Who are informants and what role do they play in prosecutions?

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

Within the tPP dataset, there is a code that involves informants.  It is a binary variable and indicates whether or not an informant was used for the defendant.  Most of the informants within our dataset are from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  With this variable, about 72% of our defendants had informants for their cases (817 of 1130 cases).  It is interesting to examine the rules and regulations behind these informants.  There have been five sets of guidelines over the past 30 or more years.  These guidelines were set by the attorney general at the time in conjunction with Congress and some of the committees that deal with criminals and terrorism.  Each of these guidelines builds off of the previous set of guidelines and adds different aspects to these guidelines respective to the time and the arising threats.

The five guidelines include; The Levi Guidelines (1976), The Civiletti Guidelines (1980-1981), The Smith Guidelines (1983), The Thornburgh Guidelines (1989), and the Reno Guidelines (2001).  The Levi Guidelines establish the basics of FBI investigations that occur due to finding specific facts that lead them to believe a violent crime is inevitable. These guidelines wanted to minimize the use of informants and maximize the rights of the citizens (Office of Inspector General).  These guidelines caused many concerns for the FBI especially with their collection and use of intelligence to help prevent large-scale attacks.

In the beginning of the 1980s, a new set of guidelines were put into place and these were the Civiletti Guidelines.  Most of the changes that these new guidelines brought about allowed FBI informants to participate in criminal activities through authorization, created new directions for FBI informants to follow, and clarified and revised undercover operations practices (Office of Inspector General).  Many of these changes were in response to actions of the FBI at the time and some of its undercover operations.

A few years later, the Smith Guidelines were introduced (1983).  These guidelines relaxed the restraints on domestic security investigations to allow for the FBI to protect citizens from more complex groups while also allowing for peaceful and lawful dissent (Office of Inspector General).  These guidelines also allowed for a greater look into terrorism and developed rules and regulations for a domestic security/terrorism investigation (Office of Inspector General).  The use of terrorism by groups within the United States was increasing at this time and becoming more of a problem for law enforcement.  These new guidelines helped to establish a way for the FBI to deal with these emerging threats in a lawful way.

At the end of the 1980s, the Thornburgh Guidelines were developed. It arose from a case that the FBI was working internationally with a group in El Salvador.  These guidelines added direction for field offices when dealing with cases involving international terrorism (Office of Inspector General).  Questions arose concerning the FBI dealing with some international cases of terrorism and whether they were going past their rights and any individual rights.  These new guidelines addressed what the FBI can and cannot do concerning international terrorism.

The last set of guidelines that were put into place were the Reno Guidelines in 2001.  Concerns had arisen about the capabilities of the FBI to handle large cases of terrorism such as McVeigh’s bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.  On the other hand, there were also concerns about the handling of informants by the FBI.  The Reno Guidelines clarified and revised the Civiletti Guidelines concerning the use and handling of informants as well as changing the interpretation of some of the previous guidelines to give greater confidence to the FBI when dealing with cases of preventing terrorist attacks (Office of Inspector General).

All of these guidelines build upon each other and help reconcile some problems the FBI has had in the past.  It makes sure that the FBI is staying within the rights of the citizens as well as helping them in combating domestic terrorism.  Understanding the role of the informant within these cases allows for a deeper analysis of the defendants who had informants within our dataset.

– Lizzy Springer


Office of the Inspector General. 2005. “Historical Background of the Attorney General’s Investigative Guidelines.” Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Compliance with the Attorney General’s Investigative Guidelines.


This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

As mentioned in my previous blog post about analyzing group affiliation and ideologies, mapping is a great tool for visualizing patterns of attack. Terrorism research has drastically increased in the past 20 years. For more in depth analyses, it is essential to apply a variety of multidisciplinary fields to the subject of terrorism for a deeper understanding. The use of geographical theory presents an opportunity to understand the varying ways space affects decision making within the realm of political violence. It is able to provide a systematic way of interpreting data regarding the patterns of attack.

