Ipso Facto Q&A: Pitt Graduate School of Public and International Affairs' Michael Kenney

Monday, 18 March 2013 01:30 PM Written by  Drew Singer

20130318 michaelkenney 150Michael Kenney is an associate professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. His coursework and field research focuses on terrorism, counterterrorism and homeland security. Before taking a job at Pitt last year, he worked for Penn State-Harrisburg, where he authored a book, "From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation." Ipso Facto spoke with Kenney on the phone about how counterterrorism can clash with the law, here are the highlights from that conversation:

Ipso Facto: What kind of research do you do?

Kenney: I've done field work in the UK, focusing on the group Muhajiroun. I interviewed over 40 active members of the group there. We've been exploring how they and other groups learn from experience and adapt to government pressure.I'm interested in how our adversaries learn from experience.

Q: How did that research bring you to Pittsburgh?

Kenney: Pitt just recruited me away. Coming here meant I get to work at the Ridgeway Center, who are doing fantastic work in international studies.

Q: What's the biggest difference between working for Penn State and working for Pitt?

Kenney: Where I am now, we have more people, more faculty members, working on issues of international security and international relations more broadly. In Harrisburg, I felt more isolated, because fewer people shared my interest.

Q: What's the next big issue on the horizon? What will everyone be talking about?

Kenney: The reemergence of lone wolves, individuals who engage in acts of terrorism without support from larger organizations. The success on the counterterrorism side has led to more lone wolves. Also, cyber has been a great concern, but there's been fewer issues of cyberterrorism, which is different from cyber attacks. Here in the U.S., the reemergence of far-right groups - white supremacists, sovereign citizens - there's been an uptick.

Q: What's the biggest legal question our society is facing in counterterrorism?

Kenney: This ongoing challenge of how we balance our security with our civil liberties. What is the role of criminal courts? What is the right court for someone like Bin Laden's son-in-law? Guantanamo Bay is a legal black hole, an unresolved problem that speaks to our country's unresolved legal questions. We don't need to create nebulous categories like "enemy combatant" to deal with these people, they're not super men. They hit us really bad once, but that's no reason to give up all of our civil liberties.

Q: Anything else?

Kenney: I'm happy to be here in Pittsburgh.

(Image: Michael Kenney, associate professor of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh GSPIA)

Drew Singer is a third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter @Drew_Singer.

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