Speaking of terrorism this lovely second morning of summer (first time in days the forecast isn’t calling for 90 degree plus weather here in Chicago), remember when I blogged about the following threat to worldwide aviation coming out of a Qaddafi-less Libya in North Africa? From September 27 last year:
Flying the friendly skies just got more dangerous.
According to officials at a recent secret White House meeting, around 20,000 portable surface-to-air missiles have gone missing in Libya.
By the way, these missiles have the capability of bringing down commercial airliners.
On January 30, 2012, I updated Survival And Prosperity readers with the following:
20,000 portable SAMs originally reported missing. 5,000 recovered to-date.
That still leaves 15,000 missiles unaccounted for.
And just a couple of weeks ago on May 3, I received the following Security Weekly report from the global intelligence company Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (commonly referred to as the “Shadow CIA” in the MSM), that talked in-depth about the Libyan missiles. STRATFOR analyzed the danger of these man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) being used against civilian aircraft in a terrorist attack.
Reprinted with permission of STRATFOR:
The Continuing Threat of Libyan Missiles
By Scott Stewart
In March 2011, while many of the arms depots belonging to the government of Libya were being looted, we wrote about how the weapons taken from Libyan government stockpiles could end up being used to fuel violence in the region and beyond. Since then we have seen Tuareg militants, who were previously employed by the regime of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, leave Libya with sizable stockpiles of weapons and return to their homes in northern Mali, where they have successfully wrested control of the region away from the Malian government.
These Tuareg militants were aided greatly in their battle against the government by the hundreds of light pickup trucks mounted with crew-served heavy weapons that they looted from Libyan depots. These vehicles, known as “technicals,” permitted the Tuareg rebels to outmaneuver and at times outgun the Malian military. Moreover, we have recently received reports that Tuareg rebels also brought back a sizable quantity of SA-7b shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).
While we have not yet seen reports of the Tuaregs using these missiles, reports of close interaction between the Tuaregs in northern Mali and regional jihadist franchise al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) raise concern that AQIM could buy or somehow acquire them from the Tuaregs. We have seen unconfirmed reports of AQIM fighters possessing MANPADS, and Algerian authorities have seized MANPADS among the weapons being smuggled into the country from Libya. For example, in mid-February, Algerian authorities seized 15 SA-24 and 28 SA-7 Russian-made MANPADS at a location in the southern desert called In Amenas.
For the Tuareg militants, the MANPADS are seen as a way to protect themselves against attack by government aircraft. They also serve the same function for AQIM, which has been attacked by Mauritanian aircraft in northern Mali. However, the possession of such weapons by a group like AQIM also raises the possibility of their being used against civilian aircraft in a terrorist attack — a threat we will now examine in more detail.
Uses and Weaknesses of MANPADS
MANPADS were first fielded in the late 1960s, and since that time more than 1 million have been fielded by at least 25 different countries that manufacture them. These include large countries such as the United States, Russia and China as well as smaller countries such as North Korea, Iran and Pakistan.
By definition, MANPADS are designed to be man-portable. The missiles are balanced on and fired from the shooter’s shoulder, and the launch tube averages roughly 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length and 7 centimeters (3 inches) in diameter. Since MANPADS are intended to be operated by infantry soldiers on the front lines, durability is an important part of their design. Also, while the guidance mechanism within the missile itself can be quite complex, a simple targeting interface makes most MANPADS relatively easy to operate.
The SA-7 has a kill zone with an upper limit of 1,300 meters, while some newer models can reach altitudes of more than 3,658 meters. The average range of MANPADS is 4.8 kilometers (about 3 miles). This means that most large commercial aircraft, which generally cruise at around 9,140 meters, are out of the range of MANPADS, but the weapon can be employed against them effectively during the extremely vulnerable takeoff and landing portions of a flight or when they are operating at lower altitudes.
Despite their rugged design, MANPADS are not without limitations. Some research suggests that battery life makes the weapon obsolete after about 22 years. Missiles treated roughly, stored poorly and not maintained well may not last anywhere near that long. Since replacement batteries can be found on the black market, battery life is not necessarily a key limiting factor. For example, two SA-7s used by al Qaeda to target an Israeli civilian flight over Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002 were 28 years old and appeared to be fully functional. It is believed they did not hit their target due to countermeasures employed by the aircraft. Some of the classified U.S. military reports released by WikiLeaks indicted that, many times in Iraq and Afghanistan, the older SA-7s were ejected from their tubes and had engine ignition but failed to acquire and lock onto the intended target. This may also have been the case in the Mombasa attack.
Perhaps the most limiting factor to MANPADS’ utility has to do with the kind of aircraft being targeted. As MANPADS were developed and refined for military use, so were countermeasures for military aircraft. This means that most modern military aircraft are equipped with countermeasures that are effective against older models of MANPADS. Due to budget constraints, however, most commercial airliners and general aviation aircraft are not equipped with military-style countermeasures systems, which can alert a pilot that a missile has been launched so proper action can be taken, including evasive maneuvers, the deployment of infrared flares to decoy the missile or lasers to blind the missile’s seeker. Industry estimates indicate that outfitting and maintaining the entire U.S. airline fleet with countermeasures that could foil missiles would cost $40 billion. Because of the high cost of such defensive systems, the bulk of the civilian aviation fleet worldwide remains undefended and vulnerable to MANPADS.