Geographic information systems (GIS) is a tool used to create maps which help display visualized geographical data for further analysis. The GIS application, fusion table, is a user friendly tool for those trying to experiment with mapping. For my second mini analysis, I chose to utilize fusion table in order to display information about group affiliation and ideology of defendants. I was able to display two types of maps, feature and heat maps, using tPP’s dataset. I utilized three variables from the dataset which were location of attack (city), group affiliation and ideological affiliation. Each of the maps I created presented a variation of findings, but not all showed clear patterns.

To generate significant findings regarding group affiliation, I isolated the 12 groups with the most cases included in the dataset. These 12 groups, including no affiliation, all had more than 10 cases recorded. It was important to choose sample sizes such as these because attempting to map a group with less than 10 cases would provide insignificant data without clear patterns. The groups I chose to include for mapping location of attack (city) are included in the chart below.

Relevant Group Affiliation Number of Attacks
No affiliation 352
al Qaeda 145
Hezbollah 78
al Shabab 40
ELF 31
Animal Liberation Front 24
Hamas 20
Taliban 20
KKK 18
Army of God 11

Each of the maps I created for the twelve group affiliations presented interesting findings. All of the maps I created depicted some type of pattern, yet a number of them showed outliers. A few of these outliers I was able to justify, but others proved to be random concentrations of attack. One of the significant outliers was the concentrations of attack in Minnesota. When I mapped ISIL and al Shabab, both heat maps presented the color red which suggested a significant amount of attacks by each group within that particular state. After further investigation, I realized that Minnesota is home to the largest group of immigrants from Somalia. These people are often targeted by terrorist groups for recruitment and therefore make up a handful of cases with charges of support/association of a terrorist organization. This provided a solid explanation as to why this outlier existed on my heat map. The map below helps visualize the patterns and outliers of defendants associated with al Shabab.

The group of defendants with no affiliation make up a majority of the attacks I focused on. This group made up 40% of the 868 cases I plotted through mapping. After creating the heat map for the group of no affiliation, it was clear that defendants with no affiliation largely attack major US cities. It is common for urban areas to be the location of attack for many terrorist groups, but those with no affiliation to a group clearly focus solely on cities and their nearby surroundings. There was no clear pattern of attack on a specific region of the US, rather, the locations of attack were spread across nearly every major city.

Using geographical tools to understand terrorism and its patterns presents an interesting way of visualizing data. Rather than configuring numbers and creating complex ways to analyze information, mapping allows a researcher to visually see patterns that may exist in their data. In the future I would like to learn how to use other types of GIS applications to expand upon my understand of mapping. More complex applications like QGIS contain tools for other types of analyzations that are able to present different types of geographical findings.

– Jessica Enhelder

Death Penalty Cases in Relation to Othered Status

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

The tPP data set[1] contains 17 cases that resulted in a death penalty conviction.  These cases were analyzed in a separate data set to determine if there were any consistencies or correlations between the cases.  The variable of othered status was considered because of the rhetoric that surrounds terrorism.  According to Panagopoulos, “The terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, fueled widespread concern and speculation about mounting Islamophobic sentiment among Americans in response to the events.”[2]  Since Americans say this large act of terrorism committed by those of an Islamic faith, they believe that all severe acts of terrorism are also committed by members of that same faith.

This can be proven to be false by analyzing the cases of death penalty convictions and noting that the number of individuals who commit crimes that receive death penalty convictions is almost three times higher for those who are non-othered than those who are considered othered.  This indicates that there is almost three times as many non-othered individuals making up the death penalty subset than othered individuals.  This demonstrates that othered people are not committing the acts of terrorism that receive the harshest sentences and subsequently are not committing the most violent or heinous acts of terrorism.

This is important distinction to note because of the rhetoric that surrounds terrorism. Also, it is important to know that when the entire tPP data set[4] is statistically analyzed using descriptive statistics in SPSS, it was determined that the whole data set consists of 60.32% othered individuals.  This shows that even though they are not committing the most atrocious acts with the harshest sentences they make up the majority of acts of terrorism.

