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Impact of 9/11 Terrorist Attacks on Research Agenda

Date Published
September 5, 2011

The pressing need to respond to the disaster of 9/11, understand terrorist behavior and prevent future terrorist acts has shaped NIJ's research, development and evaluation agenda. Since the attacks, the Institute has brought its expertise in forensics, technology and social science to bear on various areas related to terrorism. We have worked in a number of areas:

DNA Identification in Mass Disasters

Lessons Learned From 9/11: DNA Identification in Mass Fatality Incidents, 2006. The Kinship and Data Analysis Panel (KADAP) is a blue-ribbon panel of forensic scientists assembled by NIJ after the 9/11 attacks to support New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in the identification — through DNA analysis — of the World Trade Center victims. This is a report prepared by a group of the nation's top forensic scientists and published by NIJ that reviews the experiences of the KADAP. The report offers guidance (particularly to the nation's laboratory directors) on preparing a plan for responding to a mass fatality event.  See Lessons Learned From 9/11: DNA Identification in Mass Fatality Incidents, 2006.

Mass Fatality Incidents: A Guide for Human Forensic Identification, 2005. This Special Report provides medical examiners and coroners with guidelines for preparing their disaster plan with regard to victim identification and summarizes the victim identification process for other first responders. It discusses the integration of the medical examiner or coroner into the initial response process and describes the roles of various forensic disciplines (including forensic anthropology, radiology, fingerprinting, and DNA analysis) in victim identification. This report represents the experience of dozens of federal, state, international and private forensic experts who took part in the Technical Working Group for Mass Fatality Forensic Identification. See Mass Fatality Incidents: A Guide for Human Forensic Identification, 2005

Identifying Victims Using DNA: A Guide for Families, 2005. This guide for grieving family members was distributed to victims' families after the 9/11 attacks to help explain the DNA identification process of identifying the remains of a victim through DNA analysis to the public. See Identifying Victims Using DNA: A Guide for Families (pdf, 13 pages). This document is also available in Spanish (pdf, 14 pages).

Improving the Criminal Justice Response to Terrorism Incidents

Learning From 9/11: Comparative Case Studies of the Law Enforcement Response, 2009. NIJ funded a study of the two law enforcement agencies that dealt most directly with 9/11 — the New York City Police Department and the Arlington County Police Department. The study found the following: counterterrorism policing is the same as crime policing, the first response priority is to save lives, both departments have greatly expanded counterterrorism training at all levels, and setting up a media relations plan is essential for getting accurate information to victims' family members and the public. See the Research for Practice: Learning From 9/11: Organizational Change in the New York City and Arlington County, Va., Police Departments.

Through-the-Wall Surveillance for Locating Individuals Within Buildings, 2008. NIJ is developing a system that will give law enforcement officers the ability to remotely see people moving within buildings, as opposed to having to place the sensor close to a building wall, thereby lessening law enforcement personnel's exposure to unknown danger. See the final report Standoff Through-the-Wall Imaging Sensor. NIJ also funded the development of a portable device that, while it must be put in close proximity to a building, should be able to detect people who are hiding or trapped behind metal walls or in shipping containers. See the final report Through-the-Wall Surveillance for Locating Individuals Within Buildings.

Improving the Relationship Between Law Enforcement and Arab-American Communities, 2006. NIJ funded one of the first studies to examine the effects of 9/11 on law enforcement agencies and communities with high concentrations of Arab-American residents. The study found that Arab-Americans expressed greater concern about being victimized by federal policies than by individual acts of harassment. In all cases, law enforcement and community members expressed a desire for improved relations. Nonetheless, few jurisdictions actively adopted programs or policies to improve relations. See the final report  Law Enforcement and Arab American Community Relations After September 11, 2001: Engagement in a Time of Uncertainty.

