You’ve seen these headlines, and so have I:
“Terrorists plan to attack major US cities!”
“Al-Qaeda planned to attack rail sectors!”
I’ve had enough of it all. This post 9/11 terrorist craze has given way to hysteria – perhaps like my grandparent’s generation, we’ve all become a little too paranoid. Media outlets and government intelligence estimates often fail to apply actual analysis to these warnings. The result is a populace which is increasingly numb to repetitive dire warnings from solemn goverment officials. I’m an anti-terrorism specialist, and I even skim over these headlines on my search for something actually interesting!
A good threat assessment will examine intentions and capabilities of an adversary. Too often, those provoking headlines are all about the intent of a terror organization (yes, there really are some besides al-Qaeda), and not the capabilities. This is where the analysis piece is missing.
Any adversary who wants to attack a target must overcome three basic hurdles:
1. Devise a plan of attack – what tactic will be used?
2. Obtain the weapon – explosive, handgun & ammunition, chemical or biological, etc.
3. Devise a means to successfully deliver that weapon to the target – how will the attack be carried out?
Hollywood isn’t reality – unless you have a handgun and some ammunition, these attack means aren’t as easy to execute as you might think. The intentions of a adversary typically don’t match up to it’s capailities. If they were, Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square vehicle bomber, would have succeeded. He did not – because it requires a moderate degree of skill to devise a vehicle bomb that will actually work.
Next time you see a catchy headline about some devious terror plot, ask yourself: Have the three operational hurdles been overcome? Did these terrorists even get close? More often than not, the answer is no.
Apply analysis to the homeland security headlines, and you’ll be surprised at how meaningless much of it all is . . .