Profiling Terrorists

Profiling Terrorists

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor, PhD, DABPS, DAPA

ABSTRACT. This article proposes profiling terrorists as a framework for terrorism-prevention efforts. A set of profiles designed to better un- derstand the minds of terrorists are offered, which are based on scientific analysis of actuarial data, psychological analysis, and synthesis of exist- ing reports. This article proposes the most likely psychological makeup and motivations of terrorists, based on the evidence of their actions, se- lection of means, selection of targets, as well as public statements and characteristic histories. The discussion of likely psychological profiles in this study is offered in the context of its utility to efforts aimed to es- tablish greater security and terrorism-prevention strategies. The frame- work is offered in conjunction with a thrust to develop a set of specific terrorism-prevention protocols, which will effectively address the chal- lenges presented by the threats of domestic and international terrorism to

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military as a Navy Captain, a weapons systems Officer, and as a gun-ship Commanding Officer. He has had extensive anti-terrorism warfare experience and direct involvement in many combat military operations against terrorists in the Middle East. He later served as a supervisor in the Israeli government terrorism-prevention agency based in the Western US. In this role as a supervisor he authored, tested, and implemented numerous terror- ism-prevention protocols for various theaters. He obtained his doctorate in psychology from Alliant International University, California School of Professional Psychology, where he is currently an Adjunct Professor. He achieved diplomate status in forensic psychology awarded by the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute, a diplomate in clinical psychology from the American Board of Psychology Specialties, and Certification in Homeland Security Specialty level III by the American Board of Homeland Security Certification. He has published numerous articles on the topic of terrorism prevention and participated as an expert consultant in a project for the devel- opment of a national terrorism-prevention protocol by Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM.

Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations, Vol. 7(1) 2007 Available online at

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the United States and others in the international arenas. doi:10.1300/ J173v07n01_03 [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Docu- ment Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: <docdelivery@> Website: <> © 2007 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]

KEYWORDS. Terrorists, profile, prevention protocol, negotiations


The challenge that law-enforcement agencies responsible for detec- tion and interception of terrorist activity against the United States are facing is magnified by the ambiguity of the definitions of the targets they are working against. Such ambiguity leads to the development of terrorism-preventive protocols which were guided by “Heuristics” (mental short-cuts, often resulting in application of the most salient or best-remembered instance to the whole). For example, after September 11, 2001, the earnest search in air travelers’ hand luggage for cutters and other sharp objects ignored the much more common threat of a bomb smuggled onto an airplane. For a complete discussion of the concept of “Heuristics” in decision-making process, please read Kahenman and Tversky (1972, 1973, 1979, 1982). Those responsible for the implemen- tation of terrorism-prevention procedures appear, unfortunately, to be guided by images of horror movies and a general sense of vulnerability (Navarro, 2004) which inform these heuristics. So it happens that those assigned to implement terrorism-prevention procedures often do not know what types of persons or objects to look for. Instead of looking for what had been established by scientific study and based on actuarial data, they apply preventive efforts in a similar fashion to different situa- tions in a “cookie-cutter” style, which render them ineffective and costly, overly time consuming to apply, and easily disrupted (Smith & Washburn, 2005; Ripley, 2004; Crumley, 2003). For example, the au- thor’s seven-year-old and three-year-old children were strip-searched in the New York JFK and Los Angeles LAX airports before boarding airplanes, despite there being no actuarial data to suggest that terrorists ever took their children with them on a terrorist attack.

News media and professionals in the field continue to report serious problems with existing terrorism prevention efforts. The most common denominator accounting for prevention failures is the inappropriate


application of existing technology to preventive efforts (Talbot, 2001; Vaisman-Tzachor, 2006). Failures to properly utilize “tacit knowledge” possessed by police and intelligence agencies routinely lead to ineffec- tive application of technology to the task of terrorism prevention (Tenner, 2001; Vaisman-Tzachor, 2006). Gross definition errors, particularly regarding the “Likely Means” for a terrorist attack, inevitably lead to unsuccessful efforts in terrorism prevention. It has been noted and widely documented (Garfinkel, 2001; Hogan, 2001; Vaisman-Tzachor, 1991, 1997, 2004) that available technologies and procedures routinely used by other prevention agencies around the world are not put to use where and when they should be used in the United States (Pre-Flight In- terviews, Explosives Chemical Detection Kits, Bomb-Sniffing Dogs, Depressurizing Chambers, etc.), leaving large segments of the United States unnecessarily exposed to terrorism (Allison, 2005; Thompson, 2005). Consequently, current terrorism prevention efforts are easily thwarted and easily overcome, by relatively simple and often primitive means (Vaisman-Tzachor, 2006).

The paucity of effective terrorism-prevention protocols should come as no surprise given reported difficulties in effectively collecting, dis- seminating, and responding to intelligence information (Hogan, 2001; Weldon, 2005). The 9/11 commission report issued by the congressio- nal committee on terrorist attacks on the United States has made that point exceedingly clear (Kean et al., 2004). The most sophisticated and the best-funded intelligence-gathering technology in the world (pos- sessed by the United States) has been designed to deal with cold-war era ballistic missile threats, neglecting for decades, to develop the human- intelligence resources, and infrastructures necessary to deal with the gathering threat of terrorism (Tenner, 2001; Hogan, 2001; Weldon, 2005). In fact, it has become evident that news media reporters demon- strate greater ability to locate and obtain interviews with the likes of Osama Bin-Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, while the CIA and the FBI have been unable to so-much as locate them for years (Ghosh, 2005).

Furthermore, since September 11, 2001, terrorism preventive efforts continue to rely on faulty and erroneous assumptions which invariably result in incorrect conclusions and poor administrative decisions (Portella, 2004; Sweet, 2003; Jonietz, 2003). With that, the appointment of newly established, self-anointed “experts” in terrorism (the outcrop of which seemed to have multiplied manifold in recent years) to decision-making positions (such as the TSA and NSA) add to the growing fiasco of terror- ism prevention (Shah, 2003; Dittmann, 2003, Sageman, 2003, 2004; Vaisman-Tzachor, 2006).

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 29

Another source of difficulty leading to prevention errors, failures to detect terrorists’ preparatory activities, and inappropriate application of terrorism-prevention resources has been the lack of systematic defini- tions of terrorists’ motives. Many attempts in the academic community to develop such definitions were largely descriptive and parsimonious, but fell far short in their functional significance and predictive validity (Seger, 1990; Edwards, 2003; Sageman, 2003), rendering them useless for the development of a coherent terrorism-prevention strategy. Some proposed terrorism primarily as a rational and strategic political vehicle for the attainment of political ends (Crenshaw, 1997; Crenshaw & Pimlott, 1997; Navarro, 2004). Citing terrorists desire to call the pub- lic’s attention to their cause as the main motive, despite evidence indi- cating that although terrorism is highly effective at inducing fear and worry, it is invariably politically counterproductive (Merari, 1985). Others proposed that terrorism was an expression of a particular psy- chological makeup of “violent believers” of uncompromising ideolo- gies and creeds (Meloy, 2004; Meloy, Mohandie, Hempel & Shiva, 2001; Hoffer, 1951) who characteristically present with pathological narcissism or psychopathy (and other permutations of these psychologi- cal constructs), without particular political intents (Post, 1987; Reich, 1990). These, and many commonly used definitions of terrorism, how- ever, fail to view the world from the terrorists’ perspectives. Such em- pathic failures, invariably lead to incorrect application of preventive efforts (Anonymous, 2003; DEBKAfile, 2004; Hass, 2004).

