Today we remember each of the nearly 3,000 Americans who perished in the worst terrorist attack this country has ever suffered. In particular, we mourn the loss of 23 police officers from the New York City Police Department (NYPD), 37 police officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department (PAPD), 341 firefighters and two paramedics from the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), as well as eight EMTs / paramedics from private EMS providers.
In solemn ceremony we mark moments seared forever in our memory — 0846 hours, 0903 hours, 0937 hours, 0959 hours, 1003 hours, and 1028 hours.
We reflect on the selflessness of so-called “ordinary citizens” aboard Flight 93, in the stairwells of the towers, and on the lawn outside the Pentagon. We honor the sacrifices made by American armed forces personnel — and their families — in the 12 years of constant war since we were attacked. But even as we take time to look back, we must also fix our vigilant gaze upon the future — it is the future for which we fight.
Investigation and Interdiction
American cops are force multipliers on the front lines of counterterrorism efforts here in the United States. This was the case even before the 9/11 attacks — remember that both Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) and Eric Rudolph (the Olympic Park bomber) were observed, questioned, detained, and captured by local cops
It is plainly even more true today.
Through a combination of good fortune and good work, many successful investigations and interdictions have prevented attacks here — from the infiltration of the Newburgh Four to the prevention of the Christmas Tree Plot.
But ours is an imperfect system — it’s the best one I know about, but it is not flawless — and it’s fair to say that “signals were missed” in the attacks on Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon.
Furthermore, it remains to be seen how we might achieve a meaningful balance between individual privacy and collective security (Benjamin Franklin is echoing in my head) in light of recently-revealed domestic surveillance programs on mobile phones and digital services.
While we as individuals can’t do much about those problems, we can prevent future attacks. First, though, we must extricate ourselves from the iron grip of the memory of the last attacks.
We must imagine what’s next.
Imagination and Inspiration
It bothers me immensely when people say “nobody could have imagined terrorists using airplanes as missiles” back in 2001.
In 1994, the concept was not only a line in a popular song (“A man drives a plane into the Chrysler building”) but also the climactic final element to the best-selling novel Debt of Honor by Tom Clancy.
We simply failed to use our own imagination in the same way a terrorist does. We simply failed to get our brains into a truly-evil place.
Good news and bad news, my friends. Good news is that you deal with evil (criminal behavior) on a daily basis, so you’re ahead of most citizens in “going to that dark corner of your brain.” The bad news is that terrorism is fundamentally different from criminal activity in an at least one important way.
The murderer, rapist, or child abuser is targeting his or her violence directly against the victim. The criminal wants to affect the behavior — continued breathing, for example — of the person they’re targeting.
The terrorist couldn’t care less about the victim (beyond how spectacularly they can die). The terrorist is targeting his or her attack on the effects it will have on the survivors. The terrorist wants to change the behavior of a group of people with whom he or she has a grievance.
A Tactic, Not a Tribe
Terrorism is the calculated use of violence — or threat of violence — to coerce or intimidate governments or groups into action or inaction that matches a prescribed goal that is generally political, religious, and/or ideological.
Dating back to Sun Tzu and Genghis Kahn, terrorism is a tactic not unique to groups like al-Qaeda or al-Shabaab.
In fact, the big book of terrorism has many chapters written in America:
• What is considered by many to be the first “car bomb” terrorist attack was committed on Wall Street when an anarchist named Mario Buda detonated a horse-drawn wagon full of dynamite — that was in 1920
• The abovementioned Timothy McVeigh and his partner, Terry Nichols, committed in Oklahoma City what was at the time the deadliest terrorist attack in United States history — that was in 1995
• The Earth Liberation Front caused millions of dollars in damages in their arson attacks on a car dealership in Oregon and on the campus of University of Washington in early 2001
We’ve seen attempted attacks by so-called Sovereign Citizens groups in Michigan and Nevada. Even the “Amish beard-cutters” attack in Ohio qualifies as terrorism.
So, What Might We Imagine?
Consider two ideas. The bad guys are very seriously looking at ways to use forest fires and breast implants to damage the American economy.
Yes, I said forest fires and breast implants.
In a recent report, we learned that the monetary cost of battling the Rim Fire in California — which has charred nearly 400 square miles — has eclipsed $100 million.
I need not remind you that the cost of the Yarnell Fire in Arizona is incalculable, with 19 firefighters killed in the line of duty.
The Yarnell Fire was likely caused by a lightning strike, and it appears that the Rim Fire was caused by a careless hunter’s campfire in the back woods.
Write these facts into the margins as you read the Spring 2013 edition of Inspire Magazine,1 featuring an article in which “you will find new and easy instructions that will wreak havoc on the enemy” by starting forest fires.
If two accidental fires claim such blood and treasure, what might be the effect of ten such fires, all starting about the same time?
I don’t want to get too deep into the details on the breast implants thing, but suffice it to say there is continuing concern that terrorists are working on ways “of implanting or inserting an improvised explosive device into a living human being that is hidden from view and powerful enough to affect the safety of a flying aircraft.”2
Our Counterterrorism “To Dos”
There are myriad things we each can do on an almost-daily basis which could potentially prove pivotal in preventing an attack. For starters, review the eight most-common pre-attack indicators.
Now, when you're reading (or watching) the news, keep up on international affairs and events overseas — at each headline or TV segment, ask yourself the questions, “Is this potentially a ‘trigger event’ for an aspiring lone-wolf Jihadi? What about a Sovereign Citizen type? What about someone else entirely?”
Proactively look for the targets in your jurisdiction. There are thousands of anonymous-looking manufacturing facilities serving as subcontractors to the so-called “military-industrial complex.” Is there such a target in your jurisdiction?
Or how about this: You have a synagogue, a church, a mall, or a military recruiting center in your patrol area? You have a target to protect from terrorist attack.
Get to know the private security personnel at the local hospitals, malls, and other high-probability soft targets — the time to exchange business cards and know each other's faces is not after an event jumps off.
Conduct a realistic Red Team tabletop exercise on each of your potential targets. Don’t just phone it in. Get into the head of the bad guys. Get evil.
Stay safe out there my friends.
1 If you want a PDF copy of that edition of Inspire, please just send me an email with a contact number where I can verify your active status with your agency, and I’ll send it along to you.
2 Like the PDF of Inspire, just send me an email if you want the research paper I’m citing there. That’s not for distribution without verification of your LE status.