Threat Assessment

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Researchers collaborate across disciplines at RAND to evaluate terrorist, military, nuclear, cyber, and other threats to U.S. national security — identifying emerging threats, scrutinizing known risks, and evaluating potential strategic and tactical responses. Recent studies have included examinations of al Qaeda, the Afghan insurgency, and Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

  • U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye at a joint news conference in Seoul, April 2014, photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

    Commentary

    N.K. WMDs Carry Catastrophic Potential

    Nov 19, 2014

    The failure of the United States and South Korea to prevent North Korea from gaining significant quantities of weapons of mass destruction saddles those governments with serious military responsibilities, should North Korea go to war or should its government collapse.

  • A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September, photo from Reuters/FBI handout

    Report

    When Jihadis Come Marching Home

    Nov 18, 2014

    Although the numbers of Westerners slipping off to join the jihadist fronts in Syria and Iraq are murky, U.S. counterterrorism officials believe that those fighters pose a clear and present danger to American security.

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  • Argentine policemen escort Henry de Jesus Lopez Londono, alleged leader of a Colombian drug trafficking group, outside a courthouse in Buenos Aires October 31, 2012

    Commentary

    The Strategic Value of Terrorism

    While terrorists and criminals joining forces is certainly a scary thought, it's nothing new and not something that works as simply in practice as it does on a white board. Still, it's a threat worth watching.

    Aug 31, 2015

  • Tunisian soldiers and police patrol near Algeria's border in Kasserine, Tunisia July 4, 2015 after an Islamist militant attack on a beach hotel that killed 38 foreigners

    Commentary

    Algeria: The Bastion of North Africa

    Algeria could be a key regional partner for the United States and France in security and counterterrorism efforts against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. It has a clear interest in quelling the threat posed by regional jihadists and it has local knowledge that could be helpful to U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

    Aug 11, 2015

  • U.S. Army Specialist visits his former high school as part of the Army Special Recruiter Assistance Program

    Commentary

    Go Slow on Arming Recruiters

    Several important voices have argued for arming military recruiters in the wake of the recent shootings in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Giving them a chance to fight back against an active shooter may be a sound proposition, but practicalities of military recruiting suggest a patient and thoughtful policy review.

    Jul 31, 2015

  • Firemen work around the World Trade Center after both towers were attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001

    Commentary

    The 1970s and the Birth of Contemporary Terrorism

    While terrorism worldwide has increased over the past four decades — and the threat of terrorism continues to dominate Americans' fears — the nearly 14 years since 9/11 have been tranquil on the home front compared to the violent 1970s.

    Jul 30, 2015

  • Anti-government protesters at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev on January 25, 2014

    Commentary

    Reports of Our Global Disorder Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

    Deterring Russia, channeling growing Chinese power, and working with others to dismantle the Islamic State are daunting challenges — but not greater than rebuilding post-World War II Europe, containing the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War, and promoting democratic governance throughout much of the modern world.

    Jul 22, 2015

  • A Syrian refugee shows his passport after he and others were rescued by a Greek coast guard patrol boat, May 29, 2015

    Testimony

    Admitting Syrian Refugees: The Intelligence Void and the Emerging Homeland Security Threat

    The deeply intertwined wars in Syria and Iraq continue to impact U.S. national security. Based on threats posed by a number of terrorist groups in the region, it's important to examine potential risks from increased refugee flows and ensure that the U.S. refugee program safeguards national security.

    Jun 24, 2015

  • A Tunisian holds up a flag during celebrations marking the fourth anniversary of Tunisia's revolution, Tunis, January 14, 2015

    Commentary

    Tunisia in the Crosshairs

    The open-ended nature of the Islamic State group's threat against Tunisair suggests that it intends to target Tunisia for the long haul. The United States should counter the threats with steadfast and sustained cooperation and assistance.

    Jun 22, 2015

  • An Afghan border policeman escorts a detained suspected Taliban fighter near Walli Was in Paktika province near border with Pakistan November 5, 2012

    Commentary

    Expanding the Caliphate

    ISIS in South Asia, which it calls the Islamic State of Khorasan, is larger than most recognize, boasting between several hundred and several thousand fighters. But for now, it is closer to a loose affiliate than a direct arm of the organization.