MANPADS in Terrorist Attacks
The SA-7 was first deployed by the Soviet army in 1968 and was sent to North Vietnam, where it was used in combat against American military aircraft in the early 1970s. But it did not take long for militant groups to understand how the weapons could be utilized in a terrorist attack. In January and September 1973, Black September militants attempted to use SA-7s against Israeli civilian aircraft in Rome (the January flight was carrying then-Prime Minister Golda Meir). Both attempts were thwarted in their final minutes.
Two years later, the first successful MANPADS attack against a civilian aircraft occurred when North Vietnamese forces launched an SA-7 missile against an Air Vietnam flight, resulting in the deaths of all 26 passengers and crewmembers. One of the most famous civilian MANPADS attacks was in 1994, when two SA-16s were used to shoot down a Rwandan government flight, killing the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and sparking the Rwandan genocide, which resulted in approximately 800,000 deaths in 100 days (the identity of the attackers remains a matter of debate). Over the years, MANPADS attacks have been plotted and actively attempted in at least 20 countries, resulting in more than 900 civilian fatalities. The most recent MANPADS attack that resulted in loss of life was the strike by al Shabaab over Somalia in 2007 against a Belarusian cargo plane. Eleven people were killed. The attack reportedly involved a Russian SA-18 that was manufactured in Russia in 1995. It was one of a batch of SA-18s sent from Russia to Eritrea, some of which were provided to the Somali jihadist group.
A MANPADS attack does not necessarily mean certain death for an aircrew and passengers. In fact, some civilian airliners hit by MANPADS have made emergency landings without loss of human life. In November 2004, a DHL Airbus 300 was struck in the left wing by a MANPADS after leaving Baghdad International Airport on a mail delivery flight. While the aircraft was badly damaged and one engine caught fire, the pilot still was able to land safely.
The man-portable facet of MANPADS severely limits the size of the warhead that the weapon can carry compared to larger surface-to-air missile systems. They are also designed to engage and destroy low-flying military aircraft densely packed with fuel and ordnance. Because of this, MANPADS are not ideally suited for bringing down large civilian aircraft. Though airliners are hardly designed to absorb a missile strike, the damage a single MANPADS can inflict may not be catastrophic. MANPADS systems employ infrared seekers that are drawn to the heat signature of an aircraft’s engine, and therefore tend to hit the engine. Large commercial jets are designed to be able to fly and land if they lose an engine, and because of these factors, nearly 30 percent of the commercial aircraft struck by MANPADS have managed to make some sort of emergency or crash landing without loss of life, despite, in some cases, sustaining significant structural damage to the aircraft.
Still, the threat is not insignificant. The other 70 percent of civilian planes that have been hit by MANPADS have crashed with considerable loss of life. Indeed, on departure from or approach to an airport, airliners do have to traverse predictable airspace at low altitudes — well within the engagement envelope of MANPADS — and their airframes are under considerable stress. An attack at low altitude also provides the pilot less time to react and recover from an attack before the aircraft strikes the ground. These lower-level phases of flight also frequently occur over large swaths of built-up urban terrain that would be impossible to search and secure, even temporarily. Due to the noise involved with living under a flight path, this is usually low-rent real estate. With flight paths so well established, even casual observers generally have a sense of when and where large, low-flying aircraft can be found at any given time over their city.
As noted in Stratfor’s previous coverage of the MANPADS threat, since 1973 at least 30 civilian aircraft have been brought down and approximately 920 civilians have been killed by MANPADS attacks. These attacks brought about the concerted international effort to remove these weapons from the black and gray arms markets. Because of these efforts, attempts to use MANPADS against civilian airliners were down about 66 percent from 2000 to 2010 compared to the previous decade. Nevertheless, sting operations and seizures of illicit arms shipments clearly demonstrate that militant groups continue to work to acquire the weapons. There are at least 11 active non-state militant groups that are believed to possess MANPADS, and we have seen MANPADS employed sporadically in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are more than 10 other groups, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, that have been making efforts to obtain them. While there is no evidence that these groups now have them in their arsenals, their efforts may have become easier as missiles from Libya have trickled onto the black arms market.
Estimates vary widely, but it appears that the Libyans had an inventory of 20,000 MANPADS. It appears that the SA-7b seems to have been the most common MANPADS in the Libyan inventory, though there were also several far more advanced SA-24 missiles (the latest Russian design) that were intended to be used in vehicle-mounted launchers sold to the Libyans but that could be used as MANPADS if they were paired with the proper gripstocks and battery coolant units. Of those 20,000 missiles, teams from the United States and NATO have secured roughly 5,000; another 5,000 are thought to be in the hands of the various Libyan militias and to still be in the country. That leaves a remainder of 10,000 missiles. While a number of them were destroyed by NATO airstrikes or launched at aircraft, it is believed that somewhere around half have been smuggled out of the country. For obvious reasons, obtaining an accurate number of missiles is very difficult. Indeed, with a variety of parties involved in the smuggling, it is doubtful that anyone knows for sure how many missiles have been smuggled out of Libya.
