Jeff and Christine's Homeland Security Blog

Homeland Security and Terrorism

Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism

Taking the Mystery Out of Terrorist Planning

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For those interested in detailed, substantive reading on terrorism, I heartily recommend Stratfor‘s recent article, Detection Points in the Terrorist Attack Cycle.  This article makes the important point that while terrorism is a serious threat, it can be understood and countered like any other security threat.

No matter how fanatic a group’s operatives may seem, terrorists can’t create devastating attacks without careful, down-to-earth planning.  These kinds of attacks require communication, funding, supplies, and meticulous preparation, often over months and years.  All these activities expose the terrorists to possible discovery by security agencies.

Read the article to see why and how.  We welcome your comments!

Written by Homeland Security

March 23, 2012 at 03:38

Posted in Terrorism

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Complacency Is Not an Option

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While many Americans rejoice and are relieved that Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was killed by US forces in Pakistan, we need to be careful that our vigilance against terrorism is not decreased. In an article published in the FBI‘s Law Enforcement Bulletin (September 2011), <LINK> FBI Intelligence analyst Lauren O’Brien provides her thoughts on the state of terrorism today.

Her opinion is that in the last 10 years, while the US faces a more diverse enemy, the threat still exists and is just as formidable as it was in 2001. The enemy is now more adaptive and changing which makes focusing on the enemy just that more difficult. Ms. O’Brien goes on to provide a good understanding of how terrorism trends have evolved in the last 10 years.

In particular, Ms O’Brien is spot on when she states that, “Following 9/11, the United States faced a threat from al Qaeda not only as an organization but also as an ideology. A new global jihadist movement composed of al Qaeda-affiliated and -inspired groups and individuals began to unfold. Although these groups threatened U.S. interests overseas, they did not rival al Qaeda in the threat they posed to the homeland. However, over time, the spread of this decentralized, diffuse movement has increased the threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad.” This makes our (US) efforts against potential terrorists just that much harder and expensive.

We can see some of the more visible results in the Boko Haram movement in the West African country of Nigeria (the source of around 11% of oil imported into the US) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Ms. O’Brien correctly concludes that the US must continue to enhance its relationship with intelligence and law enforcement partners. The FBI (and other government agencies) need to adapt their techniques to confront the ever changing threat of terrorism. Complacency is not an option.

Written by Homeland Security

September 22, 2011 at 19:34

“Open Source” Terrorism and the Internet: What Do You Think?

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ASIS, the leading industry organization in our field, just held its annual conference in Orlando. A keynote topic of conversation was terrorist use of the Internet. According to a 20 September 2011 Homeland Security Newswire article, terrorists make use of cyberspace for a range of activities, including recruitment and planning:

Jeff Bardin, the chief security strategist of Treadstone 71, a presenter at this year’s ASIS conference on cyber jihad, argues in a report that “Cyber jihadist groups have adopted the power of modern communications technology for planning, recruiting, propaganda purposes, enhancing communications, command and control, fund raising and funds transfer, information gathering, and as a method for winning the hearts of minds of the global insurgency.”

Terrorists have been on the Internet as long as it’s been around, of course. It’s another tool that they can use– and we can use against them. Much of the conversation at ASIS was about how best to use the Internet to investigate and undermine terrorism.

To me, one of the most significant parts of the discussion was the concept of “open source Jihad.” In the information technology world, open-source code means that software writers are free to use the building blocks of a computer platform to create programs and applications without asking, or paying, a big firm like Apple or Microsoft. In the same way, open source Jihad encourages would-be terrorists to operate independently while building on the work of others. Here’s how the Newswire describes al-Qa’ida’s role in facilitating terrorism by individuals and small groups which are not part of its formal structure:

Most notably, al Qaeda uses the Internet to publish Inspire, the organization’s own magazine. The group describes its publication as “Open Source Jihad,” writing that it is a “resource manual for those who loathe the tyrants; includes bomb making techniques, security measures, guerilla tactics, weapons training, and all other Jihad related activities.” They go on to say, “The open source Jihad is America’s worst nightmare; It allows Muslims to train at home instead of risking a dangerous travel abroad.”

The magazine, Inspire, is well named. This is an essential change in the pattern of Islamic extremist terrorist activity today: instead of being directed by relatively large, “professional” terrorist organizations, it is typically designed and carried out by small groups who are inspired by al-Qa’ida, but who are not members in the classic sense.

