Internationally Recognized Expert on Terrorism & Trauma
One of the world’s foremost experts on terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder, Jessica Stern is a Member of the Hoover Task Force on National Security and Law at Stanford University. From 1994-95, she served as Director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, where she was responsible for national security policy toward Russia and the former Soviet states and for policies to reduce the threat of nuclear smuggling and terrorism. Stern earlier worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In 1998-99, she was the superterrorism Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and in 1995-96, she was a national Fellow at Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
She is the author of Denial: A Memoir of Terror, an intimate and astonishingly frank examination of her own rape at 15, the life of her rapist, and how both shaped her life and work, which was featured in the New York Times. She’s also the author of the New York Times Notable Book, Terror in the Name of God, The Ultimate Terrorists, and of numerous articles on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. A sought after expert by the media, Stern has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CNN, 60 Minutes, The CBS Early Show, FOX News Channel, NPR’s Morning Edition, and All Things Considered.
Stern has interviewed some of the most feared terrorists around the globe – in Indonesia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Lebanon, and Pakistan. She has taught at CIA University, and continues to consult with US government agencies about her work on terrorism. She is presently part of a team that trains police officers to recognize terrorists. She is also an expert on trauma, based on her own experience.
On a fall night in Concord, a quiet Massachusetts suburb, in 1973, Stern was 15. She and her sister were at home doing their homework after ballet class when a serial rapist entered their house and sexually assaulted the girls for over an hour. When he left them alone, they tried to call for help, but he had cut the phone line. They walked to Friendly’s to call their babysitter from a payphone. She did not believe the girls until she saw them. Their mother was dead, and their father was on a business trip to Europe with his new wife from which he did not return for three days after hearing the news. The girls wrote their statements for the police in their best cursive hand. Following the example of her father, who was a Holocaust survivor, Stern denied the pain of her experience. She kept striving to be good. Her academic and writing career took off at a supersonic speed, but her personal life stalled. She miscarried 12 times, and her marriage dissolved once she finally gave birth to a son. Until a friend’s request forced her to sit down with her police file in 2006, she had disassociated from most of the details of the attack and its aftermath.
But, when she did review the file, something clicked in the mind of this world-class social scientist. She had to know the truth and could deny her feelings no longer. She began an investigation, with the help of a devoted police lieutenant and her new husband, to find the truth about her rapist, the town of Concord, her own family, and her own mind. The results are astonishing. In her own words, "Nabokov once said, ‘Life is pain,’ a riff on the Buddhist notion that to live is to crave and to crave is to feel pain. To live in this world involves pain. Had I not been catapulted, in that one hour, half way to death, and therefore closer to enlightenment? In death we no longer feel human cravings, no longer feel human pain. I was now half way there. I was prepared to be quiet. I have been quiet, and I have listened all my life. But now, I will finally speak." Stern received a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in chemistry, a Master of Science degree from MIT, and a doctorate in public policy from Harvard. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.