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Event, Poll Launch New Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

International Experts, Boston Police Commissioner Headline UMass Lowell Program


Contacts:  Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 (w), 978-758-4664 (c) or
                  Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or

LOWELL, Mass. – Nearly two-thirds of Americans are more concerned about a terrorist attack in the United States since the Boston Marathon bombings in April and believe the threat of terrorism has increased in the last decade, according to a new national poll by UMass Lowell. 

Half of those surveyed say the bombings made them think the United States is too involved in the affairs of other countries, according to the poll, released today at the opening event for the university’s new Center for Terrorism and Security Studies. The event, “New Security Challenges,” also included news that more than $1 million in research grants has been awarded to the center by the National Institute of Justice.

The program, which drew approximately 200 representatives of the counterterrorism, law enforcement and academic communities to the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, featured Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis; Nicholas Rasmussen, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center; Vincent Lisi, special agent in charge, FBI Boston Division; Roger Cressey, a UMass Lowell graduate and former National Security Council deputy for counterterrorism whose U.S. government roles included managing the responses to the Sept. 11 and USS Cole attacks; and Andrea Cabral, Massachusetts secretary of public safety. UMass Lowell’s College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences sponsored the event. 

Associate Prof. Joshua Dyck, co-director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion, presented the results of the poll at the program. 

“Opinions about security and terrorism have been deeply impacted by the events of 2013. Despite the belief by a majority of Americans that the threat of terrorism has grown in the last 10 years, they are conflicted over how much of their privacy they are willing to give up to fight the war on terror, an issue brought to the forefront by the revelation the National Security Agency collects data on telephone and Internet activity,” he said.

More of the respondents classified the Boston Marathon bombings as domestic terrorism than international terrorism (75 percent to 60 percent), according to the poll, which was conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Center for Public Opinion and surveyed 1,000 American adults online between Sept. 6 and Sept. 12 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.87 percent. The poll, written and analyzed by Dyck, also looked at Americans’ attitudes about privacy; whistleblowers Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning; and whether the U.S. should take military action in Syria. (More on the results are available below and full data is available at

Davis – who has emerged as a leader on local law enforcement’s role in battling terrorism in the days since the marathon bombings – presented the keynote address at today’s opening event for the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies.

“Sharing experiences and lessons learned with our law enforcement partners helps all of our organizations become better prepared. The opportunity to have an open and frank discussion is incredibly valuable as we face future challenges,” said Davis.

“Forums such as these are an excellent way to educate the public. They provide substance and context for people who want or need to better understand our current security challenges,” said Cabral. 

The ongoing threat of domestic terrorism and the need to study those behind it and develop solutions are among the reasons the new Center for Terrorism and Security Studies opened at UMass Lowell this fall. The center brings together three of the top experts in academia to lead new degree programs and research efforts. 

“As current events illustrate, the threat of terrorism is real, persistent and dynamic. The United States government cannot counter this threat alone, so I am pleased to take part in UMass Lowell’s unveiling of its new academic initiative on this critically important issue,” said Rasmussen, who participated in a panel discussion on the practitioners’ approach to fighting terrorism with Lisi and Cabral that was moderated by Cressey. 

“Our adversaries have proven to be extremely flexible and, as a result, we continually have to develop new proactive measures to thwart their efforts,” said Lisi.

“There has never been a more urgent time to bring serious academic scrutiny to terrorism and related national security threats. The threat of terrorism is often overblown, so it’s critical that we bring scientific, data-driven rigor to these problems in ways that ultimately help, rather than hinder, our understanding of it. Our research is about providing the evidence, the guidance to help law enforcement, analysts and policy-makers better understand the changing threat environment and to help them make informed decisions in what they do,” said Prof. John Horgan, director of the new center and a member of the FBI National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime’s research working group. 

Horgan, whose research focuses on terrorist behavior, and Prof. Mia Bloom – a former member of the Council on Foreign Relations whose expertise is in understanding suicide terrorism and the victimization of women and children in political violence – recently joined the UMass Lowell faculty. Together with Prof. James Forest, who has been called “one of America’s most esteemed terrorism and national security experts,” the trio forms the core of the new center, which, in addition to conducting research and lending expertise on critical issues, offers master’s programs in security studies with concentrations in areas including homeland defense, industrial and economic security, and cybersecurity. 

Horgan, Bloom, Forest and Neil Shortland, a senior research associate with the center, along with Prof. John Kaag of the Philosophy Department presented at the event, which also included remarks by UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan.

“I congratulate Chancellor Meehan and center director John Horgan for bringing the center to the University of Massachusetts Lowell. We need a strong and vibrant debate about our nation’s approach to challenging security issues, such as terrorism. I’m confident the center will be a valuable source of research and analysis for both the academic and policy community,” said Cressey. 

“We have come here at an exciting time in the university’s growth and we’re thrilled to be part of Chancellor Meehan’s vision to provide high-quality education for people who want to solve real-world problems,” said Horgan.

Based in UMass Lowell’s new $40 million Health and Social Sciences Building, the center is part of the School of Criminology and Justice Studies, which was elevated from department status on June 1 and offers some of the university’s most popular bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as new doctoral programs in criminal justice and criminology. The new building is one of six opened in the last year at UMass Lowell, which recently recorded the second-largest gain in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report Best National Universities ranking for 2014, up 25 points in three years and 12 since last year to No. 158. 

Other findings from the new, national UMass Lowell poll include: 
  • Although 56 percent of those surveyed believed the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people, only 18 percent favored U.S. airstrikes. Approximately 50 percent of Democrats opposed President Obama’s proposed military action while more than 70 percent of Republicans were opposed.
  • Despite heightened concern about potential terrorist attacks, only 8 percent of Americans reported reducing their attendance of public events.
  • Americans are nearly 50-50 on whether it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats when it intrudes on personal privacy, with 52 percent in favor of investigating threats and 48 percent who felt it was more important to protect privacy. Respondents were more strongly divided by age group, with 70 percent of those older than 65 favoring investigation over privacy compared to 38 percent of 30- to 39-year-olds. 
  • Respondents were asked for their views on Edward Snowden, the former U.S. government contractor who revealed the NSA’s secret tracking of telephone and Internet activity, as well as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who provided classified information to Wikileaks. Snowden was the most recognized name of the three and was viewed favorably by 24 percent and unfavorably by 39 percent. Assange was viewed favorably by 13 percent and unfavorably by 33 percent, with 54 percent either undecided or had never heard of him. Manning was viewed favorably by 13 percent and 34 percent unfavorably.
“While the poll asks questions of substantive American policy, there is an underlying partisan response to many of the questions,” said Frank Talty, co-director of the Center for Public Opinion and assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “When more than 70 percent of Republicans oppose military airstrikes but only a bare majority of Democrats do, the underlying support, or lack thereof, for President Obama is a clear subtext for that position. Likewise, when a quarter of respondents who consider themselves conservative or very conservative expressed a favorable view of Edward Snowden, one is only left with the impression that Snowden’s revelations, seen as an embarrassment to President Obama, found favor with some, perhaps for that reason.”
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