Empathic failures also prevail in the intelligence community, in polit- ical arenas, and in the executive branches of government when it comes to the general understanding of persons from other cultures, and more specifically, in understanding terrorists from other cultures (Middle Eastern, Arab, Muslim, etc.). Nuances of language and meta-communi- cations are frequently misinterpreted. Duplicity of meanings by persons from other origins usually escapes those in the United States responsi- ble for deciphering the politics of global terrorism (Anonymous, 2003; Rubinstein, 2004; CNN, 2004; Zagorin, 2005). For example, the former CIA agent and forensic psychiatrist, Marc Sageman, who set out to inter- view incarcerated terrorists, testified before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, “I have detected no dedi- cated ‘recruiter’ in my search. Nor is there evidence of any recruitment committee with full staff and its own budget at al Qaida headquarters and nor any evidence of aggressive publicity campaigns to increase membership” (Sageman, 2003). That Sageman did not come upon in- formation provided to him by the good will of prisoners who have been


reticent in the face of CIA interrogations comes as no surprise. His fail- ure to find relevant information was because he was essentially barking up the proverbial wrong tree. If only Sageman were to visit the back- streets and allies of most towns and cities in the Middle East, the walls of which festooned with posters of Osama Bin-Laden and other terror- ists (so-called martyrs), or if only he attended some of the sermons in many of the more radical mosques (with appropriate translation), he would have witnessed the Al-Qaeda recruitment mechanism in place (Shermer, 2006; Navarro, 2004; Anonymous, 2003).

Similar complaints are prevalent in a book published by the Vice- Chairman of the congressional Homeland Security Committee and Vice- Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, congressman Curt Weldon (2005), regarding failures in the U.S. intelligence community. He indicates the CIA’s refusal to adapt to the implicit changes in the ter- rorism landscape where Iran has become the primary sponsor and pur- veyor of terrorism while creating closer ties to Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin-Laden, as well as to other organizations (i.e., Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Ansar al-Islam, etc.). This refusal is largely politically based and is driven by explicit information provided by Iranian leaders which deny such connections (Frantz, 2005; Weldon, 2005). Unfortunately, these nuances are often overlooked or misinterpreted by members of the U.S. intelligence community, coming from a westernized culture where what is stated is usually consistent with what is intended, and what is eventu- ally carried out. Consequently, decisions made in the United States by the executive branch, and the preventive efforts that emanate, miss many critical changes in the tactics, strategic alliances, and maneuvers in the political organizations and countries that support and supply terrorist organizations, ultimately misconstruing the actual meaning behind ter- rorist actions and intentions.

The first conclusion that must be drawn from this introduction is that the creation of a reasonably appropriate set of scientifically derived terror- ist profiles, to include variables such as psychological, social, religious, and political motives, as well as behavioral patterns that have emerged over the years, will allow for a more targeted, correctly guided, and ef- ficient effort in terrorism prevention. Similarly, terrorism preventive efforts, utilizing available technology (both new and old) appropriately and cost-effectively, will emerge as coherent protocols for prevention. Better profile definitions will engender the development of new and more appropriate technology to handle the likely threats of terrorism. Therefore, better definitions of terrorism, more awareness of the likely means and the likely targets used by terrorists, a thorough understand-

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 31

ing of the political agendas that drive terrorism, and clearer definitions of the psychological motives which lead to terrorist behaviors will re- sult in applicable preventive efforts targeted against real threats and challenges, not those that are heuristically derived.


The most common misconception regarding profiling (frequently challenged by ACLU and others from this perspective) is that either race or nationality serves as the only criterion which generates a profile. Subsequent to this assumption comes the assertion in popular discourse and in political circles that formulating prevention strategies based on race or ethnicity alone is essentially unconstitutional. Contrary to popu- lar belief, however, the terrorist population comprises numerous pro- files which fit the various terrorist organizations and their respective nationalities of origin, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, religious affili- ations, and their psychological makeup (Anonymous, 2003; Zagorin & Duffy, 2005). There is even evidence of intergroup variability within international terrorist organizations which are known to span over most continents (such as Al-Qaeda), with terrorist cells recruited from many countries, different ethnic groups, and sometimes divergent religious affiliations. For example, there is ample evidence that Al-Qaeda agents have infiltrated Iraq and have been active in post-liberated Iraq in coop- eration with Kurdish nationalist Ansar al-Islam in Northern Iraq, in co- operation with predominantly Suni Muslim Saddam loyalists, who are remnants of the former Ba’ath regime security apparatus in the North and around Baghdad, in cooperation with other paid militia remnants, fedayeen, of the old Saddam regime who are Iraqi nationalists, and in cooperation with various predominantly Shia Muslim mujahedin, or holy warrior foreigners, including non-Arab Iranian fundamentalists, and Arabs from Yemen and Egypt, which also include the Wahabi fundamentalist version of Islam from neighboring Saudi-Arabia and Yemen (Bennet & Ware, 2003; Ratnesar & Weisskopf, 2004; Bennet & Walt, 2004; Weldon, 2005).

Consequently, one must conclude that there are probably numerous profiles for numerous terrorist targets, which vary along ideological lines, technical capacities, group affiliations, and so on. The international flight/domestic flight terrorist, the domestic public building attacker, the foreign U.S. facility attacker, the domestic or foreign chemical ter-


rorist, the domestic or foreign nuclear terrorist, the attacker of national symbols and government agencies, etc., each possessing unique and distinct characteristics. Each target group requires the development of a distinct profile of a “Likely Terrorist” based on statistical analyses (not heuristics, nor on purely race/nationality factors) of existing historical data and credible known threats (both from archives and from the intel- ligence community). For a complete list, see article by author on terror- ism-prevention protocols.

Note that some categories are construed with overlapping bound- aries, some members who belong to one category could be included in another category as well. This is indeed because terrorists are not exclu- sive in the methods or targets that they select, and also because terrorists may change their orientations and group affiliations. One notable exam- ple was the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) attacks against the Jordanian kingdom, resulting in the bloody ousting of the PLO from Jordan in September, 1971. The world later saw the reinstallment of PLO bases in Southern Lebanon, the establishment of the terrorist group the “Black September” (commemorating the bloody ousting of Palestin- ians by Palestinians from Jordan), and participation of the PLO along- side Lebanese militia organizations such as “Amal” in the Lebanese civil war. The overlap in the list of profiles also accommodates varia- tions in the working definitions of the categories offered by experts in the field. Ehud Sprinzak (2001), for example, describes the “megaloma- niacal hyper-terrorist” as an entirely new category of terrorists, distin- guished by innovative, self-anointed individuals with larger-than-life callings but little interest in political ends. Members in this category could range from locals such as David Koresh (of the Branch Davidians) or Jose Padilla (the “Dirty Bomber”) to international terrorists such as Carlos the “Jackal,” or Osama Bin-Laden (of Al-Qaeda). Overlap be- tween the categories considered for a particular profile also provides better coverage of the entire gamut of terrorist activity and allows for the introduction of changes as new information is made available.

Each profile of a “Likely Terrorist” must have as many determinants (factors) as possible to facilitate a better match with a Real Terrorist in future preventive efforts. Possible factors include age range, gender, ed- ucational background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, national origin, psychological makeup, marital status, character type, current economi- cal state, criminal background, religious affiliation, immigration status, social affiliations, etc. Determinants extracted from historical data, known threats and other sources, are then rank-ordered according to their relative importance (loading) in the generation of a profile. Ele-

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 33

ments such as Arab ethnic or national background, for example, are found to be repetitively present in the historical data analysis of terror- ism perpetrators against the United States and, therefore, found to be highly important in the list of determinant variables. Similar in impor- tance, because of the prevalence in the terrorist activity data, is a Mus- lim religious affiliation or membership in organizations sympathetic to Fundamental Islam (Anonymous, 2003; Sageman, 2003, 2004; Meloy, 2004; Navarro, 2004; Weldon, 2005). Age range is factored heavily in the formulation of terrorism profiles based on data, indicating that perpetrators tended to be between late adolescent to younger adults (surviving older terrorists become senior leaders and usually attempt to “graduate” into politics, thereby seeking greater legitimacy). Other dis- tinct characteristics were that, for the most part, perpetrators had lesser social and emotional ties with the communities in which they lived, and tended not to be married nor have families of their own (McDermott, 2005). Social and psychological marginality with a negative disposition towards society were elements common in the American-born and do- mestic terrorists as well (Lewis, 2004; Meloy, 2000, 2004; Sageman, 2004). A psychological profile consistent with “Cluster B” personality configuration, with pathological narcissism scoring the highest, including psychopathy, paranoia, general unhappiness, etc., is a very significant determinant of a “Likely Terrorist” (Ghosh, 2005; McDermott, 2005; Meloy, 2000, 2004). Foreign-born terrorism perpetrators who commit their acts of terrorism within the United States, almost without excep- tion, tended to have immigration statuses that were more transitional and often illegal (visa overstay violations, immigrated illegally into the country, etc.) (Tempest, Krikorian, & Romney, 2005; McDermott, 2005; Weldon, 2005). All too often, those groomed for future terrorist activities lived a lifestyle beyond what their socio-economic status (based on their educational or occupational attainments) could afford them (represented by elements such as their housing, cars they drove, clubs they frequented, and clothes they wore) prior to commission of their act. This is because they were, to a large extent, funded and fi- nanced by sources other than their own incomes (Anonymous, 2003; Navarro, 2004; McDermott, 2005). A few of the perpetrators had crimi- nal backgrounds (Lewis, 2004; Navarro, 2004; Meloy, 2000, 2004) but for the most part, they were of lower rank in the terrorist organizations, presented lesser menace, and posed a relatively lesser challenge to prevention efforts, detection, or arrests (Richard Reid, Jose Padilla, etc.). Gender was pervasively male, with few female exceptions, and group attacks were more common with the exception of suicide bomb-


ers which usually were carried out alone (Shermer, 2006; Dietlind, 2005).

