Terrorist organizations such al Qaeda (AQ), ISIL (Daesh), and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are notorious for the amounts of propaganda and training materials made available in the open source and in several languages. When you look at their online magazines, you pause to think who is writing the material. I can tell you from professional experience (in law enforcement and intelligence analyst), the quality of the graphics and thinking is not coming from amateurs.
It is true that there is plenty of “open source” material for terrorists to take and use for their propaganda and training. The material includes: Research papers that address homeland security and issues of national security interest, public safety, and other areas that are intended to educate professionals but also serve to educate the terrorists. Another subject we don’t really talk about is that individuals with serious experience publish some of the material in a classified platform for training and it later becomes available to criminals and terrorists because it is leaked.
A reality is that terrorists are able to adapt to change and take anything that works for law enforcement and intelligence for their own benefit. In other words, terrorists seek to maximize their effectiveness and also exploit any opportunities they can find. In the case of intelligence leaks offer plenty of material they can use.
The intelligence leaks coupled with the terrorist training materials and we have a dangerous combination that threatens life and property. The downing of the Metrojet Fight 9268 in the Sinai Peninsula is one example. The bomb used in the attack was published in one of their magazines and 224 people died on October 31, 2015. Setting aside the potential gaps in the physical security at the departing airport in Egypt, the explosive device was built with very easy to obtain materials.
I would never defend people or websites who leak intelligence that can be used against governments. A very detrimental site is WikiLeaks, which has provided a lot of classified and non-classified material for terrorists and other state actors. In this case, a lot of classified papers and training materials that are highly classified for “intelligence and military use only” have become available.
It is fact that the intelligence leaks continue to challenge counterintelligence and counterterrorism efforts by the US. In simple terms, if people, including criminals, get their hands in highly classified material, they will get training that can be used against the government and the civilian population.
A recently released terrorist training manual in English, titled “Safety and Security guidelines for Lone Wolf Mujahideen and small cells” is one example on how classified information can be used to train terrorists. This terrorist training manual contains significant material that would only be available in a “classified” manner.
It is a complete counterintelligence-training manual for criminals and terrorists. What is most disturbing is that after analyzing the entire manual, it appears that a lot of the training was obtained in classified material leaked. Counterintelligence training is not widely published in an unclassified manner for obvious reasons. Governments tend to keep that training away from the public and criminals.
It is true that there is plenty of information found in the manual that is also available in books, journals and other magazines. In a phone interview, David Ratkovich, Head of Security for Contingent Security Services, Ltd., he stated that “the intelligence leaks have contributed to the advancements in the terrorist published publications where terrorists are not just learning how to produce a bomb but also how to conceal their intentions from the governments.” It really is how the information is gathered and presented to an audience.
In an interview with Jay Grant, Secretary General of InterPort Police he stated that “the biggest difference when looking at previous publications is that the target audience now has access to information that trains them on how to conceal their activities…”
Secretary Grant adds, “We often get hung up on the world of terrorism as being an act of an organization far away… a lone actor [lone wolf] who goes to a crowed place and kills people for whatever reason is terrorism in the simplest form of the word. Therefore, we must be prepared to and ready to prevent terrorism from its basic form.”
Secretary Grant has been working for over a year in developing a program to train, share critical training and information to the level of the street level officer. According to Secretary Grant they will offer a complete solution that could group first responders in specialized task forces complete with command and communication and participants will only need their smart phones.
Secretary Grant will be announcing the program later in 2016 that could revolutionize how police officers learn, share intelligence, handle incident command, and coordination during drills or an actual incident. The solution will bring the best of social media platforms in a secured platform for first responders.
Terrorists have been able to use modern social networking methods for radicalization, training, and recruiting. Most countries have been unable to stop the spread of their message or simply refuse take any action. Tweeter took steps to stop hateful speech but many others have not.
Also the encrypting of messages and encrypting of storage in cell phones today make traditional search warrants and eavesdropping orders nearly useless. This is not because judges are refusing to grant them but because when law enforcement get the orders, they can’t decrypt the information.
Thus the human factor begins to take a more predominant position in law enforcement, intelligence collection, and analysis.
Additionally, this terrorist training manual discusses in detail “blind spots and limitations,” that US government agencies have. The sad situation is that most local law enforcement agencies will not learn that such a training manual is in the hands of potential terrorists.
I regularly speak to chiefs of police in reference to more training, who say in a nutshell, if these risks or threats are not happening in their towns, their cops don’t need to learn about them. I argue that they may be located next to a mall or an airport and his or her officers may be called to assist. The terrorists may be providing a lot of signals to human relationships in their towns but their lack of training allow these processes to flow freely, undetected, and until an event takes place and it manifests itself (for example, the San Bernardino terrorist attack).
Who is else is not informed or less informed? Assets such as malls and other facilities (schools) controlled by the private sectors. And lastly all other soft targets with thousands of foot traffic daily. For most of these facilities, the publishing of such a terrorist manual will never cross their radar. In reality, most of these first responders are left without any capabilities to detect the initial stages of a terrorist attack.
“If you have any place that is a critical infrastructure such as airport terminals and other venues that bring large amounts of people are all potential targets for terrorism,” Secretary Grant added while reflecting on the LAX attack by a single gunman on 2013. As we have seeing lately, a handgun or knife can now be used to cause a terrorist act.
This terrorist manual goes to the core of the human element and trains terrorists how to avoid detection and makes sure they use the element of surprise.
The terrorist training manual makes many points that highlight the deficiencies of the US government agencies and make significant distinctions on what the different agencies can and can’t do inside the US.
What is also not helping in the US? The political rhetoric in the US that all Muslims are potential terrorists. Attacking minorities such as Latinos is also a problem, as law enforcement needs as many eyes out there watching. Enrique Marquez, a Latino assisted Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik obtain the weapons, and they killed 14 people on December 2, 2015 in San Bernardino. Marquez was arrested by the FBI on weapon charges.
Preventing a terrorist attack requires a significant cooperation and collaboration from people including people at risk of becoming radicalized. Convincing the communities at risk to “If You See Something, Say Something” is useless when the communities at risk distrust the police.
In a recent article, titled “Why gun control goes against defending soft targets from armed attackers,” I spoke about how soft targets are vulnerable to small armed attacks and how civilians with gun permits can potentially defend these soft targets faster and more effectively than law enforcement responses to the scene.
My idea is that we detect and prevent a terrorist attack, while building a good response program to stop an attack. This is where civilians properly license to carry a handgun come in the picture. It is not difficult to understand the concepts of preventing or stopping a terrorist attack. They are related but not the same.
The terrorist training manuals becoming available right now should serve as a wakeup call that we must adapt and educate our forces and communities all over the US. We need to use anyone as a “force multiplier.” Civilians with their conceal carry permits with specialized training can be a force multiplier for law enforcement that is minutes away from a scene. Here stopping an attack is key.
Communities at risk of potential radicalization need to have law enforcement and intelligence relationships they can trust so critical signals can be handed to law enforcement to prevent a terror attack.
It is clear today that the threat is much more real than what the communist threat was during the Cold War, and even then, I do not remember reading about Soviet spies conducting a terrorist act in cities in the US. The new threat by terrorists such as lone wolf and small cells like the San Bernardino attack are realities for people in the US need to cope with and quickly adapt necessary responses.
The real question is what we are going to do to overcome the challenges to prevent a terrorist attack by someone who becomes radicalized and learns how to avoid detection just like a career spy.