Module 5.2 – Historical Analysis

Historical analysis consists of collecting information on past security trends and events over the longer term. It stands to reason that if something has happened before, it may happen again.

If it has happened often, it will probably continue to happen often. The two basic ways of collecting this kind of information are through reading security reports and other information sources, and from targeted interviews with people who know the history of such events. In general, the goal should be to develop as many information sources as possible. Different people have access to different sources of information. Equally, information sources each have their own special insights as well as their own individual biases. Varying your sources will allow you to hear about threats and threat levels from different perspectives, hopefully enabling you to reach a consensus, but at least exposing the divergences. This can be critical in helping you gain a more realistic picture of the threat environment. Although each situation is different, and there may be unique information sources in some specific cases, the following are typical sources of security information in the field:

  • Staff (especially local staff)
  • Partner agencies and organisations
  • Law enforcement agencies (police, military, gendarmerie, border police, other)
  • Government interlocutors
  • Community leaders
  • Local and international media
  • Embassies/diplomatic community (including website advisories)
  • Members of your company whom have deployed to the area before

Assessing the validity of information

Consider the example of collecting crime reports from a local police station. It is a straightforward exercise to ask for a list of the reported crimes in a certain town for the last six months as part of your historical analysis, and it may appear that information collected is accurate, since it is from “those who should know”. There may be several ways, however, that various pressures, or perceptions on the part of the perpetrators, the victims, and even the local police interfere with your ability to draw a complete and true conclusion from the recorded crime reports.

There are many reasons why security threat information of this type may be incorrect. Knowing the ways that information may be biased, limited, or simply incomplete may not help you in improving the recorded information, but at least your knowledge will help you to understand that there may be more to the story than meets the eye.

Crime reports collected by local police may be:

  • Under-recorded if the police force is understaffed, overworked, or simply poorly trained; some incidents simply go unreported, making the recorded situation look safer than it actually was.
  • Under-reported when victims are afraid or unwilling to report to the local police. This can happen for many different reasons such as:

– The police themselves can sometimes pose a threat to the local community, and many people do not want to interact with them, even to report a crime.

– Some types of crime, such as rape, may be felt to be too shameful to report by the victim.

– Criminals may threaten victims not to report under threat of further violence or even death.

  • Over-reported for some types of victims, such as foreigners who may have a high expectation of what services are offered by the local police.
  • Under-reported by illegal aliens, displaced persons from other districts, or refugees who may be afraid to go to the police.
  • Under-reported if government pressure is brought to bear on the police to show an improving security situation.

Much of threat assessment is based on talking to partners, co-workers, other staff, drivers, community leaders, and those being supported by your programs. Are the sources credible? Is there any truth to second- or third-hand rumours circulating in the organisation/local area? It is important that you have some way to validate the information you receive from such interviews.

Information accuracy checklist Remember that the usefulness of your threat assessment will ultimately be based on how current, and how correct, your information is. Consider your sources, and your own perspectives or biases when you are collecting information on which to base your analysis. The checklist below provides a basic, but useful, starting point for understanding the accuracy or bias of information you receive.

information accuracy checklist