Applying theory to intelligence practice

counter terrorism and the psychology of small group development

Karl Roberts, Victoria Herrington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Recent events such as the London bombings of 2005 have served to redefine the terrorist threat for the West. For the first time the threat of suicide bombings comes not just from organised international terrorist groups, but from small home grown terrorist cells. One of the problems facing the intelligence analyst working in counter terrorism (CT) is the sheer number of small extremist groups that may be involved in plotting a terrorist attack, meaning that questions such as how groups can be differentiated from each other, and which groups pose the greatest threat are a central concern. This paper argues that in answering these questions, intelligence analysts may be well served by making greater use of relevant theory from the behavioural sciences. In particular we argue that small group development theory is useful as an aid for structuring information and making decisions. The theory describes the behaviour of individuals in groups at various stages of the group development, and the relationship of various developmental stages to each other. In this paper we discuss how the analyst can use this theory to identify additional information needs, the current stage of group development, and to make predictions of the group’s likely future behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-55
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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