MI5 on Terrorist Profiling

There's no profile:

MI5 has concluded that there is no easy way to identify those who become involved in terrorism in Britain, according to a classified internal research document on radicalisation seen by the Guardian.


[...]

The main findings include:

• The majority are British nationals and the remainder, with a few exceptions, are here legally. Around half were born in the UK, with others migrating here later in life. Some of these fled traumatic experiences and oppressive regimes and claimed UK asylum, but more came to Britain to study or for family or economic reasons and became radicalised many years after arriving.

• Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.

• The "mad and bad" theory to explain why people turn to terrorism does not stand up, with no more evidence of mental illness or pathological personality traits found among British terrorists than is found in the general population.

• British-based terrorists are as ethnically diverse as the UK Muslim population, with individuals from Pakistani, Middle Eastern and Caucasian backgrounds. MI5 says assumptions cannot be made about suspects based on skin colour, ethnic heritage or nationality.

• Most UK terrorists are male, but women also play an important role. Sometimes they are aware of their husbands', brothers' or sons' activities, but do not object or try to stop them.

• While the majority are in their early to mid-20s when they become radicalised, a small but not insignificant minority first become involved in violent extremism at over the age of 30.

• Far from being lone individuals with no ties, the majority of those over 30 have steady relationships, and most have children. MI5 says this challenges the idea that terrorists are young men driven by sexual frustration and lured to "martyrdom" by the promise of beautiful virgins waiting for them in paradise. It is wrong to assume that someone with a wife and children is less likely to commit acts of terrorism.

• Those involved in British terrorism are not unintelligent or gullible, and nor are they more likely to be well-educated; their educational achievement ranges from total lack of qualifications to degree-level education. However, they are almost all employed in low-grade jobs.

Posted on August 22, 2008 at 6:18 AM • 51 Comments

Comments

OhYeah?August 22, 2008 7:03 AM

Whoa, duuude! Like ... anyone could be a terrorist!?

Every time I hear about a new profiling method, I think back to the Murrow building and the immediate search for Middle-Eastern Muslims, when the real culprit was a white, American, probably Protestant, decorated veteran.

BTW, anyone else remember the Murrow building and the NRA's "jack-booted thugs"?

periAugust 22, 2008 7:10 AM

"However, they are almost all employed in low-grade jobs."

Makes me wonder about the union of { FBI Agent, State Police, Local Police, Security Guard, TSA Agent } and "low-grade jobs."

bobAugust 22, 2008 7:18 AM

It (was) the Murrah building. And since 1/3 articles here brings up airport security, jack-booted thugs are featured in this blog pretty much every day.

BillAugust 22, 2008 7:34 AM

So if the cost of liberty is the occasional attrocity, so be it.

Can we have a war on heart disease now?

MBAugust 22, 2008 7:38 AM

>However, they are almost all employed in low-grade jobs.

I knew it! Everyone who works at Greggs is obviously a terrorist in waiting...

(with apologies to non-UK readers who won't get the reference...)

clvrmnkyAugust 22, 2008 7:43 AM

This fits with recent criticism of FBI profiling, too. Profiling collateral reads more like a horoscope or as if it was written by your corner "psychic", full of tautologies and logical inconsistencies, or exclusive "so and so is like this" statements that when expanded include huge groups of people.

I wish I could find the link, but I can't.

This sort of thing is very, very hard to do, and even hard when doing it on a domestic population.

RoxanneAugust 22, 2008 8:03 AM

"British-based terrorists are as ethnically diverse as the UK Muslim population" - which is to say, they *are* all Muslims.

Meanwhile, I guess soccer hooligans are just boys having a good night out.

QAugust 22, 2008 8:10 AM

> British-based terrorists are as ethnically diverse as the UK Muslim population...

Funny, I was under the impression that by any measure of terrorist attacks in England or the UK, Muslims are still way behind Catholics (and that doesn't count soccer hooligans as terrorists)

KeithAugust 22, 2008 8:12 AM

>However, they are almost all employed in low-grade jobs.

Finally! A reason to shut down McDonald's for ever.

markAugust 22, 2008 8:16 AM

@bill & @MB

A war on Greggs should kill two birds with one stone then!

(again apologies to non-UK readers who won't get the reference...)

