...seizing the enemy without fighting is the most skillful. - Sun Tzu, Art of War
The terrorism threat hasn't changed. This is still an active war. Although our nation has not been successfully attacked (due to the efforts of counter-terrorism operations world-wide) within the last eight years, doesn't mean we are not at risk. Quite the opposite I would argue. We have entered a period of time where the average American has been lulled asleep by the absence of a spectacular terrorist event. Terrorists use apathy to their advantage. In particular, Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda, and host of other terrorist networks, have been known to wait years before launching an attack. During this period of downtime, they meticulously plan their next catastrophic event. Keep in mind that Bin Laden declared War against the U.S. in 1996, but 9/11 didn't happen until 2001. Terrorists are evil, intelligent and deadly, but not infallible.
Terrorists will use what works. Just as our military gages their efforts by completing AARs (After Action Reports/Reviews) and U.S. Law Enforcement tactical teams conduct post-raid briefings, terrorists take note of how effective their last attack was and seek to improve on their destructive results. In order to understand terrorist attack methods, you have to look at roughly the last 50 years of terrorist attacks to categorize their assault methods. Basically, the most probable terrorist attacks (listed in their order of preference) are shown below:
The value in understanding this as a law enforcement officer is that once you know how the enemy attacks, you can come up with methods to mitigate the risks. Before looking at those possible methods, you need to have a clear understanding of how a terrorist cell works.
Every terrorist group operation will use the following players:
Support Cell: Their task is to provide the finances, materials, documents, passports and other logistics for the attack to take place. They operate low key and this cell can operate with fewer than 5 members. Their activities are seemingly innocuous and members performing those functions can be the elderly, middle aged women and children.
Intelligence Cell: These terrorists are specifically trained to conduct intelligence activities and target surveillance. They will use electronic and other means to gather information, such as the Internet, videos, blueprints, direct observation, etc. In many instances, historically, terrorist intelligence cell members have infiltrated the target location months in advance as low-level employees (janitorial, secretarial, delivery personnel) of the organization so that the later stages of their intelligence gathering activities are conducted internally giving them more precise information, such as guard rotations, security precautions, and placement of intended victims.
Operator Cell: The killers. These individuals will use everything useful that has been provided by their complementing elements (Support and Intelligence Cells) to execute the attack. The physical size of the target, defensive posture of the facility and method of attack will determine the number of cell members. It is important to note that the individual cell members, with exception of the cell commander, will probably NOT know their intended target until nearly the last minute. This is done for operational security measurers. If one operator is picked up as the group nears the execution phase of the attack then the overall plan is still not completely compromised, because the target location is still undisclosed within the group itself. The 9/11 attacks, for example, Bin Laden himself did not know the exact date of when the attack would occur until only a few weeks prior. One of the operational commanders of the hijackers, Mohammed Atta, reported to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed only a month beforehand the 9/11 target date. It was then that Bin Laden was told when his operators would unleash the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our history. The point here is that information and operations are compartmentalized to maintain secrecy.
Which group is easiest to interdict, and therefore disrupt a terrorist attack as a patrol officer or local investigator? Providing you are receptive to the above mentioned terrorist attack indicators and actively seeking, the intelligence gathering link is the weakest, with supportive role being next. As any good cop will attest, being proactive with enforcement activities stops crimes before they happen.
Terrorists are nothing more than super-criminals in that their sole focus is to kill, maim and destroy. However, since they are still criminally minded they engage in unlawful activities that are routinely encountered by the local aggressive uniformed officer. When conducting your normal drug interdiction, and criminal patrol operations with the goal of searching vehicles or persons for evidence of drugs, guns, and other traditional crimes, keep in the mind the following: Is this person a terrorist by being a member of a Support, Intelligence or Operational Cell? Potential evidence observed by you during your search may help you identify which actor you have. Consider the evidence below:
- Maps, Passports, Pre-Pay Cell Phones/Credit Cards, Calling Cards, Webpages showing locations or facilities, newspaper articles of the same topic, etc. Which cell seeks to obtain this type of information? Support.
- Still photographs, videos, cellphone pictures or movie files of locations out of the ordinary for the person in possession of the items. Notes detailing the delivery times of merchandise, number of personnel, security assets, or activities that are unusual although appearing innocent? Which cell functions in this manner? Intelligence.
- Individuals traveling in a small group (3-5), cleanly shaven and bathed, neatly dressed, covered in perfumes (preparation to meet Allah), having the "thousand yard stare", signs out of the ordinary for nervousness; sweating, fidgeting, deceptiveness and delayed answers to common questions, such as "Where are you headed?" in addition to passengers muttering softly over and over again, "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great). Which cell exhibits these traits? Operators. You need to exercise extreme caution with this group. Encountering these individuals means you may have just interdicted terrorists at the culmination of the execution phase of a terrorist attack. High Risk Stop Procedures, Back-Up and watch your "six-o'clock". The preferred method of killing a cop by terrorists is attacking the officer from behind while he or she is distracted.
The least you need to know for this section:
- Analysis tell us that terrorists prefer the attack methods of Bombings, Shootings, and Kidnappings (in that order).
- Look for evidence pointing to Bombings, Shootings and Kidnappings.
- Support Cell members provide the "means" and Intelligence Cells members provide the "information" for the Operator Cell members who carry out the attack.
- The type of evidence discovered could help identity which kind of cell you may be dealing with.
- Non-Operator cell members may consists of the elderly, middle aged women, children, workers in low level positions that have a wide access to a facility (maintenance or janitorial) or at the other end of the spectrum, those in positions of prominence.
- Typical police criminal interdiction methods have proven effective with stopping terrorist attacks by identifying either Support or Intelligence Cells that lead to the Operations Cell.
- Patrol Officers need to be receptive to recognizing terrorism clues as readily as other clues usually associated with other more traditional crimes.
- The weakest link (most prone to discovery) in the overall terrorist attack process is the Intelligence stage, followed by the Support stage.
- Discovering the Operators - those who carry out the attack - is a last minute event, usually done by accident.
Police Officers need to exercise their survival skills when encountering any potential member of a terrorist cell, in particular the Operator Cell.