This can be explained through the use of terror management theory.  Terror management theory[5] enables one to protects their self-esteem and asserts their superiority of their own group versus the inferiority of the other groups.  This leads to prejudices and discrimination of those inferior groups in order to protect the superior groups self-worth, value as a group, or overall feeling of safety and security.  Those of the in-group, or members of the majority, will discriminate against minorities in order to protect against their own personal fears and protect their own self-esteem.  This may explain why the United States convicts so many members of the Muslim faith even if they are not committing the harshest crimes.  The members of the superior group are still basing assumptions off of one attack that caused mass amounts of public fear and has thus caused discrimination and bias to ensue for those of the othered status.

– Hannah Hendricks


[1] Loadenthal, Michael, Zoe Belford, Izzy Bielamowicz, Jacob Bishop, Athena Chapekis, Morgan Demboski, Bridget Dickens, Lauren Donahoe, Alexandria Doty, Megan Drown, Jessica Enhelder, Angela Famera, Kayla Groneck, Nikki Gundimeda, Hannah Hendricks, Isabella Jackson, Taylor Maddox, Sarah Moore, Katie Reilly, Elizabeth Springer, Michael Thompson, Tia Turner, Brenda Uriona, Brendan Newman, Jenn Peters, Rachel Faraci, Maggie McCutcheon, and Megan Zimmerer, 2018. “The Prosecution Project (tPP) October 2018” Miami University Sociology Department. https://tpp.lib.miamioh.edu. Loadenthal 2018. “The Prosecution Project (Decision Tree)”

[2] Public Opinion Quarterly, Volume 70, Issue 4, 1 January 2006, Pages 608–624, https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfl029

[3] Hendricks. “The Prosecution Project (death penalty variable subset) October 2018” Miami University Sociology Department. https://tpp.lib.miamioh.edu.

[4] (Loadenthal et. al, 2018)

[5] Greenberg, Jeff. “Terror Management Theory.” Encyclopedia of Social Psychology, 2008. doi:10.4135/9781412956253.n580.

The Internet and Terrorism

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

The Internet is arguably the great technology ever to be invented. It allows us to research and communicate in new ways, with such ease. While a majority of us probably use the Internet for more mundane activities such as checking our email or googling diet plans, some people have realized the advantage of ease in spreading ideology and rationale for social and political causes. With the creation of new ways for communication and social media, there has been a recent rise in recruitment for activist and terrorist groups.

All websites have a domain, and that domain can be supported by a location anywhere in the world. There is no clear international law concerning the way the Internet must operate, meaning depending on the country promoting the domain, different rules will apply to it and jurisdiction over it varies. Terrorists from all different rationales have noticed the advantages the modern Internet provides them and are continually creating new websites and platforms to share ideas and recruit members. Websites belonging to terrorist organizations share similar themes in content including a history of the organization, details of their social and political background, notable accounts of events and people within, and often current news relevant to the group. However, these websites are often not as visible or accessible as others like Facebook or this website. The internet allows terrorist groups to do so much publicly and privately.

Public terrorist websites are ideal for spreading propaganda, and recruiting or at least enticing interest of potential new members. They operate similarly to sites belonging to designated hate groups, and some qualifying as both, the Southern Poverty Law Center maps, for ease of tracking. The propaganda piece of their websites helps them explain their ideology as well as create justification for their attacks, especially in instances where violence was apparent. The language used is careful and cautious, to help rid the readers’ possible negative perceptions. Through these public sites, some also offer places for fundraising through donations, for enthusiastic supporters who may be unable to help actively. These sites and uses of the Internet may be harder to scan, but this privacy allows individuals within the United States to make connections with FTO that were previously not accessible without this technology.