As can be surmised, each factor generates a set of internal grades for the likelihood of a match to the “Likely Terrorist.” For example, Silke (1999) found the median age of high-risk terrorism perpetrators (men) was 23 years, while the median age of low-risk terrorism perpetrators (men) was 28 years. Thus, the internal grading for the age factor of a potential terrorism perpetrator match would look approximately as follows:

1. 18-25 years old: Great likelihood for a match 2. 16-18 years old and 25-30 years old: Some likelihood for a match 3. <16 years old and > 30 years old: Small likelihood for a match

Similarly, the internal grading for the immigration factor in for- eign-born domestic U.S. terrorism perpetrators would look as follows:

1. Illegal/undocumented: Great likelihood for a match 2. Tourist/diplomatic status: High likelihood for a match 3. Work/student visa: Good likelihood for a match 4. Permanent resident: Some likelihood for a match 5. Naturalized citizen: Small likelihood for a match 6. US-born citizen: Slight likelihood for a match

The internal grading for the marital status as a factor in the match between any person to the potential terrorism perpetrator would be as follows:

1. Single/bachelor: Great likelihood for a match 2. Steady relationship: High likelihood for a match 3. Married/engaged: Some likelihood for a match 4. Married with children: Small likelihood for a match

The internal grading for relevant religious, ethnic, or political affilia- tion would be as follows:

1. Membership in relevant organizations (Arab, Muslim): Greater likelihood for match

2. Membership in relevant social group (Arab, Muslim): High likeli- hood for match

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 35

3. Relevant sympathetic sentiments (to Arab, to Muslim): Some like- lihood for match

4. No clear affiliations (to Arab, to Muslim): Small likelihood for match

The internal grading for the psychological makeup of terrorists char- acters and interpersonal presentations would be as follows:

1. Pathological Narcissism: Great likelihood for a match 2. Psychopathy (with or

without criminality): High likelihood for a match 3. Narcissism: Some likelihood for a match 4. Paranoia: Small likelihood for a match 5. General Unhappiness: Slight likelihood for a match


The social and economic factors that come into play in the develop- ment of terrorists from “normal” citizens and average human beings cannot be understated. The emotional needs for affiliation that member- ship in terrorist organizations satisfy in the recruits are well-documented phenomena, known to the psychological community (McDermott, 2005; Magnarelli, 2003; Meloy, 2000; Post, 1987). Those needs have been largely exploited in recruitment by many known terrorist organizations in recent history (Ghosh, 2005; McDermott, 2005; Navarro, 2004; Anonymous, 2003; McGeary, 2003). Similarly, the economical reali- ties and necessities of distressed communities have been largely ex- ploited in the recruitment and ultimate launching of many terrorist attacks (McGeary, 2003; Smiles, 2003; Navarro, 2004). Likewise, the psychology, history, religion, and mythology of terrorism cannot be un- derstated as it affects the social acceptance of the terrorist organization or of the terrorist individuals within a particular sheltering community (Anonymous, 2003; Navarro, 2004; McDermott, 2005; Ghosh, 2005). To be sure, more often than not, the terrorist is regarded as a mythical figure, who represents a messianic being to members of those national groups and social entities, disenfranchised by political, religious, or eth- nic circumstances. The levels of psychological identification with the mythical terrorist and the will to join in the armed struggle often ema- nates from the degree to which such mythical figures of terrorism, and


their political and social messages resonate within the relevant disen- franchised individuals and societies. So it happens that in many places where terrorist organizations are entrenched, they employ their finan- cial tools and bureaucratic apparatus to also establish schools, infirma- ries, and other institutions to benefit the societies in which they are then protected. In doing so, such organizations only act to strengthen the ex- isting identifications within the local populace and with the terrorists’ political messages that they promote (McDermott, 2005; Tempest et al., 2005). Such were the cases in the establishment of Madrassas’(religious schools) in Afghanistan by the Taliban, the establishment of schools and infirmaries in Lebanon by Amal and Hezbollah, the establishment of schools and infirmaries alongside other municipal infrastructures in the Gaza strip by Hamas, and so on.

In many ways, the social psychology models that have been developed to understand the social organization, group structures, criminal behav- iors, and drug-smuggling behaviors around the world (Lichtenwald, 2003; Weldon, 2005; Ghosh, 2005), parallel those developments in ter- rorist social communities. The internal pyramidal hierarchies of terror- ist organizations and the respective levels of skills, knowledge, and commitment to the terrorist tasks at each level, as well as the behavioral characteristics and the behavioral manifestations at each level, mimic those seen in street-gangs and drug-trafficking organizations (Lichtenwald, 2003; Sageman, 2004; McDermott, 2005). Oftentimes, the same strat- egy applied to drug-smuggling operations are used in terrorist activities. In the case of drug smuggling, cartels allow law enforcement an inter- mittent capture of lower level drug “mules” to reinforce their profile definitions of smugglers at that level, while leaving the more elusive cartel leaders out of law enforcement sights. When these principles are applied to terrorism, it takes the form of maintaining a steady stream of lower level terrorism activity in Iraq in order to sufficiently distract Americans from developing a more coherent and complete domestic ter- rorism-prevention protocol in America proper, thereby buying Al-Qaeda time to regroup and launch another spectacular attack on U.S. soil (Weldon, 2005).

Essentially, in every place where people are in a state of distress (eco- nomic, national, political, etc.), and their plight is not sufficiently no- ticed, terrorism can get them noticed. Likewise, in every place where peoples’ subjective sense of powerlessness is palpable, terrorism will remain a viable option for effective empowerment. However, these same human factors which define terrorists as persons with motives and purpose, also reveal exploitable psychological weaknesses, which create

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 37

vulnerabilities (Meloy, 2004; Navarro, 2004). This definition illustrates the multifaceted nature of a terrorist, who can have malevolent and/or charismatic characteristics, who can be a follower and/or a believer of a creed or ideology, and who can be an antisocial criminal and/or a respected member of society (McDermott, 2005; Anonymous, 2003; Navarro, 2004; Meloy, 2000, 2004). These factors also generate behav- iors which are significant, illuminating and telling; practices which identify, quantify, or qualify terrorist individuals and groups. Terrorists tend to also become mythological archetypes of their respective socie- ties and communities, particularly in the Third World and the Middle East where they become heroes of their peoples (Post, 1987; Mishal & Sela, 2000; Anonymous, 2003). This is, to a large extent, because of his- torical antecedents, which engendered motivations among many in Middle Eastern and Muslim societies to find affinity with terrorism and to identify with “Occidentalism”–a global hatred of the West in general, and anti-Judaism in particular (Gabriel, 2002; Juergensmeyer, 2000; Lewis, 2003; Anonymous, 2003). All too often, corrupt and illegitimate regimes in such countries utilize these basic political principles pro- posed by Machiavelli–scapegoat another group of people (Jews, Amer- icans, etc.) in order to distract the populace from the inaptitude and cynicism of their own leadership (Weldon, 2005; McDermott, 2005). Thus, a marriage of convenience often prevails between countries, soci- eties, criminals, and terrorist organizations, while the local people are compelled to passively join the struggle in mute assent (Weldon, 2005; Ghosh, 2005).

