RESEARCHERS RELEASE TERRORISM DATABASE TO SCHOLARS NATIONWIDE
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - University of Arkansas researcher Brent Smith - in collaboration with University of Oklahoma sociologist Kelly Damphousse and the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism - recently released a database that contains information on nearly 500 indicted terrorists, spanning two decades of federal terrorist investigations from 1978 to 1999. The information could help scholars recognize trends in terrorist activity or aid prosecutors in sending known terrorists to jail.
Cataloging 2,851 criminal counts from 121 federal terrorism cases, the American Terrorism Study database is the most comprehensive compendium of terrorism investigations and activity ever compiled in the United States. Smith and Damphousse released this database to scholars nationwide at the American Society of Criminology meeting in Denver last Friday.
"We could publish books off this data for the rest of our lives. The database is so complete, there’s so much information - one research team simply can’t mine it all," said Smith of the decision to release the database to other researchers. "The other issue is that we believe if our database can help mitigate or prevent terrorist activity, it would be selfish to restrict it for the sake of our own academic interests."
Organized by criminal count, the database provides information on approximately 75 variables, including demographic descriptions of indicted and convicted individuals, terrorist group affiliations, intended and actual targets, and outcomes of the case such as conviction or acquittal. The database grew out of a project called the American Terrorism Study, which Smith founded in 1989, when the FBI Terrorist Research and Analytical Center began furnishing him with the names and court case numbers of terrorist indictments.
The database evolved in several stages. While at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, where Smith then worked, he collected data on indictment cases from 1978 to 1989. Subsequent funding from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) enabled Smith and Damphousse to gather data on cases from 1990 through 1996. The remainder of the data, from 1997 to 1999, was collected over the past three years, with funding from the Office for Domestic Preparedness, administered by the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT). Currently, Smith and Damphousse are finalizing their data for 2000-02 cases, which they intend to release upon completion.
Due to privacy issues, the version of the database that scholars received last week will not include the names of indicted individuals. Nevertheless, researchers will have nearly 75 fields of data from which to conduct analyses.
For example, Smith and his colleagues have used the American Terrorism Study database to note which criminal charges are most often leveled against terrorist suspects and which charges are most likely to result in conviction. His latest project, funded by the NIJ, will use information from the database to identify the ancillary crimes that frequently precede terrorist acts. Such early indicators of a terrorist plot could help authorities intervene and save lives. Smith hopes other researchers will find even more ways to interpret and use the data.
In addition to helping academic researchers, the database will aid prosecutors in their attempts to bring terrorists to justice. In conjunction with the FBI and the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, Smith and Damphousse intend to make their database accessible on the Web by the end of this year. This Internet version will not only contain statistical data on terrorist indictments since 1978; it will also provide PDF files of court documents, including indictments, judgment orders, sentencing memoranda and other materials.
"A federal prosecutor will be able to conduct a search of a particular federal count and run a statistical analysis on how often that count has been used in terrorist trials over the past 20 years and how successful it was in leading to conviction," Smith said. "Then he could look up the court documents from successful cases to see exactly how those prosecutors worded their indictments."
The full statistical database and compendium of court documents will be made available to the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, including names of the indicted. However, a more general version of this resource - from which the researchers have chosen to exclude some of their data - will be made publicly available on the Web.
"We’ve made sure that terrorist groups won’t be able to look at this information, study the prosecution records, and figure out which counts result in the least likelihood of conviction," Smith said. "The last thing we want is to inform terrorists of how to better design their strategies."
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