The outbreak of violence by individuals who seek to harm other persons or institutions cannot be reliably predicted today, the Defense Science Board said in a new report to the Secretary of Defense. Instead, efforts to counter violence should focus on prevention and mitigation of the threat.
The new DSB study on “Predicting Violent Behavior” was initiated in response to the 2009 Fort Hood shooting in which thirteen people were killed and dozens wounded allegedly by Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who had not previously been identified as a threat.
“The state of the art in physiological and neurological sciences today does not provide useful capability for predicting targeted violence,” the DSB report said.
“While there are promising indicators that might predict aberrant behavior, severe personality disorders, addiction, and other anti-social behaviors, the current state of the science is such that the false positives and false negatives are very high. In addition, developing a practical means to observe any useful indicators may present a significant challenge.”
In the wake of the Fort Hood shootings, the Defense Department attempted to develop lists of problematic behaviors that might signal a propensity to violence. One such list was the behaviors included in the adjudicative guidelines for granting (or denying) security clearances.
But the use of that list was not justified, the DSB said. “The Task Force found little to no relationship between the adjudicative guidelines and targeted violence.”
Moreover, “the Task Force also found that indicator lists are most effective in the hands of trained professionals and are not an effective substitute for a more nuanced, comprehensive set of factors developed by threat-management practitioners. If not handled properly and by trained personnel, lists can lead to high false-positives with accompanying stigma, lack of trust, and reluctance to report. Lists also tend to be static and unless continually revisited the list of indicators becomes less likely to identify adaptive perpetrators who will purposefully avoid elements of listed behavior to avoid interdiction.”
Overall, the DSB Panel advised, “prevention as opposed to prediction should be the Department’s goal. Good options exist in the near-term for mitigating violence by intervening in the progression from violent ideation to violent behavior.”