Thus, the social mechanisms which give rise to terrorism as a viable option and the social forces which sustain terrorism within certain com- munities are also determinants of the terrorist threat. This factor must be included in a definition of the terrorist as a person who is a member of a social fabric and of particular communities. Consequently, the social behaviors with their particular manifestations, the social and cultural af- filiations, as well as political affinities, also form pieces of the definition puzzle of who is a likely terrorist. For example, membership of any par- ticular nation in which an illegitimate and corrupt regime exists, and about which there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the regime sup- ports (overtly or covertly) or tolerates terrorist organizations (Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Lybia, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, etc.) may lead to the inclusion of membership in that nation as an element in the definition of a potential for terrorism (at least in the form of passive support to the terrorist cause). Likewise, membership in known disenfranchised societies and groups within nations (Chechen


nationals within Russia, Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Kurds in Turkey, Turks within Cyprus, Tamils in Sri Lanka, Christians in China, Muslims in India, Palestinians in Israel, etc.) also presents the potential for mem- bership in, or sympathy with, respective terrorist organizations by virtue of the social and political mechanisms of disenfranchisement, known to engender support for terrorist organizations and their causes.

Conclusion. The more detailed the profiles are, with more factors and greater internal gradation to each factor, the greater the likelihood of a reasonably good match between the profile of the “Likely Terrorist” and the actual terrorist. Consequently, this will create a greater proba- bility for success of preventive efforts in generating coherent, meaning- ful, and accurate preventive protocols. It is also expected to put to rest the concerns regarding violations of civil liberties and the constitution- ality of the use of profiles.


The better the match between the person/item/threat at hand to the definition of the “Likely Terrorist,” the greater the scrutiny and the more complete the application of the preventive treatment. For exam- ple, security check at domestic and international flights:

1. Passenger does not match the profile at allÆNo RiskÆNo Secu- rity Check.

2. Passenger matches slightly the profile Æ Minimal Risk Æ Mini- mal Security Check.

3. Passenger matches somewhat the profile Æ Some Risk Æ Some Security Check.

4. Passenger matches the profile substantially Æ Grave Risk Æ Complete Security Check.

5. Passenger matches the profile perfectly Æ Imminent Risk Æ Re- fuse to Fly, Call PD

Because the public does not know what the profiles consist of the pub- lic and the terrorists cannot circumvent the prevention efforts that ema- nate from them. Also, because the match between the person/item/threat at hand and the definition of the “Likely Terrorist” consist of matches of many varying determining factors in many permutations, the preventive efforts become more focused and target only true potential risks, and re- duce many false positives. Consequently, the majority of the public will

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 39

experience the preventive measures applied to them only lightly and the profiles will streamline existing cumbersome and tedious efforts.

As can be appreciated as well, the use of profiles creates a shift in pre- ventive efforts from massive application of technology (inappropriately, expensively, inefficiently, etc.) to detection efforts through investiga- tive means (brain instead of brawn) of interview, careful observation, as well as to the selective application of technology and preventive means with surgical precision (Jonietz, 2003). The profiles-based preventive work also becomes extremely difficult to thwart by would-be terrorists. Such was the case when the attempt of Richard Reid to bomb an El-Al flight from London to Tel Aviv was thwarted by Israeli security, where he then redirected his efforts onto an American Airlines flight to the United States (Navarro, 2004).

Perhaps one of the elements most notably missing in many of the ex- isting analyses of terrorism behaviors and the motivations for terrorism, neglects the most obvious and ever-present goal of achieving notoriety. This seemingly intangible element has an important and discernable value that is routinely assigned to likely terrorist targets by terrorist or- ganizations and individuals involved in the planning of such acts. Re- cent sociological studies clearly indicate that Osama Bin-Laden is the most popular person in the world, particularly because his posters deco- rate the walls of all major mosques and street walls of Middle East cities (Anonymous, 2003; Navarro, 2004). Achieving notoriety and training the public’s attention upon a particular plight or cause, are clearly fore- most in the minds of planners of any terrorist organization and the under- lying purpose of most terrorist attacks (excluding perhaps the removal by killing of particular individuals for specific tactical or strategic ad- vantages). Hence, internationally known targets are always preferred over less-known ones (i.e., The World Trade Center was preferable over the Chrysler tower even though in both buildings people were en- gaged in similar types of international trade). Also, because the purpose of achieving notoriety is directed towards a particular audience (also re- ferred to as the “reference group” in sociological studies) with which the terrorist organization is seeking favor, the likely targets are those which are more culturally relevant to the target audience (i.e., the Oklahoma Federal building was more culturally relevant to the “Chris- tian Identity” group and potential sympathizers than other targets in the area), but not necessarily so to the American public at large.

Hence, threat analyses which focused on perceived (or real) vulnera- bilities of the United States in areas such as biological, chemical, or nu- clear arenas (Seger, 1990) most likely appeal only to the imagination of


the American public which has been bread on a diet rich in Hollywood productions of horrific disaster movies. Whereas in the rest of the world, and particularly in the Middle East, there is a grave concern for the repercussions of such attacks because of an inherently greater appre- ciation for the ripple effects and contamination that the release of any biological, chemical, or nuclear agents in America could have on their own turf (Anonymous, 2003; DEBKAfile, 2004). This is, to a large ex- tent, due to inherent emphases on interdependence in the global commu- nity and an appreciation for the mutual connectivity that exists between nations that traditional cultures of the Middle East seem to espouse (Hass, 2004). In contrast, the inherently individualistic perspective prevalent in America seems to routinely cause analysts to underestimate these global concerns and seems to direct preventive efforts into the wrong arenas.

Relevant to the discussion about the selection of viable terrorist targets is also a different appreciation in the minds of terrorist planners from the American analysts for the journalistic value and the type of media cov- erage expected from any particular form of attack on any particular tar- get (Hass, 2004). The terrorist leadership painstakingly considers the visual and visceral effects that media coverage would have and select their attacks’ timing to coincide with the evening news of relevant target audiences. Consequently, an attack on an American nuclear reactor and subsequent radioactive pollution would preclude optimal media expo- sure for the attack (because media would not be allowed to go into con- taminated areas) and would constitute a bad investment of terrorist resources. Likewise, contrary to threat analyses about the vulnerability of the U.S. water supply (Seger, 1990), a terrorist attack on water re- sources will not receive the type of “Good” media coverage that a bombed skyscraper would (because there would be nothing to show on the television screens), commensurate with the expenditure of efforts and means by the terrorists.

Finally, the cultural context has to be considered in the selection of terrorist targets in as much as the palatability of a particular terrorist tar- get to the culture of the perpetrators. For instance, the Muslim culture (of which most known terrorists in question originate from to some ex- tent or another) with its rich tradition based on nomadic herdsmen men- tality and desert tribal morality, would frown upon and express aversion to the destruction of such important natural resources as water supplies. This again, in contrast to prevailing threat assessments in the United States proposing that water supplies could become the next terrorist targets (Seger, 1990).

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 41


Disclaimer: Most active or retired terrorists are not willing partici- pants in psychological studies, thus, the majority of the information in this study is based on conjectures from biographical material, media re- ports (media reporters seem strangely much more adept at gaining ac- cess to terrorists than CIA operatives seem to be), and the author’s field experience in terrorism prevention–not from controlled psychological studies. A discussion of a psychological profile of a terrorist in this study is offered only in the context of its utility to prevention efforts. Hence, the rule which is applied in this section is that the veracity of this psychological theory is only in its consequences. Thus, the psychologi- cal profile offered here is the result of analysis of biographical common- alities, established behavioral patterns, and recognized responses to existing preventive efforts and political maneuvers over decades and across various conflict areas. Furthermore, it is proposed only for its util- ity to the design of preventive work and for the improvement of predic- tion of responses to preventive efforts.

Recent efforts by Post and Denny (2002) and Sageman (2003, 2004) at interviewing terrorists held in captivity in holding facilities across the world, have yielded some interesting results, albeit with serious meth- odological constraints. For example, the captive population may be a poor representative sample of the overall terrorist population (particu- larly the terrorism leadership, which remains largely unstudied). Fur- thermore, the effects of life in captivity in Israeli, in European, and in American prisons cannot be underestimated in the overall presentation of the psychological profiles that emerge out of such studies (Zimbardo, 1971; Haney, Banks & Zimbardo, 1973; Zagorin & Duffy, 2005). Finally, prisoner terrorists have an inherent interest to deceive and misinform their investigators, resulting in highly contaminated data- bases (Vaisman-Tzachor, 2006; Zagorin & Duffy, 2005). Nevertheless, the commonalities with other sources which seem to emerge and the corroboration of observations made elsewhere in this study warrant our attention.

