Degrees in Amity: The University for Peace

HarmonyRarely do educational entities come into existence through the decree of international organizations, but such is the case with the University for Peace, which is officially located in San Jose, Costa Rica. Dedicated to higher education in peace and conflict studies, this very unique educational institution came about on December 14, 1979 through resolution 34/111 of the United Nations General Assembly, which mandated the formation of an international commission charged with completing the preliminary foundational steps. Almost one year later on December 5, 1980, the charter for the school occurred as a result of an official peace treaty also initiated by the UN. The selection of Costa Rica as the host nation for the university is primarily due to its status as the “Switzerland of Latin America,” since like that famous European country it has no standing military, despite geographic proximity to other battle-ready countries such as Nicaragua. Costa Rican President José Figueres Ferrer, who came to power through a military insurrection that lasted 44 days and took the lives of 2000 citizens, abolished the country’s military on December 1, 1948 and initiated a new constitution that codified that decision in 1949. The budget for the armed services was then diverted to the “internal security” goals of education, environmental protection, and the preservation of Costa Rican culture. As a consequence of this commitment to disarmament and peace, Costa Rica is not only the host of the University for Peace, but also serves as the home for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is also based in the City of San Jose. Oscar Arias, who has twice been the President of Costa Rica, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts in ending civil wars raging in other Central American countries during the 1980s.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Photo credit: OEA - OAS / / CC BY-NC-ND

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias
Photo credit: OEA – OAS / / CC BY-NC-ND

Geographically speaking, the University for Peace is situated about 20 miles west of San Jose, in the midst of mountainous terrain that includes some of the most gorgeous and pristine forests available for view in Central America. Considered to be a place for “serious dreamers,” the campus sits on 741 acres of land donated by the Costa Rican government, but the actual building is rather small for a university. Approximately 160 students from around the world are dedicated to a program of studies in world amity and conflict resolution, which is a fact symbolized very heavily in the student union building, where the word “peace” is inscribed in every language of the world. A rolling peace garden, laying in plain view of the rector’s office, features artistic busts of famous campaigners for world harmony, such as Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Henry Dunant. In similar fashion, the campus also includes an area known as Monument Park, which is home to the world’s largest memorial dedicated to peace. Dubbed the Monument to Disarmament, Work & Peace, it is a majestic work of art that can be viewed as part of a tour that is available Monday through Friday, from 8:00am to 3:00pm.

The educational purpose of the University for Peace is to address the issues of conflict prevention, human security, human rights, environmental safekeeping, and post-conflict reconstruction.  Programs include a master’s degree plan in peace and peace building, a semester abroad that is available to the students of other universities around the world, training and workshops dedicated to conflict resolution and peace, and a second (dual) MA program for those that have completed the first UPEACE master’s curriculum. Instructors for the school’s face-to-face classes are both resident and visiting educators that come from a variety of cultures throughout the world. There are a total of 12 master’s degrees in peace that are offered through the school:

The University for Peace has also announced a new doctoral program with a broad range of research options, through which candidates are “prepared for university teaching, research, or advanced positions in Peace and Conflict Studies-related professional fields.” The underlying goal of the doctoral curriculum is to promote research studies for the purpose of professional careers in peace, rather than academic.

UPEACE Students Represent the Whole World
click for larger map

UPEACE alumni live and work in all corners of the world, for the most part in their home countries or with international organizations that are frequently active on the front lines of major conflict. The largest percentage of the graduates is employed by non-governmental entities, but a significant portion also goes on to work within the United Nations system or with other humanitarian organizations that are closely allied with the mission of the UN.  As of the year 2007, 24% of the graduates worked with non-governmental organizations, 19% in academia, 18% with UN bodies, 14% with a particular national government, 11% in the private sector, and 16% otherwise. Some of the noteworthy places where you will find them are the International Criminal Court of The Hague, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (located in Belgium), the Freedom House of Hungary, and the World Bank of Washington DC.

