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How Terrorists Plan An Attack

(From the Informed Source Newsletter, published by Profiles Threat Countermeasures Group.)

The following is a reprint of a Class is in Session which Informed Source provided in Jan/Feb of 1998.

"class is in session" with Tony L. Jones:
Due to the magnitude of a terrorist act, terrorist planning is often overshadowed or ignored by investigations. The terrorist planning phase should be examined in order to understand terrorist actions. Without understanding, any effort to thwart terrorist missions will reap random success.

Terrorists begin their planning phase after becoming motivated, attempting to fulfill ideological, personal gain, hate, fear, security, power and ego enhancement needs. Once motivated by one or more of these needs, several mission oriented questions will be considered.

These mission oriented questions include:
Is the target critical?
Is the target accessible?
Is the target easily restored?
Is the target vulnerable?
And what effect will site destruction have on the population?

Once a pre-established number of questions are answered in the affirmative, “tactics” are considered. Terrorist tactics include:
Passive/active sabotage
Hostage taking
Chemical/Biological devices
Nuclear weapons/components utilization.

The tactic(s) chosen will correspond to the terrorist’s strength, ideology, expertise, operational funding, logistics, support, and the effectiveness of past operations.

To choose a certain tactic and heighten the chances of success, terrorists are trained in many areas. Training includes:
Infiltration/Exfiltration of target areas
Night Operations
Sabotage methods
Parachute training
Clandestine communications
Hand-to-hand combat
Silent killing techniques
Language and customs of target area or country
Survival in unfriendly areas
Identification of primary and secondary targets
Tactical planning..........etc.

Training is often obtained from military service or terrorist sponsors. Next, operation style is considered. The styles to choose from are:

Overt operations are conducted with no attempt made to conceal either the operation or identity of the sponsor. Overt operations are chosen in order to obtain maximum publicity.

Covert operations are designed, planned and executed to conceal the identity of the sponsor. The operation receives the publicity, not the sponsor.

Clandestine Operations are planned and executed with an emphasis on concealing the Operation, not the sponsor. This style of Operation may be concealed for a variety of reasons, but the terrorist(s) may wish their identities to be known.

Once a terrorist or group of terrorists becomes motivated, chooses a target, settles on a tactic, feels training level are sufficient for their operation, and decides upon an operation style, planning begins.

The planning sequence revolves around building a target folder. The target folder requires the most complete and accurate information that time allows. Time tables are usually controlled by the terrorist. A target folder consists of, but is not limited to:

The name and location of the targeted facility or individual. The location will include the address, map coordinates and geographical area (i.e. urban, suburban or rural.) The location is important for many reasons. For example: urban/ suburban areas may generate more incidental or concurrent damage, death, or casualties than a rural target. A rural target may be much easier to infiltrate and exfiltrate than an urban/suburban target, due to terrain features and sparse population.

A date or dates of analysis will be recorded. This is done to ensure that the elements of essential information are current. Lengthy planning phases may require frequent updates. The generating source will be documented, often in code format, to establish a point of contact.

A list of attachments will be included - such as maps, photographs, schedules, brochures, sketches and blueprints. The information culled from these sources will focus on manmade and natural obstacles, cover/concealment, observation points, key terrain features, and avenues of approach/escape. Maps may include commercial maps,topographical maps, and target-site generated maps. Photographs may be air-to-ground, ground level stills or camera recorded, cut from industry disseminated brochures, newspaper articles, magazine articles, etc. Schedules include advertised tours, meetings, special activities, VIP visits and work schedules. Brochures disseminated for advertisement or information purposes will be gathered, and sketches will be drawn depicting line-of-site areas. Blueprints of buildings and facilities illustrating technical physical construction aspects can be obtained from government entities i.e. federal, state, county and local sourcing.