Hence, the psychological profile of a terrorist has to be taken in the context of other variables previously discussed, and in the context of cultural and national specifics. The following conclusions are based on experiences and on the reviews by Silke (2003), Sageman (2003) and others that terrorists are Essentially Normal Individuals from a psycho- logical perspective. For those more familiar with such technical defini- tions, terrorists display a character organization which is imbedded in


“Cluster B” of personality disorders taxonomy (but not necessarily se- verely disordered) as proposed in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (APA, 1994). Variants of such typology, which are proposed by others (Meloy, 2004), include individuals who either can move more fluidly along the theoretical continuum of the cluster configuration (from Anti- social personality through Borderline Character and down to Narcissis- tic, and even sometimes Histrionic personality) and present with other characteristics, or persons who affiliate themselves with terrorist organiza- tions because of their entrenched antisocial characters (also known as “Psychopathic” in the lay community).

The Narcissistic Character Organization. The Most Likely (and the Most Widely Accepted) Psychological Configuration starts with the developmental history of a person into what is called a narcissistic char- acter organization. This entails the psychological development into an essentially emotionally self-sufficient individual. This character devel- opment is heralded by the subjective “discovery” at an early age that one’s parents will not meet one’s emotional needs (e.g., Arafat’s mother died when he was four years old and he was sent to be raised by an uncle in Jerusalem; Zacarias Moussaoui has had no contact with his father for years; Richard Reid’s father was in prison for most of Reid’s childhood; Gerry Adams’ father was shot and wounded when Gerry was a young boy; Hussain Omar’s parents (captured after the July 21, 2005 London bombing) sent him to be raised in England by his older sister since he was 11 years old, moved through a series of foster homes, and attended a school with a truancy three times the national average; his partner in crime, Said, was 14 when he arrived without his parents from Eritrea, etc.). Following that “discovery,” there is a period of trial and error in which, gradually, the child develops an “independent” style of emo- tional gratification entailing the deployment of one’s talents for the ful- fillment of emotional needs through “alternative” resources (e.g., Richard Reid developed a youth lifestyle marked by petty theft and mugging; Arafat started his career as a weapons smuggler; Omar was declared a “vulnerable young adult” by British social services when he turned 18; his partner, Said, served time in five juvenile jails after being convicted in 1996 for being a part of a gang that robbed at knife-point).

Concurrently, the development of a grandiose sense of self as “spe- cial” also emerges, primarily as a psychological defense from a subjec- tive feeling that one is insignificant and unloved by one’s inadequate, insufficient, or unavailable parents. In essence, this defensive reversal of reality in which a person, who is otherwise normal, perceives oneself

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 43

as “better than the rest,” and serves to justify why one’s parents are insuf- ficiently loving. In fact, many of the devastating acts of terror that took place since the 1990s were masterminded by innovative, self-anointed individuals, with larger-than-life callings, who perceived themselves in historical terms and believed that they were personally responsible for bringing about change (Spirnzak, 2001; Ghosh, 2005). Particularly cru- cial colorations to the nascent grandiose sense of self and narcissistic entitlement are the development of strong ideological, nationalistic, and/or religious convictions. Some examples include ideologies such as Arafat’s conviction to “free Palestine from Israel”; religious sentiments such as Moussaoui’s membership in Islamist extremist groups; nation- alistic aspirations such as Gerry Adams’ multi-generational family af- filiation with the Republican political party, Sinn Fein, and the IRA; Marwan Abu Ubeida’s martyrdom zealotry in the Iraqi insurgency; Hussain Omar’s slide into radical Islam following his placement by British social services in the infamous “Curtis House” for social ser- vices-dependent immigrants; and Mohamed Atta’s fastidious life of austere self-denial, leading to his ultimate role in commandeering an airplane that crashed onto the World Trade Center Towers.

Despite the emergence of a capacity for emotional self-sufficiency in the persons who are narcissistically organized, such maneuvers are mostly less than satisfactory and leave such individuals emotionally starved and wanting. Hence, the development of strong social affiliation needs (to compensate for paucity of parental love), as well as strong needs for approval by these alternative social “families” (i.e., Arafat started by leading the Palestinian Student League in Cairo in his youth; Richard Reid converting to Islam in Feltham young offenders institu- tion in London; Michale Baumman’s social marginalization from main- stream society by repeated losses of jobs leading to joining the German Red Army Brigades; Marwan Abu Ubeida felt closer emotional ties to his mujahedin suicidal brothers than to his family of origin).

The most common consequences of the narcissistic character organi- zation are difficulties with adult interpersonal relationships because the “emotionally self-sufficient,” now have to place themselves in the im- perfect and inexperienced hands of others to love. This leads to typical “Intimacy Compromises” and isolation, such as selecting a mate who is perceived as inferior, or moving away from family of origin, respec- tively. Examples of such are Mohamed Atta who lived away from his family and reportedly had great difficulty in any interpersonal relation- ships (McDermott, 2005), and Marwan Abu Ubeida who left his family to live with insurgents until his eventual deployment in a suicide mission


(Ghosh, 2005). Thus, the person who is narcissistically organized is generally easily recruited to join a group with a cause, and specifically, an excellent candidate for a suicide mission (Shermer, 2006). This is true, even if that person is married and has children, by virtue of an inherent limited capacity for intimacy (making a wife and children subjectively less important to the would-be terrorist) and stronger affiliations to- wards other social groups (such as a terrorist group) which are per- ceived as subjectively more important. In fact, many of the terrorists interviewed or studied by experts (Post & Denny, 2002; Meloy, 2000; Sageman, 2003; Navarro, 2004; McDermott, 2005) have moved away from their families of origin en route to becoming members of terrorist organizations or as part of their preparation for future attacks. Com- monly for persons with such character, configuration there seems to be a “natural” pursuit of notoriety when “recognition” and “admiration” by others supplants the more desirable but seemingly unattainable love and intimacy. This plays well into the inherent terrorist group agenda of gaining public awareness to their cause by gaining notoriety. Thus, the psychological motives of the individual and the political motives of the terrorist group converge upon the common behaviors of outrageous vio- lence and glorified mayhem (Sageman, 2004).

Furthermore, persons organized around a narcissistic core, tend to exhibit the common sense of grandiose entitlement which fits perfectly into the emerging terrorist group’s belief that they are “special” in some fundamental way (Ghosh, 2005; McDermott, 2005). The pride that de- velops in such groups as a natural outcrop gives way to increased readi- ness in its individual narcissistic members to see themselves as superior to others (i.e., their rights and needs are more important than those of others), and to more readily take offense at others’ actions as wrongs against them. Subsequently, narcissistically organized individuals with a grandiose sense of entitlement are much less likely to forgive others and much more likely to insist on full repayment for past offenses before they would consider forgiving. This clearly makes them ideal candidates to be the potential persons who would personally exact such retribution from the “infidels,” the “imperialists,” the “Zionists,” the “Westerners,” etc. (Navarro, 2004; Meloy, 2004; McDermott, 2005).

Plagued by persistent emotional hunger, the narcissist’s affiliation needs are intensified and are expressed as stronger bonds with their so- cial groups (of terrorists, for instance). Other social psychological phe- nomena which are concurrently observed are the developments of increased group cohesion, increased alliance with the group mentality (Shermer, 2006), and the most well-studied “Groupthink” (Janis, 1971),

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 45

entailing the exclusion of alternative perspectives, and the “Risky Shift” (Doise, 1969; Wallach, Kogan & Bem, 1962), involving the tendency to assume greater personal risks when operating within a group (Sageman, 2004; Shermer, 2006). The emergence at the personal level of a typical “Rat-Race” also follows with high-achieving mentalities and competi- tiveness which are sustained by unmitigated emotional hunger (i.e., the drive to accomplish more all the time without ever achieving satisfac- tion, has been widely observed in members of terrorist organizations). Such was the case with Mohamed Atta (one of the 9/11 leaders), whose young adult life was marked by fierce competitiveness and pursuit of scholastic excellence (McDermott, 2005) and observed in others held in captivity such as Mohammed al-Qahtani (believed to have been the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks) who compete against other detainees for the martyrdom title (Zagorin & Duffy, 2005). This psychological adaptation has also been supported by evolutionary psychology theories which delineate the observation that young men in particular want both to display their bravery, and are deeply offended by injustice, and on both counts may risk their own lives even to the point of certain death (Colin, 2002).