The U.S. government has designated $40 million for a program intended to buy back Libyan MANPADS, but clearly many of them have already made it out of the country. In addition to the February seizure in Algeria, Egyptian authorities seized eight SA-24 missiles in the Sinai Peninsula in September 2011. A month earlier, two Israeli Cobra helicopters came under fire from a MANPADS fired from Sinai during a multi-stage attack launched from Sinai that resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis. The missile missed the Cobras. Indeed, the Jerusalem Post reported that, due to the perceived increase in the MANPADS threat from Sinai, commercial aircraft landing in Eilat have changed their approach pattern.
To date, we are not aware of any attacks or attempted attacks against commercial airliners using MANPADS taken from Libyan stocks. But with the missiles in the hands of Palestinian militants in Sinai and Gaza as well as in the inventory of groups such as AQIM, there is a legitimate concern that they will be used in an attack in the immediate future. Jihadists have long had a fixation on aviation as a target. With increases in airline passenger and luggage screening, MANPADS provide jihadists with the means to bypass those security measures and conduct attacks against civilian aircraft. They may have problems getting missiles into Europe or North America, but with active jihadist franchises in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and North Africa, there is a very real threat of a MANPADS attack directed against U.S.- or European-flagged carriers in those regions. But with a year now gone since the Libyan weapons stockpiles were looted, Libyan MANPADS could be almost anywhere in the world, and it is somewhat surprising that they have not been more widely used.
The Continuing Threat of Libyan Missiles is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
So, of the 20,000 missiles, 5,000 are secured by the U.S. and NATO, and 5,000 are thought to belong to Libyan militias and in-country.
Which leaves possibly around 10,000 MANPADS still out there.
Does knowing this stop me from flying? Heck no. However, I’m all for equipping commercial airliners and general aviation aircraft with military-style countermeasures systems because of this information. Too bad the bill will be steep.
Back on March 16, I talked about Scott Stewart of the global intelligence company Strategic Forecasting, Inc., or STRATFOR, authoring a series of Security Weekly reports entitled “Fundamentals of Terrorism.” The first of these, “The Myth of the End of Terrorism,” was released on February 23, and I wrote:
It’s a good, informative read, and serves as a reminder that just because major terror attacks directed against the United States and its interests haven’t been too successful lately, the threat hasn’t gone away.
The second “Fundamentals” report, entitled “Detection Points in the Terrorist Attack Cycle,” came out on March 1, and pointed out that those planning a terrorist attack must follow something called a “terrorist attack cycle,” and certain stages opens them up to detection.
Reprinted with permission of STRATFOR:
Detection Points in the Terrorist Attack Cycle
By Scott Stewart
Last week’s Security Weekly discussed the fact that terrorism is a tactic used by many different classes of actors and that, while the perpetrators and tactics of terrorism may change in response to shifts in larger geopolitical cycles, these changes will never result in the end of terrorism. Since that analysis was written, there have been jihadist-related attacks in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Yemen and Pakistan, an assassination attempt against the president of Abkhazia, and a failed timed-incendiary attack against the Athens subway. (The latter incident, which militant anarchists claimed, reinforces that jihadists are not the only ones who practice terrorism.)
But while terrorism is a continuing concern, it can be understood, and measures can be taken to thwart terrorist plots and mitigate the effects of attacks. Perhaps the most important and fundamental point to understand about terrorism is that attacks do not appear out of nowhere. Individuals planning a terrorist attack follow a discernible cycle — and that cycle and the behaviors associated with it can be observed if they are being looked for. We refer to these points where terrorism-related behavior can be most readily observed as vulnerabilities in the terrorist attack cycle.
The Attack Cycle
Many different actors can commit terrorist attacks, including sophisticated transnational terrorist groups like al Qaeda; regional militant groups like India’s Maoist Naxalites; small, independent cells like the anarchists in Greece; and lone wolves like Oslo attacker Anders Breivik. There can be great variance in attack motives and in the time and process required to radicalize these different actors to the point that they decide to conduct a terrorist attack. But once any of these actors decides to launch an attack, there is remarkable similarity in the planning process.
First, there is the process of selecting or identifying a target. Often an actor will come up with a list of potential targets and then select one to focus on. In some cases, the actor has preselected a method of attack, such as a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, and wants to find a target that would be vulnerable to that specific type of attack. In other cases, the actor will pick a target and then devise a method of attack based on that target’s characteristics and vulnerabilities. Simply put, the execution of these steps can be somewhat fluid; some degree of planning or preparation can come before target selection, and sometimes target selection will be altered during the planning process. The time required to execute these steps can also vary considerably. Some attacks can be planned and executed within hours or days, while more complex plans, such as those used in the 9/11 or Mumbai attacks, may take months or even years to complete.
Frequently, those planning an attack will conduct detailed surveillance of potential targets to determine what security measures are in place around the target and to gauge whether they have the ability to successfully attack it. If the target is too difficult to attack — commonly known as a hard target — the attack planners will typically move on to their next target, which may prove easier to attack. (When they do continue with attacks against targets whose security measures exceed the attackers’ capabilities, those attacks fail.) We refer to this stage as preoperational surveillance, which means surveillance that is conducted before the operation is fully planned.
