Terrorism Threat Assessment

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In light of the global increase in the number and lethality of terrorist attacks, it has become imperative that nations, states, and private citizens become more involved in a strategic vision to recognize, prepare for, and—if possible—prevent such events. RAND research and analysis has provided policymakers with objective guidance and recommendations to improve preparedness, international collaboration, response, and recovery to this global threat.

  • Supporters of Donald Trump scale a wall as they storm the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021, photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

    Commentary

    Domestic Violent Extremists Will Be Harder to Combat Than Homegrown Jihadists

    Feb 1, 2021

    The beliefs driving today's domestic extremists are deeply rooted in American history and society. For this and several other reasons, shutting them down will prove far more difficult than combating homegrown jihadists.

  • Security fencing surrounds the U.S. Capitol days after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the building, in Washington, January 11, 2021, photo by Erin Scott/Reuters

    Commentary

    What the Capitol Siege Means for the Future of Security Clearances

    Feb 2, 2021

    Some people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 had or have a national security clearance and thus trusted access to classified information. And some might apply for a security clearance in the future. If they are not identified and prosecuted, then they won't have a criminal record that could be detected in a background check.

Explore Terrorism Threat Assessment

  • U.S. Army soldiers participate in a parade in Washington, D.C., January 21, 2013, photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade/U.S. Army

    Commentary

    The Link Between Extremism and Military Functioning

    U.S. Department of Defense policy prohibits service members from actively participating in extremist activities. Broadening the policy to include passive forms of participation could introduce two challenges.

    May 20, 2021

  • A protester is detained inside the U.S. Capitol as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump protest outside, in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021, photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Commentary

    Capitol Rioters Face FBI Arrests and Prosecution. How Not to Make Them Martyrs in the Process

    The righteous wrath of those who view January 6 as an insurrection and believe we need uncompromising prosecution is understandable. But is it strategic thinking? History has shown that prosecutions based on less severe and politically-fraught charges have a greater chance of resulting in the convictions needed to stop this behavior.

    May 14, 2021

  • National Guardmen on U.S. Capitol security detail in Washington, DC, January 11, 2021, photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/U.S. Air National Guard

    Commentary

    How to Root Out Extremism in the U.S. Military

    The military has a growing extremism problem because America does. Service members who embrace violent extremism are thankfully few; Americans citizens who do so are sadly far too many. As a nation we need to deal with both.

    Feb 1, 2021

  • News Release

    News Release

    Interest in a U.S. Grand Strategy of Restraint May Be Growing, So Advocates Need to Provide More Details

    As the Biden Administration takes over, some U.S. policymakers have expressed interest in a new approach to America's role in the world: a realist grand strategy of restraint under which the U.S. would cooperate more with other powers, reduce its forward military presence and end or renegotiate some security commitments.

    Jan 22, 2021

  • A world map puzzle with a piece on top, photo by Yuriy Panyukov/Adobe Stock

    Report

    A U.S. Grand Strategy of Restraint

    Some U.S. policymakers have expressed interest in a realist grand strategy of restraint. Under this approach, the United States would cooperate more with other powers, reduce its forward military presence, and end or renegotiate some security commitments. What are the policy implications of embarking down this path?

    Jan 21, 2021

  • Supporters of the outgoing president, Donald Trump, climb a wall during a deadly mob assault on the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021, January 6, 2021, photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters

    Commentary

    The Battle of Capitol Hill

    The deadly mob assault on the U.S. Capitol Building was a predictable possibility. Democracy held, but security failed, spectacularly. We need to be better prepared for future acts of political violence.

    Jan 11, 2021

  • Report

    Report

    Counter-Radicalization Bot Research: Using Social Bots to Fight Violent Extremism

    As the online recruitment of violent extremist organizations grows, the U.S. government may benefit from promising emerging technology tools to rapidly detect targets of such recruitment efforts and deliver counter-radicalization content to them.

    Oct 8, 2020

  • People line up to cast their ballots for the upcoming presidential election as early voting begins in Cincinnati, Ohio, October 6, 2020, photo by Megan Jelinger/Reuters

    Commentary

    Will There Be Domestic Terrorism During Election Season?

    The COVID-19 pandemic has roiled the elections. The United States is deeply divided and the political system is polarized. Under these fraught circumstances, even a minor event can have far-reaching repercussions. What are the prospects for domestic terrorism in the context of U.S. elections?

    Oct 7, 2020

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Handout via Reuters

    Commentary

    The American Jihad Was a Failure. For Those Who Joined, It Was a Path to Destruction

    To keep the jihad going after 9/11, al Qaeda exhorted homegrown terrorists to take up arms in the United States. ISIS later made similar appeals. These calls to arms yielded some plots and a few attacks, but overall, the American jihad was a failure.