Persons of such character organization are also typically easily “Re- cruitable” based on the promises of “Specialness” and immortality which fit into the grandiose sense of self-importance. For instance, being recruited to conduct a terrorist attack because of the person’s “Special” talents has been a routine approach for many terrorist organizations (Ghosh, 2005). Crenshaw (2002) observed that becoming a so-called martyr in the Middle East brings fame to the recruits. Their acts are framed as something extremely honorable and are rendered brave, and their place in history is established by the numerous posters which deco- rate the hometown walls that are used to praise them (Shermer, 2006). Such practices do not escape potential recruits who are seeking confir- mation of their grandiosity and sense of self-importance. Post and Denny (2002) report numerous accounts by incarcerated terrorists of in- creased status and a sense of increased personal security following re- cruitment into terrorist groups such as Hamas, Fatah, Al-Qaeda, IRA, Islamic Jihad.

Evidence of the competitive pressures that commonly prevail among terrorist groups is illustrated in their coercive recruiting tactics. Bruce (1992) reports on the characteristic coercive recruiting efforts, using in- timidation and violence, by the Northern Ireland loyalist terrorist orga- nization (UDA) in the 1990s when faced with limited human resources and stiff competition from the IRA. Similar tactics were known to be


employed by the local “Amal” terrorist militia in Lebanon when compe- tition over limited amounts of recruits was waged against the interna- tional PLO in the 1980s (leading to recruitment of youth and children).

The Psychological Motives for Terrorism. “Specialness,” Notoriety, Social Approval, Ideological/Religious Convictions, Emotional Hun- ger, Strong Group Affiliations, and Social Isolation are all elements in the Psychological Profile of a Terrorist.

1. A desire to be regarded as “Special” is the most common and strong motive (The romantic view of the terrorist as special and having a unique mission).

2. The desire to be “Known” to the target audience is a very strong motive (Having a poster of one’s image as a martyr posted on the walls of one’s home town is titillating).

3. The desire to be “Vicariously Approved-Of” by members of one’s own reference group (Thus, activated into terrorist actions by fa- vorable sentiments in one’s own community).

4. The desire to achieve personal “Congruence” by aligning actions with ideological/religious convictions–not an expression of hatred (Hoffer, 1951).

5. A desire to affiliate and be with others of like-mind (In recent cease-fire negotiations with Israel, the Hamas faction demanded to stop the killings of its leadership in order to protect its group in- tegrity, instead of demanding other important political conces- sions over which they are supposedly fighting).

6. The experience of social and psychological isolation resulting in little interface with other views (leading to preservation and hard- ening of opinions justifying terrorism).

7. Vengeance for originally offended individuals who were per- ceived to have been unjustly treated by members/representatives of the target group (Eamon Collins testified that he joined the IRA in the mid 1970s following his brutal arrest and manhandling by British soldiers).

8. Experience of an insult to the person’s grandiose sense of self, but not necessarily a serious personal loss in the hands of the target group (Marwan Abu Ubeida lost his sense of national dignity after American forces did not leave Iraq following the ousting of Saddam Hussein, etc.).

Differential Dimensions in Motives Between Leaders and Foot Sol- diers Suggest Similar Psychological Motives but Variance in Their

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 47

Respective Importance. As had been observed by psychological studies of gang members, drug trafficking persons, and international smugglers (Lichtenwald, 2003; Vaisman-Tzachor, 2006), there are significant psy- chological differences between the various levels of terrorist activities’ involvement. As can be surmised, it is important to not only study the terrorists who conduct operations themselves but also the leaders who press and send these young people into committing terrorists acts.

The Mastermind, a “Career Terrorist” who is “Doing His Job,” re- mains comfortably in the background, engages mostly in planning, tends to be more inclined towards the exact sciences (Sageman, 2003), has relatively stronger ideological convictions, and possesses relatively lesser notoriety desires. This person considers terrorism consequences very carefully, understands the political map, holds back some impor- tant aspects of information about operational plans which are discon- firming or aversive, and is not self-sacrificing. An example of such a person is Ramzi Yousef, who is believed to have masterminded the Sep- tember 11 attacks. Such was also the case of Sami al-Aryan, who, under the cloak of legitimacy in his mainstream teaching position at the South- ern Florida University, developed the most extensive terrorism financ- ing network and recruitment web in the United States for the Islamic Jihad in the Middle East (Gutman & Melman, 2005).

The Ring Leader is a field officer whose terrorism career is some- what shorter by a few years, with stronger notoriety needs, strong ideo- logical convictions, tends to be more inclined towards the social sciences, and has good organizational and leadership characteristics. This per- son’s interpersonal charisma is evident, he can motivate others, and could be a teacher, or preacher. Persons in this category tend to be best represented by the classic narcissistic character organization, but are not necessarily pathologically organized. An example of such a person would be the charismatic Abu Moussab al-Zarqawi, who since then has graduated to higher ranks by the successes of his attacks on U.S.-led co- alition forces in Iraq.

The Pilot/Suicide Bomber (who flies the airplane into a building) has a short terrorism career, with very strong notoriety needs, strongest ideological or religious convictions, possesses some particular skill-set which is desirable or developed by the terrorist organization (usually in the technical arena), and has the greatest degree of social isolation, which enables this person to knowingly kill him or herself. Members in this category tend to the more pathological brand of narcissism and could also be members of the antisocial configuration within Cluster B. Examples of such people abound and include Jose Padilla (the “Dirty


Bomber”) and Mohamed Atta, who led the attacks on the World Trade Centers (McDermott, 2005), or the Belgian suicide bomber woman Muriel Degauque, whose illustrious terrorist career was started by anti- social behaviors such as running away from home and extensive drug use during her youth (Dietlind, 2005).

The Foot Soldier (who hijacks the airplane, or who is a suicide bomber) has a short terrorism career, with very strong notoriety needs, strong ideological or religious convictions, and a greater degree of so- cial isolation, he tends to be most easily recruitable, trusts others in the organization, and is easily deceived (may not know he is flying onto his death). Persons in this category may very well belong to the more insidi- ous and less than stable borderline character organization within the Cluster B configuration. Examples of such people abound and include Richard Reid, who was caught in his attempt at blowing-up American Airlines flight number 63 from Paris to the United States, or John Walker Lynd (the “American Taliban”), or Marwan Abu Ubeida (the Iraqi insurgent suicide bomber).

Heads of terrorist organizations are clearly notoriety- and fame-ori- ented, tending more toward the Histrionic side of the Cluster B spec- trum. They tend to possess very strong wishes for personal “Stardom,” and if one existed, they aspire to be given a “Star” in the “Hollywood Walk of Terrorism Fame.” Their interests in the ongoing struggle (pro- cess oriented) are greater than their interests in achieving workable so- lutions to the problems of the peoples and groups whom they claim to represent. Hence, Osama Bin-Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi appear in personal TV or radio communiqués, which con- vey very little important information but promote them as idols and as symbols of their causes. Osama Bin-Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi also insist on declaring to the world from time to time that they “exist” and are willing to do so in defiance of personal security considerations. Over time, some members in this category (who are shrewd enough to survive) capitalize on their immense popu- larity within their communities and reform into career politicians, for- going terrorism (at least in declarative language but often continue with clandestine actions and support of terrorism) for more promising and le- gitimizing political processes (Some in the IRA leadership and some in the PLO leadership have done so, some in the surviving Al-Qaeda lead- ership are expected to make the shift to politics with the passage of many years).