After the target has been selected, a second round of surveillance is conducted. This round will be far more detailed and is intended to provide all the details necessary for planning the attack. For example, if the attack is being planned against a static facility, this round of surveillance will generally try to obtain a detailed description of the target’s physical security features and security force procedures. It will also focus on establishing a baseline understanding of the activity that can be expected around the facility at the time of day the attack is anticipated.
If the target of the attack is an individual, the individual’s residence, office and other places the individual frequents will be surveilled. Additionally, the surveillance team will look for patterns and routines that the target follows between these known locations. The team will often analyze the target’s usual routes looking for choke points, or places the target must pass to get from one point to another. If the surveillance team identifies a choke point that the target passes through predictably, it will then try to determine whether that point will allow the attackers to deploy in secret, permit them to spot and control the target, and provide them with good escape routes. If it does, this point will frequently be chosen as the attack site.
In the case of large organizations, different groups or individuals may conduct different phases of the surveillance. Many organizations use specialized operatives for surveillance, though the operational planner will often attempt to get eyes on the target to help with the planning process. For instance, it is known from court testimony in the Mumbai case that David Headley made five extended trips to Mumbai as those attacks were being planned. The repeated trips were required because the operational commanders in Pakistan considered India a hostile environment and the operational planners could not go there to conduct the surveillance themselves. As a result, Headley was sent to observe and report on specific things as planning for the attacks progressed.
During the planning phase, the personnel to be used in the attacks are identified and trained in any special skills they may require for the mission, including languages, marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, small-boat handling or land navigation. To protect operational security, the operatives may not be briefed in any great detail about the target of their operation until they are very close to being deployed.
Many times the planning phase will end with a dry run, as the preparation did for the 9/11 attacks, when some of the hijackers took their assigned flights in August 2001. While conducting a dry run, the attackers will generally be unarmed to ensure they do not needlessly bring law enforcement attention to themselves.
Sometimes an attacker will have acquired weapons for the attack before the planning phase. Other times the concept of the operation will be constrained by the weapons and money available. But quite frequently, the weapons for the attack will be acquired during the planning phase, after the target has been selected and the means of attack have been established.
Once planning, training and weapons acquisition are complete, the attack team can be deployed. The attack team frequently will again conduct surveillance of the target, especially if the target is mobile and the attack team is deployed and waiting at a predetermined attack site.
If it was properly planned, an attack is very likely to succeed once it has moved to the operational phase. Sometimes attacks do fail because of mistakes or bad luck, but by and large there is no way to stop an attack once it has been set in motion.
At the attack’s conclusion, the attackers will seek to escape the scene. The exception is suicide attacks or when, like Breivik, the attacker intends to be captured as part of the media exploitation phase, the final step in the cycle.
Regardless of whether the attack is a suicide attack against a church in Nigeria or a timed-incendiary attack against a subway in Athens, the same attack cycle is followed. With an eye toward averting future attacks, a thoughtful observer can use the attack cycle model to understand how an attack was planned and executed.
While plots are occasionally thwarted at the last second, for the most part law enforcement and security personnel must detect and interdict the plot before it gets to the attack phase to have any chance of stopping it. Once the bullets fly or the explosive device is detonated, there is little security forces can do but initiate their immediate action drills in an effort to reduce the body count. This means that an emphasis must be placed on identifying attackers earlier in the process, well before they are in a position to strike.
Unless security forces have a source inside the group that is planning the attack or manage to intercept the group’s communications, the only way to identify attack planners is by noting their actions. This is especially true of a lone wolf attack, where no external communication occurs. The earliest point in the attack cycle that the attackers can be identified by their actions is during the preoperational surveillance required for target identification.
There is a widely held conception that terrorist surveillance is generally sophisticated and almost invisible, but when viewed in hindsight, it is frequently discovered that individuals who conduct terrorist surveillance tend to be quite sloppy and even amateurish in their surveillance tradecraft. We will discuss what bad surveillance looks like, and how to recognize it, in more detail next week, but for now it is sufficient to say that poor surveillance tradecraft is a significant vulnerability in the terrorist attack cycle.
As noted above, additional surveillance is often conducted at later stages of the attack cycle, such as in the planning stage and even sometimes in the attack stage, as the attackers track the target from a known location to the attack site. Each instance of surveillance provides an additional opportunity for the assailants to be identified and the attack to be prevented.
During the planning phase and as the operatives prepare to deploy, communication between and movement of group members often increases. Additionally, group members may engage in outside training that can attract attention, such as playing paintball, visiting the firing range or, as was the case with the 9/11 pilots, attending flight schools. This increase in activity, which also might include money transfers, leaves signs that could tip off the authorities.
Another significant vulnerability during the attack cycle is weapons acquisition. This vulnerability is especially pronounced when dealing with inexperienced grassroots operatives, who tend to aspire to conduct spectacular attacks that are far beyond their capabilities. For example, they may decide they want to conduct a bombing attack even though they do not know how to make improvised explosive devices. It is also not uncommon for such individuals to try to acquire Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, automatic firearms or hand grenades. When confronted by this gap between their capability and their aspirations, grassroots operatives will often reach out to someone for help with their attack instead of settling on an attack that is within their ability. Increasingly, the people such would-be attackers are encountering when they reach out are police or domestic security agency informants.
