Transcript: Testimony of Professor Erroll Southers on the Boston Marathon bombings before the House Committee on Homeland Security – May 9, 2013

Partial transcript of testimony of Erroll Southers, Professor at the University of Southern California, on the Boston Marathon bombings before the House Committee on Homeland Security on May 9, 2013:

…It’s extremely unfortunate and saddening that our gathering and important conversation were precipitated by the tragic events in Boston. But this hearing and those to follow offer valuable opportunities to discuss the methods and strategies that can best address and disrupt the ever-present threat of terrorism and violent extremism. My deepest condolences, thoughts, and prayers go to the victims of this cowardly act.

The Boston Marathon bombing was conducted by terrorists who grew up within miles of where they committed their tragedy. They were locals, educated, living and working in the area. Because of this, they knew the targeted environment, did not require training to familiarize themselves with the area and its protective measures. Put simply, the Tsarnaev brothers were homegrown violent extremists.

Because of them, Boston joins a collection of cities around the world that have endured terrorist attacks plotted and executed by their own residents even as the extremist ideology to they ascribe was likely influenced by ideas created and embraced elsewhere in the world.

Much like the Madrid bombings in 2004, as well as the July 2005 bombings in London, the terrorists’ familiarity with the targeted area afforded them critical situational awareness that facilitated their ability to plan and execute a local attack.

As a starting point for any analysis on this tragic event, it’s essential to explore why and how these incidents happen and available options to reduce the risk of future attacks.

In the context of our country, homegrown violent extremism or HVE describe terrorist activities or plots targeting the United States or the United States’ assets by American citizens or residents who’ve embraced their extremist ideology largely within this country.

A precursor to HVE is the process of radicalization. Though like the term terrorism, the concept of radicalization is widely referenced but remains poorly defined.

The term is not limited to any one racial, religious, or issue-oriented group. Radicalization is a process whereby individuals identify and embrace and then engage in further extremist ideologies. The final element – engagement – is one part of the indoctrination pathway continuum which has the potential to yield violent extremist activities.

An examination of radicalization yields broad questions regarding how a person becomes engaged, stays engaged, or may actually disengage from a group or extreme ideology.

Terrorism requires a combination of three things: An alienated individual, legitimizing ideology engaged in radicalization, and an enabling environment. Of the three, it is the environment that’s most susceptible to positive influences that supported by appropriate policies and behaviors can reduce the risk of homegrown violent extremism.

As law enforcement and counterterrorism officials analyze the Boston Marathon attacks, we should resist the urge to fix something absent specific evidence of failure or compromised the system until all the facts are in.

Security is comprised of policies, processes, and technology. As it relates to environments, like sporting events or critical infrastructure, the emphasis should be on policies that are risk-based – that is, focused on threats that presents the most danger and are most likely to occur. We have the applied research capacity to and do model potential attack paths given the desirability or utility yielded to an adversary.

Citizen awareness, actionable intelligence, and inter-disciplinary methodologies such as our successful application of game theory randomization around the country in addition to other new available cutting edge technologies currently being tested in the United States and in Brazil in cooperation with the 2014 World Cup, the 2016 Olympics, will continue to hold significant importance for a holistic counter-measure strategies.

At the same time, recognizing that the goal is to contain terrorism, we should seek out and prioritize opportunities to engage communities to take part in disrupting the radicalization process that could ultimately lead to violent action. One challenge in this case is the role of online media can play in fostering violent extremism. Arguably, the Internet’s capacity for propelling an extremist through the radicalization process is the single most important and dangerous innovation since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Internet, in some ways, the virtual community and future attacks against the United States and its interests will likely involve adversaries who have traversed the radicalization process at least in part online.

Securing a democratic society is a formidable challenge and we will never be completely free of a terrorist threat. Protecting the country is an ongoing effort that must remain versatile in the face of creative and adaptive adversaries. Every step towards greater security is matched with a would-be terrorist exploitation of an unaddressed vulnerability. There is no finish line in homeland security.


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2 Comments on “Transcript: Testimony of Professor Erroll Southers on the Boston Marathon bombings before the House Committee on Homeland Security – May 9, 2013

  1. Pingback: Transcript: Q&A with Rep. Patrick Meehan on the Boston Marathon bombings before the House Committee on Homeland Security – May 9, 2013 | What The Folly?!

  2. Pingback: FBI did not inform Boston Police of Russian intel on Tamerlan Tsarnaev | What The Folly?!

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