From the Archive: Calculating the Margin of Terror

By Joseph Straw

How likely is it that Hezbollah in Lebanon would launch suicide attacks or engage in kidnappings during an election year? Professor V.S. Subrahmanian, head of the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), says that the right data combined with the right software can answer that question.

Subrahmanian has taken a decade’s worth of open-source data on political and terrorist activity in the Middle East and plugged it into his own behavioral modeling software program—which he calls a stochastic opponent modeling agents (SOMA) framework—to create the SOMA Terror Organization Portal (STOP).

The program, funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), is currently in use by four defense agencies. Via a simple, Web-based portal, users select a country, a terror group, and an environmental variable (usually political), and receive a percentage probability for activity during a given period. For some groups and countries, users can select a specific activity and motivation, such as kidnapping for ransom versus kidnapping for political demands.

(Click here to continue reading "Calculating the Margin of Terror," from our June 2012 issue)


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