    Jun 12, 2015

  • Smoke rises after what activists said were clashes with Islamic State fighters in Soran Azaz, Aleppo countryside June 1, 2015

    Commentary

    Islamic State's Global Expansion

    The radical Islamist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is now expanding in roughly a dozen countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia by exploiting local grievances, doling out money, and leveraging its battlefield successes.

    Jun 4, 2015

  • People run for cover after an explosion in Jalalabad April 18, 2015

    Commentary

    Has Islamic State Entered Afghanistan?

    The bulk of the Islamic State of Khorasan is thought to be in Pakistan, but the group is trying to make inroads into Afghanistan. That said, the group's actual ability to operate in Afghanistan appears rather limited.

    May 4, 2015

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief reporters at the Pentagon on April 16, 2015

    Commentary

    Fixes for Risk Assessment in Defense

    Defense Department approaches to risk management could be improved if they focused on complex strategic judgments — questions on which information is imperfect, dozens of variables interact in nonlinear ways, and human choice and agency generate unpredictable patterns.

    Apr 22, 2015

  • Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks to Pentagon personnel, February 19, 2015

    Commentary

    Rethinking Risk in Defense

    The way the U.S. uses risk in national security has too often been ill-defined and misleading. The country needs a more focused and precise understanding of risk at the highest levels. In the process of developing one, risk processes should be judged by how they contribute to the making of effective strategy.

    Apr 20, 2015

  • Testimony

    There Will Be Battles in the Heart of Your Abode: The Threat Posed by Foreign Fighters Returning From Syria and Iraq: Addendum

    Document submitted on April 17, 2015 as an addendum to testimony presented before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on March 12, 2015.

    Apr 17, 2015

  • Soldiers at Suwon Air Base, South Korea, finish a comprehensive air defense artillery field training exercise

    Commentary

    To Know the Future of Biological Weapons, Look to the Past

    A panel chaired by former Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Gov. Tom Ridge will review U.S. policy on biodefense. Looking back to the end of the U.S. offensive biological warfare program would provide valuable lessons.

    Apr 10, 2015

  • U.S. Senior Master Sgt. Leonard discusses cargo pallet inspection procedures with East Africa air force members during African Partnership Flight-Djibouti February 10, 2015

    Commentary

    Djibouti: Outpost of Stability in an Unstable Region

    The collaborative role being played by the United States and Djibouti represents the kind of partnerships that are now required in the battle against terrorism, because little-known places like Djibouti are one arena where the battle could be won or lost.

    Apr 10, 2015

  • A balloonist fires the burners of his hot air balloon during the Tunisian Balloon Festival in Hammamet March 22, 2015

    Commentary

    Tunisia Could Be a Model for What Works in the Mideast

    Tunisia has a shot at showing that a different model in the region can succeed, a model of inclusion, tolerance, and economic prosperity. It has a lot of work ahead of it, but the vision is there.

    Mar 24, 2015

  • Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province, Syria, June 30, 2014

    Testimony

    The Continuing Lure of Violent Jihad

    As the civil wars in Syria and Iraq continue, so does the terrorist threat emanating from these conflicts. Two galaxies of jihadist terrorists in the region pose a credible danger to the U.S. homeland: al Qaeda and its affiliates and ISIL. But the most likely threat comes from homegrown terrorists.

    Mar 24, 2015

  • Spanish police arresting a woman suspected of recruiting women to go to Syria and Iraq to support Islamic State insurgents

    Commentary

    The Allure of ISIS for Young Recruits

    Poverty and oppression may explain why people in some countries embrace violent extremism, but it does not account for the flow of Western volunteers or the dreamy allure of fighting for a faraway cause. Biographies of those who have reached out to participate in jihad suggest a variety of motives, including alienation, personal crises, dissatisfaction with empty spiritual lives, and adolescent rebellion.

    Mar 20, 2015

  • Testimony

    Containing Middle East Terror: Measures to Reduce the Threat Posed By Foreign Fighters Returning from Syria and Iraq

    Testimony presented before the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security on March 17, 2015.

    Mar 17, 2015

  • Militant Islamist fighters ride horses in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014

    Testimony

    The Threat Posed by Foreign Fighters Returning from Syria and Iraq

    An estimated 3,400 foreign fighters have come from Europe and other Western countries to join jihadist fronts in Syria and Iraq. What is the threat posed by these Western fighters? And how can the U.S. better identify and intercept returning foreign fighters from countries covered by the Visa Waiver Program?

    Mar 12, 2015