Dave Gahary sat down with physicist Aaron Clauset, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, who has been researching terrorist events for the past 10 years.
This is the first time Professor Clauset has spoken to the media since his study was released in September, 2012, which predicts that there is a 50% chance of another 9-11-type terrorist attack within the next ten years, in this informative interview (21:05).
Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s ‘Underground Interview’ series.
Boston Marathon Bombing a Sign of Things to Come
By Dave Gahary
April’s cowardly terrorist attack at the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, which was designed to indiscriminately murder and maim men, women and children with ball-bearing bombs, while vile and obscene, was certainly within the statistical realm of possibility, and more attacks on United States soil, 9-11-size or larger, will most likely be a regular feature of the future. Attacks like last week’s are especially more likely, considering that when “terror attacks are broken down by weapon types,” explosives are responsible for over 50% of deaths. Interestingly, firearms account for 36% and unconventional weapons, chemical or biological weapons, fire and knives account for the remainder.
That is the conclusion of a scientific study unofficially released last September by U.S. and Swiss-based researchers calculating the likelihood of large terrorist attacks found that their “most pessimistic scenario” predicts a 50% chance of another 9-11-type attack occurring within the next ten years. The study, Estimating the historical and future probabilities of large terrorist events, was originally submitted online on September 1, 2012, for the benefit of other scientists to review, but the authors were forbidden from speaking with the press until the peer-review process was completed.
AMERICAN FREE PRESS conducted an exclusive interview with physicist Aaron Clauset, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, who has been researching terrorist events for the past 10 years. This was the first interview Professor Clauset has given to the media since the study was released, which shows “that terrorism obeys the arcane laws that seem to govern complex systems,” like major earthquakes.
Professor Clauset’s cutting-edge research has attracted the attention of many quarters, and has consulted with the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Naval War College’s Strategic Studies Group, as well as the University of Maryland’s terrorism study consortium, START, and the anti-explosive device group JIEDDO, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Defense. Additionally, he “has also collaborated with The MITRE Corporation, a McLean, Va., nonprofit that oversees highly classified research contracts for the Defense Department and other national security agencies.”
AFP asked what motivated the study.
“I’d been working in this area, thinking about the global patterns and the statistics of terrorist events…and…became interested in whether there were patterns at the global level in the size of the terrorist events. In a 2007 study that I published…I identified that there is in fact a very unusual pattern with respect to the frequencies of these large events. The statistics, the frequency and the size of these terrorist events follows a pattern very much like what earthquakes follow. That same pattern of the relative frequency of large events happens also here with the size of the terrorist attacks. We can fit mathematical models to these patterns and use those models to make forecasts, much the same way people can make forecasts for earthquakes.”
AFP asked what main points the study uncovered.
“The first question the study focused on was whether or not an event the size of 9-11…was sort of unlikely, statistically, given the entire global history of all terrorist events and their sizes over the past 40 years. So, this was a question that we could answer mathematically, we could test…whether or not 9-11 was unexpected.”
“The first finding…was to discover that, no, in fact 9-11 was not unexpected at all, in the sense that we could put a probability estimate, a bit like weather forecasting.”
Further testing revealed that all models “essentially agreed that 9-11 was not statistically unexpected.” Building on this, the Clauset then postulated that “if the assumptions are correct, then we can make a reasonable, mathematically-based prediction about what the situation might be like.”
AFP asked about his interaction with the U.S. intelligence community.
“I’ve had a number of interactions with people in the Department of Defense…and the intelligence community, but at no point have they actually expressed any genuine interest in using the technique that I developed for their kind of efforts. There’s been a number of inquiries, but very little follow-up after that.”
AFP asked if the study took into account that 9-11 might not have occurred the way the U.S. government said it did.
“The data that we used is from a large database of terrorist attacks worldwide, and there are about 40,000 events in this database. But the record for an event only stores a few pieces of information. It stores things like the number of deaths or injuries, the date it occurred, the culprit if it’s known, although oftentimes they don’t know, and then some other information. All this is culled essentially from news reports. We only looked at the relative frequency of events based on their sizes. So any sort of conspiracy theories or ideas about motivation or who did it or why it was done, all that information was on purpose excluded from the model.”