This pattern holds true for domestic terrorism, too. There are hundreds of like-minded groups and thousands of individuals who share neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and militia/anti-government ideologies. Yet, they have not coalesced into anything like al-Qa’ida in its heyday, and they instead serve to inflame individuals like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh without actively directing them.

Written by Homeland Security

September 22, 2011 at 04:26

Challenges for TSA

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Many of you may be considering careers at the Transportation Security Agency (TSA). The work there is vital: it’s the first line of defense against terrorists and criminals who plan to hijack or destroy aircraft.

The US government took a dramatic step in 2001 when it removed airport security screening from the hands of private-sector contractors and created a corps of federal employees to do the job. Training and pay are at a professional level, whereas under the old system airports hired private firms to do the screening work, and the firms varied greatly in training and other quality factors.

Now, there’s a trend in the opposite direction. Here’s an article on a growing trend by budget-cutters to privatize screening work (link to humanevents article).

Proponents of privatization argue that because there have been instances of bureaucratic bloat at TSA and of inattention and theft by TSA officers, it would be better to replace TSA screeners with cheaper private-sector employees.  However, in the private sector, contracts usually go to the lowest bidder, who keeps costs low by paying low wages and keeping training to a minimum.  That was the situation before 9/11.

For a more detailed look at Representative Mica’s comments on TSA, here’s a link to a newsmax article.

TSA has an especially tough job, since it must close off existing vulnerabilities and anticipate new ones, while maintaining the support of the traveling public.  There was a recent case here in Panama City in which an elderly lady was placed in an uncomfortable situation due to screening regulations (link), and it got quite a bit of negative publicity nationwide.

Here’s another article on a change in TSA procedure designed to build public support for travel screening procedures.  Note that random inspections will still take place, because otherwise terrorist groups may attempt to exploit the new policy:

As the memory of 9/11 dims for many Americans, the traveling public may be less tolerant of intrusive security measures. It will be a challenge for us, as Homeland Security professionals, to build a transportation security program which stays a step ahead of terrorists, while maintaining public support and confidence.

Recommended Reading: Homeland Security Remains an Agency in Progress (Brian Naylor, National Public Radio Weekend Edition, September 11, 2011)

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Recommended reading: Homeland Security Remains an Agency in Progress (Brian Naylor, National Public Radio Weekend Edition, September 11, 2011) Link:

NPR’s Brian Naylor presented an interesting discussion of the status of the Department of Homeland Security as of September 11, 2011. Ten years after 9/11, DHS has overcome many of the growing pains involved in building a vast agency out of 22 separate entities, and it is working to solve the vulnerabilities and faults identified in the 9/11 Commission Report.

The article reflects several challenges DHS is facing. One is the need to spend money carefully. Another is the Department’s balance between terrorism response and management of other kinds of disasters. The public often thinks of DHS in terms of terrorism, such as the old color-coded alert system, yet much of its work is on an “all-hazards” basis: it’s preparing for natural disasters, accidental chemical releases, etc., as well as terrorist attacks. Naylor quotes one academic who believes DHS should reduce its spending on terrorist preparations and focus on risks which happen with more frequency.

Steven Flynn, a member of the 9/11 Commission, says in the article that there’s also a need to focus more on resilience– bouncing back from disasters, since they can’t always be prevented. Flynn doesn’t say that prevention is no longer worth DHS time and resources, but his statement may represent a new way of looking at disasters.

What do you think?

So… what exactly counts as terrorism?

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Because terrorism is so important a threat in today’s world, you might expect that there would be a clear definition of what acts do and don’t constitute terrorism. However, there’s no single definition accepted across the US government, let alone among nations or academic experts. Scores of definitions can be found in various academic and security publications.A sampling of definitions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of State (DOS) illustrate the different perspectives of categorizing and analyzing terrorism.

The FBI uses this: “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

The U.S. Department of State uses the definition contained in Title 22 U.S.C. Section 2656f(d). According to this section, “terrorism” means “premeditated politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.” The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) also uses this Title 22 definition of terrorism in its annual reports of terrorism incidents around the world.