As far back as 2010, jihadist leaders such as Nasir al-Wahayshi of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula recognized this problem and began to encourage grassroots jihadists to focus on conducting simple attacks against soft targets. Nevertheless, grassroots jihadists are consistently drawn toward spectacular attacks, as seen in the Feb. 17 arrest near the U.S. Capitol of a Moroccan man who thought his handler, who was in fact an FBI informant, had equipped him for a suicide attack. Unlike most jihadists, other types of grassroots militants, such as anarchists, are far more comfortable conducting simple attacks with readily available items.
Personality traits and psychological profiles aside, anyone desiring to plan a terrorist attack must follow the attack planning cycle, which at certain stages will necessarily open them up to detection.
Detection Points In The Terrorist Attack Cycle is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
Part 1 of STRATFOR’s “Fundamentals of Terrorism” series is reprinted here.
(Editor’s note: Link to original STRATFOR report added on “Resources” page)
One last post about terrorism this week. Scott Stewart of the global intelligence company Strategic Forecasting, Inc., or STRATFOR, has authored a series of Security Weekly reports entitled “Fundamentals of Terrorism.” The first of these, “The Myth of the End of Terrorism,” was released on February 23. It’s a good, informative read, and serves as a reminder that just because major terror attacks directed against the United States and its interests haven’t been too successful lately, the threat hasn’t gone away. Reprinted with permission of STRATFOR:
The Myth of the End of Terrorism
By Scott Stewart
In this week’s Geopolitical Weekly, George Friedman discussed the geopolitical cycles that change with each generation. Frequently, especially in recent years, those geopolitical cycles have intersected with changes in the way the tactic of terrorism is employed and in the actors employing it.
The Arab terrorism that began in the 1960s resulted from the Cold War and the Soviet decision to fund, train and otherwise encourage groups in the Middle East. The Soviet Union and its Middle Eastern proxies also sponsored Marxist terrorist groups in Europe and Latin America. They even backed the Japanese Red Army terrorist group. Places like South Yemen and Libya became havens where Marxist militants of many different nationalities gathered to learn terrorist tradecraft, often instructed by personnel from the Soviet KGB or the East German Stasi and from other militants.
The Cold War also spawned al Qaeda and the broader global jihadist movement as militants flocking to fight the Soviet troops who had invaded Afghanistan were trained in camps in northern Pakistan by instructors from the CIA’s Office of Technical Services and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. Emboldened by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and claiming credit for the subsequent Soviet collapse, these militants decided to expand their efforts to other parts of the world.
The connection between state-sponsored terrorism and the Cold War ran so deep that when the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union’s collapse, many declared that terrorism had ended as well. I witnessed this phenomenon while serving in the counterterrorism Investigations Division of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) in the early 1990s. While I was in New York working as part of the interagency team investigating the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a newly appointed assistant secretary of state abolished my office, declaring that the DSS did not need a Counterterrorism Investigations Division since terrorism was over.
Though terrorism obviously did not end when the Berlin Wall fell, the rosy sentiments to the contrary held by some at the State Department and elsewhere took away the impetus to mitigate the growing jihadist threat or to protect diplomatic facilities from it. The final report of the Crowe Commission, which was established to review the twin August 1998 bombing attacks against the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, explicitly noted this neglect of counterterrorism and security programs, as did the 9/11 Commission report.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks triggered a shift in international geopolitics by leading the United States to concentrate the full weight of its national resources on al Qaeda and its supporters. Ironically, by the time the U.S. government was able to shift its massive bureaucracy to meet the new challenge, creating huge new organizations like the Department of Homeland Security, the efforts of the existing U.S. counterterrorism apparatus had already badly crippled the core al Qaeda group. Though some of these new organizations played important roles in helping the United States cope with the fallout of its decision to invade Iraq after Afghanistan, Washington spent billions of dollars to create organizations and fund programs that in hindsight were arguably not really necessary because the threats they were designed to counter, such as al Qaeda’s nuclear briefcase bombs, did not actually exist. As George Friedman noted in the Geopolitical Weekly, the sole global superpower was badly off-balance, which caused an imbalance in the entire global system.
With the continued diminution of the jihadist threat, underscored by the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden and the fall in Libya of the Gadhafi regime (which had long employed terrorism), once again we appear on the brink of a cyclical change in the terrorism paradigm. These events could again lead some to pronounce the death of terrorism.
Several developments last week served to demonstrate that while the perpetrators and tactics of terrorism (what Stratfor calls the “who” and the “how”) may change in response to larger geopolitical cycles, such shifts will not signal the end of terrorism itself.
The Nature of Terrorism
There are many conflicting definitions of terrorism, but for our purposes we will loosely define it as politically motivated violence against noncombatants. Many terrorist acts have a religious element to them, but that element is normally related to a larger, political goal: Both a militant anti-abortion activist seeking to end legalized abortion and a jihadist seeking to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq may act according to religious principles, but they ultimately are pursuing a political objective.
Terrorism is a tactic, one employed by a wide array of actors. There is no single creed, ethnicity, political persuasion or nationality with a monopoly on terrorism. Individuals and groups of individuals from almost every conceivable background — from late Victorian-era anarchists to Klansmen to North Korean intelligence officers — have conducted terrorist attacks. Because of the impreciseness of the term, Stratfor normally does not refer to individuals as terrorists. In addition to being a poor descriptor, “terrorist” tends to be a politically loaded term.
