Countering Terrorism: Integrating Theory and Practice

Academic scholars and researchers met with personnel from justice, intelligence and law enforcement agencies at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, on Feb. 28, 2002, for an invitational conference entitled “Countering Terrorism: Integration of Practice and Theory.”

Academic scholars and researchers met with personnel from justice, intelligence and law enforcement agencies at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, on Feb. 28, 2002, for an invitational conference entitled “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 the FBI developed before the conference. These scenarios illustrated 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 involved 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 reconvened for a final meeting where issues and concerns raised in the small groups were described and further analyzed, and conversations continued through a dinner hosted by the FBA 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 disseminate as they see fit.

Each small group was comprised of approximately ten individuals with diverse areas of experience. Participants included:

  1. scholars or researchers from psychology or political science or medical science;

  2. attorneys with expertise in immigration law;

  3. representatives from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Academy of Sciences, National Science Foundation;

  4. members of training or operational units of the FBI;

  5. personnel from the CIA, U.S. Secret Service, National Security Agency, Department of Defense, State Department, and staff from the Office of Homeland Security and the new Transportation Security Agency;

  6. 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 a different 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 variously 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. Some of the challenges raised include how to: 1) collect this information and organize people in order to take full advantage of all that is offered; 2) get relevant expertise to the people who are at the forefront of counter-terrorism efforts; and 3) let the experience of those who are on the “front lines” inform the research and inquiries of the scholars. The conference was viewed as one way to accomplish this kind of interaction.