    Sep 23, 2020

  • Blog

    Wildfires, America's Wealth Gap, Screening for COVID-19 at Work: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on the growing risk of wildfires, how Americans' incomes have grown (or not), workplace screenings for COVID-19 symptoms, and more.

    Sep 18, 2020

  • Smoke superimposed over a mass grave of ISIS fighters found in 2017 near Fallujah, Iraq, photos by Iraqi ministry of defence and Marina/Adobe Stock; design by Peter Soriano/RAND Corporation

    Report

    Who Are America's Jihadists?

    U.S. residents who plotted to carry out jihadist attacks at home and those who traveled or attempted to travel to join jihadists abroad represent two dimensions of the terrorist threat. But both types are driven by internal motivations and circumstances as much as they are inspired by external groups.

    Sep 11, 2020

  • Silhouette of several militants with rifles, photo by zabelin/Getty Images

    Commentary

    Are Counter Violent Extremism Interventions Effective?

    Government efforts to counter the propaganda and radicalization that lead to violent extremism are becoming more common around the world, but there's little research on whether such programs work. It is critical to conduct more research to tease out which programs are most effective.

    Sep 11, 2020

  • Osama bin Laden (L) sits with his adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a secret location in Afghanistan, November 10, 2001, photo by Hamid Mir/Reuters

    Commentary

    Is Ayman al-Zawahiri Really the Future of Al-Qaida?

    Nineteen years after 9/11, al Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has yet to achieve the household notoriety evoked by his immediate predecessor, Osama bin Laden. But even though Zawahiri has conjured less of a personality cult, al Qaida's current leader is just as dangerous to the United States as its old one.

    Sep 11, 2020

  • A man wearing a t-shirt with an image of Zakir Rashid Bhat, the leader of an al Qaeda affiliated militant group in Kashmir, in Dadasara, Kashmir, May 24, 2019, photo by Danish Ismail/Reuters

    Commentary

    Is al Qaida Still a Threat?

    Nineteen years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, does al Qaida still pose a significant threat to U.S. national security? Among researchers, military and intelligence officials, and policymakers who study the group, there is little consensus. An accurate assessment of al Qaida's organizational health must take into account the group's recent and dramatic resurrection.

    Sep 9, 2020

  • A member of the Three Percent militia in downtown Stone Mountain, Georgia, where various militia groups stage rallies, August 15, 2020, photo by Dustin Chambers/Reuters

    Commentary

    Could 2020 Spawn '70s-Style Radicalization and Violence?

    The U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic has further cleaved an already deeply divided society. The conditions facing the United States today are reminiscent of those that gave rise to the radicalism of the 1970s and could once again lead to political violence, including terrorism.

    Aug 17, 2020

  • A man seated in front of a computer monitor in a dark room, photo by tommaso79/Getty Images

    Commentary

    Deadly Terrorist Threats Abound. Here Are the Key Dangers

    Today's self-selecting solo terrorists answer only to their god, whether seeking to destroy all government, pursuing racial separation or genocidal goals, expressing sexual dissatisfaction, or simply wanting to leave their mark. Military operations are irrelevant. This is a deeper societal problem.

    Jul 20, 2020

  • Counterterrorism police stand guard at the annual Gay Pride Parade in Greenwich Village, June 25, 2017, photo by PeskyMonkey/Getty Images

    Commentary

    The Growing Irrelevance of Organizational Structure for U.S. Domestic Terrorism

    For decades, America's primary terrorist threat came from groups based abroad. Today, a new crop of terrorist actors is emerging from within our own borders. Although diverse and for the most part unconnected to each other, they share a common objective of disrupting society and in the process, overturning existing norms if not the entire political, social, and economic order.

    Jul 2, 2020

  • Report

    Small Unmanned Aerial System Adversary Capabilities

    It is difficult to detect, identify, classify, and—consequently—counter nefarious small unmanned aerial systems (sUASs), particularly in urban areas. As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security prepares for this potential threat, it will need to know the types of threat scenarios in which these systems could be used, which design elements are likely to be exploited by a nefarious actor, and which technologies and capabilities may be available in the near future.

    Mar 12, 2020

  • People walk on the street, where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate back in 2014, in the old city of Mosul, Iraq, October 27, 2019, photo by Abdullah Rashid/Reuters

    Commentary

    Baghdadi's Death Will Make Global Affiliates More Independent

    The recent death of Islamic State leader and self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a major blow to the Islamic State. Baghdadi held a kind of elusive charisma for the organization. He will be replaced, but this does not mean that the Islamic State will simply go back to business as usual.

    Oct 28, 2019