Biometrics Research: Facial and Iris Recognition, 2006. NIJ funded research to produce facial recognition software that extracts facial images from surveillance video, rotates the images in three dimensions, and combines them to produce a single recognizable image. See "Recognize the Face." Another NIJ-funded project evaluated the use of iris recognition technology in New Jersey schools and research in a Navy brig and dozens of U.S. jails on the use of iris scanners to track movements. See the final report Safe Kids, Safe Schools: Evaluating the Use of Iris Recognition Technology in New Egypt, NJ.

Communications Technology. NIJ is developing technologies that will provide law enforcement first responders ready access to the radio spectrum they need, when and where they need it, under all circumstances. These efforts include development of advanced antenna concepts and development of cognitive and software defined radios. Additionally, NIJ has taken a leading role within the Department of Justice in efforts to implement the proposed national public safety broadband network.  

Digital Forensics.  Mobile devices, such as cell phones, are widely used by terrorists and other criminals. The ability to extract forensic data from them is vital. NIJ funding has resulted in the development and introduction of various forensic tools to extract information from mobile digital devices and computer systems.  See Digital Evidence and Forensics Web pages.

Protective Equipment.  The 9/11 attacks illustrated how law enforcement officers might be called to respond to a variety of situations that previously had been associated with military actions.  NIJ is working to ensure the safety of law enforcement officers. In these efforts NIJ consistently partners with the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Products under development include a portable system to decontaminate law enforcement equipment after exposure to pathogens, puncture-resistant gloves to protect the law enforcement responder from various hazards, a full-face respirator (gas mask) that meets the tactical needs of the law enforcement responder, and a duty uniform that offers the law enforcement responder limited protection from chemical, biological and fire hazards.

Standards and Guides. NIJ has published or is in the process of developing a number of standards and guides for equipment that first responders and law enforcement officers can use in preventing, preparing for and responding to terrorism events:  

Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Defeat. Current research and development efforts include development of a universal cutting tool that will interface with any of the existing common robots such as the Andros series, Talon, Pacbot and Vanguard. The Institute also sponsors annual publication of the National Strategic Plan for U.S. Bomb Squads in collaboration with DOD's TSWG. 

Surveillance and detection systems. NIJ is developing a range of technologies that can detect concealed weapons and spot unusual activity that could be related to criminal behavior.

  • The Sago ST-150 standoff detector is a system to detect weapons concealed under clothing.  It is now being used in U.S. government and military applications. 
  • Other efforts are underway to develop a smart closed-circuit television (CCTV system) and an intelligent, unobtrusive, real-time, continuous monitoring system for assessing activity and predicting emergent suspicious and criminal behavior across a network of distributed cameras.

Assessing Potential High-Risk Targets

Securing America’s Passenger Rail Systems, 2007. NIJ funded a study that found that although bombings are the most prevalent terrorist threat to rail systems, most bombings produce few fatalities or injuries. The study also identified 17 options for improving security, some of which are relatively inexpensive. The study also provided transit security managers with a method to evaluate approaches to increasing security and gave practical guidance about how to improve safety efficiently and economically. See the final report Securing America’s Passenger Rail Systems, 2007.

Protecting America’s Ports: Assessing Coordination Between Law Enforcement and Industrial Security, 2007. NIJ funded a study that obtained information about security systems in all 185 American seaports and examined how public-private partnerships operate and focus on terrorism around ports. The study identified a number of promising practices for preventing and preparing for attacks. See the final report Protecting America’s Ports: Assessing Coordination Between Law Enforcement and Industrial Security.

Identifying Links Between White Collar Crime and Terrorism, 2004. NIJ funded a study of the investigation and prosecution of members of a terrorist group (Jamaat Ul Fuqra) in Colorado, identifying the types of white-collar crimes used for funding and identity deception. The study described lessons learned from white-collar crime investigations and provided guidance for state and local police and prosecutors. See the final report Identifying Links Between White Collar Crime and Terrorism.