Traditionally, terrorism has been a tactic of the weak, i.e., those who lack the power to impose their political will through ordinary political or military means. As Carl von Clausewitz noted, war is the continuation of politics by other means; terrorism is a type of warfare, making it also politics by other means. Because it is a tactic used by the weak, terrorism generally focuses on soft, civilian targets rather than more difficult-to-attack military targets.
The type of weapon used does not define terrorism. For example, using a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device against an International Security Assistance Force firebase in Afghanistan would be considered an act of irregular warfare, but using it in an attack on a hotel in Kabul would be considered an act of terrorism. This means that militant actors can employ conventional warfare tactics, unconventional warfare tactics and terrorism during the same campaign depending on the situation.
Terrorist attacks are relatively easy to conduct if they are directed against soft targets and if the assailant is not concerned with escaping after the attack, as was the case in the Mumbai attacks in 2008. While authorities in many countries have been quite successful in foiling attacks over the past couple of years, governments simply do not have the resources to guard everything. When even police states cannot protect everything, some terrorist attacks invariably will succeed in the open societies of the West.
Terrorist attacks tend to be theatrical, exerting a strange hold over the human imagination. They often create a unique sense of terror dwarfing reactions to natural disasters many times greater in magnitude. For example, more than 227,000 people died in the 2004 Asian tsunami versus fewer than 3,000 on 9/11, yet the 9/11 attacks produced a worldwide sense of terror and a geopolitical reaction that has had a profound and unparalleled impact on world events over the past decade.
Cycles and Shifts
A number of events last week illustrate the changes happening in the terrorism realm and demonstrate that, while terrorism may change, it is not going to end.
On Feb. 17, the FBI arrested a Moroccan man near the U.S. Capitol in Washington who allegedly sought to conduct a suicide attack on the building. The suspect, Amine el Khalifi, is a clear example of the shift in the jihadist threat from one based on the al Qaeda core group to one primarily deriving from grassroots jihadists. As Stratfor has noted for several years, while these grassroots jihadists pose a more diffuse threat because they are harder for national intelligence and law enforcement agencies to focus on than hierarchical groups, the threat they pose is less severe because they generally lack the terrorist tradecraft required to conduct a large-scale attack. Because they lack such tradecraft, these grassroots militants tend to seek assistance to conduct their plots. This assistance usually involves acquiring explosives or firearms, as in the el Khalifi case, where an FBI informant posing as a jihadist leader provided the suspect with an inert suicide vest and a submachine gun prior to the suspect’s arrest.
While many in the media tend to ridicule individuals like el Khalifi as inept, it is important to remember that had he succeeded in finding a real jihadist facilitator rather than a federal informant, he could have killed many people in an attack. Richard Reid, who many people refer to as the “Kramer of al Qaeda” after the bumbling character from the television show Seinfeld, came very close to taking down a jumbo jet full of people over the Atlantic because he had been equipped and dispatched by others.
Still, the fact remains that the jihadist threat now predominantly stems from unequipped grassroots wannabes rather than teams of highly trained operatives sent to the United States from overseas, like the team that executed the 9/11 attacks. This demonstrates how the jihadist threat has diminished in recent years, a trend we expect to continue. This will allow Washington to increasingly focus attention on things other than jihadism, such as the fragmentation of Europe, the transformation of global economic production and Iran’s growing regional power. It will mark the beginning of a new geopolitical cycle.
Last week also brought us a series of events highlighting how terrorism may manifest itself in the new cycle. On Feb. 13, Israeli diplomatic vehicles in New Delhi, India, and Tbilisi, Georgia, were targeted with explosive devices. In Tbilisi, a grenade hidden under a diplomatic vehicle was discovered before it could detonate. In New Delhi, a sticky bomb placed on the back of a diplomatic vehicle wounded the wife of the Israeli defense attache as she headed to pick up her children from school.
On Feb. 14, an Iranian man was arrested after being wounded in an explosion at a rented house in Bangkok. The blast reportedly occurred as a group was preparing improvised explosive devices for use against Israeli targets in Bangkok. Two other Iranians were later arrested (one in Malaysia), and Thai authorities are seeking three more Iranian citizens, two of whom have reportedly returned to Iran, alleged to have assisted in the plot.
While these recent Iranian plots failed, they nonetheless highlight how the Iranians are using terrorism as a tactic in retaliation for attacks Israel and Israeli surrogates have conducted against individuals associated with Iran’s nuclear program.
It is also important to bear in mind as this new geopolitical cycle begins that terrorism does not just emanate from foreign governments, major subnational actors or even transnational radical ideologies like jihadism. As we saw in the July 2011 attacks in Norway conducted by Anders Breivik and in older cases involving suspects like Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh and Theodore Kaczynski in the United States, native-born individuals who have a variety of grievances with the government or society can carry out terrorist attacks. Such grievances will certainly persist.
Geopolitical cycles will change, and these changes may cause a shift in who employs terrorism and how it is employed. But as a tactic, terrorism will continue no matter what the next geopolitical cycle brings.
The Myth of the End of Terrorism is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
Go back to work. And leave it to the professionals.
