U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs; National Institute of Justice The Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice ProgramsNational Institute of JusticeThe Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice

Terrorism Research Before and After 9/11

Gary LaFree, University of Maryland
NIJ Conference 2011
June 20-22

Gary LaFree Well, definitely 9-11 had an immediate and huge impact on funding for all sorts of studies on terrorism. I guess before that the biggest event was the Oklahoma City bombing. And before that, I think, for whatever reasons, terrorism research in the behavioral and social sciences seemed to be falling through the cracks. It wasn't a large specialization in criminology; it wasn't a large specialization in psychology. Even political science wasn't doing that much. So for whatever reasons, it was an area that really had been neglected. At first after 9-11, I think there were certainly lots of issues that were seen as more important than social and behavioral science, so it took a while for the government to sort of get organized to pay some attention. And to this day it is actually not a huge amount of funding in this area, so in fact I sometimes am a little concerned that there hasn't been a huge amount of work done on processing people for terrorism-related charges. Just in the federal system right now we have something like 350 people in prison for terrorism-related charges. I don't think we know that much about them from the social/behavioral science side. So there's actually a lot of work still to be done. We had no idea how much terrorism was domestic versus transnational. And so many of us were surprised to learn that domestic was much more common. And as criminologists we always say, you know, if you're investigating a crime you always want to start close to where it happened. And this turns out to be very true of terrorism as well; that often times planning, a lot of the events, happen very close to where the incident happened which I think we didn't know before we began collecting data. I don't think we knew, also, how difficult it is to actually sustain a terrorist group. We tracked 1,600 terrorist organizations; their average life expectancy was less than a year. We hear about the success stories. We hear about the Al-Qaedas and the FARCs, but we are less likely to hear about the many, many organizations that, thankfully, disappear very rapidly.

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NIJ Conference
June 2011
Gary LaFree, Director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism at the University of Maryland

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Date created: August 22, 2011