Risk Insights
September 29, 2021

Behavior Analysis of Bombers

This blog post is about understanding the motivations and individual behaviors of both the criminals and terrorists who conduct bombings and/or arson incidents. This topic should be of concern not only for corporate security departments but the general population.

I recently hosted Dr. Kevin Kelm, the president of Arson and Bombing Behavioral Analysis, a criminal forensics company, on my podcast series, RANE Insights on Security with Brian Lynch. (You can find all of our episodes wherever you get your podcasts or here)

Dr. Kelm and I started with differences that he has identified between criminals and terrorists.

Their violence is motivated by either affective or instrumental goals. 

Terrorists are instrumental actors. They are what we might consider rational actors, even though their actions are criminal by nature. And there's some reason behind those actions. 

Criminals: are affective actors. Criminals who carry out arson or bombing attacks tend to have higher IQs and an inflated sense of their own abilities. They are extreme risk-takers. These kinds of criminals think they are smart enough to skip the training or read the manuals when they make explosives. 

Kelm told me that he once interviewed a bomber and asked him how he got the knowledge to make the bomb. “And he kind of looked at me very disgustedly and said, ‘well, pipe, bomb, duh’.”

Terrorists tend to be more procedural. They use manuals and directions to build explosives. The bomb maker and the person deploying or implementing the device are two (or more) different people. The leaders and the bomb makers are removed from the actual bombing. In other words, they let somebody else take the risks. Even in cases of suicide bombers, they talk them into doing it and give them instructions on how to use the bomb. 


Criminals who use the bomb as a tool or weapon can be broken down into groups (i.e. criminal gangs, organized crime, extortionists) and individual actors. 

Kelm used as a group example the Outlaws motorcycle gang who were active in the upper midwest back in the 1990s. They used a 100-pound car bomb to destroy the clubhouse of the Hell's Angels in Chicago. Alternatively, Kelm said, criminals might use bombs as diversion devices to draw law enforcement and fire to other locations, while they proceed to rob a bank. 

Individual offenders are actively motivated

“Frequently,” Kelm says, “you'll see schizophrenia, which is a mental disorder that's characterized by delusions and hallucinations. The delusions are a skewed worldview. And oftentimes when paranoia is added to that, it triggers a defense attack mechanism that, with that worldview, makes them feel that people or situations or things are attacking them. And so they have to engage in defense. And in this case, it's using bombs. It's a complicated, convoluted thought process.

Some of these individuals may have voices telling them to do things. Or they are what Kelm calls “grievance collectors”. They feel victimized by things that happen to them. They feel like they're not being heard and they want society or specific targets to give them what they want. 

This is characteristic of individual bombers, such as George Metesky, the so-called Mad Bomber of New York during the 1940s and 1950s. Or Ted Kaczynski, the Unibomber. In Metesky's case, the grievance was against Con Edison Utility, but he eventually went on a campaign against the whole city of New York. Kaczynski bombed targets that he felt were related to technology and the aviation industry in society, about which he wrote a manifesto. Kaczinski also wrote a manifesto about the ills of modern society.

Kelm says that individual bombers use bombs to get people to pay attention and listen to them. They want to be heard. 


A reminder here that it is important to distinguish between threat assessment and risk assessment. Threat assessment involves a company's threat assessment team and managers evaluating an emerging threat. This situation requires immediate intervention. 

Risk assessment involves evaluating someone. Kelm says, “It's more of a judicial or mental health approach and the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. And from the corporate perspective, risk assessment is looking at vulnerabilities to make sure that your company is not vulnerable to either external or internal risks.”

In this instance, employees and managers need to be aware of the things that occur with the individuals who have the potential for pathways to violence. Things such as fixations, a preoccupation with a person, or a cause that is accompanied by deterioration in social and occupational functioning. Every company should have a threat assessment team and be aware that there is a great deal of information available to describe the actors who may become violent. 

Kelm recommends both  The International Handbook of Threat Assessment and The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker as good resources. 

As I have discussed in previous posts, it is important that coworkers report behaviors that could precede violence and that management document them. Pay attention to behavior that just isn't right. These individuals do not work well with others or resist corporate culture. They stand out. 

Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, is a good example. He was brilliant. He had a Ph.D. in mathematics. He was offered a teaching position but didn't get along well with the people in the department. He eventually joined the workforce in the private sector, and then fixated on female coworkers. When they rejected him, Kelm says, “he began writing dirty limericks about them and posting on bulletin boards in the company. And when he was warned to stop, he just continued. In fact, the behavior escalated until his own brother had to fire him.” 

It's incumbent upon managers to have a risk assessment plan and to ensure that their employees are educated and understand how to identify warning behaviors and train them to report. 

Companies, particularly larger companies, should have a threat assessment team in place, and perhaps have the resources of a psychologist or psychiatrist on call. And when threats are brought to the attention of management, management can't gloss over or minimize reports. And when these situations get to that point, it needs to escalate to the threat assessment team for review, analysis, and resolution.

The threat assessment team will start making evaluations based upon pathway behaviors. Ultimately, if an intervention should take place, HR will be involved.  HR should listen to this person’s issues, no matter how the issues or demands appear unreasonable or illogical, or nonexistent. Remember, if the behavior or demands persist, HR would likely need to assess and determine the best course of action, both for the individual employee and the firm.  And it may involve termination.  If termination is the choice, all benefit programs should be considered, including those offered within the employee assistance program, mental health assets, severance, etc., to ensure the employee has as smooth a landing as possible.  Given the particular circumstances, on a case-by-case basis, notification to law enforcement may be warranted.  And at a minimum, the firm’s legal counsel should be involved. 

RANE offers actionable intelligence to build better situational awareness, tools to efficiently screen and analyze emerging risks or issues, and support to help respond, manage, and mitigate risk. Contact me to find out how RANE can help you with improved situational awareness of emerging risks and threats so you can proactively manage and mitigate potential issues. info@ranenetwork.com