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‘The Work Done Here Will Save Lives’

Center for Terrorism and Security Studies, National Poll Launched

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Boston Police Commissioner spoke at the launch of the University's Center for Terrorism and Security Studies. Photo by Tory Germann.

By Julia Gavin

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 the University’s Center for Public Opinion

Half of those surveyed say the bombings made them think the United States is too involved in the affairs of other countries. The poll, released 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, called “New Security Challenges,” drew 200 representatives from the counterterrorism, law enforcement and academic communities to the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. Featured speakers included Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis; Nicholas Rasmussen, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center; Vincent Lisi, Special Aagent in Charge, FBI Boston Division; Andrea Cabral, Massachusetts secretary of public safety; and Roger Cressey ’87, former National Security Council deputy for counterterrorism. Cressey’s government roles included managing the responses to the Sept. 11 and USS Cole attacks. The College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences sponsored the event. 

“It was really informative to hear the perspectives of Commissioner Davis and the other experts on the Boston bombings,” says Jovan Knott, a security studies master’s student from Medford. “It put my studies in perspective.”  

Davis – who has emerged as a leader in local law enforcement’s role in battling terrorism in the days since the marathon bombings – presented the keynote address, framing the center’s work.

“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. “The work you do here will save lives.”

Cabral, who worked closely with Davis on the bombing response, echoed the need for public discussion and education.

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

Research to Curb Terrorism

The center was formed to meet the ongoing threat of domestic terrorism by studying those behind it and developing solutions. It brings together three of the top experts in academia to lead new degree programs and research efforts, and  faculty members will collaborate with experts in departments from philosophy to computer science, addressing the changing world of terrorism from all angles. 

“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. 

The academics involved, many of whom worked together at another institution, are confident their research will continue to lead the counterterrorism field.

“There has never been a more urgent time to bring serious academic scrutiny to terrorism and related national security threats. Our research provides the evidence to help law enforcement, analysts and policymakers better understand the changing threat environment and help them make informed decisions,” 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 University. 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 Chancellor Marty Meehan. Based in the University’s new $40 million Health and Social Sciences Building, the center is part of the School of Criminology and Justice Studies.

“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. 

Poll Highlights Need for Proactive Research and Planning Against Terror Threats

Assoc. Prof. Joshua Dyck, co-director of the Center for Public Opinion, presented the results of the latest national poll at the program. The data indicates that public thoughts on terrorism are being affected by recent events, both terrorist and domestic.

“Recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone and internet information has resulted in a conflicted American Public,” he said. “Despite the fact that most Americans believe that the threat of terrorism has grown in the last decade, they are unsure about how much of their privacy they are willing to give up.” More on the results are available below and full data is available at the center's website.

Other findings from the new, national 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.