The Concept of Leakage in Threat Assessment


J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D., Forensis, Inc. (, P.O. Box 90699, San Diego, CA 92169, U.S.A. E-mail:


Leakage in the context of threat assessment is the communication to a third party of an intent to do harm to a target. Third parties are usually other people, but the means of communication vary, and include letters, diaries, journals, blogs, videos on the internet, emails, voice mails, and other social media forms of transmission. Leakage is a type of warning behavior that typically infers a preoccupation with the target, and may signal the research, planning, and implementation of an attack. Nomothetic data suggest that leakage occurs in a majority of cases of attacks on and assassinations of public figures, adult mass murders, adolescent mass murders, and school or campus shootings: very low-frequency, but catastrophic acts of intended and targeted violence. Idiographic or case data illustrate the various permutations of leakage. We discuss the operational importance of the concept, place it in the context of other warning behaviors, emphasize the need for further research, and outline risk management strategies for the mitigation of such acts of violence in both law enforcement and clinical mental health settings. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.