 Terrorism is defined by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) as: “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Terrorism is a different kind of mission for the US armed forces. Terrorists do not usually attempt to challenge government military forces directly, but act to create public perceptions of an ineffective or illegitimate government. In fact, many definitions of terrorism specify that the victims must be noncombatants. Some theorists include off-duty or unsuspecting military personnel as potential victims of terrorism, while others consider attacks on active-duty military personnel to be acts of war rather than terrorism.

These definitions stress the respective institutional concerns of the organizations using them.

The FBI concentrates on the “unlawful” aspect in keeping with its law enforcement mission. The Department of State concerns itself with politically motivated actions by sub-national or clandestine actors– meaning groups which aren’t nations. This makes a difference in international relations and diplomacy. Many definitions of terrorism don’t distinguish between acts carried out by a nation and those carried out by a group or individual, as long as the attack isn’t by one nation’s armed forces against another nation’s armed forces. That would be categorized as warfare instead.

Outside the United States Government, there are greater variations in what features of terrorism are emphasized in definitions. One comment used often is, “One state’s terrorist is another state’s freedom fighter.” A workable definition of terrorism must distinguish between insurgents who target a government’s centers of power in order to change the political order and terrorists who target civilians. However, since some insurgents may at times attack noncombatants and some terrorists sometimes strike state targets, it’s hard to neatly categorize actual groups.

Even the United Nations (UN) has no internationally-agreed definition of terrorism. The UN produced this description in 1992, although it is not an official definition: “An anxiety inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by semi-clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.” The UN description differs from many others in that it includes criminally motivated acts, such as piracy. As we’ve seen above, most definitions require that an attack be motivated by ideology (religious, nationalist, or political) rather than profit in order to be considered terrorism.

There is clearly a wide array of definitions for terrorism, and we’ll explore some created by researchers on terrorism in another discussion. However, security professionals generally agree that there are common elements which most definitions include, and which help us distinguish terrorism from other kinds of violence:

— Terrorism is ideological: it’s motivated by a desire to implement a political, religious, or nationalistic agenda.

— Terrorism is violent. It relies on violence and the threat of violence to be effective. Terrorist groups may also carry out propaganda and other non-violent methods of advancing their goals, but these aren’t terrorism.

— Terrorism is about terror. This sounds obvious, but the point of terrorism isn’t destruction or violence in itself; it’s about creating fear and psychological distress among the target population. Terrorists prefer acts which generate media coverage and psychological shock, since this gets the maximum attention for their cause.

— Terrorism is directed at a society or other larger target population, not at the individual victims of their attacks. Attacks are intended to create fear among the population, so that their governments will accommodate the terrorists’ agenda. Some terrorists do attack specific victims through assassinations, but this is intended to destabilize the confidence of the target society’s elite in their government. It is more common, though, for terrorists to attack random civilians.

— Terrorism is deliberate: attacks are not random, but carefully planned.

What is Homeland Security?

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According to the “National Strategy for Homeland Security,” the definition of homeland security is “a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur.”[1]

Homeland security is a relatively new field of study which is constantly evolving and working to define itself. Prior to the Al Qaida sponsored terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, “Homeland Security” as a profession did not exist. It came into existence because of the shocking horror of the 9/11 terrorist attack which altered peoples perception of their own security, the world, and the government’s ability to protect the nation from attacks on US soil.

After 9/11, the United States created a Department of Homeland Security. This grew out of the government’s frustration with trying to unite a number of agencies and government organizations into one capable, centralized organization.

While the terrorist attack of 9/11 called into being the Homeland Security enterprise, its long-term existence is not dependent only on defending the US from terrorist attacks. Significant steps have been taken to implement a series of strategies to secure our nation not just against terrorist attacks, but also natural emergencies and hostile countries.

Because one of the government’s principal missions is protecting its people and homeland from attacks, the Homeland Security mission will always remain. Plans and programs to protect our way of life– and the critical infrastructure which makes our way of life possible– must be crafted and strengthened, all the while respecting our constitutional rights and freedoms and enabling the economy to prosper.

Many human and financial resources were spent on Homeland Security in the years after 9/11. Some were well spent, while in other cases money was wasted during the learning curve on how best to organize and secure our nation. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, budgets are slimmer, but there remains a national consensus on the importance of funding Homeland Security agencies and activities. Today, the homeland security field is a multibillion-dollar business.

There is an acute national and international need for professionals who can think and operate in the Homeland Security field. These will be people who can contribute their expertise in one or more of the disciplines that comprise the field as a whole.