Conducting Terrorist Threat Analyses
by Michael W. Collier, Ph.D.
Eastern Kentucky University
This handout provides an analytic framework for predicting the targets and types of
attacks that may be used by a selected terrorist group. Terrorism is an extremely complex
human behavior and a number of methods or techniques have been developed in the
intelligence community and academia for making such predictions.
The framework in
this handout blends a basic Rational Choice approach used in academia with a number of
structured analytic techniques used in the intelligence community.
By calling on a
number of proven structured analytic techniques and setting them within a Rational
Choice framework, we can predict the most likely target locations to be selected and
types of attacks to be used by a selected terrorist group.
Currently, terrorist attacks within the United States are considered
This means that while the probability of a terrorist attack is low, if
one does occur, the potential impacts in terms of property damage, personnel casualties,
and disruption of critical US infrastructures could be severe.
, as is the approach covered in this handout, helps ensure
policy-makers and tactical commanders are warned about unexpected but not completely
Such analyses also assist intelligence officials in developing
Indications and Warning (I&W) Problems, which allow analysts to alert policy-makers
and tactical commanders when such threats are about to materialize.
development is the key element that allows intelligence officials to devise data collection
plans to counter threats.
One of the formulas used for risk assessment offers:
R = (C x V x T), where R equals
Risk, C equals Consequences (damage, casualties), V equals Vulnerability, and T equals
The analytic framework in this handout focuses on determining the Threat (T) in
However, as you learn the framework presented in this handout, you will
see that the T is not a standalone factor, but can only be estimated with careful
consideration of both the C and V factors.
In other words, C, V, and T are inter-related in
a much more complex manner than the R = (C x V x T) formula offers.
A Basic Primer
Rational Choice Theory is one of two research approaches considered by academia as
formal modeling tools (a combination of Complexity, Chaos, and Catastrophe theories
being the second technique).
(Note: Statistical procedures are not formal modeling
Rational Choice Theory is a very powerful research tool.
It can be used to
develop new theory by highlighting the causal mechanisms associated with human
It can be used as an analytic framework in case studies to explain human
It can also be used to predict human behavior as we will be doing in this
Rational Choice analyses make the researcher designate in detail the