Friday, July 06, 2007

Terrorists in America Switching to "Plan B"?

The Department of Homeland Security has refined its analysis of the domestic threat posed by al Qaeda. DHS now believes that the terror network in America will emphasize a larger number of quick hit-and-run strikes rather than the more spectacular but infrequent attacks favored by Osama bin Laden.

Examples of the "new" approach they fear include this week's attempted car-bombing of London nightclubs and the Glasgow airport.

According to a recent report by Robert Block in The Wall Street Journal, How Terrorists' Goals May Be Melding, government security specialists worry that al Qaeda will "encourage local Muslims to join their jihad and kill however they can," while "(a)t the same time, their chief planners continue to plan and work for 'the big one.'"

Block points out, "Mr. Zarqawi rose to prominence in Iraq by carrying out a sustained campaign of simple attacks against lightly defended targets."

According to an unclassified DHS report, Speculating on an al-Zarqawi Campaign against the Homeland,

"They (Zarqawi-type targets) do not require experienced operatives and can be planned and executed in a matter of days or weeks, versus years. His targets are ones of opportunity—accessible and vulnerable—and his methods of attacks include suicide car bombings, improvised explosive device attacks, kidnappings and assassinations."
Block wrote,
"(The DHS report) said if Mr. Zarqawi were to lead attacks against the U.S., the campaigns would likely involve fewer operatives, shorter planning time lines and focus on soft targets. The plots would, by their very nature, 'be more difficult to detect during the planning stages and more difficult to prevent during the execution stages.'"
Block asks whether DHS resources should continue to focus on potential catastrophic attacks or should they refocus on the "more likely attacks on, for example, shopping malls using a homemade gasoline bomb or legally purchased firearms?" (emphasis added)

The challenges that this change creates for our existing protective structure are obvious. According to the Los Angeles deputy police chief for counterterrorism, Michael Downing,
"The need to disrupt an ever-wider range of plots, and to investigate suspects who at first might ony seem peripheral, puts a major strain on our resources."
Too many government workers have succumbed to the temptation to engineer an American Maginot Line, a static defense built around government responders, who despite their best planning and intentions will almost always arrive too late for anything but recovering the bodies.

We've seen over and over again that victims who rely on others for defense can suffer horrific losses. Virginia Tech comes to mind, where a single gunman with neither support nor sophistication was able to kill dozens before taking his own life. Or the Columbine disaster, where two teenagers killed or wounded nearly three dozen students and a teacher in just 16 minutes and then strutted through their conquered kingdom for half an hour before, again, ending their lives.

Contrast those cases with the Appalachian School of Law shootings, where the death toll was held to three when two students retrieved a gun and ended the carnage. Or, the Trolley Square rampage by a Muslim teenager, where five were killed before an off-duty, out of uniform police officer from a different jurisdiction ended a Valentine's Day date with his wife and the killers spree by drawing a concealed handgun and confronting the teenage shooter.

Only rarely amongst the mass killings in the last ten years has on-duty police caused the end of the killing. Termination has been either a) at the hand of the killer, or b) through the intervention of civilians.

It is unrealistic to expect that any government, no matter how effective, will be able to protect all of America's soft targets. The federal Transportation Safety Administration currently spends $6B annually to protect fewer than 600 airports around the nation, or about $11 million per target. That's larger than the total budget of most elementary and secondary schools and would impose an unsustainable stress on most malls, sports stadiums, cathedrals and other major terror opportunities.

Israel has had to deal with terror attacks for almost four decades and they've found a combination of steps that have very substantially reduced both the frequency and the severity of internal terrorist attacks:
  • They've secured their borders.
  • They've hardened their targets.
  • They've educated their civilians on what to watch for.
  • They've armed their civilians and encouraged them to take responsibility for their own safety.
Can we, should we, do less?

I suspect that DHS and Block are right, that the next series of attacks within the U. S. will be small scale, ad hoc, and appear to be amateurish. As was Virginia Tech. As was Columbine.

For that matter, so was the shooting at Los Angeles International Airport, the attempted bombing at the University of Oklahoma and the massacre at the undefended offices of the Jewish Federation of Seattle.

We can pray that we'll learn quickly that while once may be an accident, twice is a problem and three times is a pattern.

I'm reminded of one of the attacks in Israel a few years ago, where an Arab terrorist was shot dead by an Israeli shopper.
"How did you know you weren't shooting an innocent man?"
"He sizzled."
"Excuse me?"
"He tried to self-detonate. There was a malfunction. I saw smoke. I didn't want to take a chance on there being a second trigger. We were in a supermarket. Women and children all around. I drew and and shot him in the chest."
Or, another one, in Jerusalem:
"(A) shoe salesman was eating dinner with his wife in a Jerusalem nightclub, when a terrorist opened fire with an automatic firearm. William Hazan grabbed a pistol out of his wife's purse and shot the Palestinian, thus ending the terror. The gunman had explosives strapped to his body, but was effectively prevented from detonating the devices."
The day will soon come when we in the U.S. tell similar stories. The folks who are most likely to make the difference, to prevent horrific loss of life, are the citizens who have learned from 9-11, who accept that more than three is a pattern and understand that the police can't possibly get there fast enough.

They are less likely to become victims themselves and by doing so, will help you and I as well.

What about you? Shouldn't you be helping out?

Related Links: "Experts" Hawk Old Answers on Campus Security
Is Virginia Tech Education's "9/11"?

1 comment:

S said...

This makes sense. As stated, the police, security, etc. simply cannot get there quick enough. We have to begin to take responsibility for our own security again. This is how the US became a free society in the first place, and it is what it is going to take to keep it that way.