-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking to New Yorkers last Friday concerning credible yet unconfirmed reports of potential terrorist activity being directed against the city (Source: Daily Mail)
Last night, I shared a recent piece by global intelligence company Strategic Forecasting, Inc., or STRATFOR, in which Scott Stewart wrote the United States probably won’t suffer another terrorist attack on the same scale of 9/11. According to Stewart:
A simple attack in the United States or some other Western country is far more likely than a complex and spectacular 9/11-style operation.
In fact, the “Shadow CIA,” as Barron’s has called STRATFOR, thinks future strikes will consist of armed assaults. Stewart added:
We also believe that any such attack would likely continue the trend we have seen away from bombing attacks toward more simple (and effective) armed assaults.
Regrettably, these types of operations aim to take the “professionals” by surprise, which we saw happen in Mumbai, India, back in November 2008. As a result, individuals who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time when the bad guys get things rolling are forced to deal with the situation themselves. But this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, as in “normal” times 95 percent of all 911 responses are too late to stop criminal activity anyway.
Well, there’s another terrorism-related piece I want to share with Survival And Prosperity readers that focuses on what the individual can do to prevent or even stop a terrorist attack (I previously shared a STRATFOR piece that addressed this same topic). Uli Gebhard, a staff instructor at Suarez International (Arizona-based outfit that provides training for the Martial Civilian in weapons of all types, combatives and tactics), wrote “Acts of Terrorism- what have we learned?” on the Warrior Talk News blog back on August 30. Anticipating the same armed assaults STRATFOR envisions, Gebhard reviewed recent active shooter/small-scale acts of terrorism, and talked about how to prepare for and react to these types of incidents. It’s a good, quick read, and can be accessed on the Warrior Talk News blog here.
There’s a lot of material being released about the July 22 bombing/shootings in Norway. Not having the time these days to sort through it all, I was lucky enough to unearth the following analysis of the incident by Scott Stewart from the global intelligence company Strategic Forecasting, Inc., or STRATFOR. Stewart does a terrific job summarizing the attack, providing relevant details, and exploring the bigger picture. Reprinted with their permission…
Norway: Lessons from a Successful Lone Wolf Attacker
By Scott Stewart
On the afternoon of July 22, a powerful explosion ripped through the streets of Oslo, Norway, as a large improvised explosive device (IED) in a rented van detonated between the government building housing the prime minister’s office and Norway’s Oil and Energy Department building. According to the diary of Anders Breivik, the man arrested in the case who has confessed to fabricating and placing the device, the van had been filled with 950 kilograms (about 2,100 pounds) of homemade ammonium nitrate-based explosives.
After lighting the fuse on his IED, Breivik left the scene in a rented car and traveled to the island of Utoya, located about 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside of Oslo. The island was the site of a youth campout organized by Norway’s ruling Labor Party. Before taking a boat to the island, Breivik donned body armor and tactical gear bearing police insignia (intended to afford him the element of tactical surprise). Once on the island he opened fire on the attendees at the youth camp with his firearms, a semiautomatic 5.56-caliber Ruger Mini-14 rifle and a 9 mm Glock pistol. Due to the location of the camp on a remote island, Breivik had time to kill 68 people and wound another 60 before police responded to the scene.
Shortly before the attack, Breivik posted a manifesto on the Internet that includes his lengthy operational diary. He wrote the diary in English under the Anglicized pen name Andrew Berwick, though a careful reading shows he also posted his true identity in the document. The document also shows that he was a lone wolf attacker who conducted his assault specifically against the Labor Party’s current and future leadership. Breivik targeted the Labor Party because of his belief that the party is Marxist-oriented and is responsible for encouraging multiculturalism, Muslim immigration into Norway and, acting with other similar European governments, the coming destruction of European culture. Although the Labor Party members are members of his own race, he considers them traitors and holds them in more contempt than he does Muslims. In fact, in the manifesto, Breivik urged others not to target Muslims because it would elicit sympathy for them.
Breivik put most of his time and effort into the creation of the vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) that he used to attack his primary target, the current government, which is housed in the government building. It appears that he believed the device would be sufficient to destroy that building. It was indeed a powerful device, but the explosion killed only eight people. This was because the device did not bring down the building as Breivik had planned and many of the government employees who normally work in the area were on summer break. In the end, the government building was damaged but not destroyed in the attack, and no senior government officials were killed. Most of the deaths occurred at the youth camp, which Breivik described as his secondary target.
While Breivik’s manifesto indicated he planned and executed the attack as a lone wolf, it also suggests that he is part of a larger organization that he calls the “Pauperes Commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici (PCCTS, also known as the Knights Templar), which seeks to encourage other lone wolves (whom Brevik refers to as “Justiciar Knights”) and small cells in other parts of Europe to carry out a plan to “save” Europe and European culture from destruction.
Because of the possibility that there are other self-appointed Justiciar Knights in Norway or in other parts of Europe and that Breivik’s actions, ideology and manifesto could spawn copycats, we thought it useful to examine the Justiciar Knights concept as Breivik explains it to see how it fits into lone wolf theory and how similar actors might be detected in the future.
An Opening Salvo?
