My research primarily focuses on conflict, human rights, secrecy, and security.


In my dissertation, I explore the various ways that pro-government militias (PGMs) affect human rights abuses within a state. Specifically, I am interested in exploring how PGMs  choose the targets of their repressive behavior, what types of human rights they violate, and how these violations may prolong the leader’s time in power. I provide a comprehensive analysis of human rights violations by PGMs using an original dataset that provides information on the types and extent of abuses committed by all PGMs from 1989-2007.

Pro-Government Militias

From Shame to New Name: How Naming and Shaming Creates Pro-Government Militias

Naming and shaming as a form of punishment by the international community has sometimes been shown to have unintended consequences, such as leaders instead ramping up human rights abuses or engaging in new types of abuses. In this project, I explore how the act of naming and shaming may incentivize leaders to seek alternative mechanisms for repression in order to avoid future punishment and shame. One such alternative is the utilization of pro-government militias. These alternative security apparatuses operate outside of the standing military, and therefore afford leaders plausible deniability and distance from the abuses. The creation of these groups allows leaders to continue the abuse while sidestepping blame in the future. I find that naming and shaming, especially by the UN, increases the likelihood of pro-government militia creation within the following year.

Who Me?: How and When Pro-Government Militias Can Make Repression Less Expensive for Leaders

For many leaders, maintaining and prolonging their time in office is a top priority. They may want to use repression to quell dissent and the opposition, however, most leaders fear punishment in various forms from both domestic and international audiences for doing so. To solve this dilemma, leaders may turn to alternative repressive apparatuses, such as pro-government militias (PGMs). Recent research has suggested that PGMs afford government leaders the opportunity to utilize repression and therefore remain in office, but also reduce the cost of repression by avoiding blame for the repression. By choosing to utilize PGMs, leaders may be able to lengthen their time in office while avoiding the costs of repression through the use of plausible deniability. Building on this research, this paper explores how PGMs can prolong leadership tenure by allowing leaders to achieve their goals of repressing against dissent while eluding culpability. More specifically, this paper analyzes the effect of PGM creation and utilization on leadership tenure in nondemocratic states from 1981 through 2007. The analysis identifies how and when PGMs can extend leadership survival.

National Security Oversight & Secrecy

How Rendition Flight Paths Expose the Effectiveness and Limitations of National Security Oversight Across Democracies (with Michael Colaresi)

Political scientists have paid increasing attention to the role of information in democracies and in particular the potential for national security secrecy to undercut accountability (Rovner, 2011; Zegart, 2011; Colaresi, 2014; Reiter, 2012). Most of this research has focused on internally-focused solutions, such as instituting stronger freedom of information laws in a particular state. No work thus far has considered the possibility that an intelligence agency might specifically avoid territories with strong oversight, thus reducing the overall , effectiveness of these information institutions. In this paper we organize publicly available data on extraordinary rendition flight paths and an indicator of the amount of information we have on each observed flight to explore whether the CIA systematically avoided countries that have specific types of national security oversight institutions and whether we have more information on flights when they landed in more transparent domains. We place these paths within a network of the thousands of airports around the globe that could have served as flight connections and use a Bayesian latent variable model to measure whether legislative oversight powers, freedom of information laws, or press freedom deterred CIA flights and provided more evidence on the flights that were observed. Our findings identify only legislative oversight powers as effective deterrents and information institutions in these cases. We also identify states that the rendition flights were unusually attracted to, controlling for efficient paths and other features. Our results suggest that a greater focus on the transnational politics of information is needed to better understand the role of national security secrecy and accountability in democracies.

Legislative Oversight of National Security Policy: Introducing the Security Policy Information Institutions (SPII) Dataset (with Michael Colaresi)

This paper presents a new cross-national data source on national security oversight institutions, including specific freedom of information laws and the legislative committees, that can potentially provide the public with information on foreign policy and intelligence issues. The data covers over 50 democracies since 1972 and illuminates the variation among liberal states in the information that is provided to the public on these sensitive issues. National security secrecy creates an apparent dilemma for democratic governance. Elections cannot hold leaders to public account for the misuse of policy, due to either incompetence or corruption, without information supplied by extra-executive sources that do not have an incentive to hide, lie about or only selectively reveal what they know. Likewise, without adequate background information on the costs and benefits of potentially secret policies, such as retaliations for cyber attacks, the public cannot meaningfully participate in or deliberate on actions undertaken in their name. Lacking accountability and meaningful participation, the public has reason to distrust the executive, and withhold consent for investments and policy priorities. However, until recently, no systematic database of national security oversight institutions has existed. The Security Policy Information Institutions (SPII) data fills this gap. It complements new measures of democracy, such as V-DEM, by focusing on national security specific institutions that are often explicitly exempted by formal transparency rules, while allowing new theories to be tested on democratic accountability and efficiency in foreign affairs.

Women & Terrorism

The Women’s Advantage: How Terrorist Organizations that Involve Women are More Lethal

The media and international community have recently paid more attention to the involvement of women in terrorist attacks. The fact that women are important and active agents in violent campaigns cuts against many gender stereotypes and creates a puzzle regarding the role of women in violence. I argue that the groups utilize the stereotypes cast against women to their advantage in carrying out terrorist attacks, as they are less likely to be subject to security checks and scrutiny. Extant literature on the involvement of women in terrorist organizations explores the supply and demand of women in these organizations. They focus on why and how women join these groups and why these groups allow or encourage women to join. However, the effect of what happens after women join these groups is left understudied. Are these groups deadlier than groups without women? Do these groups utilize certain tactics more than other groups without women? This paper explores the question of how these groups are different from organizations that do not involve women. Specifically, it analyzes the effect of women’s involvement in terrorist organizations on the lethality of attacks perpetrated by the group and the amount of suicide bombings committed by the group.