The first line of defense against acts of targeted violence

S&T says that it is crucial that terrorism prevention is informed by a rigorous evidence base to ensure well-intended actions yield benefits and not unintended consequences. This requires significant research into all forms of violent extremism but also into understanding the impact of our responses to determine what works, what doesn’t, and what’s promising. Testifying before a Senate committee in January 2018, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, “We will work to ensure [DHS’s] approach to terrorism prevention is risk-based and intelligence-driven, focused on effectiveness, and provides appropriate support to those on the frontlines whom we rely on to spot signs of terrorist activity.”

As a result of S&T-funded terrorism prevention research and analyses, the public can now easily access a wealth of resources to better understand and respond to violent extremism. S&T offers dozens of research products, fact sheets, local program evaluations, and data and analysis capabilities. Notable data and analysis tools include:

•  The Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States Foreign Fighters dataset (PIRUS). This dataset, developed at the University of Maryland, contains identified individual-level information on the backgrounds, attributes, and radicalization processes of over 1,800 violent and non-violent extremists who adhere to far right, far left, Islamist, or single issue ideologies in the U.S.

•  The Terrorist and Extremist Violence in the United States dataset (TEVUS). This dataset and portal, also developed at the University of Maryland, provides a wealth of information on terrorist events, activities, associates, organizations, and crimes. It combines details of terrorist events and attacks in the U.S, details on the individuals that were convicted of terrorism-related charges, and details on terrorist organizations and their non-terrorist criminal activities in the U.S.

S&T has also published formative evaluations of local terrorism prevention programs in Boston and Los Angeles, reviews of existing risk assessment tools, along with research roadmaps and fact sheets on known extremist threats to the U.S. A complete listing of S&T-funded terrorism prevention resources is now available online.

This research is vital to our ability to effectively develop local solutions to prevent terrorism while avoiding pitfalls and unintended consequences. DHS Director for the Office of Terrorism Prevention Partnerships David Gersten said, “Given the growth in practitioners, stakeholders and sectors engaged in [terrorism prevention] — without DHS S&T and solid research — this endeavor will cave in on itself and we will go back to building programs based on preconceived notions and anecdotal evidence instead of science.”

S&T recognizes the international nature of many of the extremist threats facing our nation. Violent ideologies do not recognize national borders and sophisticated plots can be devised and executed across continents. To support the global effort to counter this threat, DHS works closely with the international community to:

•  Coordinate efforts;

•  Identify and address critical gaps;

•  Optimize current programs;

•  Identify future collaborative opportunities.

S&T says that its international engagements continue to benefit and enhance the collective security of all partner countries. Through close research coordination, S&T can learn and benefit from the past experiences and findings of other countries that have sought solutions to similar challenges — resulting in cost savings, accelerated research schedules, unique solutions, and peer validation.

Looking to the future, S&T is excited to continue this work to inform policies and actions with evidence-based research. This fall, S&T will kick off a series of systematic reviews with the Campbell Collaboration. Systematic reviews synthesize the best available empirical evidence on a topic to arrive at defensible conclusions and generalizations. S&T is coordinating this project in partnership with Australia, Canada, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, S&T will kick off a series of additional local program evaluations for a handful of 2016 DHS grant recipients, which seek community-driven solutions to counter terrorist recruitment and radicalization.

“The S&T mission is to capitalize on research advancements to develop solutions and capabilities that protect our homeland’s diverse and unique communities against all threats,” S&T says. “Along with many other components within DHS, S&T aims to continuously provide state, local and community practitioners, and the general public, with the tools and knowledge necessary to be an empowered part of this mission.”