Terror: On the Screen /On the Ground

On February 6th the USC Schwarzenegger Institute Global Director Bonnie Reiss moderated a provocative discussion Terror: On the Screen /On the Ground. This program was presented by The USC CREATE Center – National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events -, in partnership with the USC School of Cinematic Arts and examined the effect of portraying the very real and terrifying subject of terrorism as a form of entertainment in TV and movies. Scenes from Homeland, 24, and The Siege, that illustrated topics such as recruitment and radicalization, torture and interrogation techniques and suicide bombings, were shown and then discussed by a panel comprised of writers and producers from those films along with experts from the counter-terrorism field. It was a fascinating conversation with students from both the Price School of Public Policy and the School of Cinematic Arts in attendance to hear from the filmmakers talk about their motivations and processes when creating content on this chilling subject. The FBI counterterrorism specialists added to the conversation by commenting on the realities of terrorist situations post 9/11 and that exist today.

The scenes that were shown gave examples of realistic and in some cases actual security threats and terrorist situations that the FBI and CIA deal with. One of the panelists, Pulitzer Prize winner for his book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Lawrence Wright, and writer of The Siege, explained how at the time when he wrote the movie in 1998 that terrorist were not a huge threat to the U.S. and he had to try and imagine what conflicts the government agencies and military would have if terrorism became a huge security threat. He talked about how our country’s actions after 9/11  fell so in line with what he depicted in The Siege might happen as a result of a terrorist attack. Another set of clips gave the audience examples of suicide bombers. Dr. Erroll Southers, Director of Research Transition at CREATE, former FBI Special Agent, SWAT team member and Assistant Secretary for Obama’s Transportation Security Administration, talked about the amount of passion that these terrorists have to destroy America and Americans is something that will not just go away. He went on to explain that these suicide bombers believe with all of their being that it is their purpose in life to destroy America. They will pass their duty all the way down to their children and grandchildren if they cannot achieve success. Randy Parsons, TSA Executive, Director of Security for the Port of Long Beach and former FBI Special Agent in Charge for the Counterterrorism Program, added that we need to target the young children in these terrorist communities because they are the ones who have not been brainwashed with the Anti-America mentality and that we have a chance to influence. Alex Carry, writer/executive producer for Homeland, and Evan Katz, executive producer for 24, commented on the battle to depict the intense mental struggles that go into preventing and dealing with terrorism, and shared fascinating insight into what goes into developing characters and storylines. 

For more information about the event visit: http://cinema.usc.edu/events/event.cfm?id=14017