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 49

The following is a schematic breakdown suggesting differences in psychological motives for terrorism between the leaders and the sol- diers within terrorist organizations (Stern, 2003):

The Roles of Slight, Hate, and Other Negative Consequences of American Activities Upon the Motivations for Terrorism and Degree of Recruitability Have Been Largely Overstated by the Media. Research indicates that for the most part, those initiating and leading terrorism ac- tivity have not been directly adversely affected by actions of the target society (e.g., did not experience personal or familial loss) that could jus- tify their actions (Sageman, 2003). Quite the opposite, terrorism leader- ship often emanated from relatively privileged life circumstances (see Sami al-Aryan’s privileged upbringing in Kuwait, Yasser Arafat’s mid- dle-class upbringing in Jerusalem and Cairo, Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi’s middle-class family from Jordan, Marwan Abu Ubeida’s affluent Sunni Muslim family from Fallujah in Iraq, and Osama Bin-Laden’s Saudi Royal affluence as examples). However, for the most part, those in lead- ership of terrorism activity had experienced slights, or blows to the ego, as well as psychologically demeaning encounters with the target society or its representatives (Arafat was held by Israel in 1948 as a prisoner of war and was later released with thousands of others, Osama Bin-Laden was rejected by U.S. intelligence as an ally in the war in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion). In fact, research indicates that the lower the rank membership in the terrorist organization, the greater the likelihood


Foot Soldiers, Field Officers Leaders, Commanders

More Easily Recruitable (Grandiosity, Emotional)

Less Easily Recruitable (Stubborn, Hunger, Less Grandiose)

More Likely Motivated by Frustration/Aggression

More Likely Motivated by Power

Stronger Religious/Ideological Convictions More Practically Oriented

Sometimes Repetitive Criminals (Petty Crime Background)

Better Educated and Socialized

Greater Isolation From Family and Own Greater Connection to Family and Society Own Society

Desire to Be Known (Notoriety) Stronger Desire for Notoriety

Target Audience-Own People Target Audience-The World

Martyrdom Wishes (Wish to be “Special”) No Martyrdom Wishes

Short Terrorism Career (Usually Dies or Gets Captured)

Life-Long Terrorism Career

of personal exposure to real personal losses (family members’ death, loss of property, etc.) and, subsequently, to easier recruiting efforts based on retaliatory convictions against the target society. Thus, among those actually involved in terrorism operations in the field (suicide bombers, rock throwers, etc.), there is a greater propensity to having some, and often more serious negative consequences from past encoun- ters with members and representatives of the target society.

Scott Atran, PhD, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scien- tific Research in France, conducted a study of 900 Muslims in Gaza who were adolescents during the first Palestinian Intifada (1987 to 1993). In his study, those respondents who indicated greater exposure to adverse violence during their adolescence tended to express more strongly a sense of pride and greater social cohesion with their peers than their counterparts who were not adversely exposed to violence. Re- spondents who were more exposed to violence during the Intifada years were also found to be surprisingly less likely to suffer from depression or antisocial behaviors (believed to be by some the “classical” motives for suicide behaviors) than their peers who were less exposed to such adverse violence (Perina, 2002).

In general, it appears from the research evidence (and contrary to as- sertions offered in the popular media) that the narcissistic injuries (psy- chological injuries of one’s sense of importance and invulnerability) are those which are much more likely to motivate terrorism organization memberships and eventual terrorist retaliatory actions than personal losses. This is true, because narcissistic injuries resonate more intensely with those whose psychological make-ups are narcissistically orga- nized (Cluster B configurations) than real injuries do. Such persons are more easily triggered by such experiences into grandiose retaliatory ac- tions and, thus, these persons are more easily exploitable by recruiting efforts of the terrorist organizations (Perina, 2002; Meloy, 2004; Navarro, 2004; Gutman & Melman, 2005; Ghosh, 2005).

Perhaps the most striking testament yet to the power of psychological insults to mobilize massive retaliatory reactions was most recently wit- nessed in the multitudes of Muslim violent protests around the globe in response to the “desecration” of the image of the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper caricature. Not a single person of the many who is- sued the call for arms or those responding to such calls was personally injured or experienced a severe loss as a result of the publication of these illustrations. Nevertheless, the emotional slights that such images produced were severe enough to arouse 57 Muslim nations to issue condemnations; enough for many Muslim clerics around the world to

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 51

call for the retaliatory killing of Jews, Americans, and other European nationals; enough for the declaration of economical boycotts on Danish and other European products; enough to insight violent mobs from Beirut, Damascus, and Khartoum, through Tehran, and Kabul, and all the way to Jakarta and Islamabad (Ratnesar, 2006).

There is, however, an additional category of “Accidental Terrorists” who are unwittingly participating in a terrorist act after having been re- cruited to execute a crucial aspect of the attack without their prior knowledge or consent. One such example is the plot by Nezar Hindawi, who duped his pregnant hotel maid girlfriend from London into flying to Israel to supposedly “meet his family” before their eventual wedding. Unbeknownst to her, he placed a bomb in her suitcase that was set to detonate in mid-flight of an El-Al airliner. Routine airport security check by Israeli terrorism prevention agents discovered the hidden bomb and Nezar Hindawi was consequently arrested by London police and imprisoned. In this category are persons who, because of their psycho- logical weaknesses (i.e., lower intelligence, lesser sophistication, de- pendent characteristics, etc.) could become unwitting participants in terrorist activity following effective recruitment by more sinisterly ori- ented and sophisticated terrorists (Taylor & Quayle, 1994; Navarro, 2004). Any terrorist psychological profile must also consider this very common but potentially deadly possibility, and close this otherwise evi- dent loophole.

The Role of Social Models and Group Processes Upon Terrorist Re- cruitment and Terrorist Activity. As had been previously suggested, one of the primary roles of the affiliation with a terrorist group is the indi- vidual satisfaction of emotional needs, to compensate for loss of family affiliation through socialization, and group cohesion (and to foster a sense of belonging). Subsequently, most narcissistic emotional needs for approval and “Specialness” (sense of uniqueness) are served by mem- bership and participation in a terrorist group at any level of involvement. A clear indication of the importance of social benefits derived from such membership in terrorist organizations comes from the story of Nezar Hindawi, which had been mentioned above. When Hindawi was refused membership in other Palestinian terrorist groups, to whom he had volunteered himself in earnest, he formed his own terrorist group (“The Jordanian Revolutionary Movement”) with two other family members. He later contacted the Syrian intelligence services and con- vinced Syria to supply his tiny group with weapons and funds to carry out attacks against Israel (Taylor & Quayle, 1994). His later exploits


notwithstanding, he clearly demonstrated the pull of such organizations and the attraction to belong, which terrorist groups enjoy worldwide.

Terrorist organizations, however, not only enjoy popularity among the many potential recruits but also experience characteristic changes resulting from external pressures and social isolation culminating in “Groupthink” (Janis, 1960). Those processes referred to jointly as “group- think” are a syndrome which entails the following manifestations:

1. Internal pressures within the group to accept an ideological con- sensus (to tow the proverbial “Party-Line”).

2. Rejection by members of the group of consensus-disconfirming messages and any other challenging information.

3. Change of goals from external (political change through armed struggle) to internal (maintenance of the group) over time (see PLO’s and IRA’s changes in ideologies from “Armed Struggle” to “Political Conciliation”).

4. Change of time reference from short-term “Struggle” to long-term garnering of political power and political legitimacy (see latest successes of “Hamas” at attaining political legitimacy through elections in the Palestinian territories).

Analytical studies concluded that segments of terrorist groups evolve over time to pursue social causes (such as “Amal,” which established in Lebanon a variety of socially oriented institutions and “Hamas,” which established in the West Bank and Gaza similar institutions). Such evo- lutionary changes are often designed to increase the popular and politi- cal support within their own communities for their cause, and also serve to hide their activities and to make their escape much easier. In so doing, terrorist organizations seek greater political legitimacy by incorporating seemingly socially “beneficial” activities alongside their more destruc- tive terrorist activities. In this way, they provide a “shield” of legitimacy against massive enemy retaliation and allow greater deniability (Gutman & Melman, 2005).