Before the modern terrorism of today, individuals affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) were almost never American born. However, in the 21st century, we have seen increases in domestic terrorist attacks perpetrated by American born citizens claiming FTO affiliation. Roser, Nagdy, and Ritchie (2018), economists researching global development through statistics credit the Islamic State (ISIS) to be one of the first large-scale terrorist organizations to harness the power of the Internet to recruit and commission individuals to enact attacks. Christopher Cornell appears in our dataset with positive FTO affiliation. He is a native of Cincinnati, OH who converted to Islam in his late teens. At this time, he began using the Internet to connect on social media platforms with believed members of ISIS and quickly started to show support for their cause. Cornell was advised by his online connections to purchase assault-style rifles and commit an attack against government official in Washington, D.C. This online correspondence is part his tie and claim to an FTO.

In cases with anti-government rationale, it became especially important that we thoroughly searched for transcripts, files, or State speech that linked these perpetrators to an FTO even if they had never been out of the country. The perpetrators also do not have to have formal claim of FTO. Such as in the case with Christopher Cornell, the brief correspondences and intent to support ISIS is considered enough to be coded as “Yes” with “Foreign Affiliation” within our dataset. As the years advance in our dataset, cases of similar nature continue to increase, giving support to the idea the Internet has become a major resource for recruitment for FTO in the United States.

– Tia Turner


Board, The Editorial. “The New Radicalization of the Internet.” The New York Times. November 24, 2018. Accessed December 04, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/24/opinion/sunday/facebook-twitter-terrorism-extremism.html?rref=collection/timestopic/Terrorism&action=click&contentCollection=timestopicsion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=6&pgtype=collection.

Maura Conway; Terrorism and the Internet: New Media—New Threat?, Parliamentary Affairs, Volume 59, Issue 2, 1 April 2006, Pages 283–298, https://doi.org/10.1093/pa/gsl009

Roser, Alex, Mohamed Nagdy, and Hannah Ritchie. (2018) – “Terrorism”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/terrorism’ [Online Resource]

Weimann, Gabriel. Www.terror.net: How Modern Terrorism Uses the Internet. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2004.

Where RICO Stands Now, and Where it has the Potential to Go

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

As the war on terror rages on, the scope of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) has increased in scope. Beginning in 2001, when the Patriot Act was instilled, RICO gained legal purview in the area of terrorism. RICO and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), became closely tied. This meant that RICO and the ATA were able to work in conjunction with each other in order to give the defendant the maximum charges applicable to his or her case.

According to the Patriot Act, “any act that is indictable under any provision listed in the criminal liability section of the ATA” was now applicable to RICO cases (Perquel 2015). This lengthened the, already exceedingly long, arm of the law in relation to cases of terrorism, specifically those involving an attempt or conspiracy to provide material support. Concern regarding the mere power of RICO has been expressed. In a decision filed in New York on January 18th, 2005, the court explicitly indicated such concerns (In Re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001…2005). In its decision, which came as a response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the court stated, “Courts should strive to flush out frivolous RICO allegations at an early stage of the litigation” (Perquel 2015).

This statement is invaluable in answering my remaining question. RICO has not yet occurred in the tPP data set at a level of statistical significance. A point which baffles me, given RICOs broad interpretation. However, this quote reveals that the innate power of RICO is something the courts themselves are wary of, so as not to create a law so all-encompassing, that legal precedent and reason are ignored. Courts have also displayed reluctance in looking at the personnel involved in RICO cases. Those viewed as ‘non-essential’ personnel are, more often than not, not viewed as perpetrators, in a legal sense. This includes banks, charities, and corporations, but excludes these entities from liability and prosecution. This has proven harmful, especially when considering corporations and charities.

The role of charities and corporations has grown in criminal enterprises, such as terrorist organizations. Terrorist groups have used corporations and charities as fronts to launder money, sell goods that profit the enterprise, and raise funds that ultimately benefit their organization. Terrorist organizations have been known to use what is “supposedly a charitable organization to further their goal of supporting a known and dangerous terrorist group” (Perquel 2015). This practice of using legitimate funding sources is one example of the blurred lines between the practices of traditional organized crime groups, and terrorist organizations.

