Probability versus Predictability?

The greatest threat to our Nation and its Citizens is the perpetrator of murder/suicide, whether a “Lone Wolf” terrorist or simply the individual who shoots his estranged wife at a local supermarket then walks out to the parking lot and kills himself; a phenomenon that we are seeing on the rise in every community.  In the Washington Post, “Today authorities arrested a 29-year-old Moroccan man in an alleged plot to carry out a suicide bombing at the U.S. Capitol, the latest in a series of terrorism-related arrests resulting from undercover sting operations.” What is the better test of who will be our next perpetrator of murder/suicide: Probability versus Predictability?


“Profiling” represents the use of “probabilities.”  Profiling tells us that within a certain group of people, there is a higher probability of a perpetrator of murder/suicide.  It does not tell us who the next perpetrator is!  What is the essential method needed to reliably identifying who the next perpetrator of murder/suicide is: Probability or Predictability?


As stated, the highest form of aggressor is the “murder/suicide,” or as we, at the Center for Aggression Management, would describe this aggressor as a 9th Phase Cognitive Aggressor; someone whose goal it is to give up their life for a cause. Subsequent to this level of aggression is the 8th Phase Cognitive Aggressor, the “murder” or in a military sense, “a combatant;” who is prepared to give up their life for a cause but intends to survive.  Preceded by the 7th Phase Cognitive Aggression, the “Complicit Tactician,” who is complicit with the 9th and 8th Phase Cognitive Aggressor.  Like the 9th and 8th Phase Cognitive Aggressors, the Complicit Tactician wants people to die but will not kill them nor die for their cause; they will inspire others to do so (like the late-Osama bin Laden) or a terrorist handler or, in a domestic sense, an accomplice.


We can learn a great deal from a very thorough study conducted by the U.S. Secret Service & U.S. Department of Education, called the “Safe School Initiative.”  It declared that, “There is no accurate or useful profile of the school shooter, nor for assessing the risk that a particular student may pose for school-based targeted violence.” In other words, someone’s proclivities or probabilities to act aggressively are not reliable predictors as to who the next perpetrator of murder/suicide will be. But the study goes on to say, “An inquiry should focus instead on the student’s behaviors and communication to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack.”  “The ultimate question to answer …. is whether a student is on a path to an violent attack, and if so, to determine how fast they are moving and where intervention may be possible.”  If we are to be predictive as to who will be the next murderer or perpetrator of murder/suicide, we must focus, not only on one’s probability to commit these heinous crimes but we must focus on the “emerging aggression” of someone planning or preparing for an attack.


To illustrate this point we can use the recent shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords; Jared Lee Loughner clearly had a Thought Disorder and maybe even Schizophrenia but the vast majority of individuals with Schizophrenia are not violent and do not shoot people. Knowing that Mr. Loughner had Schizophrenia adds to his probability to become an attacker but is not a reliable means of predicting whether he will become the next shooter. This was illustrated in another very thorough study, “Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy, June 13, 2007,” that declared, “Most people who are violent do not have a mental illness, and most people who have mental illness are not violent.”  In fact they determined that people with mental illness tend to become the victims of these behaviors not the perpetrators of them.  To further illustrate this Seung-Hui Cho, the infamous shooter at Virginia Tech, who killed 32 people and wounded 25 more, was evaluated on three different occasions prior to his rampage and in each case was deemed to be, “Depressed and anxious but not at risk of hurting himself or others!”  Although it has often been thought that mental illness is a predictor of who the next shooter might be, it serves only as another method of setting probabilities but not a reliable predictor of who the next shooter or suicide bomber will be.


Although “probability versus predictability” are not mutually exclusive, too often, we are using only probabilities, which fail the most important key component: Who will be our next perpetrator of murder/suicide!

6 Comments

  1. John, I respectfully submit that the current Washington DC case is a poor example for your method (or any other) of aggression management. It sounds very much like most other domestic terrorism cases since 9/11 in which the alleged conspiracy was encouraged and supported by a confidential informant working under the direct control of the FBI or other agency to make certain the case contains all the elements necessary for a federal prosecution. What does your system of threat management (or anyone else’s) have to say about persons who encourage others to commit unlawful violent activity for the purpose of criminal prosecution?

  2. John D. Byrnes

    I always appreciate and respect your opinion, Mike, but I would suggest that you are missing my point here.  Although it is true that in this case our arrested 29-year-old Moroccan man did happen to go to and through an FBI informant to affect his vengeance on American citizens, are you prepared to absolutely guarantee that all future Islamic Radical Converts (Lone Wolves) will only approach FBI informants? I, and many other experts, are not prepared to make that commitment.  Further, I used this example only to show that there is a steady rise of these incidents that put us at increasing risk.  

