Cross-border terror networks: A social network analysis of the Canada-US border

Christian Leuprecht, Todd Hataley, David B. Skillicorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


American rhetoric has repeatedly painted Canada as a conduit for terrorists to enter the USA. But what actually happens at Canada's borders? This article analyses open-source, cross-sectional data on Canadians convicted of terrorism offences between 1999 and 2011. It applies social network analysis (SNA) - investigating stochastic networks by means of the structure of human groups using pairwise links among their members - to (1) identify the drivers, nature and direction of Canada-US extremist cross-border traffic; (2) generate hypotheses from a limited data set that can be subjected to further empirical scrutiny with the aim of modelling cross-border extremist networks more generally; and (3) assess the risk they pose by measuring the extent to which such networks increase or reduce marginal costs. SNA of nine cases involving 14 subjects between 1997 and 2011 finds no systematic terrorist threat directed at the USA emanating from Canada. That finding is reinforced by the simple structure of cross-border networks. Terrorist traffic actually runs both ways, exploits countervailing transaction costs in the form of markets of opportunity on either side of the border, and much of the effort is in support of terrorist activity outside of North America. Most subjects crossed the Canada-US border legally at ports of entry, suggesting that enforcement resources are better spent on flows than controls at the actual border. © 2013 Society for Terrorism Research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-175
Number of pages21
JournalBehavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2013


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