Leveraging Artificial Intelligence to Counter Domestic Terrorism

January 2021

Violent extremism and terrorism have been one of the greatest concerns of the American public and the US government for decades.  Certain patterns and trends in violent extremism and terrorism, such as Internet-based bottom-up recruitment and a focus on softer targets, apply to foreign-sponsored terrorism as much as they do on Domestic Terrorism.  A disturbing trend in the United States is that violent political acts are committed by U.S. citizens.

The recent attack on the U.S. Capitol is the latest action on the part of homegrown violent extremists. The right-wing political activists who stormed the Capitol Building overwhelmed the security forces, killed a law enforcement officer, and rampaged through the facility, causing damage to government property and terrorizing the Senators, members of Congress, and their staffs. Approximately 60 Capitol Police officers were injured, and four civilians died.

It is the job of law enforcement to determine who was responsible for the attack on the Capitol and to bring them to justice. It is the job of Intelligence and analyst teams to develop the best ways to prevent such an attack from happening again. The Department of Homeland Security and other Law Enforcement and Intelligence Agencies are committed to preventing such events in the future.  This is a daunting challenge, growing in intensity, frequency, and complexity.

It is a common observation within the Intelligence Community that the enemy in the Cold War was “easy to find but hard to defeat.” In the War on Terrorism and violent extremism, they observe, the enemy is “easy to defeat, but hard to find.” This is where Artificial Intelligence technology comes in.

AI technology may be the best tool that Law Enforcement and Intelligence teams can apply to uncover, monitor, disrupt, and prevent violent extremism. The effective use of AI can help analysts to sort through massive amounts of unstructured data to find the most efficient and automated means to gain crucial information and insights to identify violent actors and help disrupt and prevent their attacks.

Artificial Intelligence can assist the authorities by combing through billions of communications and data points on mainstream social media, as well as on the Dark Web and deep web, in near real-time, in order to identify the specific threads that extremists are using to recruit members, fundraise, disseminate propaganda, spread misinformation, and disinformation, organize gatherings, distribute weapons and equipment, and plan attacks.

Artificial Intelligence can further assist by helping to identify the nature of individual involvement, distinguishing whether an identified person is an extremist leader, a rank-and-file follower, a passive supporter, a potential recruit, or a targeted victim of harassment or violence.

As the world becomes more complex and violent actors incorporate more sophisticated technologies to coordinate more widespread and impactful destructive activities, AI will become increasingly important in the effort to protect the public.

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