The similarities between different criminal enterprises have been increasing, as practices are borrowed and refined. For example, just as people pay a tax in exchange for protection in contested gang territory, people living in fear of terror at the hands of different kinds of extremists, also often pay a tax to evade conflict. These taxes provide necessary funding to the organizations, abroad and domestically. The role of family relationships, often associated with traditional organized has also spread to the hierarchy, and involvement, in terrorist organizations. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the tactic of using legitimate enterprises or corporations as a front for funding criminal institutions has served useful for all kinds of organized crime. Particularly, the business of cigarettes. The production and trade of cigarettes to fund terrorist organizations has even spread to Latin America, where the contraband is produced (Perquel 2015).

Illegitimate companies are not the only ones willing to consort with criminals and terrorists in their effort to conduct illegal business. Multinational corporations have also gotten in to the business of affiliating with terrorists and other groups in order to benefit themselves. Multinational corporations have displayed a “willingness… to engage with terrorists to increase market share and profits.

“Al-Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money; rather its goal is to remake the world.” -President George W. Bush, days after the 9/11 attacks.

– Emily Lightman

Works Cited

In Re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, 349 F. Supp. 2d 765 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). 2005 Court Listener. District Court, S.D. New York.

Perquel, Anne-Laure. 2015. “The Use of RICO in the War against Terror.” April 2015, 1–25. http://www.academia.edu/12545128/The_use_of_RICO_in_the_war_against_terror.

Case Studies in FTO Affiliation

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

Recently, my research partner Tia Turner and I completed our preliminary analysis of the correlation between attack lethality, measured in the number of fatalities per any given attack, and the perpetrator’s affiliation to a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The variables that account for attack lethality and FTO affiliation in tPP are “Number Killed” and “Affiliation with FTO” respectively. For each perpetrator entered into the tPP dataset, these variables are essential to our understanding of how the United States justice system decides to prosecute individuals. Then, how exactly do we decide whether or not an individual is affiliated with an FTO? Though it might seem that this answer would be obvious through an examination of the legal documents surrounding any criminal proceeding, the answer is not always so overt. The following blog post provides several brief case studies on instances in which the variable “Affiliation with FTO” interacts uniquely with a perpetrator and his/her actions.

The goal of the “Affiliation with FTO” variable is to prescribe a “Yes” or “No” value to whether the perpetrator(s) of an attack belong to an FTO or otherwise have some sort of link to an FTO. It is easy to classify someone as belonging to an FTO if s/he clearly declares s/he belongs to that organization or has traceable links to the FTO through activity abroad. For example, Ramzi Yousef who is often credited as being the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, was an affiliate of al-Qaeda. He had travelled to Afghanistan to receive training in bomb-making through the nascent organization at the time. After the attack, Yousef escaped arrest and was at large for two years plotting various attacks mainly with the Abu Sayyef organization, rather than al-Qaeda, until he was arrested in 1993.[1] Yousef’s affiliation with an FTO is clear because of his traceable links to multiple FTOs and his terrorist activity abroad. Although Yousef was affiliated with more than one FTO, he is coded as being affiliated specifically with al-Qaeda due to his affiliations and the time of the attack.

However, in many cases the association with an FTO may not be so clear. For example, there are many perpetrators in our dataset who may claim association with an FTO, but have maintained absolutely no contact with formal members of said FTO. Safya Roe Yassin is one such case. In early 2018, Yassin pleaded guilty to “two counts of transmitting threatening communications across state lines”. [2] She maintained the fact that she held multiple Twitter accounts in which she would frequently tweet in support of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS). Though she never communicated with an actual member of ISIS, she corresponded with an FBI informant whom she believed to be an ISIS operative working overseas. She retweeted several tweets containing personally-identifying information on various members of the government while simultaneously threatening violence. Eventually she was arrested and indicted on the aforementioned charges due to her threatening tweets. Because she never maintained communications with a formal ISIS member, she is valued as “No” under “Affiliation with FTO”.

