Understanding Violence: How Behavioral Science Can Transform Our View of Crime, Insurgency, and Terrorism

JOIN Homeland Security Today for a discussion of violence — through the lens of what motivates it among terrorists, drug cartels, gangs, and even the coronavirus as people in the pursuit of a business or other goal.

Where does violence come from, and how can we best identify, anticipate and control risks for violent crime? In his new book, The Economics of Violence: How Behavioral Science Can Transform Our View of Crime, Insurgency, and Terrorism, Gary M. Shiffman, Ph.D. proposes that criminals are market actors and violent crime is a survival decision under conditions of market scarcity. Viewed through the lense of behavioral science, violent crime becomes as predictable as any other market behavior. Terrorist organizations, drug traffickers and organized criminal gangs aren’t groups of identical-thinking individuals motivated by supernatural ideologies or ethnic allegiances, but rather firms led by entrepreneurs making decisions in tough markets. Now more than ever, as the coronavirus outbreak disrupts markets, threatens lives and restricts conventional market access for vulnerable populations, Dr. Shiffman’s book provides the clear thinking to empower law enforcement and national security professionals to anticipate violent crime in a changing social landscape. Where scarcity and survival meet, violence will surge; it’s up to law enforcement to get ahead of the curve.

Dr. Gary Shiffman, author of Understanding Violenc: How Behavioral Science Can Transform our View of Crime, Insurgency, and Terrorism will discuss how behavioral science, when applied to countering illicit acts like terrorism, insurgency, money laundering, human trafficking, and drug trafficking can find patterns and deeper understanding of the vilence perpetrated by these groups.

Moderator: Kristina Tanasichuk, Executive Editor, HSToday




Gary M. Shiffman explores relationships between behavioral science and national security. He focuses on understanding institutions and individuals engaged in the non-random production of violence. As an economist, he works to understand patterns of illicit human behavior, and mathematical models of such behaviors, to advance knowledge for the promotion of public safety and security. Professor Shiffman teaches at Georgetown University in the School of Foreign Service. In 2012, he created a software company, Giant Oak (www.giantoak.com), to make available the craft of behavioral science applied to violence to large numbers of users countering illicit acts such as money laundering, human trafficking, drug trafficking, insurgency, and terrorism. Previously, Dr. Shiffman was a Managing Director of the Chertoff Group, providing strategic market and M&A advisory services to corporate clients. He was Senior VP and General Manager at L-3, a Fortune 200 company and leading technology systems integrator. In government, Dr. Shiffman served as Chief of Staff for Customs and Border Protection, the largest law enforcement agency in the US. He has advised the leaders of the US Senate as National Security Advisor. He began his career as US Navy Surface Warfare Officer, serving operational tours based out of Yokosuka, Japan and including deployments in support of the “Gulf War” in 1990-1991, and assignments in the Offices of the Secretary of Defense and Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon. Dr. Shiffman’s publications include The Economics of Violence, published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press, and Economic Instruments of Security Policy, 2nd ed., 2010 by Palgrave. He received his PhD in Economics from George Mason University, his MA in Security Studies from Georgetown University, and his BA in Psychology from the University of Colorado.

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