JiflAugust 22, 2008 8:25 AM

MI5 talks about profiling religious terrorists as if the sample size is huge. There aren't that many that have got caught. The ones that haven't been caught are presumably being surveilled but will only have been identified through intelligence, which may not lead to a representative sample.

Anonymous CowardAugust 22, 2008 9:21 AM

So ethnicity and socio-economic status seem to be the common ties. Sounds very similar to the profile of a street gang. I'm curious as to what motivates these "terrorists." Talk to enough street gang members here in the States and you'll quickly realize that they are motivated by two things, respect and money, in that order.
Let's face it, terrorists are feared and therefore respected here in the West. By associating themselves with these bigger movements (Al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbullah, etc.) these people are improving their lot in life, even if only in their deluded minds. We are never going to win the "war on terror" until we address the underlying issue of lack of hope and widespread sense of oppression that is rampant in the global Muslim community. We'll always have the "true believers" out there that will "hate us for our freedom," but they are not the foot soldiers of these movements. Let's find out what makes these guys tick and address that with compassion and respect. Until we do that, we will never win this fight.

jdw242bAugust 22, 2008 9:29 AM

oh, I get it now!

Wal-Mart, and it's pervasiveness, is a breeding ground for terrorism.

I can't believe I didn't see it before...

(re "However, they are almost all employed in low-grade jobs.")

mrjAugust 22, 2008 9:44 AM

I find it amusing that they imagine a married man with kids can't be sexually frustrated.

derfAugust 22, 2008 9:55 AM

With the "Continuing Cheapening of the Word 'Terrorism'", everyone is already guilty of being a terrorist. Our treatment at the airport is just the first major outward sign of our governments' reactions to our guilt.

Noble_SerfAugust 22, 2008 10:12 AM

Well then, Bob's your uncle.

This should counter the findings of the annointed one who wrote shortly after 9-11 that the terrorists were all poor, disadvantaged victims of US foriegn policy.

I'm pretty sure that "profile" will remain intact when it comes to politics.

AnonymousAugust 22, 2008 10:17 AM

@Roxanne -

Muslim / Islam is a religion not an ethnicity. Funny how no one tarred all Protestants or Catholics or all Irish people as terrorists during the days of the IRA, yet everyone rushes to blame all Muslims, Arabs, Pakistanis, etc., as terrorists.

UrbanAugust 22, 2008 10:40 AM

@Anonymous

"yet everyone rushes to blame all..."

They are easier to spot in a crowd. Have you ever tried being racist against people who look like you. It's really tough man!

Bill ClintonAugust 22, 2008 10:43 AM

So if somebody believes someone who is working for the government has mistreated them, take it to the appropriate authority, make it public if you want to, but be specific. But do not condemn people who work for the government. That's the kind of mentality that produced Oklahoma City.

GeorgeAugust 22, 2008 10:55 AM

The last sentence ("they are almost all employed in low-grade jobs") is the most interesting. It makes me think of "Assassins," the Stephen Sondheim musical about the people who have assassinated or attempted to assassinate American presidents. Though the assassins came from diverse backgrounds, they were all marginalized, isolated people who felt that the "American dream" had failed them. So they turned to that specialized form of terrorism in an attempt (invariably unsuccessful) to achieve the recognition, fame, and validation that had otherwise eluded them. I don't know how much historical accuracy was sacrificed for the sake of musical theater. But it does raise interesting and unsettling issues about economic inequality in a consumer society.

It is thus particularly ironic that the Bush administration, while ostensibly dedicating itself to fighting a "global war on terror," is even more dedicated to increasing economic inequality for the benefit of its donors and supporters. Even if economic inequality isn't a root cause of terrorism, it undoubtedly contributes to terrorist recruitment.

I have to admire the British for sensibly recognizing the inherent impracticality of profiling. By implication, that casts severe doubt on the value of surrendering our privacy to let intelligence agencies conduct fishing and mining expeditions looking for patterns that predict terrorism, and then detain people who fit the pattern. It's intuitively obvious that the signal-to-noise ratio will be so low that any "patterns" are certain to be spurious and produce only false positives.

Unfortunately, that's not a problem at all for an administration that regards the terrorist threat merely as a valuable tool to expand its own power. As we've seen with the TSA, false positives are merely opportunities to issue glowing press releases touting "successes." And large numbers of false positives are Statistics that serve as incontrovertible proof of effectiveness, thereby justifying more extensive erosion of privacy and expansion of executive power. Meanwhile, they completely ignore the root causes of the terrorist threat.

