The Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies produces original and impartial research on key 21st Century security issues, making this analysis available to policymakers, scholars, journalist, and the broader public.  On this page, visitors can learn more about current Center projects.

Counter proliferation and Weapons of Mass Destruction

This working group consists of members from the Ridgway Center, the Swanson School of Engineering, and the School of Information Science. Researchers are collaborating with graduate students from each school to examine the relationship between transnational organized crime, nuclear and radiological materials smuggling, nuclear technology knowledge and diffusion, and terrorist aspirations to acquire WMD. The project aims to identify the best ways to recognize and prevent these activities and to create a research and policy base for a much more holistic approach to decision-making to counter nuclear proliferation.

Members are analyzing contemporary threats to the nuclear nonproliferation regime stemming from (1) the intersection of transnational organized crime and the trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials; (2) the continued diffusion of nuclear weapons technology and knowledge and, in particular, the possibility that the North Korean proliferation network might be the successor to the A.Q. Khan network; and (3) the desire of terrorist groups, especially Islamic State, to obtain materials that would facilitate the construction of a “dirty bomb” or to attack nuclear facilities.

Deliverables include the compilation of a dataset of nuclear smuggling activities from 2004 to present, analysis of such activities, standardization of unstructured data, curation of primary sources, and the design and development of a mechanism and tool to serve as an “early alert” system of illicit activities. 

This project is expected to last several terms and will have multiple stages.

Cyber Threats Working Group

This group works in partnership with CyREN Lab at the School of Computing and Information Sciences. The aim is to develop simulations of politically oriented businesses for cyber threat intelligence gathering.  The current development focus is lobbying and maritime trade firms to understand the kind of cyberattacks that affect both the political and economic spheres.  

The group will be producing a paper on the political and fiscal impact of cyberattacks on the industries in focus at the end of every semester, and the Ridgway team will be entering a cyber policy competition in March 2018 in Washington, DC.

In the Fall of 2018, a second cyber project focusing on cyber threats to infrastructure and nuclear environments will be initiated.

FBI Associated Projects

Active Shooter Indicators - This group is compiling a dataset of individuals who engaged in acts of mass violence in the United States without espousing an extremist ideology. The dataset covers incidents that occurred between January 2010 and December 2017. Data collection focuses on the individual perpetrator rather than the attack itself. The group is collecting and analyzing data on several variables that could serve as potential indicators of active shooters, including demographic data related to the perpetrator, the perpetrator’s target, and potential warning signs of perpetrator radicalization and mobilization.

Work will also continue on the dataset on ideologically inspired violence which the working group constructed during the 2016-2017 academic year.

In addition to producing the dataset, the working group will deliver analytical products that summarize and analyze the data, as well as attempt to identify key similarities and differences between active shooters and ideologically inspired individuals and explain why active shooters engage in acts of mass violence.

Social Media - FBI partners have identified bad actors’ use of digital mobile applications (apps) as an important feature of their investigative work, and therefore tasked the working group to examine current and future trends of social media and encrypted communication apps. Initial research focuses on analyzing the fast-paced changes of the app market, developments of encryption standards, the range of features and capabilities of apps, and finally, predictive analysis to create a selected list of apps that will likely become popular in the near future. There are two deliverables of this research. 1) A written “red team” analysis of selected apps to assess the likely ways bad actors may utilize these apps to further their illicit activities. The group is attempting to determine how bad actors may utilize selected apps for propaganda, recruiting, communication, and logistics. 2) Presentation of  tutorials of selected apps to analysts and special agents. 

Intrusions into the Gray Zone

The Gray Zone is a term that is increasingly used to discuss competition between the United States on the one side and China and Russia on the other, that is low-level and places the onus for escalation on the United States. It is also sometimes described as hybrid warfare in which information operations, cyber attacks, and other nonmilitary instruments are extensively used along with coercive displays of military power. As part of an attempt to understand the Gray Zone, the Ridgway Center is compiling a data set of incidents in which Russian planes come close to or intrude into the airspace of NATO members as well as Finland and Sweden. The data set includes an attempt to understand the context within which such activities occur, as well as the risks and dangers that result.

Russian Contract Killer Database

Since the 1990s, the Ridgway Center has been compiling an extensive data set on Russian contract killings. This helps to reveal the activities and targets of Russian organized crime, both in Russia and elsewhere. It also helps to identify divisions in the Russian criminal world, targets for the criminal takeover of legitimate business, and people who threaten Russian organized crime and therefore need to be eliminated. The data set has recently been updated, but we are seeking to develop it further. 

Resource Links

The Ridgway Center has compiled a list of useful resource links for research on international security issues and challenges. These external sites do not signify the Ridgway Center’s endorsement.

Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies
3930 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260