Meaning Making Regarding Threat Narrative Based on Discourse Analysis

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Conference Proceedings
Authors: Laurie Fenstermacher aLawrence Kuznar bMariah Yager cSteve Shellman d

Abstract: Often after an act of violence, a forensic analysis of what the responsible individual(s) or group(s) said or wrote would reveal “signals” that would have foreshadowed the event. Although these signals frequently occur well in advance; they are often nuanced, requiring a different lens to find and interpret discursive patterns and practices related to social identity, affect, integrative cognitive complexity, trustworthiness, and worldview. Threat narrative is the behavioral (actions/words) manifestation of subjective reality regarding threat. These lenses help an analyst reason about how an individual or group sees themselves and others, their perception of threat and propensity to negotiate, cooperate or engage in violence. The result is a tomographic view, albeit imperfect one, of the threat narrative.The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has been engaged in research aimed at enabling meaning making from discourse regarding threat narratives for several years. Previous research developed multi-lingual methodologies (Arabic and Pashto), documented in primers transitioned to operational customers, including the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIIC), which enable the detection and interpretation of discourse related to social identity (in-group/out-group) (Fenstermacher et. al. 2012). This paper will focus on two projects designed to enable meaning making from the analysis of discourse, one employing a systematic approach to creating codebooks for automated analysis, and another employing taxonomies for automated analysis of identity and intent.A grounded theory approach, using human coders, was used to identify relevant discursive practices and patterns (themes and rhetorical devices), including intensifiers used to express trust, trustworthiness or distrust in Farsi. Key themes were identified such as Islam, positive virtues, and advanced age and/or experience. Association with a trusted individual, expert citation, language related to intimacy and poetry were typically associated with trust. Conversely, distrust was conveyed in themes related to negative virtues and government agendas and by use of figurative language such as metaphors and allusions.An automated approach focused on understanding the link between affect and behaviors using quantitative models of the effects of emotions (eight classes coded: trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, anticipation and joy) on behaviors of competing actors in Syria, Egypt and the Philippines (e.g., a dissident group, government and population). This approach highlights similarities and differences in resulting behaviors. For example, in both Egypt and the Philippines, societal fear, anger and disgust toward dissidents resulted in increases in dissident hostility. Conversely, in Egypt, government hostility increased in response to societal disgust whereas in Philippines it decreased.This research effort identified several apparently independent features: idea density and vocabulary diversity (proxies for integrative cognitive complexity) and affect expressed regarding in-group and out-group. Preliminary results indicate that the combination of these features would enable accurate forecasting of Naxalite bombings (.92 in sample, .8 out of sample correlation between model and actual bombings). These results are promising but preliminary; the generalization and robustness of these factors relative to different groups and languages will be assessed in a newly started research effort.The coding methodologies and the text analytic algorithms are a significant step forward in assisting analysts to systematically interpret threat narrative related language, characterize sources and reason about future behaviors and influence as well as helping to mitigate information overload by cueing analyst attention to potentially relevant documents and important events.

Keywords: Discourse Analysis, Sentiment, Affect, Text Analytics, Forecasting, Intent, Cognitive Complexity, Thematic Analysis, Grounded Theory, Social Identity, Threat Narrative

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe100189

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