Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Predicting the Next Terrorism Hot Spots
By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — In the decade since 9/11, the U.S. government has used every tool in its arsenal to hunt down terrorists and prevent them from striking U.S. soil.
American military and intelligence powers account for the bulk of the effort, but increasingly, computer modeling is being used to help anticipate potential hotbeds of terrorist activity.
The information helps various federal agencies work to neutralize the threats. Los Alamos National Laboratory and its Center for the Scientific Analysis of Emerging Threats is an integral part of the effort.
On Sunday, as part of the Albuquerque International Association's lecture series on terrorism post 9/11, the center's director, Edward P. MacKerrow, will discuss how computers can help us understand the motivations for terrorism and who might engage in terrorist actions in the future.
As part of his lecture, MacKerrow will examine the motivations of 21st century terrorists, considering the ideological and the situational forces that drive them.
He will explain how terrorists are radicalized and recruited to commit terrorist acts and how computer modeling can help anticipate the destructive behavior.
"We use computer modeling to look at the social, economic and psychological factors that can be used to anticipate (terrorist activity)," MacKerrow told the Journal.
The Center works primarily to support Department of Defense efforts while harnessing the expertise that U.S. universities offer in anthropology and other fields of study, MacKerrow said.
A physicist by training, MacKerrow worked for 15 years at Los Alamos conducting research in physics and modeling.
He took a sabbatical to model socio-behavioral dynamics in corporations but has since returned to Los Alamos, where he continues to apply social simulations to better understand the emergence of Islamic terrorist groups and political violence.
MacKerrow said he gathers data from various experts — even if it's conflicting or disparate information — and uses computer models to develop a logical assessment.
"I've got this one expert telling me it's socioeconomic factors, and I've got this other expert telling me, no, it's political factors," he said, describing theories for terrorist motivations. "The answer is it's not just one or the other — they're all combined together and the interrelations are very complicated to figure out. But if we can do it on a computer, it helps."
To learn more about the AIA lecture series, which includes question-and-answer sessions with each speaker, visit www.centerforinternationalstudies.net or call 856-7277.