Profiling Terrorism: Best Practices and Challenges for the International Community

Peter Vergauwen, EUROPOL
Cecile Van de Voorde, University of South Florida

ABSTRACT
The development and use of strategic and tactical terrorist profiles is one of many resources available to combat and prevent terrorism. The efficiency of both antiterrorist/preventive and counterterrorist/operational measures can indeed be optimized by applying principles of criminal profiling to the psycho-behavioral profiling of terrorists. Terrorism profiling consists of defining psychological, physical, and behavioral variables common to terrorists (organizations or individuals). Terrorism profiling is fundamentally designed to foster a coordinated multidisciplinary effort to combat and prevent terrorism, which would greatly improve the ability of intelligence services and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism efficiently around the world. Ultimately, effective and structured terrorism profiling would help identify terrorists before terrorist attacks are carried out. The utility and reliability of terrorism profiling, however, depend on the development of effective, productive, and targeted behavioral profiles that will help assess risks and vulnerabilities. Despite the many possibilities it offers, terrorism profiling has several limitations. This complex methodological process is impeded by a lack of communication and cooperation between international agencies. Its value may also be overestimated and its misuse can be dangerous. Controversial issues of terrorism profiling will be discussed, such as ethnic/racial profiling or the delicate balance between civil liberties and civil defense.

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Updated 05/20/2006