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Terrorist Target Selection and Prioritization Model

NCJ Number
George E. Stungis Ph.D.; Thomas R. Schori Ph.D.
Date Published
April 2003
5 pages
This document discusses a decisional model of the process that al Qaeda may use to prioritize and select terrorist mission targets.
For the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, key people from al Qaeda were selected for special training and intelligence gathering in the United States. Intelligence-surveillance teams were sent in around 1992. Four to 6 months before the attack, key people arrived in the United States. The elements were put together by one person, Mohamed Atta, who knew where most of the pieces of the plan fit. A group in Afghanistan approved his direction and final plans. Since this country does not have the resources to develop effective countermeasures for all identified targets, experts must sort through the many possible targets and prioritize them by the probable severity of their individual impacts. A model was constructed that would permit a well-organized terrorist group such as al Qaeda to prioritize its targets or enable elements of the intelligence community to identify the most likely terrorist actions. It is believed that the al Qaeda target selection proceeded by first having the inner circle select mission objectives. The filtration process started as ideas for targets, including some intelligence, flowed in from the field groups. Knowledgeable area-specific and target-specific teams made the project cuts. The team sent out requests when a target area of interest needed more intelligence. This process continued until there was reasonable justification to send the data up to the next higher decision level. It is believed that the selection of targets for September 11 had little to do with financial impacts. The objectives were spectacular events and a large body count. Fielding the operation cost al Qaeda about $500,000. It cost more than $600 billion in estimated stock market loss and about $60 billion in direct costs to the United States. It is believed that the main objective in target selection in the future will be to further severely damage the United States economy. A computerized version of this model has been developed, which allows calculations to be performed at any level: global, area, or target type. 12 references