New To Terrorist Studies

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

New To Terrorist Studies

Justeen Jackson

As I sat at my desk, the computer open, coffee in-hand, and I closed my eyes for a deep breath. Being a newbie, I was assigned to begin my work with The Prosecution Project as a pre-coder. This meant that I would be compiling source documents for cases in our database. Essentially, I searched for terrorists and collected information on them and their crimes. It seems easy enough, except that some of these incidents were pre-internet.

My mind mirrored my laptop in that they both had way too many tabs open. I needed to remember which source is a good source, the right format for saving the data, trying to find any court documents, which meant searching through various different databases; it was overwhelming. Some of the things that I read were really disturbing. It was hard to imagine that members before me were thrown even deeper into the project when they first started.

I realized very quickly that I needed to keep up with the readings because I had very little background knowledge about this type of research or terrorism at all. I didnt quite understand the why behind what I was attempting to do. I couldnt figure out why we need databases like this, and what we hoped to get out of it. According to APAs story, Understanding Terrorism, what I was researching was terrorism in terms of political and group dynamics and processes (DeAngelis). Additionally, this research lent itself to utilizing universal psychological principles, like our natural and subconscious fear of death to help to explain terrorists actions, as well as our reactions to them, so that researchers can use their understanding to help in the prevention of terrorism.

One of my assignments included comparing the tPP codebook with the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) codebook from the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). I remember being so overwhelmed by the number of codes and their corresponding instructions. To get a better understanding of databases, I did some further research. I was able to realize the importance of having a comprehensive database without limitations such as government bias. Much of the data on terrorism is collected by government entities, definitions and counting rules are inevitably influenced by political considerations (Dugan, et al.). In making sure to eliminate government bias, we pick our own codes. One database reported almost 12 times as many incidents as the State Department database for the same year (Dugan, et al.).

Our databases could help people, like those of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), track and predict terrorist activity. The department uses a risk-based, multi-layered approach, which includes the cooperation of many different organizations (Martin). One of my initial questions upon reviewing the qualitative research coding reading was, how do we even analyze so much data? It took more research and experience with tPP to realize that the discussion, the analysis, is in our conference calls with various different resources throughout the semester is the analysis. The analysis occurs in discussions involving DHS-level tracking and prediction of terrorists. It hit me then. Im doing big-time work. The research that I was doing was different than any other research Id done. Id read through the Qualitative Data Analysis methods sourcebook memorizing the difference between in-vivo coding and values coding, only to find out that the coders in my classroom were both types, and so much more.

This first semester was wild for many outside reasons, but mainly because I got a feel of outlook and longevity in a project for the first time. I still get confused, but I take each data set one at a time and remain thankful for this pre-step to get me acquainted with all of it. Im new to terrorism, but Im figuring it out.

Works Cited

DeAngelis, Tori. Understanding Terrorism. Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Nov. 2009,

Dugan, Dr. Laura, et al. BUILDING A GLOBAL TERRORISM DATABASE. University of Maryland, April 27, 2006,

Martin, Gus. Essentials of Terrorism Concepts and Controversies. Fourth Ed. SAGE, 2007. PDF.

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