To Stop Domestic Terrorism, Analyze “Pre-Attack Behavior,” Expert Says


Today’s domestic terrorists “blend in. They don't make threats. They carefully plan their attacks rather than ‘snap.’ They may be quite sane,” says Roger Simon, writing for in Politico. “We think it is more useful to pay attention to a person's ability to plan and execute actions than to focus on the question of whether the subject is mentally ill or not,” said Robert Fein, a forensic and national security psychologist who spent more than 25 years at the Secret Service. The alleged Boston Marathon bombers demonstrated the ability to plan and execute an attack. One big question is whether others knew they were planning an attack but kept silent–what psychologists call the “bystander effect.” “The bystander might be a family member, a peer, a colleague, supervisor or subordinate at work,” said Fein. “In our study of school shootings, in about 80 percent of the attacks other kids knew something bad was going to happen [but the] kids who knew rarely told adults.” Fein and colleagues have a theory of “threat assessment” through which law enforcement officials can ascertain “pre-attack behavior.”

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