In my previous blog post, I identified many individuals who appear in our dataset due to something that is called a state speech act. These individuals are included because some governmental and/or law enforcement entity deems the act carried out as terroristic; otherwise, arrests an individual on charges of terrorism for which they are later acquitted. Many of those who were arrested in the post-9/11 dragnet were arrested on terrorism charges and appear in our dataset purely due to state speech act. Most of the individuals arrested during the post-9/11 dragnet were also of foreign origin in that either their parents were born abroad and they were American citizens, or they were a US resident or naturalized citizen who had been born abroad. In these cases, unless the perpetrator was actually found to have been associated with an FTO, they are valued as “No” under the “Affiliation with an FTO” variable.

Many foreign-born individuals appear in our dataset who have no “Affiliation with an FTO”. For example six members of the Animal and Earth Liberations Fronts (ALF and ELF), Stanislas Meyerhoff, Joseph Dibee, Jennifer Kolar, Darren Thurston, Rebecca Rubin, and Kevin Tubbs, set off four incendiary devices at the BLM Wild Horse Corrals in Litchfield, California. The devices destroyed the barn, causing $207,497 in damages. There were no casualties in the incident. Following the attack, the perpetrators sent out a communique, claiming responsibility for the arson in the name of ELF, but also posted the letter on the ALF website. In their statement, the group criticized BLM’ slaughter of wild horses, and threatened future targeting of “industries and organizations that seek to profit by destroying the earth.” The perpetrators were part of a group calling themselves “The Family,” which committed nearly 20 arson and ecotage attacks over a six year period. Two members of “The Family” are Canadian citizens, but are not valued as having affiliation with an FTO because they acted in the name of ELF, a domestic extremist organization.

On the other hand, there are several US-born individuals who appear in our dataset and are affiliated with an FTO. In 2005, Carlos Gamarra-Murillo, an American citizen, was arrested and charged “for engaging in the business of brokering and exporting defense articles without a license and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization”[3] in an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sting. An informant posing as an arms supplier made a deal with Murillo to exchange five dozen M-60 machine guns, five dozen grenade launchers, 600 M-16 A1 assault rifles, and other assorted weapons for 4,400 pounds of cocaine.[4] When Murillo met with two undercover agents in Tampa, Florida to finalize the $4 million deal, he was arrested. He appears in our dataset due to his charge for providing material support to an FTO, and because of this he is valued as “Yes” under  the “Affiliation with FTO” variable.

While these are just a handful of the unique cases we would expect to encounter when it comes to deciding on a value for “Affiliation with FTO”, there are many more nuanced cases which coders might find difficult to classify. Generally, to be coded as belonging to an FTO, the perpetrator must have been in contact with, carried out an act in furtherance of, or formally belonged to an FTO appearing either on the State Department’s lists of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations and Delisted Foreign Terrorist Organizations, or otherwise have been identified as an FTO which does not appear on this list by members of the tPP.

– Meg


[1] Lambert, Laura. “Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.” Encyclopædia Britannica. April 20, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ramzi-Ahmed-Yousef.

[2] “Buffalo Woman Pleads Guilty to Twitter Threats on Behalf of ISIS.” The United States Department of Justice. February 28, 2018. https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdmo/pr/buffalo-woman-pleads-guilty-twitter-threats-behalf-isis.

[3] U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Department of Homeland Security. “MAN SENTENCED TO 25 YEARS IN PRISON FOR SCHEME TO ARM COLOMBIAN TERROR GROUP WITH 4,000 GRENADES AND 2,000 FIREARMS.” News release, August 9, 2005. Official Website of the Department of Homeland Security. https://fas.org/asmp/campaigns/smallarms/Illicit/ICE9aug05.pdf.

[4] Theintercept. Trial and Terror. April 17, 2017. https://trial-and-terror.theintercept.com/people/255e37a6-580c-45bf-85ee-63cca7704d28.