By C. L. Staten, ERRI Sr. National Security Analyst
There would appear to be a paradigm change underway in the methods, practices, and tactics of world-wide terrorism. So far, it would appear that very few observers have documented this phenomena, or given it the proper due in their defensive considerations.
While the press, public, and even public safety community have apparently been looking in another direction, terrorism has changed in a fundamental way. Terrorism in the 60's, 70's, and even 80's was rooted in gaining publicity and public attention for the group sponsoring the attacks. Often innocent civilians were not targeted. It was largely about spreading an ideological or geo-political message. The terrorists often claimed responsibility for their acts. Counter-terrorism thinking was predicated on the fact that one could "negotiate" with terrorists and that they wanted to survive the encounter.
In the 90's that has all changed in a most fatal way. Non-state terrorists of the 90's and in this new 21st century no longer seem concerned about public opinion of them. Instead, they appear only concerned about increasing the body counts of their perceived enemies. And, to further complicate matters, they no longer have an expectation of surviving their murderous attacks. The terrorists of today also do not claim responsibility for their acts. Or, they engage in misdirection about who might have carried it out. The stakes have undoubtedly been raised.
Why is this a paradigm change, the reader might ask? Is it because of an increased number of casualties? No...that is only an terrorist intended by-product of the this latest trend. Instead, what has changed, from a anti/counter-terrorist and national security perspective is the fact that previously unthinkable acts are now possible. A major example of that was provided on Sept. 11th, 2001 as suicide hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. What was previously unimaginable is now possible.
Particularly concerning, in the opinion of this author, is the danger inherent in this fatalistic mentality that would motivate an attacker to voluntarily give his or her life in the execution of a terrorist operation. It opens a whole new range of options to the terrorists that were previously considered unthinkable. Probably the most troubling of these options is the use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons...these days commonly called Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).
If an attacker is voluntarily willing to infect himself or herself with a deadly disease and then purposefully contaminate a planeload of people or public gathering, the difficulty of American homeland defense becomes a much more problematic matter. If an attacker is willing to hijack a truckload of toxic chemicals and crash it into a heavily populated office building, a haz-mat nightmare could be easily created. And finally, if a terrorist operative is willing to expose themselves to high enough levels of radiation that it will certainly kill them, they could detonate a "dirty bomb," large enough to make the central district of almost any major city uninhabitable for a long period of time.
Additionally, as we saw in the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut or the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City, a single dedicated insurgent, who is willing to die in the process, can use conventional explosives to have a measurable impact on almost any building or installation. That could presently include any number of the world's foremost corporations or government offices of various kinds.
This new threat also requires a new way of thinking on the part of the world's military, anti/counter-terrorist, intelligence, and emergency response forces. They must work to prepare for terrorist scenarios that would have been considered "fantasy" before September 11th. As the "bad guys" change their tactics, it is imperative that defenders spend more time "thinking outside the box," in an attempt to thwart the terrorist events of the future. Consideration and realization of potential suicide events must be included in this new strategy.