In an era of agenda-driven academic research, who watches the watchers? Or more accurately, who gets to designate and categorize the “objective” data? This is the question raised after examining a study and related dataset recently published by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland.
START was launched in 2005 with a $12 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security, and is recognized by DHS as one of its “Centers for Excellence.” In December, DHS announced it had renewed START’s funding to the tune of $3.6 million.
A recent START study titled “Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970 to 2008” puts the “excellence” description in question. A press release announcing the report states the study concluded that nearly a third of all terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2008 occurred in just five major metropolitan areas. The study was based on a START database called “Profiles of Perpetrators of Terrorism in the United States,” and both the report and database are supported by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division.
Reading through the study, some baffling issues arose. In Table 4 (p. 22), titled “Hot Spots of Religious Terrorism by Decade”, three “hot spot” areas — Los Angeles, Manhattan, and Wasco, Oregon (former home of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) — are identified: But there seems to be some data missing when it comes to known Islamic terrorist incidents in New York City and Los Angeles. The study shows no religious terrorism in Manhattan during the 1990s. How about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing? Or the 1994 Brooklyn Bridge Jewish student van shooting by Rashid Baz that killed 16-year-old Ari Halberstam after Baz heard a fiery anti-Jewish sermon at his local mosque? Or the 1997 Empire State Building observation deck shooting by Ali Abu Kamal that killed one tourist and injured six others before Kamal took his own life?
And then there was the 2002 shooting at the Los Angeles Airport El Al counter by Hesham Mohamed Hadayet that killed two and wounded four others. The FBI and Justice Department concluded that the attack was a terrorist attack by an Egyptian assailant bent on becoming a Muslim martyr.
These are reflected nowhere in the study. Perhaps, like the 2009 Fort Hood massacre by Major Nidal Hasan, who gunned down his U.S. Army colleagues while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” these incidents are considered acts of “workplace violence” and not religious terrorism?