One of the highlights of the semester for the graduate and undergraduate students who make up the research team at the Schar School’s Global Terrorism Trends and Analysis Center (GTTAC) was a meeting with Russell Travers, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, December 4. Travers’ agency is one of the originators of the program and remains one of the primary users of the terrorism database.
It was Travers’ first visit to Mason’s Arlington campus and his first meeting with the student employees who develop a counterterrorism database populated with open-source information about terrorist incidents around the world. The team’s data contributes to an Annex of Statistical Information which accompanies Country Reports on Terrorism, which the State Department prepares every year under a Congressional mandate.
Travers’ visit was a rich interchange on the challenges of collecting terrorism data. After giving a description of the origins of his agency—which was formed in the wake of 9/11, as he said, “to stitch together” the nation’s intelligence agencies and facilitate the sharing of information—he opened up a discussion with the students and the staff of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC), including founding director Louise Shelley, deputy director Judith Deane and GTTAC Coordinator Katie Schulz. Also in attendance were leaders from the Maryland-based Development Services Group, Inc., (DSG), which partners with TraCCC in the GTTAC project, and Mahmut Cengiz, who teaches classes on terrorism at Mason and serves as academic director of the GTTAC program.
The goal of the meeting was to discern “what trends [NCTC] are concerned about now, and how the database can be improved,” said Deane.
Travers’ visit, said Shelley, “was an honor. It was important for us to learn about his team’s work and to be acquainted with our efforts to construct a database on terrorist incidents constructed by our multinational, multidisciplinary team at the Schar School.”
After the conversation with GTTAC students and staff, Travers toured the warren of cubicles—affectionately known as “the bullpen” by the students—where GTTAC workers do their global research.