Jessica Stern

Archive for 2013|Yearly archive page

Read Jessica’s latest work in the Boston Globe and her profile in BU Today

In News on September 26, 2013 at 9:19 am

Read Jessica’s response to the Manchester attack in the Boston Globe: Attacks on Soft Targets Likely to Get Worse

“Terror can make us lash out at the wrong enemy, for the wrong reasons, or both, as was the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We want to wage war, not just on terrorism, but also on terror, to banish the feeling of being unjustly attacked or unable to protect the blameless. This is especially true in regard to attacks on young people, as happened Monday night in Manchester. 

We need to be conscious, at all times, of our natural tendency to lash out in response to moral evil in ways that sometimes worsen the threat…


Read Sara Rimer’s profile of Jessica for BU Today: Why Terrorists Kill

“In the 1997 film The Peacemaker, Nicole Kidman plays a government scientist based on Stern’s role at the National Security Council during the first Clinton administration, when she was director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs and head of a nuclear weapons smuggling response unit. Like her movie counterpart, who chases down a nuclear weapons–stealing Bosnian terrorist with a US military intelligence officer played by George Clooney, she is brainy, fluent in Russian, hyperfocused, and pretty. Unlike Kidman’s humorless know-it-all bureaucrat, Stern is warm, self-deprecating, and quick to laugh, at herself as often as not. Her students say she’s a rock star—and a regular person. She calls herself a nerd…”

Jessica Talks at the GRID13 Summit in Stockholm

In News on September 11, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Jessica presents “Talking to Terrorists” at the 2013 annual GRID two-day summit in Stockholm.  In the talk, she describes how she has met terrorists with Kalashnikovs in Pakistan, interviewed neo-Nazis in America and Sweden, and visited the homes of terrorist leaders in Indonesia. But it was only after she faced her own suppressed trauma that she understood why she was more afraid to meet the victims than the terrorists themselves.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Terrorists

In News, Op-Ed on April 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm

A few times, I have felt myself in the presence of true evil. At those times, I learned what it means to have the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s not just an expression. It happened to me when I met with a leader who recruited cannon fodder for his “jihad,” and on a few other occasions in the last couple decades that I’ve spent interviewing terrorists to learn why they do what they do. But, more often, the evil I’ve witnessed has been banal. I have found myself able to understand the mistaken moral logic that can turn a boy into a terrorist.

Here’s a surprising thing. Almost everywhere — in Pakistan, in Indonesia, in Texas — terrorists offer you tea. Sometimes a full meal.

Otherwise, they are quite different from one another. Their motivations vary — from irredentism, to pleasing the God they claim to worship, to cleansing the Earth of the mud-people that contaminate the world of purity in their minds. Some live in war zones with grievances that are easy for outsiders to grasp; for others, living in the cushy West, the war that is taking place is principally in their own minds, often over identity. Some are paid, some are blackmailed. Some are recruited, and some recruit themselves to their own holy war, whether at home or far away.

Read Jessica’s article on talking with terrorists in Foreign Policy.

Iraq: Where Terrorists Go to School

In News, Op-Ed on April 26, 2013 at 2:23 pm

The costs of the terrorism inspired by the war include much more than the number, however horrifying, of lives lost. The terrorists who have been drawn to Iraq since 2003 and survived have been battle-hardened after fighting the most sophisticated military in history, often working together with former officials from Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. They have developed expertise in counterintelligence, gunrunning, forgery and smuggling. Smuggling routes and alliances that moved terrorists and supplies into Iraq during the height of the war, in 2006-7, have been reversed, allowing fighters and supplies to flow into neighboring countries, particularly Syria, now in its third year of civil war.

Read Jessica’s article in The New York Times.

The Costs of the Moral Injury to Our Troops Fighting the Wars on Terrorism

In News, Op-Ed on February 28, 2013 at 3:00 am

Those who volunteer to defend their country know they are putting their lives at risk.  But the troops and their families are only just beginning to understand the extent to which they are putting their mental health at risk.  As we get better at keeping wounded warriors alive, we need to get better, and more serious, about developing tools for healing the injuries to the mind and brain that are often at least as destructive as more visible wounds.

Read Jessica’s Op-Ed at the Hoover Institution website.