Forster presents research on terrorism

Pete Forster, a senior lecturer in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), recently shared his expertise on the changing face of terrorism in the digital age at two conferences.

On Sept. 29, Forster presented a paper titled “Countering the Individualized Jihad: Cooperating Against Global Reach and Connections” at the Partnership for Peace Consortium Combating Terrorism Working Group session at the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany. The consortium, which is sponsored by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), brings academics and professionals together to examine emerging threats and responses to terrorism. The College of IST, Forster said, along with the Naval War College and the Naval Post-Graduate School, is one of only three U.S. institutions participating in the consortium. Penn State President Graham Spanier is on the board of directors for the Naval Post-Graduate School.

“(The consortium) provides us with international exposure to a wide range of potential partners and consumers of our academic and research expertise,” Forster said.

The working group comes up with policy suggestions that are sent to NATO and the U.S. Department of Defense, he said. Participants at the session included the Defense Intelligence Agency; the U.S. State Department; the Central Intelligence Agency; and a range of international organizations, including ministries of defense and ministries of the interior in western and south-central Europe.

Also, Forster chaired a panel at the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence Symposium in Harrisburg, Pa., on Sept. 22-23. The symposium featured presentations by representatives from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. Forster presented a report titled “Intelligence and Homeland Security: The Global Perspective.”

The symposium in Harrisburg, Forster said, was attended by IST students majoring in security and risk analysis, and by students enrolled in the information security and forensics option of the college's Master of Homeland Security Program.

“It gives our students an opportunity to directly interact with practitioners and a better understanding of the role of intelligence in promoting national security,” he said.

The discussions at the symposium, Forster said, focused on the impact of the death of Osama bin Laden on the threat environment; the question of how the U.S. intelligence community can improve the sharing of intelligence, both internationally and domestically; and how government officials and intelligence analysts can better understand information and prioritize data.

The consensus that the participants reached, Forster said, is that citizens face a different type of terrorist threat today than they did 10 years ago. While intelligence sharing has improved, he added, there are still weaknesses and challenges.

“It’s an ongoing process,” he said.

The centralized Al Qaeda of a decade ago, Forster said, has been replaced by a “franchised” Al Qaeda in which terrorist cells are operating independently, or individuals who may be inspired by bin Laden’s ideology. During the working group session, the participants discussed the impact of social media on terrorists’ operations. Training and recruitment has increasingly moved away from physical cells, he said, towards virtual cells. While these units probably don’t have the ability to pull off an attack on the scale of the 9/11 disaster, he added, they could carry out a number of smaller threats.

“We need to be aware of the role of information technology in a changing world,” Forster said.

Last Updated November 03, 2011