The University for Peace proclaims an overall mission of “promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations.” There is no doubt that terrorism is a result of misunderstanding, intolerance of differences in culture and religion, negative social and political trends, perceived injustices in economic opportunity, and an overriding sense of fear and the lack of open-mindedness. Critics point out that military intervention might be a short term answer to eliminating terrorist activity, but in the long run it only breeds more recruits to terrorist cells. Preventive efforts that are evident in the goals of UPEACE are crucial to the long term elimination of transnational radical violence, otherwise referred to as terrorism. In the same manner that we prescribe to military academies that enable the means of waging war, we must also facilitate the means of waging peace through institutions of equal importance. We praise the efforts of UPEACE and urge you to sign the petition to which this website is dedicated.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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Intelligence Data and Terrorism: The Inherent Problem

Information   The primary entity within the United States Government responsible for collecting and organizing intelligence data concerning national and international counterterrorism efforts is the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which is based in McLean, Virginia. The predecessor of the NCTC was the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), founded in May of 2003 by President George W. Bush as part of Executive Order 13354, granting “the highest priority to the detection, prevention, disruption, preemption, and mitigation of the effects of transnational terrorist activities against the territory, people, and interests of the United States of America.” The creation of the TTIC came on the realization in post 911 America that very little had delayed or prevented the tragic events initiated by al Qaeda, leading to the creation of an organization that brings terrorism experts together from the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon specifically for purpose of integrating available intelligence information. The name of the TTIC was changed to the National Counterterrorism Center as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.


This Illustration Pokes Fun at the Underpants Bomber
Photo credit: Mike Licht, / / CC BY

Utilizing various databases, NCTC is in charge of the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), which is the U. S. Government’s principle list of suspected or confirmed international terrorists. The list of names on the TIDE database has skyrocketed in the past 5 years from 540,000 to 875,000, due primarily to the increased use of the system by security entities “in the wake of the failed 2009 attack on a plane by ‘underpants bomber’ Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Detroit.” These various security agencies use the TIDE database to build other pertinent information, such as the “no-fly list” that is also kept by NCTC. Various member organizations of the intelligence community contribute to the formation of TIDE, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency within the Department of Defense.


Was the Boston Marathon Bombing a Sign of Intelligence Failure?
Photo credit: Dillsnufus / / CC BY-NC-ND

The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center uses the classified information of TIDE to glean its Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), which is a terrorist watchlist containing over 400,000 unique names. On a daily basis, 1600 new recommendations are made for inclusion on the list, while 600 names are dropped and around 4800 entries are revised daily, based on updated intelligence information. In addition to the “no fly list,” there are 10 other screening organizations mentioned by Wikipedia that depend on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database:

  1. Selectee listDepartment of Homeland Security
  2. Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) – Department of Homeland Security
  3. National Automated Immigration Lookout System (NAILS) – Department of Homeland Security migrated to Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS)
  4. Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) – Department of State
  5. Criminal Justice Information Services Division Warrant Information – Department of Justice
  6. Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF) – Department of Justice
  7. Interpol Terrorism Watch ListDepartment of Justice
  8. Air Force Office of Special Investigations Top Ten Fugitive List – Department of Defense
  9. Automated Biometric Identification SystemDepartment of Defense
  10. Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification SystemDepartment of Justice

Funding for the FBI’s ability to screen and track suspected terrorists and terrorist organizations has grown rapidly since the 911 attacks, and information from such efforts is made available to federal, state, local and Native American tribal law enforcement entities – as well as to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Transportation Security Administration.

Although the above-described system of identifying suspected terrorists and terrorist organizations is impressive, the bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 has revealed an inherent and alarming weakness. Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s name had been added to the TIDE list of suspected terrorists in 2011, following Russian reports that he had become involved in radical Islamic activities. Following his inclusion in the TIDE system, his name also came under the scrutiny of the Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Border Protection Bureau – and his name received an additional flag of concern when he left the United States to visit Russia in January of 2012. However, his name automatically received a downgraded status in the database upon his return from Russia six months later – in essence falling through the cracks of investigative efforts. Officials within the system point out “that simply being listed in TIDE is not enough to justify special attention by law enforcement, and that Tsarnaev was not known to be an active threat.” This has led to renewed complaints from some that TIDE is too “large and vague,” meaning that the immense size of the collected data inhibits the very benefits it hopes to provide. One of those vocalizing her concern over this matter is Karen Joy Greenberg, the Director of the Center for National Security and noted author on the subject of terrorism and the Guantanamo Bay detention center. A professor at the Fordham University School of Law, Greenberg cautions that “what you want is more focus, not less focus. It can’t be just about quantity. It has to be about specificity.” As paradoxical as it might seem, the success of concerted efforts in identifying potential terrorists might be the new “intelligence failure,” since the overwhelming growth of the database could make it too difficult to extract the more specific information necessary in pinpointing a real threat to national security. In other words, the crucial information could be awash in a “sea of data” and difficult to identify – a problem similar to the needle in a haystack. Please don’t overlook the link below because your signature is needed to advance the petition to which this website is dedicated.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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