For Immediate Release
May 22, 2008
Contacts: Neil Tickner, 301 405 4622 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Terrorism Fatalities Up, Not Down
UMD Analysis Disputes New Report
College Park, Md. - The University of Maryland's Gary LaFree, director of the world's largest and most comprehensive open-source terror database, disagrees with a new report challenging the "expert consensus" that international terrorism fatalities are rising.
In large part, the issue is whether to count Iraqi civilian deaths as incidents of terror.
"It's a gray area, but we're very rigorous in the way we approach this, and the result is academically sound, though a no-win politically," says LaFree, who directs the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), part of the federally funded National Consortium on the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) based at Maryland.
"We've been very conservative in our methods and I consider the result a balanced look at the problem," LaFree adds. "To me, the trends are clear - fatalities are up, terror attacks are flat."
The new international report, Human Security Brief 2007, concludes that the GTD and other key unclassified U.S. databases over-report international terrorism. The main discrepancy, according to the report, lies in "counting civilian deaths in the civil war in Iraq as terrorism." It adds that the intentional killing of civilians in wartime is not normally described as terrorism, but as a war crime or crime against humanity.
Removing these Iraq numbers from the analysis, "reveals a sharp net decline in the incidence of terrorist violence around the world," the Human Security Brief 2007 concludes, adding that "fatalities from terrorism have declined by some 40 percent."
"There's often more than one way to interpret numbers," LaFree says in response. "But I think our reading is more reflective of the overall picture of international security. I stand by our numbers and our methods." (See below for specific responses)
GLOBAL TERRORISM DATABASE
The GTD lists more than 80,000 terrorism incidents since 1970. It measures more than a hundred social, economic and security variables for each incident, including a wealth of contextual and impact data. Currently, the database is complete through 2004. A "beta" version has updates through June of 2005, and LaFree expects to complete updates through 2008 by early next year.
The database, available online and designed with researchers in mind, has facilitated new approaches to the study of terrorism. For example, LaFree and colleagues analyzed the effectiveness of get-tough responses to terrorist violence in Northern Ireland from 1970 to 1992.
START is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funded Center of Excellence. GTD, a START project, also is funded by DHS.
Also, the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management maintains a series of databases measuring factors that contribute to international tensions and violence. The data are available online, and are the basis for a series of reports: Peace and Conflict.
Since 2000, the Peace and Conflict reports have tracked the record drop in post-World War II violence and new post-9/11 challenges, trends discussed in the Human Security Brief 2007.
SPECIFIC RESPONSES TO HUMAN SECURITY BRIEF 2007
Distinguishing terrorist violence from other violence in Iraq since 2003 is challenging. However, we have been striving to apply the same criteria for including cases from Iraq as from other parts of the world. Here are those criteria:
To be included in the GTD, all attacks must meet three criteria: (1) the incident must be intentional - the result of a conscious calculation on the part of a perpetrator; (2) the incident must entail some level of violence (includes property violence) or the threat of violence; and (3) there must be sub national perpetrators (the GTD is limited to acts of non-state terrorism).
In addition to the three criteria above, all attacks in the GTD are evaluated on three additional criteria: (1) the act must be aimed at attaining a political, economic, religious, or social goal; (2) there must be evidence of an intention to coerce, intimidate, or convey some other message to a larger audience (or audiences) than the immediate victims; and (3) the action must contravene the precepts of international humanitarian law (particularly the admonition against deliberately targeting civilians or non-combatants).
We include in the data base all cases where at least two of these three criteria are present. However, analysts may eliminate cases where all three criteria are not met.
Until 2002, Iraq accounted for less than 1 percent of all attacks in the GTD. However, in 2003, Iraq accounted for 7 percent of attacks. By 2004, Iraq accounted for nearly 30 percent of attacks.
One of the most difficult problems in accurately counting terrorist attacks in Iraq is what to do when these are directed against military targets. Although many experts would exclude attacks against the military as non-terrorist, other experts would include them if they involved attacks on military targets outside of regular warfare (such as the USS Cole incident) or attacks on off-duty soldiers (such as the ones in Bali).
Attacks on the military in Iraq are evaluated by our analysts on a case-by-case basis according to the criteria noted above. Of the 87 Iraqi attacks in the GTD in 2003, 22 percent involved military targets; of the 327 Iraqi incidents in the GTD in 2004, 11 percent involved military targets. The GTD criteria allow users to exclude these attacks from their analysis should they so wish.
NATIONAL SECURITY RESEARCH AT MARYLAND
The University of Maryland conducts a broad range of advanced, cross-cutting research on national security issues, including behavioral research at START, the Department of Homeland Security funded Center of Excellence; research at the national language laboratory, the UM Center for Advanced Study of Language; policy research on weapons of mass destruction at the Center for International Security Studies, as well as extensive research in chemistry, biology, physics, computer studies and engineering.
The UM's National Foreign Language Center also manages STARTALK, a summer national security initiative designed to teach critical languages to teens and teachers in 32 states.
IARPA, the federal Intelligence Advanced Research Activity is based at the University's research park, M-Square, and is constructing a new headquarters there.