist in their disengagement and/or desistance. This learning in turn informed the Prevent strand of the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy for countering violent extremism in the community.2 More recently, as an academic this work has developed into a theorized typology of terrorists as more evidence has come to light about the contributions of criminality and individual psychopathology to terrorist violence. This chapter seeks to map this journey from empirical beginnings to emerging theory.
This report discusses the advantages and challenges in using direct psychological personality profile and psychodynamic assessments (corresponding to Otto Kernberg’s model of personally organization) of suicide bombers and lone actors. Two studies that administered various psychological instruments (i.e., self-report inventories, semi-structured interviews, and projective tests) were used to assess these subjects in a prison setting, before or after their trial. Main findings showed that suicide bombers displayed low levels of ego strength with dependent and/or avoidant personality styles, while most of the lone actors presented evidence of psychiatric histories. Also, the main methodological advantages and challenges of the assessment procedures and instruments utilized are discussed. Self-report inventories were found to be less valid. In contrast, semi-structured interviews assisted in identifying a more comprehensive theoretical understanding of both personality dynamics and the discerning of traumatic experiences in participants’ background related primarily to their family history. Projective tests had limited and restricted responses i.e., lacked the necessary complexity. This pattern likely reflected those participants with either limited mental resources, maladaptive personality styles, or hostile responses toward their assessors. Future directions are discussed in a psycho-cultural theoretical perspective regarding the development risk/threat assessment instruments to discern potential perpetrators who are victims of trauma in families living under specific cultural contexts. We assume that these victims’ manifest dissociation defences, present tendencies to activate mobilization, and immobilization energetic systems. These systems evoke complex behaviour patterns triggering suicidal tendencies coupled with rage tendencies aiming to end the lives of others, in this context, perceived political enemies.
The following chapter provides an overview of approaches and tactics commonly used in programs developed to counter radicalization and violent extremism, with a particular emphasis on the role of risk/threat assessments used within existing programs. The purpose of this chapter is to understand to what extent existing radicalization prevention, deradicalization, and disengagement programs are using some form of individual-level risk assessment for terrorism or other forms of violence, or if any psychological assessments or interventions are used. The results indicate that the overwhelming majority of current programs do not explicitly include individual risk assessments. This is a critical oversight, one which hampers the potential efficacy of disengagement efforts.
This chapter aims to provide a review of the literature on the role of personality traits and disorders among terrorist offenders, as well as extant terrorism risk and threat assessment (TR/TA) instruments. We assert that there is an overwhelming need for an instrument that is largely based on DSM-5 personality disorder dimensions and related traits. Specifically, an assessment tool is proposed based largely on the Personality Inventory for DSM-5 (PID-5), in combination with domains borrowed from the Comprehensive Assessment of Psychopathic Personality (CAPP), as well as accounting for ideology and prior criminality. Using open sources, we discuss the prevalence of the included traits in both Omar Mateen and Dylann Roof and argue that their unstable personalities could have led investigators to downplay the risk they posed given that they break the mold of the terrorist as having a stable personality who methodically seeks to avoid detection.
Prominent terrorism case studies of individuals such as Omar Mateen, Dylann Roof, and Mohammed Merah indicate the need for personality trait-based terrorism risk assessment/threat assessment (TR/TA). This chapter provides an overview of Corrado’s, personality-based TR/TA instrument (see Chapter 14) by explaining the origin of each domain and the purpose of inclusion. Furthermore, this chapter displays results from a preliminary instrument validation study conducted on an open-source sample of 158 terrorists. Results of this study suggest strong statistical significance for many of the domains. This suggests the need for future inclusion of personality-based indicators in terrorism risk assessment.
In this study we used social network analysis of incel-related videos on YouTube to understand the recommendations, patterns, and dissemination of incel ideology on a popular multimedia platform, i.e., YouTube. Results revealed 12 distinct groups in the network (e.g., Female Hypergamy, Gynocentric Bias). Central videos in each group revealed the spread of ideological material on YouTube. Videos with the highest betweenness centrality scores were evaluated to map the pathways from groups with more innocuous video content to groups with more extremist incel-ideological content.