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The Fort Hood shooting and the Christmas Day bomber personify the gaps in homeland security

By John Byrnes

Current systems are failing us
Current systems in place to identify and manage individuals like Major Nidal Malik Hasan, whose alleged massacre took the lives of 13 soldiers and wounded 29 others, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national on Northwest Flight 253 to Detroit on Christmas Day are not working

How can anyone make this statement? Months before the shooting, two terrorism task forces evaluated Major Hasan, one had Department of Defense oversight; the other had FBI oversight. Additionally, the CIA is also reported as reviewing his behavior. All failed!

Since terrorism task forces fall under the general purview of homeland security, every system that we have in place to identify and manage these threats to our nation have failed us; and these systems will continue to fail us because they are utilizing the wrong approach.
Mental health resources are failing us.

We repeatedly hear that Major Hasan had Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, a form of mental illness. Although this may be true, using mental health resources as a means to identify these threats of aggression have repeatedly failed us. The Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy, June 13, 2007 states, “Most people who are violent do not have a mental illness, and most people who have mental illness are not violent.” It added: “Those with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence, not perpetrators.”

In fact, according to U.S. News, Virginia Tech’s staff evaluated Seung-Hui Cho more than a year before he allegedly killed 32 people and himself, and wounded 25 others in that fateful 2007 rampage. In three separate interactions with the school's counseling center at the end of 2005, the staff found the Virginia Tech killer, Mr. Cho, to be depressed and anxious but not at risk of hurting himself or others, according to the center's records.

Isolating aggressive behavior and judging it on its merits
Until we isolate aggressive behavior and judge it on its merits, will we be unable to identify, measure and thereby manage emerging aggressive behavior. According to the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education’s report on Targeted Violence in Schools, there is a significant difference between “profiling” and identifying and measuring emerging aggression. Their study found, “The use of profiles is not effective either for identifying students who may pose a risk for targeted violence at school or -- once a student has been identified -- for assessing the risk that a particular student may pose for school-based targeted violence.” It continues: “An inquiry should focus instead on a student’s behaviors and communications to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack.”

Assessing objective, culturally neutral, distinct body language, behavioral and communication indicators of emerging aggression is the only effective means to identify and manage the threat posed by individuals like Major Hasan. 

The government continues to fail us
Until now, government has relied on adrenaline-driven aggression (primal aggression) to identify an emerging aggressor. This has failed because it represents an individual who is losing control and who ultimately may lose complete control and attack their victim. Generated by anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, etc., too often our government in airport security accosts the 85 year old woman going to her late husband’s funeral because she is gripped with anxiety, fear and frustration. Yet airport security continues to use deception detection, a system long determined to be inadequate.

Different cultures deceive differently and since there are more than two thousand cultures, deception detection requires far too much sophistication for most to use it effectively and therefore it is prone to apply stereotyping, making itself an immediate target of civil libertarians. A failed system out of the box, yet our government continues to use it. 

The only effective means of identifying an individual like Major Hasan

The only effective means of identifying an individual like Major Hasan is to measure “hostile intent” or cognitive aggression. Furthermore, government programs are founded mostly on engagement methods like conflict resolution, which presupposes conflict. You are already reacting; you are already past any opportunity to prevent conflict. Additionally, as there are individuals who express their conflict with violence, if government truly wants to prevent violence they must first prevent conflict.

Whether conflict, bullying, harassment, assaultive and ultimately murder/suicide, the same circumstances apply. The only effective means to get-out-in-front of any incident is to utilize a continuum of intent-driven cognitive aggression, i.e., learning and applying the precursors to an act of violence with objective, culturally neutral, distinct body language, behavioral and communication indicators of emerging aggression.

The solution can be found in the cognitive aggression continuum.
Here I offer, for your review, one of eight columns of our cognitive aggression continuum, which generates a meter of hostile intent or Aggressionometer, illustrating a threat level as mild, moderate, elevated, severe or extreme. 

Reading from the bottom, you first find the benign baseline of natural behavior that every venue provides. Each subsequent higher level illustrates the escalating behavior of an intent-driven cognitive aggressor and offers us multiple opportunities to engage this perpetrator of cognitive aggression and effectively manage his or her behavior.

Finally, as an individual achieves the ultimate objective of, “Giving up their life for a cause,” their body responds by losing animation. Consider any photo or video of a committed suicide bomber or perpetrator of murder / suicide, like Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech, and you will witness the “thousand-yard stare” and a full-body and behavioral loss of animation, that the Israelis call the “walking dead.” This is how we identify future Major Hasans before they reach that horrific moment of commitment, when they reach for their weapon and begin firing. 

John Byrnes is president of the Center for Aggression Management. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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