A Review of Public Data About Terrorism and Targeted Violence to Meet U.S. Department of Homeland Security Mission Needs

by Joe Eyerman, Richard H. Donohue, Nathan Chandler, Tucker Reese

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Research Questions

  1. What are DHS needs for data on terrorism and targeted violence?
  2. What databases exist that might fulfill those needs?
  3. What gaps are there between the data needs and available data sources?

In September 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence, which calls for better data resources to support DHS efforts to understand and prevent terrorism and targeted violence. This report provides an independent review of DHS needs, existing prominent databases, the alignment of existing databases with DHS data needs, and the quality of prominent databases on terrorism and targeted violence. Results indicate that DHS data needs are broad and complex and that many can be addressed by available unclassified databases. However, several gaps remain. Results also show that the current databases are of sufficient quality for DHS analytic needs but that a gap exists in quality assurance practices in that they are applied inconsistently across the field. Finally, the study shows that many of the available databases were developed to respond to the threat and policy environments in which they were created and that evolving strategic needs and emerging issues could require new definitions, significant updates, and, potentially, new construction of databases to meet DHS needs.

Key Findings

  • DHS has a strong need for data to support policy and create actionable operational intelligence. These data needs span the gamut of incident types, actors, motivations, and tactics, techniques, and procedures.
  • Many sources are available to support DHS needs. However, some areas, such as cyberthreats and emerging technologies, require new database construction.
  • Although the overall quality of the prominent databases is generally high, the quality assurance and study documentation standards are inconsistently applied, suggesting a need for clearly promulgated requirements.

Recommendations

  • DHS can continue to fund database updates and new builds for emerging threats, such as cyberattacks.
  • DHS can lead the data collection field with clear expectations about standards for quality control procedures, transparency, and documentation.
  • DHS can improve data timeliness and relevance to emerging issues and program evaluations through a combination of investments in new data collection methods and an expedited process for identifying and funding new data needs.
  • DHS can improve the alignment of the data collection field with its data needs through additional assessments and research. This could result in solutions to improve the overall quality and accuracy of data use for the analysis of terrorism and targeted violence.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    A Review of Department of Homeland Security Data Needs

  • Chapter Three

    The Current State of Databases on Terrorism and Targeted Violence

  • Chapter Four

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Databases Identified

  • Appendix B

    Databases Selected

  • Appendix C

    Scoring Fields for Self-Reported Quality-Control Measures

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate, Office of Science and Engineering, and conducted within the by the Strategy, Policy and Operations Program within the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.