Combatting the Global Reach of Terrorism

Sep 15, 2006

Chief among their conclusions ought to be that this threat has global reach and is alive and well – and that there is no silver bullet counter measure that will prevent the next attack. Both assessments have profound meaning for how our state and local public safety agencies are organizing and preparing their people for this new age of security.

As law enforcement and public safety officials continue to assimilate the lessons learned from the recent disruption of a terrorist threat to commercial aviation, their assessments will impact the direction of threat.

Immediately on the heels of Scotland Yard’s announcement came the now-familiar blitz of conjecture regarding whether or not this particular plot had ties to Al Qaeda Central (AQC). Or, perhaps, like last year’s attacks on London’s transit system, this cell was of the homegrown variety. While such discourse is enlightening, it is essential that state/provincial and local ­leaders come to the sobering understanding that, regardless of the organizational nature of such cells, the Islamic ­fascist monster has global reach.

There are no more walls that protect smaller cities or remote towns. Consider this partial list of U.S. locales in which ­terrorist activities have been disrupted in recent years: Lackawanna NY, Bly OR, Lodi CA, Torrance CA, Iredell County NC, Miami FL, Toledo OH and Syracuse NY. Some of these places were infected with a homegrown threat and some with the tentacles of international terrorist organizations. Canada is also beginning to experience incidents of terrorist activity, such as the recent Toronto area arrests. It is a safe bet that there truly is no jurisdiction or democratic country that can rest easy, free from the specter of Muslim terrorists.

Nor can state/provincial and local gov­ernments rely exclusively on the Federal government to protect us from such threats. Federal governments are working hard, but state and locals have a unique role to play in our national/homeland security framework, and must be part of the solution. Among other attributes, these governments bring numbers, local knowledge, and community contacts. Additionally, they will invariably be the first to respond when catastrophe strikes – it is therefore of fundamental interest for them to become prevention oriented in order to mitigate the cost and trauma associated with such response.

Prevention begins with a careful analysis of worldwide events and an application of this knowledge to the local operating environment.

This latest cell was sophisticated in its organization and tactical planning. Its planned method of attack indicates an intimate knowledge of airline security measures, as well as bomb-making sophis­ti­cation. It appears that operational security and counter-surveillance were integrated into its planning. It was also a learning organization, continuing plans previously formulated by Ramzi Yousef & company in the 1990’s. Law enforcement and public safety officers must be equally sophisticated in their knowledge and ability to identify such activities.

It has been reported, for example, that one of the perpetrators in London was a Western convert to Islam. There are reports that he had shunned Western clothing conventions. It would not be at all surprising if this was also accompanied by a shunning of past family and friends in favor of a new found religious zeal. This would follow a pattern set by American Taliban Johnny Walker Lindh and Belgian female suicide bomber Muriel Degauque. Such radical behavioral changes in converts warrants further scrutiny.

On the other hand, as in last summer’s bombing in London, many of the neighbors of this latest group had not noticed signs of radical behavior. To the contrary, these individuals carefully concealed their violent intentions. Not all Islamic fascists outwardly embrace the physical manifestations of their ­radical ideas. Nor do they all fit into an easily identifiable physical profile, as is often suggested.

Random measures Effective
Despite the steady drumbeat of demand to adopt physical profiling policies, the benefit of such approaches is limited and certainly not worth the battle it would take to adopt them. A behavioral profiling scheme, such as the one that the Transportation Security Administration recently rolled out, is much more effective, while avoiding the political pitfalls that would surely come with a racial or ethnic profiling scheme. Under a behavioral profiling approach, security personnel are trained to observe and confront behaviors that are out of place in the environment being secured. It is out of place, for example, for a young man to wear heavy clothing into the Miami airport. Observing such behavior warrants further investigation.

But this is only one of many tools that must be applied in a redundant and robust security posture. For example, random measures, such as the ones NYPD has put in place in New York’s subway system, are another tool that is useful. While random measures are inconvenient and cause citizen complaints, they are effective in countering a learning adversary. In this latest case, the terrorists planned to use explosive materials they knew would pass through the security system. They also planned to use common items such as shaving cream cans and liquid containers to conceal the explosive concoctions. In other words, predictability, which would necessarily follow a racial or ethnic profiling scheme, would only serve the sophisticated terrorist in the long run.

Certainly profiling will continue to be a point which is debated vigorously. The broader issue is that our first preventers and public safety agencies need to learn and adapt to the threat. An increasing number of agencies, across both Canada and the United States, are demonstrating a growing capability to do so. Our Federal governments should encourage, foster and, where necessary, mandate such ­prevention oriented activities.

Tim Connors is the Director of the Center for Policing Terrorism at the Manhattan Institute, a New York City think tank.
© FrontLine Security 2006