No sooner did the sirens sound announcing terror attacks in London than did the seats in television and radio studios fill with talking heads, all of them members of a rather new fraternity. They are the terrorism experts, or "terro-rologists," as they are sometimes called.
The sudden surge in demand for terrorism experts emerged directly from the crumbled ruins of the World Trade Center in New York City and the gaping hole in the Pentagon in Washington. Following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, "terror" became the hottest topic in the news. Media were desperate for someone who could explain it eloquently.
People like Steven Emerson were few and far between. Mr. Emerson is the executive director of the Investigative Project, regarded as one of the leading counterterrorist research and investigative centres in the world. He has been investigating the operations, funding, activities and front groups of Islamic terrorist and extremist groups in the United States and around the world for years. Yesterday, he was featured front-and-centre on U.S. television, making more than a dozen media appearances.
Since Sept. 11, hundreds of similar "experts" have emerged around the world.
"Like mushrooms after the rain," said Yael Shahar, who heads the database project at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. The institute has been one of the leaders in its field since its establishment in 1997.
"Before most people had even heard of al-Qaeda, we were already dealing with it. That's because Israel has been a target for such a long time that we've developed a routine for dealing with this type of thing," she said.
The institute researches topics such as threat analysis, threat assessment and trends in terrorism. Ms. Shahar is responsible for a huge database that tracks terror networks around the world.
While "terror talkers" have become part of a growing niche field in the post-Sept. 11 world, the academic research is still lagging behind, according to the true experts.
"There are still very few people who have the historical, theoretic and practical knowledge in this field," said Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at the ICT. "Especially in the academia. No more than 30 or 40 people are real experts on an international level.
Canadians still have a lot of catching up to do.
"In the United States, it is a growth field," said Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University. "In Canada, we have Canadians getting PhDs from the world's leading universities in this field, and they can't get jobs here because there aren't any."
Mr. Rudner said the reason for this is lack of interest and understanding by the country's leaders. "In Canada, we don't have a security culture," he said.
Meanwhile, several private companies have sprung up to fill the gap.
"I still am bewildered by the refusal of a good deal of the academic community to try to anticipate some of these things," said David B. Harris, president of INSIGNIS Strategic Research, and formerly chief of strategic planning of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
"To try and get out the message that we face a real and immediate threat was an extremely difficult thing in the days before 9/11. Since, people have recognized that there is some kind of threat."
Mr. Rudner acknowledged there was a level of interest in the public, but added a caveat.
"There is a significant demand from the media, but it only, in effect, amounts to sensationalism-driven. Today, because of London, everybody wants to know about al-Qaeda, threats, Europe and all the rest. Two days ago, if you wanted to give a public lecture on the recruitment of young Muslims in Europe for terrorist purposes, you would have an audience of maybe six, seven, all of whom would be the specialists."
Ms. Shahar said the timing of the surge in terror experts was not accidental.
"I think the fact that the global jihad has come about when it did is because of the way terrorism works; terrorism feeds off the media and the media feeds off of terrorism. There is definitely a kind of synergy here," she said.
Ultimately, she said, the demand for more information on terrorism was simply because terrorism is more of a threat today than ever before.
"When ICT was started up, our founders were almost laughed out of the room for the idea that they can make in institute that can deal only with terror," said Ms. Shahar.
"People said 'You can't make a living off of that, it's not a large enough field,' and the founders of the ICT said 'it may not be a large enough field now, but it is about to be.' "
Unfortunately, their prophecy proved correct.
"We're some of the few people who have job security at the moment, because I don't think it is going to go away any time soon," she said.