SparkyAugust 22, 2008 11:21 AM

I'm wondering how they accounted for selection bias. Basically, because of the profiling, they don't have a representative sample of the terrorist population, only a subset that mostly matches the profile.

Basically, they were looking for Muslim terrorist, and after a while, they determined that most terrorists they found where Muslims.

I once found a study about the average IQ of criminals. The researchers took a random sample from the prison population and measured their IQ... (are you laughing yet?) completely ignoring the fact that the dumb ones are more likely to get caught.

USB_StickAugust 22, 2008 11:57 AM

"according to a _classified_ internal research document on radicalisation seen by the Guardian"

Did an MI5 agent accidentally put the _classified_ document on a USB stick and lose it?

periAugust 22, 2008 1:00 PM

@George
"economic inequality in a consumer society"

I just found it interesting that you seem to be conflating "low-grade jobs" with "economic inequality." It helped me realize that I hadn't even considered that these jobs are usually not very lucrative because I was conflating "low-grade jobs" with people feeling like their skills are underdeveloped and/or underutilized; like the prison guard with an IQ too high to become a police officer.

wildflowerAugust 22, 2008 2:04 PM

It is interesting to read this in light of the two recent anti-liberal terrorist attacks in the U.S.: a Target shelf-stocker (in Arkansas) and an out-of-work truck driver (in Tennessee).

The shelf-stocker is easily seen as having low-level employment. Truck driving used to be much more lucrative, but since truckers often work as small businesses (buying their own rig, financing their own fuel) their profession has recently taken a HUGE hit.


GazaymezAugust 22, 2008 2:14 PM

@Bill "So if the cost of liberty is the occasional attrocity, so be it."

I'm with you on this, but of course someone will read that and scream "but what about the victims!!!!!"

It just occured to me I'd love to pose this question to serving military personell:

"If you're willing to die for liberty/your country in a war, why aren't you willing to die in a terrorist attack to preserve the same?"

AnonAugust 22, 2008 2:16 PM

It's interesting to note how different right wing white people are treated in the United States when caught with large caches of either conventional or chemical weapons.

People that read this blog tend to pay attention to these things, but how many of the general public know who these people are:
* William Krar - http://www.cnn.com/2004/US/Southwest/01/30/...
* Jeffrey Detrixhe - http://newsok.com/article/keyword/3243775/
* Roger Bergendorff - http://www.foxnews.com/story/...

The anthrax attacks are often ignored by politicians who claim there have been no terror attacks in the United States since 9/11. We also know that there is a good chance Bruce Ivins, and not a Muslim terrorist, perpetrated those attacks.

I've also noticed that the mainstream media seems reluctant to use the words "terror" or "terrorism" in cases where the terrorists are not Muslim. Left wing "eco-terrorism" groups are identified as such, while ultra-right white supremacist groups are rarely or never defined as terrorists.

My point is that on some level, the UK recognizes terrorism for what it is, while the US seems to define it as something only Muslims and/or brown people are capable of doing. Identifying terrorists as scary Muslim guys certainly does a good job of playing to people's fears, but hurts in actually trying to stop attacks, which should be the point.

GeorgeAugust 22, 2008 2:36 PM

@Peri: "I just found it interesting that you seem to be conflating "low-grade jobs" with "economic inequality."

That's an interesting comment. While "low grade" jobs indeed tend to make people feel devalued, they also tend to be low-paying. The low pay is, I think, the more distressing difficulty in practice.

But I should also note that many jobs devalue people and make them feel "like their skills are underdeveloped and/or underutilized," though they pay quite well. Large corporations have cubicles full of people who have sold their souls for a paycheck and health benefits. I can't know how many of them turn to terrorism.

bobAugust 22, 2008 3:02 PM

@Anon: I suspect that since the Anthrax attacks occurred almost simultaneously with 9/11 they have simply disappeared in the noise.

Which would you leverage in order to inflate your budget more? - 19 guys killing 3,000 guys and obliterating the largest buildings in the world while getting 100,000+ hours of free (and terror-multiplying) television, or some nebulous unknown person/persons quietly killing 5 people in a slow faceless way and only getting 5 mins or so halfway through the 11 o clock news.

nAugust 22, 2008 3:10 PM

"no more evidence of mental illness or pathological personality traits found among British terrorists than is found in the general population"

One could argue that fanatical religious devotion is a (currently unrecognized) mental illness. Therefore, all jihadist terrorists are mentally ill.