At the leadership level, all characteristic sociological phenomena observed in the genesis and maintenance of other bureaucracies come into evidence. There is a development of a clear and persistent effort to maintain the terrorist organization (oftentimes at the expense of the origi- nal purpose of the organization itself) by efforts to maximize the capacity of the bureaucratic institutions, which are organized hierarchically in a typical pyramidal structure, with command and control mechanisms, and by efforts to maximize redundancy with establishments of franchises,

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 53

cells, local networks, leaderless networks, and individual operators (Stern, 2003; Sageman, 2004). Hence the intense protestations and ex- treme reactions to Israeli retaliatory killings of leadership members within the Islamic Jihad, the PLO, and the Hamas organizations. After all, such killings disrupt the fabric and continuity of the bureaucratic mechanisms which sustain its members psychologically and hurt over- all morale more than any other retaliatory actions taken thus far (Stern, 2003).

The Political Landscape and the Declared Political Goals of Terror- ists Are Only Possible to Understand in the Assumption of an Empathic Therapeutic Stance. Following are some basic premises that seem to be underlying the ideological and religious justifications for the members of the various terrorist organizations and their political goals pertaining to the United States when viewed from the perpetrators’ perspectives:

1. The United States is viewed by terrorists and their ideologues as the number one perpetrator of “Global Terrorism” in Creating and Promoting Economical Inequality and Exploitation in other coun- tries around the world.

i. By supporting regimes in other countries which are exploit- ative of their own peoples (as in Saudi Arabia).

ii. By establishing a global capitalist economy in line with Amer- ican values which also benefits America exclusively or pri- marily.

2. The United States is viewed as the perpetrator of “Global Terror- ism” in Military Support of Terrorist Groups and Regimes in other countries of the world.

i. By selling arms to terrorist groups (such as the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1980s).

ii. By supplying and supporting military regimes who terrorize their own people (such as Chile’s Pinochet or Argentina’s military Juntas).

3. The United States is viewed by terrorists and their ideologues as Exerting Undue Dominance and Arrogant, Imperialistic Interven- tion strategies around the globe.

i. Oftentimes without the consensus of the people in which matters the United States intervenes (as in the 1980s “Peace Keeping Mission in Lebanon” which resulted in disaster).

ii. Oftentimes without the consensus of the rest of the global community for which many such interventions are purported to have been made (as in the Iraq war).


4. The United States is viewed by terrorists and their ideologues as at war with freedom fighters (terrorists), Arabs (theocratic anti- American countries and organizations), and with Islam (extreme Islamists), which gives impetus for the terrorist campaign to con- tinue (Murphy, 2005; Elliott, 2003; Parenti, 2002).

Conclusion. Terrorists are going to target what they see as symbols Representative of the “American Imperialism,” the means are going to be designed to Challenge American Dominance, and the terrorists are going to be Politically Affiliated with groups who share such sentiments and with institutions that support such political views. The killings of Americans will continue to serve as the Epitome of the “Armed Strug- gle” and the Symbol of the Fight for “Freedom.”


Media access to terrorist sites (e.g., Site of an attack, terrorist training camps), to terrorists (for interviews, photo shoots, etc.), the media cover- age, and the types of exposure become part of the thinking and of the planning of terrorist attacks. Unwittingly then, media reporting enhances the success of terrorist attacks in attaining notoriety and exposure to the declared “Political Message.” The media, therefore, becomes an unwit- tingly recruited partner and an instrument in the terrorist act (Al-Jazzerah Arab television network’s broadcast of Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi’s or Osama Bin-Laden’s recorded messages, the broadcast of audio recording of ousted Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein from hiding). In essence, the me- dia had become the primary vehicle promulgating the terrorist message and the primary vehicle for recruitment of new terrorists. Paradoxically, our investment in the democratic principles of media freedom has cre- ated our own “Trojan Horse” of sorts that plays into the sentiments of the narcissistically organized potential terrorism recruits every time we exercise our democratic freedoms around the globe.

Conversely, however, media reporters have been able to gain access to terrorist leaders and foot soldiers, their families, terrorist training camps, etc., and provide invaluable insights into the minds of the terror- ists that no other scholars have been able to produce. Strangely as it may seem though, media information about terrorists has been largely ex- cluded from any serious consideration by the intelligence and academic communities thus far (Shah, 2003). Media reporters who have gained

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 55

access to terrorists or those who have had contacts with known terrorists are an invaluable source of information about terrorists, and their experience should be exploited.


The propensity of would-be terrorists to be initially attracted to mar- ginal groups which give some expression to their personal sense of alienation is well documented (Merari, 2002; Meloy, 2004). Some per- sons (Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, Jose Padilla, John Walker Lynd, etc.) started their illustrious terrorist careers by joining marginal groups at the fringes of societies which provided a sense of purpose and an ac- ceptance by others of like-minds. It was in the marginal groups that os- tracized persons began the psychological transformation into their future identities as terrorists. As Hoffer (1951) argued, the phenomenon of sui- cide terrorism is not a personal or individual phenomenon, it is a group phenomenon, and, therefore, it is very much the product of group pro- cesses and influences. Terrorist groups appeal to recruits’ religious piety or patriotic sentiments, (especially suicide terrorists) but neither fanati- cism nor nationalism alone are necessary or sufficient to foment suicide terrorists. The key ingredient may very well be the individual suscepti- bility to indoctrination. Indoctrination is the organizational process that prepares the suicide terrorist as a martyr and makes sure he or she does- n’t change their mind (Shermer, 2006; Ghosh, 2005; Dietlind, 2005).

Hence political and religious groups which are marginal, not main- stream, but are legal, are considered by many experts as “Breeding Grounds” for terrorists of the future (i.e., The Muslim Brotherhood in Arab countries, and the Christian Identity in the U.S.). Although per- haps legal, their sermons and messages, when activating a sense of being “Wronged” into behavioral changes, could ultimately result in terrorist convictions and behaviors as well. A recent trial of South Florida University computer sciences professor Sami al-Aryan for es- tablishing and directing the “World of Islam Research Group,” which was a covert marginal group supporting and financing terrorism, illus- trates that point clearly (Gutman & Melman, 2005). The general rule of thumb is that the greater the degree of group marginality from societies’ norms (more different, more isolated, more distinct), and the more mil- itantly active the group (both in proselytizing and in increasing internal cohesion), the greater the risk for potential terrorism they pose. As has


been previously established, as isolation increases, critical thinking de- creases. Without access to alternative information sources, members en- code new belief systems. Group tenets are never challenged, only recited. Platitude conditioning replaces reasoning processes. Although the iso- lation process itself is not pathological, the end result is, because these actions create a closed belief system where conspiratorial beliefs against mainstream society can readily develop (Gilmartin, 1996; McDermott, 2005).


As can be appreciated by this study, terrorists represent a complex phenomenon of social, psychological, ideological, religious, and politi- cal sets of motives and behaviors intertwined. This report was an at- tempt to create a picture consistent with the state-of-the-art information on the subject matter and to illuminate some of the flaws currently exist- ing in the narrower views regarding terrorists. Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of this study has been the recognition that although the U.S. government has been financing organizations whose mandate was to collect and organize information pertinent to national security in- terests, what has been collected (and made available) was of very little use. Better and more useful information came from open source and media reports. The author can only add to the chorus of voices of the congressional committee’s criticism of the intelligence communities’ many failures. Although a clearer picture should hopefully emerge out of this study regarding the many motivations for terrorism–political, psy- chological, social, etc., and the ways and directions in which preventive efforts ought to be directed–the information is lacking because it is based largely on actuarial data, anecdotal information, and guided by theory. It can only be tested against the unfolding realities of the strug- gle with terrorism in the years to come.

Consequently, there is an urgency with which this report is being of- fered with the earnest recommendation for the assessment for coher- ence of existing terrorism prevention protocols for all domains against this data. Similarly, there is an equally earnest recommendation to steer clear of oversimplified thinking about terrorists as “either-or” ( political phenomena or psychological phenomena) in the creation of prevention protocols. Finally, this study calls for the better implementation of psy- chological study and of the most fundamental method of face-to-face empathic interview currently under-utilized in prevention efforts.

Reuben Vaisman-Tzachor 57


The author expresses thanks to Dr. Alete Arom, Alliant International University, California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles, CA for editorial assis- tance and Lee Smith, BS, California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA for research and editorial assistance.

This study was conceived with generous financial support from U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Energy grants in the years 2003 and 2004 sponsored by Sandia National Laboratories, SELDON Team, in Albuquerque, NM.


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ACCEPTED: 07/10/06


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