Next, a general overview will be compiled. This overview covers a general description of the facility, individual(s), and nature of the operation(s) performed. A description of the component part of targeted facility (including physical structures) will be developed. Component parts will be listed in a prioritized fashion. Communications capabilities will be covered in reference to type, available backup systems, and location of the Command and Control Center. Command and Control Centers include the Central Communications Center, Emergency Operations Center, Tactical Operations Center, predetermined Field Command Post, etc.

Power/fuel type used will be of interest due to flammable, explosive and contamination properties. Sources of fuel supply highlighting the location of on-site storage, amounts stored, means of delivery and resupply times frames will be discussed. The type of fuel storage facility (i.e. aboveground, underground, or a combination of the two) will be of interest. Fuel reserve systems and conversion times will be cited.

The number of employees or personnel on regular shifts and offshifts, offshifts, work hours/days, and the availability of key personnel during these times will be documented. Labor/management relationships will be evaluated. If poor relationships exist, an insider threat may be cultivated. If mass casualties are desired, the terrorist(s) may attack during peak work hours, or if infiltration is a priority, off hours may be chosen in order to lessen the chance of discovery.

Raw materials in regard to type, amount, storage facility (ie aboveground, underground or a combination of the two), amount on hand, source of supply, means of delivery and resupply time frames are of interest. A briefing will be conducted pertaining to the facility’s finished product(s) type, amount produced daily/weekly/monthly, quality control, by product’s type/amount and distribution. Once again, a priority breakdown may be developed. Passive sabotage may be effective if quality control is poor.

Site transportation capabilities in reference to type, amount, backup systems, and maintenance/repair is important. Transportation assets directly correspond to emergency response capabilities.

A flow diagram depicting priority personnel, functions, and departments will be studied. Priority personnel may be targeted for initial neutralization along with the facilities targeted. Security will be evaluated specifically covering:
SWAT capable
Government Trained and contracted
Privately trained and contracted.

Security force strength and work schedules will be projected. Normal duties/locations and Emergency Response duties/locations will be plotted. Information concerning screening systems, alarms systems, communications systems, key personnel, emergency access procedures, response times (etc.) will be gathered.

Finally, a specific section will cover a prioritized list of all critical components, potential targets, common targets, and the relationship of the facility to other complexes. The targeted facility will be classified as either supporting or dependent. The facility, as a whole, may be classified differently than its’ components, when a variety of functions are performed. Naturally, a stand alone or supporting facility is more attractive than a dependent target, due to the impact on other facilities or processes.

Once all the planning elements are completed, an appropriate attacking force will be assembled. This force may range from one terrorist - to a large force possessing unconventional weapons and explosives. Mission scope delineates terrorist strength.

Time is required for terrorists to become motivated, answer critical questions, choose tactics, select the proper training, decide upon operating style, complete planning, and gather the rest of their attacking forces. During this time span, facilities may operate in a lackadaisical manner, believing “nothing has ever happened here, and nothing ever will.” This mind set must be avoided at all cost, or defending against a determined, well planned terrorist attack will end in disaster.


The Author, Tony L. Jones, is the President of “Heightened Vigilance” a Tactical/Security Consultant, and a well known Instructor/Writer within our profession. His two most recent books “SWAT Sniper” and “SWAT Leadership and Tactical Planning” are available from Paladin Press. Jones is also part of the contributing writer/cross training professionals at Informed Source.
Contact information may be made via: miller@profiles-threat.com


Our prayers are with all the men and women who are working on the rescue teams. You are doing the most difficult of all jobs, through your tears, broken hearts, exhausted and bruised bodies. We are proud of your courage, your willingness, and your determination to rescue those who need you so desperately!”
Board of Directors, the IAPPS

This article is reprinted with permission from Informed Source Newsletter at www.profiles-threat.com.

Profiles Threat CounterMeasures Group serves clients both nationally and internationally with protective services, training and educational seminars, products, threat assessment evaluations and educational information - from small start up companies to Fortune 500 and 100 companies, to Professional Consulting and Investigative firms, Executive, Dignitary and Tactical Protection Teams, Law Enforcement, Local, State and Federal Governments both domestic and foreign.

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