Internship field report, Maha Arshad (MPP '17) @ START, College Park, Maryland

July 27, 2016

Maha Arshad (MPP '17) submits this internship field report from her summer 2016 service with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) in College Park, Maryland.

Being in the DC area with driven professionals and a high concentration of Fordies (who are always up for brunch) makes up for the muggy weather and scorching sun.

I’m living in College Park for the summer where my primary internship office is located. I walk through the beautiful University of Maryland campus to get to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism or simply START. START is a Center of Excellence established by the Department of Homeland Security that has made significant contributions to terrorism-related research, particularly through the Global Terrorism Database, recently incorporated in developing the Global Terrorism Index. My summer internship at START is in the Unconventional Weapons and Technology department contributing to the Terrorist Ideologies Project.

This project is in its pilot phase, envisioned as a tool that can predict behavior of terrorist organizations through a sound understanding of their ideology.

I’ve been working on qualitative analysis and collection of artifacts that relate to terrorist groups domestically and internationally. These artifacts can includes videos, communiques, books, press statements, etc., that delineate ideological philosophies of terrorist organizations. At this stage the analysis is limited to five groups but eventually the project will be scaled to include a wider variety of terrorist organizations.

Being at this center and part of a pilot has allowed me to get into the grassroots of qualitative research and design the coding aspect. I’ve been able to go over the process of selecting and defining variables within a codebook, revising and clarifying them to standardize coding, and then analyzing an enormous collection of artifacts to dissect into variables that can be studied.

The internship has been extremely valuable in learning about domestic and foreign terrorism. I’m interested in a wide number of themes that encompass security issues, terrorism, and radicalization in the South Asia and Middle East region. By working on qualitative assessment of these terrorist groups, I get a deeper understanding of where the research gaps lie and what I can do after my MPP to address that gap.

At START the interns have an opportunity to learn critical languages and participate in weekly Arabic sessions. Some of these sessions are run by interns and the selection of content has often been amusing – one of which included news on Pokémon Go!

I've attended several enrichment sessions that directly relate to my work and what I will be doing in the future including Geographical Information Systems training in modelling risky terrain. Since START is the creator of the Global Terrorism Database, I've been able to work with some of the data in it and use it analytically.

Among other networking opportunities, we've had Monte B. Hawkins from the National Security Council and Dr. Peter Weinberger join us for talks on trauma-approaches to counter violent extremism [childhood trauma can be a precursor to violent extremism].

I’m a few weeks away from the end of my internship and focusing now on a personalized project with the support of my supervisor. I’m going to be theorizing the formation and current influence of the Haqqani network transitioning from a terrorist organization to a political movement.

I’m also going to get a few hikes and brunches in while the summer lasts.

Maha Arshad graduated from the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, Pakistan with a bachelor's degree in business administration. She is interested in international development, economics, and program evaluation. Arshad's internship with START is made possible through generous support from the Ford School's Annenberg Fund for International Policy Education.