Chapter 7 Discussion Question Pointers

End of Chapter Question Pointers

Chapter 7 – Open Sources Databases

Gary LaFree

  1. In what ways is collecting data on terrorism more difficult than collecting data on other types of illegal behaviour?
  2. Terrorists want publicity for their causes: but otherwise, they do not tend to welcome outside scrutiny: there’s another brief discussion of this in Chapter 2 (pages 27-29). However, as explored in Chapter 20: Counterterrorist Agencies are also inherently secretive organizations.

    As explored in this chapter (pages 112-113), the nature of anti-state terrorism as political violence obviously makes it an impossible phenomenon to study from any disinterested standpoint that will command universal respect.

  3. In the interconnected world in which we live is it possible to meaningfully distinguish domestic from international terrorism?
  4. As a jumping point, the discussion in the Key Concepts Box on ‘Domestic Versus International Attacks’ is the obvious place to start (page 116). In addition, ‘International Terrorism’ as a Key Concept is discussed in both Chapter 2 (pages 24-27) and Chapter 5 (page 81): these also be useful for helping you developing your own reflections. For an argument that in some contexts (such as civil war and insurgency) that domestic terrorism may still be a useful category for analysis, see Chapter 16 (pages 298-299).

    It is also worth asking yourself here: who is doing the distinguishing? Many terrorists will indeed frame their chosen cause in global terms. But Counterterrorism Agencies tend to be organized primarily upon national lines within states – as Chapter 20 explores.

    Since a key feature of the 21st century information revolution is its deeply transnational nature, it would also be worth cross-referencing to Chapter 18 (which is entirely dedicated to exploring the changing relationship between terrorism and social media).

  5. Why do you suppose most of the existing databases on terrorist attacks began after the late 1960s?
  6. New research is often reactive to the emergence of new problems. Hence, it is worth reflecting on what changed, or seemed to change, around this time. Hence an obvious place to start in thinking about this question is to familiarize yourself with the wider context at the time. You may find Case Study 8.2 ‘The 1970s as the Long Decade of Terrorism’ worth reading for background here. You may also find it helpful to look back at the brief discussion of how Terrorism Studies evolved here in this period in Chapter 2 (pages 19-20).

  7. Which type of open source data—event, group, or individual—is most difficult to collect and why?
  8. Event databases are the most common type of terrorism-related database: it would be worth thinking on how far this reflects whether they are also the ‘easiest’ to compile – even with all the challenges and problems mentioned here (page 116). Both Terrorism Group and Individual Databases tend to involve a large variety of sources (i.e. court records as well as media reports etc.). This may be more demanding at the collection stage: but can also make the database more robust. 

    Automated technologies of data collection – and their interface with human data analysts (as discussed here on page 127) – clearly matter massively here. Automated techniques may ‘hoover up’ certain types of information more easily than others – events in open source international media might be easier to trawl rather than court records which will be held under different national jurisdiction and subject to different rules of access.

  9. Why not collect data on terrorism the same way that we collect data on other more typical types of crime?
  10. An obvious point is that the stakes tend to be higher. By its nature, anti-state terrorism threatens the state. It focuses the attention of security agencies to a greater extent than nearly any other type of illegal activity. It tends to be a highly sensitive area to investigate as a result. Because of its inherently political nature, terrorism is already a distinctive phenomenon against the wider landscape of criminal behaviour. That needs to be recognized in research design.

    Unlike most other crime, terrorist events have an inherently hybrid nature. They are both hidden (in its preparation stages) and very public (it is designed to get attention and be noticed). Hence, it is important to note the ways in which terrorism offers researchers unique positive opportunities for data collection (as mentioned briefly here on page 128).