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Psychological traits of terrorists and spies

November 21, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
What makes an American citizen or someone living in the country turn to terrorism or espionage? One expert weighs in.

Neighbors of recent arrested American terrorism suspects in the Inland Empire never saw it coming. The suspects were legal U.S. residents. Two are American citizens. According to a federal complaint they were ready to abandon what seemed to be comfortable life in suburbia to resort to radical acts. But why?

"It's only through a very intimate knowledge of the person who's in front of you, when you're talking to him and you're investigating him, that you can find out really what motivates him," said Amotz Brandes, managing partner, Chameleon Security.

Brandes is the former chief of security for the Israeli airline El Al. He specializes in predictive profiling. An inclination to terrorism, he says, can be uncovered through skilled questioning.

"When you interview someone you can 'push buttons,' we call it," said Brandes.

He says a red flag may be uncovered by asking a person if he would take a job even if it would mean a pay cut.

For a military applicant? "'I want to go and I want to work in this agency because I want to kill people,' or because 'I want to kill those who want to kill me,'" said Brandes. "The idea is that they go immediately to the extreme."

Brandes says homegrown terrorists can be well-educated. Take the case of Patrick Arguello.

"He went to UCLA, he was a medical doctor, he graduated, he was a Fullbright scholar," said Brandes. In Europe Arguello joined a Palestinian terror group. He was shot hijacking a plane in 1970.

Ana Montes, born in Topeka, Kansas, was a U.S. intelligence specialist. Now she's in prison for espionage.

Terror leaders, Brandes says, are typically driven by ideology or religion. The people they recruit, though, often have a different trait involving their self-image.

"That it was ego that drove those people to do something against their organization or against their country," said Brandes.


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