    The focus of this article is not one Lone Wolf’s actions but to illustrate the problem that we have in protecting our Nation’s citizens and treasure when we merely use “profiling” and “probabilities” and miss the critical need to measure “predictability.”

  3. Rather than missing your point, I regret I did not make my point strongly enough.

    What does your program do to detect (if not mitigate) the contribution of “Complicit Tacticians” (whether genuine or embedded by the FBI) as a potential terrorist moves through his stages of aggression?

    As for your challenge “Are you prepared to absolutely guarantee that all future Islamic Radical Converts (Lone Wolves) will only approach FBI informants?” I submit that a potential terrorist who is promised cash, collaborators, guns, bombs, and missiles by FBI confidential informants is, by definition, anything but a “lone wolf.” What’s more, while the DOJ and the FBI are careful to craft cases which are resistant to the defense of entrapment, I question the wisdom and ethics of having a CI contribute to the alleged perpetrator’s ideation, encouragement to deadly action, and refinement of the plan, deliberately serving as a “Complicit Tactician,” if I understand your parlance correctly. Law enforcement plays a dangerous and potentially deadly game when it participates in terrorist conspiracies in order to prosecute them.

    To that end I’ll issue a counter-challenge. Are federal law enforcement officials prepared to absolutely guarantee that a conspirator encouraged and equipped by a confidential informant will never shake his handler and engage in a murderous act which might never have seen the light of day but for the contributions made by investigators?

    Finally, on closer inspection, I take issue with your opening statement:

    “The greatest threat to our Nation and its Citizens is the perpetrator of murder/suicide, whether a ‘Lone Wolf’ terrorist or simply the individual who shoots his estranged wife at a local supermarket then walks out to the parking lot and kills himself; a phenomenon that we are seeing on the rise in every community.”

    By what measure is lone wolf terrorism or intimate partner workplace violence an existential threat to the republic or its citizens? And by what measure do you claim that acts of either type are on the rise in every community?

  4. John D. Byrnes

    I always appreciate and respect your opinion, Michael, but I would suggest that once again you are missing my point.  You seem to take a sentence out of context and make an entire case from it.  You ask the question, “By what measure is lone wolf terrorism or intimate partner workplace violence an existential threat to the republic or its citizens?”  I have not stated, nor suggested, that lone wolves are an existential threat to our republic. I have stated that among human aggressors, the perpetrator of murder/suicide is the most lethal. As to whether murder/suicides are on the rise, we may need to turn to Johnny Lee who is much better at keeping this numbers; but I can share that I am increasingly hearing about these cases as I go across this Nation.  

     

    Further, I have enormous respect for our FBI and their capabilities but I stand by my challenge, “Are you prepared to absolutely guarantee that all future Islamic Radical Converts (Lone Wolves) will only approach FBI informants?”

  5. You are emphasizing that only probability is given importance and that predictability is neglected. However, in this case, predictability does not seem to be an useful tool on its own because profiling had overshadowed its results over guessing. To be precise, predicting who is going to be the next murder/suicide may lead to inaccurate statistics. Moreover, I would like to know the reason on why have you chosen Probability and Predictability as the sampling methods on experimenting this problem?

  6. John D. Byrnes

    Excellent question and comment, Michael.  I am not suggesting that profiling has no merit; I am proposing that profiling alone will not, and has not, produced the results that we as citizen and the government should expected.   As an example, at Ben Gurion Airport, they bridged the gap of safety by profiling and “interrogation.”  Boston Logan Airport tried implementing the Ben Gurion model and realized quickly that “interrogation” would not work in the US.  So, they and other airports (TSA) are using “Deception Detection” as a means to bridge this gap.  Deception Detection does help identify Primal (adrenaline-driven) Aggression like smugglers but fail to identify Cognitive (intent-driven) Aggressors like Terrorists. This was illustrated by the GAO report that showed over a thousand smugglers had been identified but not one terrorist, even though we know that at least 17 known terrorist traversed our airports during the studied period.  

     

    Now to Predictability; when we use the Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua, which illustrates the “emergence of aggression” as the reference study suggests, predictability is enhanced significantly.  Humans can always change their mind and decide not to attack; however, the higher they rise on our Aggression Continuum the more difficult it is for them to make the decision to change their mind.  As to all the methods available, our CAPS approach offers the greatest opportunity to identify someone on “the path to violence.”

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