From the Science Directorate

Academic scholars, researchers, and personnel from justice, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies met for an invitational conference on “Countering Terrorism: Integration of Practice and Theory.”

Countering Terrorism: Integration of Practice and Theory

By Susan Brandon, Senior Scientist

Academic scholars and researchers, and personnel from justice, intelligence and law enforcement agencies met at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, on Feb. 28, 2002, for an invitational conference on “Countering Terrorism: Integration of Practice and Theory.” The meeting was sponsored by the FBI Academy’s Behavioral Science Unit, the School of Arts and Sciences and the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at the University of Pennsylvania, and the American Psychological Association.

More than 70 participants, roughly half academic scholars and researchers and half law enforcement personnel, dispersed into seven small groups to discuss “scenarios” that had been developed before the conference by the FBI. These scenarios described some of the current problems that the FBI, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are facing as they try to discover cadres of terrorists or those who harbor them, as well as deter support for terrorism by individuals, designated groups, and communities. Two hours of scenario discussions were followed by two hours of small group discussions centered on questions that had been developed before the conference by the academic researchers and scholars. These questions were about stereotyping and ethnopolitical conflict, risk perception and communication, education regarding fundamentalism in all religious traditions, analysis of intelligence data, and strategies to deal with bioterrorism. The whole group convened for a final meeting where issues and concerns raised in the small groups were described and further analyzed. Conversations continued at a dinner provided in the large atrium meeting room at the Academy. The proceedings and recommendations offered by the various discussion groups will be reviewed and edited by the members of the individual groups, and then given to the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI Academy to use and distribute as it sees fit.

The ten or so discussants in each small group were likely to be scholars or researchers from psychology or political science or medical science, an attorney with expertise in immigration laws, someone from the Office of Science and Technology Policy or from the National Academy of Sciences or the National Science Foundation, a member of a training or operational unit of the FBI, personnel from the CIA, the U.S. Secret Service, National Security Agency, Department of Defense, State Department, or someone on staff at the Office of Homeland Security or the new Transportation Security Administration, and officers from the Stafford, Virginia, Washington D.C. or New York City Police or Sheriff’s Departments. Each participant was able to offer a different point of view and expertise on the issues raised by the scenarios and the questions. The juxtaposition of people whose expertise lies largely in theory with those whose expertise lies largely in practice, allowed each to expand on what they already knew and to be informed by the view of the other. The conversations were reported to be lively and sobering, informative and probing, and consistently collegiate and respectful.

National and local government offices and agencies have received a large volume of information and offers of assistance from Americans across the country, as well as concerned individuals from other nations. One of the challenges has been how to collect this information and organize people in order to take advantage of all that is offered, to get relevant expertise to the people who are at the forefront of counter-terrorism efforts, and to let the experience of those who are on the “front lines” inform the research and inquiries of the scholars. The February 28th conference was viewed as one way to accomplish this kind of interaction.

Because the potential value of psychological science has received relatively little attention in the aftermath of 9/11 via the formal hearing process on Capitol Hill, PPO staff arranged a follow-on activity for scientists to discuss their research with Congressional staff. The day after the conference a subgroup of the participants met with staff of the House and Senate Science Committees including: Major Jonathan Drummond, Princeton University; Victoria M. Esses, PhD, University of Western Ontario; Baruch Fischhoff, PhD, Carnegie Mellon University; Deborah Frisch, PhD, National Science Foundation; Arie Kruglanski, PhD, University of Maryland; Donald Norman, PhD, Northwestern University, Eldar Shafir, PhD, Princeton University and Peter Suedfeld, PhD, University of British Columbia. For more details see the May edition of The APA Monitor.