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Scenario 1: a trustworthy local businessman reports suspicious activity by an apparently Middle Eastern neighbor.

A citizen contacts a detective in a small east coast city. The detective knows the caller to be a trustworthy local businessman. He reports suspicious activity by a neighbor who moved into a rental residence nearby. The neighbor appears Middle Eastern. The neighbor claims to be a student at the local university; however, he is noticed to be absent from the residence for weeks at a time. The caller engaged the neighbor in conversation and learned that although he claimed to be enrolled in an International Studies program at the University, he was very vague and clearly did not recognize the names of the most prominent professors within that program. The neighbor has observed three other Middle Eastern males intermittently staying at the neighbor's home, sometimes when his neighbor is not there.

Problem: This scenario was viewed as quite typical of the many that have come through local police and FBI offices since 9/11. The problem is how to develop an effective triage system that helps officers or agents handle the large volume of incoming information while assuring that important details are not overlooked.

Strategies: Make use of data gathering/vetting systems already in use in other situations, such as in the medical and legal professions. These are designed to (1) process all incoming information and then sound an alert when a targeted item appears, and (2) show changes in patterns of data flow that would not be seen by the casual, part-time observer (an individual on duty at any particular time would see only that part of the incoming data, whereas the artificial system sees it all). The pattern of change in incoming data might be informative, in addition to targeted items.

For example, one such system already in use searches through large volumes of text for specific words or phrases. When it finds a targeted item, an alarm is sounded. An important aspect of this system is that it will find text that means the same without using the same words. For example, if a target search specifies "racketeering," one will get documents that mention racketeering, but also documents that mention "unlawful conspiracies." (1) Also, the data are kept in files that can be re-searched for words or meanings that are of interest at some later date, to look for similar instances, as well as to allow for the generation of graphs and other descriptors to evaluate changes in the pattern of incoming information.

Further information is provided in Appendix 1 (Information Evaluation Systems).

Problem: What predictor variables do we have for the identification of potential terrorists?

Strategies: We might consider using the information that is known about the men who attacked New York and Washington on 9/11. For example, it appears that the men who attacked on 9/11 had not maintained their family relationships, perhaps in order to ensure good cover. Thus, the presence or absence of family relationships might be used as predictors of membership in terrorist networks. Such information also might be useful in the interrogation and identification of suspects.

Problem: What should be the standard operating procedure for dealing with local universities that might have students who are either under suspicion or know others who are?


Short-term standard operating procedures should include:

* Find a way of ensuring minimal adverse impact. A student or a professor--or any university employee--could be put at risk if he or she is approached by a law enforcement officer in a manner that is obvious to their coworkers. There also is risk involved in simply asking a professor about a student (or vice versa). One way to minimize such impact is to ask about an entire class or an entire department, so that individuals are not singled out (even if the law enforcement agent only wants to know about one or two individuals).

* The officer or agent should assess whether their procedure passes a "60 Minutes" test. That is, would their approach be an embarrassment either to them or their department if it were exposed to the general public?

* Decide in advance if the person being sought is a suspect or a citizen who might be able to help, and modify the approach and advance accordingly.

* Be prepared to offer assurances that if a person is willing to come forward with information, they will not be penalized for doing so with prosecution for minor violations (including minor visa violations).

* Assure the individual that if they request legal representation, this will not be viewed as an admission of guilt, nor will they subsequently be viewed as uncooperative.

* Offer an assurance that the law enforcement agent is bound by law and is not the kind of police that immigrant populations are likely to have encountered in their countries of origin.

Recognize that an academic culture is, by nature, more likely to value its openness and willingness to talk than other communities. Attempts to be secretive likely will be viewed as evidence of ignorance of the university culture (and might expose an undercover agent), and would be viewed as contrary to the open nature of the university culture. Therefore, the long-term strategy of planting individuals in the university to serve as information conduits was rejected because the cost of discovery of such individuals would, in the long run, greatly outweigh their usefulness in the short-term.

A better strategy would be one that recognizes that the university culture welcomes diversity and talking. Local law enforcement might participate in various lectures, discussion groups, classes, and social events that are open to the public and also are attended by members of the university. This would increase the perception of law enforcement as part of the community, rather than outside it. Law enforcement agents that like to talk, as well as listen, would be best suited for such an assignment.

Implications for practice, training, and research

Social scientists need to evaluate the implications of the current concerted focus on Muslim- and Arab-Americans as potential threats, where these are the primary characteristics that trigger responses of faster and greater scrutiny. We are making assumptions about which terrorists are on the basis of essentially indiscriminate characteristics (most Muslim- and Arab-Americans are not terrorists).

There are two dangers of using the trait rather than behavioral indicators. One is that people will be unduly and inappropriately targeted. The other is that we will miss terrorists who are operating in other religious and ethnic communities. This focus also brings up issues of discriminatory practices and whether such a focus is occurring because of an underlying racism. Would the current strategies (community surveillance, etc.) be possible were the 19 terrorists of 9/11 Caucasian rather than Middle Eastern (e.g., what if they were part of the IRA)?

(1) Example provided by Herbert L. Roitblat at
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Publication:Countering Terrorism: Integration of Practice and Theory
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 28, 2002
Previous Article:Executive summary.
Next Article:Scenario 2a: a woman contacts her therapist about a friend of her son's "martyrdom mission.".

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