ElectronicMessiahAugust 22, 2008 4:39 PM

They need to be more concerned with their terrible failures and quit with this terrorism theater...

"The U.K. government has lost the personal information of up to four million citizens in one year alone. The astonishing figures, calculated by the BBC, added up as Whitehall departments slowly released their annual reports for the year to April. And the trend has not stopped — in the latest revelation, HM Revenue Customs, which infamously lost the details of 25 million child benefits claimants last November on two unencrypted discs, experienced 1,993 data breaches between 1 October last year and 24 June."

Davi OttenheimerAugust 22, 2008 5:08 PM

"Can we have a war on heart disease now?"

The state of California just passed a law banning trans fats. It's a small step, but someone had to do it.

KafirAugust 22, 2008 10:33 PM

The recent UK MI-5 leaked report ignores the obvious "pathway to violent extremism" is through Islamic supremacist ideology being taught directly in British mosques, despite the numerous reports of this by UK's Channel 4 and others in the United Kingdom. Clearly UK's government is unwilling to face the growing Islamic supremacism in the United Kingdom.

http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/...

Lawrence D'OliveiroAugust 23, 2008 6:22 AM

Regarding terrorist attacks since 11/9/2001, I seem to recall the Washington DC random shootings happened soon after as well. Lots of people were terrorized by that.

ungezieferAugust 23, 2008 1:38 PM

@n -- Read Bruce's posting: "Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation."

These people may be fanatics, although I think "ideologues" would be more accurate, but they are not very religious. They use their own poorly-understood view of religion to achieve their own ends, their ends being political (the desire to achieve power by imposing their will on the greater society) and excitatory (basically, they have a blood-lust). For people like this, religion is a means, not an end. They want power, and they want to shed blood.

If they were mentally ill, they wouldn't succeed, since the truly mentally ill have a great deal of trouble organizing and carrying out complex endeavours (unless, of course, like some contemporary American mental-health professionals, you want to define anything outside of a very narrow ideal of normal as "mentally ill.")

KafirAugust 23, 2008 1:39 PM

"Regarding terrorist attacks since 11/9/2001, I seem to recall the Washington DC random shootings happened soon after as well. Lots of people were terrorized by that."

Jailhouse sketches, including this one containing references to "jihad," "holy war" and "infidels" were entered into evidence in the 2003 trial of convicted D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo. His attorneys said they were evidence of indoctrination by Malvo's accomplice, John Allen Muhammad.

http://thecsquare.blogspot.com/2007/10/...

KafirAugust 23, 2008 2:49 PM

ungeziefer-- "These people may be fanatics, although I think "ideologues" would be more accurate, but they are not very religious. They use their own poorly-understood view of religion to achieve their own ends..."

They are religious and they perfectly understand the religion of Islam and what it says in the Koran 9:5, the Verse of the Sword: "...then kill the Mushrikun {unbelievers} wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. But if they repent and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat {the Islamic ritual prayers}), and give Zakat {alms}, then leave their way free..."

The Jihad has been on and off for almost 1400 years, and it is now on again.

Stephen MackenzieAugust 23, 2008 3:18 PM

So could it possibly be that terrorists are ordinary human beings--possibly on low incomes and with poor education--making more or less rational decisions on incomplete information? So not unlike some politicians I could mention? Fancy that.

milgramAugust 24, 2008 2:56 PM

So Kafir you reckon that an MI5 analysis is less valuable than a Channel 4 investigation aimed at producing entertaining TV?
That's bollocks, is that.

KafirAugust 25, 2008 2:23 PM

milgram-- Yes, I reckon that the MI5 is in the fog of multiculturalism and political correctness.

Did you read the article at the Guardian?

In the middle of listing all the ways the British terrorists just can't be pinpointed, and all the ways the terrorists are just like the rest of the British population, this appears but draws no notice:

"British-based terrorists are as ethnically diverse as the UK Muslim population..."

Did you catch it??

The MI5 will NEVER pinpoint a cause of terrorism as long as they refuse read the Koran and understand Islam.

wAugust 27, 2008 2:24 PM

@mrj
I noticed that too. It made me wonder what other flawed assumptions they used.

evaAugust 28, 2008 7:32 AM

So the only conclusion from this research is that British terrorists "are almost all employed in low-grade jobs".

