Are You Hiring Terrorists?
by Louis Rovner, Ph.D.

Thousands of terrorists call the United States home. It has been estimated that hundreds of terrorist sleeper cells are scattered throughout our country, waiting for orders and instructions. For the weeks or months or years that they may have to wait, all of these people need money to survive, and their income is not solely provided by their terrorist groups. Many, if not most, hold jobs in America. Their employers are potential targets of terrorist attacks directed against the company, its people, facilities, and computer systems. Even if these companies are not specifically targeted, they are indirectly (although unknowingly) supporting our enemies by providing a source of income for terrorists.

What kinds of jobs are there for mad bombers, you might ask. The answer is surprising to many people. Terrorist organizations have become increasingly sophisticated, and they rely on the services of members who have a broad range of skills and experience. Between Osama bin Laden and the guy who plants the bomb is an army of people who provide specialized skills and expertise. Every terrorist group relies on such people as accountants, computer experts, recruiters, logistics specialists, attorneys, fund raisers, even cooks. All of these people have the types of skills that employers are looking for, and it is likely that most terrorists in sleeper cells are now holding jobs in our country.

Business owners, executives, human resources departments, and hiring managers should be aware that some job candidates they are interviewing could be terrorists. In addition to your company's standard screening and hiring procedures (skill testing, interviews, etc.) there are some things you can do to guard against unwittingly hiring our enemies.

Job Applications - Be An Investigator

A terrorist will almost certainly lie on his job application. Now, more than ever, it is essential that you verify every piece of information on that application. Call the Human Resources departments of all previous employers, and see if the applicant's stated dates of employment and job titles match what he told you. If possible, talk to the applicant's supervisor at each of his previous jobs. If there are irregularities here, the person may be lying to protect his true identity. (Of course, he may be lying merely to make himself look good. In either case, he's not the kind of employee you want.)

Verify his educational achievements. If he lists attendance at a high school, call that school to see if he actually attended. If he tells you that he was enrolled in college, call the college's registrar for verification. The same goes for trade and vocational schools, as well as seminars, workshops, continuing education, etc.

Check out professional associations and social groups that he lists (anything from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to the Boy Scouts).

We all know that lots of people are not entirely truthful when they apply for jobs. What we are looking for here is the person who is not just lying, but trying to create a false identity that hides his true motives. It is imperative that you do all you can to ensure that the job applicant is actually who he says he is.

Background Investigations

If your company does not do background investigations as part of your pre-employment screening procedure, you should start today. Don't let the cost scare you away. Competent companies charge as little as $25 for a service that includes a report of a person's criminal history, driving records, credit history, social security number verification and other important information. This information should be matched against that given in the applicant's employment application, and should also be considered on its own.

What to Look for at the Job Interview

One of the scariest things about terrorists is that they look just like you and me. While they might be evil, terrorists are not crazy. Indeed, terrorist recruiters seek out people who are reasonably intelligent and who don't stand out in a crowd. These are members who won't jeopardize the group itself. Thus, a terrorist sitting across the desk from you will look and sound just like any other job candidate.

While psychologists have not yet found a terrorist personality profile, there are a number of traits that most terrorists have in common. It is important to be aware of them, and to use interview questions that will give you a hint that the person might be a threat.

Most terrorists possess the following traits:

  • They are loners
  • They are dissatisfied with their lives
  • They have low self-esteem
  • They are true believers
  • They are antisocial
  • They lack pity or remorse
  • They have grievances against our country and our allies
  • They are tremendously loyal to their terrorist groups

You should ask questions during the interview that tells you whether or not the applicant possesses most or all of these traits. For example, a question that gives us an idea of self-esteem might be, "What accomplishments are you most proud of?" A person with low self-esteem is not truly proud of anything he's done, and will have to work hard to think of an answer. Take note of long pauses here.

To see if the person is dissatisfied with his life, you might ask, "What are the three things you like most about your life?" A terrorist will have to work hard just to come up with one or two things.

To gauge antisocial motivation, a good question would be, "Are there some kinds of people you just don't like?" Beware of the applicant who has a long list of these people, or who describes people like you and your employees and co-workers.

Questions should be developed for all of the above traits. If an applicant shows indications of possessing most of them, you may be interviewing a terrorist. While not all people who share these traits are terrorists, all terrorists share them. In times like these, it's better to be safe than sorry.

The vast majority of people who apply for jobs with your company will not be terrorists. That should not stop you from being alert and aware. Even though most people at airports don't have evil intentions, everyone who intends to board an aircraft is carefully screened. As long as there is a terrorist threat to our country, we must continue to be vigilant in all aspects of our lives.


Dr. Rovner is a psychologist in Los Angeles. He consults to business, government and law enforcement agencies about a variety of issues, including terrorist psychology. You may call him at (818) 340-6963 or send email to Lou@TheInterviewDoc.com.

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Copyright 2004 by Louis Rovner. All rights reserved.

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