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FBI, IUP partner to create anti-terror degree program

| Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Don't look for the new graduate degree at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in any school catalog.

Clearance from the FBI is a prerequisite.

With help from government threat analysts and federal law enforcement, IUP criminologist Dennis Giever created the Master of Science in Strategic Studies in Weapons of Mass Destruction. The 30-credit, multi-year course focuses on worst-case scenarios: radiological "dirty" bombs, power grid disruptions, crippling biological attacks on food and water supplies.

"It's not going to be open enrollment (or) traditional students," Giever said. "You worry about whether you might be teaching the wrong person this stuff."

At first, the FBI will select students from within its ranks, though Giever wants to open it to other law enforcement agencies. Rather than traditional tuition, agencies will contract with the school, paying about $300,000 a year for groups of 15 to 20 full-time students, according to documents submitted to the board of governors of the State System of Higher Education.

"The program has been kind of a dream a number of folks at Sandia (National Laboratories) and I have had for a number of years," Giever said. The Sandia labs have conducted national security-related research in the New Mexico desert for 60 years.

The FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate approached the school about creating a graduate-level program in 2008.

"We went to several different universities," but none had a program focusing on protecting national assets from WMD attacks, said Doug Perdue, chief of the FBI's Countermeasures and Preparedness section of the WMD directorate in Washington.

With the school, they developed a specialized criminology program from which 34 agents have graduated. That coursework coalesced into a program on June 29, when the State System of Higher Education approved the degree.

Terrorism studies programs aren't new, though Giever said none is this comprehensive. Other schools created courses in reaction to 9/11 in much the same way Russian studies programs came into being after the onset of the Cold War, said Randy Law, a history professor at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama and author of "Terrorism: A History."

"It's very wrapped up with the creation of new federal bureaucracies and Congress feeling the need to do something in the wake of 9/11 -- to act quickly, loudly and with a lot of money, even if we don't really know what the problem is," Law said.

Other programs, such as the terrorism studies certificate at Monterey Institute of International Studies, have been criticized as wasting time on low-probability events such as WMD attacks.

"It seemed ridiculous to some people. But even if the risk is really low, it's still good to have some people looking at it in an academic sense," said Charles Blair, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Terrorism Analysis Project.

"I've always been interested in crime prevention. If you're at the point where you're trying to solve (a crime), you've ultimately lost," Giever said.

Giever cited building construction. Rather than concentrating only on bomb-proofing a building, architects can build it far enough away from the road that someone can't park a truck full of explosives close enough to do real damage. Such a move deters people from picking the building as a target in the first place.

"It's called stand-off distance. Nobody thought about that until some idiot decided to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma," Giever said.

The FBI's WMD program began about the same time as the Oklahoma City bombing. It grew after 9/11 and the 2001 anthrax attacks, and became a directorate in 2006. More than 200 agents work in the directorate now, including a detachment from the bureau's intelligence division.

"Everything we do is about prevention," Perdue said. The directorate's responsibilities range from easy-to-conduct chemical attacks that might kill a dozen people to low-probability catastrophes such as nuclear attacks, he said.

The goal of the degree program, Giever said, is obscurity. The best plan results in nothing happening.

"There's no glory in it," Giever said. That means funding can be hard to obtain. "If 9/11 had never happened, there wouldn't be all this money in it, but we'd be a lot richer than we are right now."

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