Methods and Motives: Exploring Links Between Transnational Organized Crime and International Terrorism, 2005. NIJ funded a study that analyzed the overlap between international organized crime and terrorist groups to develop watch points and indicators of convergence, using open-source information and intelligence analysis tools. See the final report Methods and Motives: Exploring Links Between Transnational Organized Crime and International Terrorism.

Terrorism's Organization, Structure and Culture

Terrorist Recruitment in American Correctional Institutions: An Exploratory Study of Nontraditional Faith Groups, 2007. NIJ funded a study on nontraditional religions in U.S. correctional institutions. The study identified the personal and social motivations for incarcerated individuals' conversions to these faith groups and assessed the risk for terrorist recruitment among these persons. The study found that the danger to U.S. security from adherents to these nontraditional faiths is not the number of adherents, but rather the potential for small groups of radical believers to instigate terrorist acts upon their release from custody. See the final report Terrorist Recruitment in American Correctional Institutions: An Exploratory Study of Non-Traditional Faith Groups

Organizational Learning and Islamic Militancy, 2008.  NIJ funded a study exploring how Islamic terrorists learn to design and execute attacks. The study assessed the Internet's role in facilitating the teaching of terrorist tactics and strategies, and it identified limitations in Islamic terrorists' ability to acquire knowledge on how to design and execute effective attacks. The study found that terrorists' learning is based mostly on hands-on training from other terrorists. The study also found that many terrorist conspiracies are compartmentalized, impeding the free flow of information between novices and more experienced terrorists. See the final report Organizational Learning and Islamic Militancy.

Barriers to Interagency Coordination When Responding to Terrorist Incidents

Interagency Coordination: A Case Study of the 2005 London Train Bombings, 2008, and Interagency Coordination: Lessons Learned From the 2005 London Train Bombings, 2008. Researchers produced a two-part series for the NIJ Journal on interagency coordination in responding to the 2005 train bombings in London, England. The articles focus on lessons learned and promising practices for addressing barriers to interagency coordination when responding to large-scale emergencies. See Interagency Coordination: A Case Study of the 2005 London Train Bombings and Interagency Coordination: Lessons Learned From the 2005 London Train Bombings.

Cross-National Comparison of Interagency Coordination Between Law Enforcement and Public Health, 2005. NIJ funded a study examining the cooperative roles of law enforcement and public health in responding to terrorist threats in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland. The study found common barriers to working together and suggested several measures for successful interagency coordination. See the final report Cross-National Comparison of Interagency Coordination Between Law Enforcement and Public Health.

Analyzing Terrorism Databases

Building a Global Terrorism Database (University of Maryland). NIJ funded a project to computerize and assess the validity of the original Pinkerton Global Intelligence Service (PGIS) data, which were designed to document every known terrorism event across countries and time frames. The PGIS data collection ended in 1997, exactly the same time that the RAND Corporation began collecting worldwide terrorist incident data. A project at START, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, brought the data together to produce a geocoded, integrated terrorism event database stretching from 1970 to the present. The database now includes more than 98,000 cases, including date and location of the incident, weapons used and nature of the target, number of casualties, and group or individual responsible (when known). It is by far the most extensive and empirically defensible terrorism event database of this type ever assembled. See the final report Building a Global Terrorism Database.

Pre-Incident Indicators of Terrorist Incidents: The Identification of Behavioral, Geographic, and Temporal Patterns of Preparatory Conduct, 2006. NIJ funded an exploratory analysis of the behavioral, geographic and temporal patterns of preparatory acts to support terrorist events. Researchers found that terrorists typically prepare three to four months before an incident, with measures such as meetings, phone calls, the purchase of supplies and materials, and banking activities (including both bank robbery and legitimate account withdrawals). The spatial analysis revealed that terrorists typically live close to their incident target, with one-half residing and preparing for the incident within 30 miles of the target. See the final report Pre-Incident Indicators of Terrorist Incidents: The Identification of Behavioral, Geographic, and Temporal Patterns of Preparatory Conduct.

Date Published: September 5, 2011