15 January 2011

Study of Assassination to be Featured on "60 Minutes"

The excellent work of my friends and colleagues Dr. Robert Fein and (ret.) Special Agent Bryan Vossekuil was recently featured on a "60 Minutes" segment airing on CBS.

In the 1990s, Fein and Vossekuil collaboratively led the The Exceptional Case Study Project (ECSP), an operational analysis of the thinking and behavior of 83 individuals in the U.S. who attacked or came close to attacking a prominent public figure between 1949 to 1995.

The ECSP approach has subsequently served as a research model for studying relatively rare, but highly troubling targeted attacks. The findings from their study also prompted some very fundamental and important changes in Secret Service policies for conducting protective intelligence investigations. Fein and Vossekuil have adapted the principles for use by state and local law enforcement as well.

Below, from the CBS website, is a summary of the "60 Minutes"story: "Descent Into Madness."

(CBS) Some of Jared Loughner's oldest friends describe the accused Tucson shooter as a normal teenager until the age of 19, when they began to see a change in his behavior they believed was mental illness. He became harder to relate to and then Loughner ended their friendship by accusing them of not caring about him.

"I think that anyone who did not connect to his lines of thinking he had disdain for," says Tyler Conway in his first interview, one of the friends, who along with Bryce Tierney, describe their impression of Loughner's mental state to Scott Pelley for a "60 Minutes" story to be broadcast this Sunday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. CT/MT/PT.

"We were feeling uncomfortable around him. His behavior was getting to a point where he was sort of hard to talk to him," says Tierney. Tierney and Conway spent several days a week with Loughner from high school until he began to attend community college, watching him slowly change from a normal teen into a person whose writing and speech became increasingly irrational.

Then Loughner just cut them off last March. "[He felt] that we didn't care about him as a person anymore. It's almost like the whole world was his antagonist, like he was the single protagonist and everything else was against him," recalls Conway.

Another of Loughner's old friends, Zane Gutierrez, was also told that the friendship was over. He too recalls the change in his mental state and saw a complete transformation of his friend last July. "I saw him in the parking lot he was no longer wearing his Eddie Bauer shirt and khaki pants and nice shoes - he was wearing camo pants, a white tee shirt and had a shaved head," he tells Pelley.

Such a change noticed by several people is a part of the classic portrait of an assassin, says Robert Fein, a psychologist. Along with former Secret Service Special agent Bryan Vossekuil, also interviewed by Pelley, he was author of a groundbreaking study of assassins done for the Secret Service.

The two men studied 83 assassins and stalkers, and met 20 of them. "They may not have known that someone was planning to attack a given target, but they knew something was wrong. There's a problem here. There's a change in behavior over weeks, months, sometimes over several years, he says. "But rarely did they know what to do or who to tell."

Their conclusions helped change the way the Secret Service assessed threats from potential assassins and similar training has been adopted by high schools and colleges.