That's handy - in many parts of the country, 90% of the population has these type of jobs, if they have one at all.

RussSeptember 12, 2008 7:29 AM

Regarding the comments about Islamic teaching, and that the MI5 report indicates that terrorists analyzed do not fit the "religious" mold: be careful not to template pietistic western Christian religious ideas into Islam. The report clearly demonstrates either: 1) a head-in-sand mentality about Islamic ideology; 2) a complete lack of understanding about Islamic ideology. These guys don't have to be living "religiously proper" lives to be involved in Islamic doctrine. For that matter, committing jihadi actions and being martyred is essential to receiving near-immediate access to paradise, versus spending a long time purging your sins in the Fire.

EdwardNovember 3, 2008 7:15 AM

I see several post about the attack on the Murrow Federal Building in Oklahoma City and how that proves anyone can be a terrorist and profiles don't work. However, this seems to be the exception that proves the rule, Pan Am 103 was committed by Muslims, the U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beruit was committed by a Muslim, the 7/7 bombers were Muslim, the attacks on the U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia were committed by Muslims, the U.S. Embassy attacks in Africa were committed by Muslims.

Denying the reality of the threat posed by young radical Muslim males does not change the threat. When it has been shown that al-Qaeda has started using white Scots grandfathers as bombers we can revise the profile accordingly, until then lets use a bit of realism and recognize who the enemy is.

Clive RobinsonNovember 3, 2008 9:23 AM

@ Edward,

"... ...Denying the reality of the threat posed by young radical Muslim males does not change the threat. ...until then lets use a bit of realism and recognize who the enemy is."

You forgot to include women and children, so why not take the sensible option and say "all humans".

By the way being muslim is a state of mind (ie of faith) just like being a christian or a jew or any other religion. Richard Reid was brought up as a white christian he later converted to being a muslim.

The simple fact is that there is all sorts of terorists of all different creeds, colours, age and sex.

Failing to recognise this means that you will be ineffective at spotting a terorist simply because they don't fit your current blinkered perception, I for one like most of my age in Europe having lived with the terrorist threat a great deal longer than the majority of people living in the USA know from experiance that they come from all walks of life.

AnonymousDecember 13, 2008 5:33 AM

This report is said to be "based on hundreds of case studies" -- in Britain. Hundreds?!?

Have they have combined IRA, communist, neofascist , Islamist and "lone nut-case" terrorists? If so, it is hardly surprising that they failed to come up with a coherent signal. But the rest of the document strongly suggests that it is concerned only with recent terrorism associated with Islamism. In which case, where on earth did they find "hundreds" of confirmed cases in Britain? And if they included also unconfirmed suspects, or fellow travellers who have never actually done anything, then once again it is not surprising that no clear signal emerges.

If it is, indeed, supposed to be based on recent confirmed Islamist terrorists, then a number of their statements are at variance with the facts. If we consider the details of suspects charged in connection with the "Shoe bomber" attempted attack, the "7/7" transit bombings, the 21 July 2005 failed transit bombings, the Glasgow attack, and the 2006 "Transatlantic bomb plot", we end up just under 40 persons charged, or likely would have been, except that they are dead). Among these people, some of the patterns denied in this report are clearly present.

For example, these three dozen people can nearly all be divided into just four ethno-religious categories:
a. West Indians who have recently converted to Islam;
b. East African muslims (all but one of these were illegal immigrants);
c. First or second generation Pakistani or Indian muslim immigrants (zero third generation);
d. Middle-easterners from the stereotypical homes of Islamist terrorism (Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia).

Of all the 3 dozen persons know to have committed Islamist terrorism in the UK, just one person fails to fit these obvious stereotypes.

So in truth, the stereotypes are fairly accurate, and the government's goal in trying to debunk them must surely be aimed at avoiding discrimination against the many non-terrorist members of these groups, rather than assisting in detection of terrorists.

jackSeptember 27, 2013 9:55 AM

Ethnic and religious profiling has been going on nationwide all over the U.K. And this obsessing with muslims..here take a look at the findings The EU’s 2009 Terrorism Situation and Trend Report states that out of 294 planned attacks, one solitary attack was planned by Islamists.

you can check the following web page

http://journalism.sirajdatoo.com/...


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