From reading his manifesto, it is clear that Breivik, much like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, believes that his attack is the opening salvo in a wider campaign, in this case to liberate Europeans from what Breivik views as malevolent, Marxist-oriented governments. These beliefs are what drove Breivik to attack the Norwegian Labor Party. As noted above, it is also clear that Breivik planned and executed his attack alone.
However, he also discusses how he was radicalized and influenced by a Serbian living in Liberia whom he visited there. And Breivik claims to have attended a meeting in London in 2002 to “re-found the Knights Templar.” This organization, PCCTS, which was founded in 2002, is not related to the much older official and public chivalric order also known as the Knights Templar. According to Breivik, the PCCTS was formed with the stated purpose of fighting back against “European Jihad” and to defend the “free indigenous peoples of Europe.” To achieve this goal, the PCCTS would implement a three-phase plan designed to seize political and military power in Europe. In his manifesto Breivik outlines the plan as follows:
• Phase 1 (1999-2030): Cell-based shock attacks, sabotage attacks, etc.
• Phase 2 (2030-2070): Same as above but bigger cells/networks, armed militias.
• Phase 3 (2070-2100): Pan-European coup d’etats, deportation of Muslims and execution of traitors.
As outlined in Breivik’s manifesto, the 2002 meeting was attended by seven other individuals, two from England and one each from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and Russia. He also asserts that the organization has members from Serbia (his contact living in Liberia), Sweden, Belgium and the United States who were unable to attend the meeting. Brevik states that all the members of the PCCTS were given code names for security, that his code name was “Sigurd,” and that he was mentored by a member with the code name “Richard the Lionhearted” (presumably a Briton). Breivik claims that after meeting these individuals via the Internet he was carefully vetted before being allowed to join the group.
The diary section of Breivik’s manifesto reveals that during the planning process for the attack Breivik traveled to Prague to obtain firearms and grenades from Balkan organized-crime groups there (he had hoped to obtain a fully automatic AK-47). Breivik was not able to procure weapons in Prague and instead was forced to use weapons he was able to obtain in Norway by legal means. It is interesting that he did not contact the Serbian member of the PCCTS for assistance in making contact with Balkan arms dealers. Breivik’s lawyer told the media July 26 that although Breivik acted alone in conducting his attack, he had been in contact with two terror cells in Norway and other cells abroad. Certainly, Norway and its partners in EUROPOL and the United States will try to identify these other individuals, if they do in fact exist.
In phase one of the PCCTS plan, shock attacks were to be carried out by individuals operating as lone wolves or small cells of Breivik’s so-called Justiciar Knights, who are self-appointed guardians who decide to follow the PCCTS code outlined in Breivik’s manifesto and who are granted the authority to act as “a judge, jury and executioner until the free, indigenous peoples of Europe are no longer threatened by cultural genocide, subject to cultural Marxist/Islamic tyranny or territorial or existential threats through Islamic demographic warfare.”
Breivik’s manifesto notes that he does not know how many Justiciar Knights there are in Western Europe but estimates their number to be from 15 to 80. It is unclear if this is a delusion on his part and there are no other Justiciar Knights or if Breivik has some factual basis for his belief that there are more individuals like him planning attacks.
While some observers have noted that the idea of Justiciar Knights operating as lone wolves and in small cells is similar to the calls in recent years for grassroots jihadists to adopt lone wolf tactics, it is important to understand that leaderless resistance has been a central theme of white supremacist groups in the United States since the early 1990s. While Breivik did not express any anti-Semitism in his manifesto (something he has been heavily criticized for on U.S. anti-Semitic websites), clearly the anti-immigration and anti-Marxist ideology of the PCCTS has been influenced more by white hate groups than by al Qaeda.
Moreover, the concept of a self-identified Justiciar Knight is quite similar to the idea of a “Phineas Priest” in the leaderless resistance model propagated by some white supremacists in the United States who adhere to “Christian Identity” ideology. In this model, Phineas Priests see themselves as lone wolf militants chosen by God and set apart to be his “agents of vengeance” upon the earth. Phineas Priests also believe that their attacks will serve to ignite a wider “racial holy war” that will ultimately lead to the salvation of the white race.
Leaderless resistance has also been advocated by militant anarchists as well as animal rights and environmentalist activists who belong to such groups as the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. So it is not correct to think of leaderless resistance merely as a jihadist construct — it has long been used by a variety of militant actors.
Lone Wolf Challenges
One of the great strengths of our enemies, the Western European cultural Marxist/multiculturalist regimes is their vast resources and their advanced investigation/forensic capabilities. There are thousands of video cameras all over European major cities and you will always risk leaving behind dna, finger prints, witnesses or other evidence that will eventually lead to your arrest. They are overwhelmingly superior in almost every aspect. But every 7 headed monster has an Achilles heel. This Achilles heel is their vulnerability against single/duo martyr cells. — Anders Breivik
As STRATFOR has long discussed, the lone wolf operational model presents a number of challenges for law enforcement, intelligence and security officers. The primary challenge is that, by definition, lone wolves are solitary actors, and it can be very difficult to determine their intentions before they act because they do not work with anyone else. When militants are operating in a cell consisting of more than one person, there is a larger chance that one of them will get cold feet and reveal the plot to authorities, that law enforcement and intelligence personnel will intercept a communication between conspirators, or that the authorities will be able to insert an informant into the group.
This ability to fly solo and under the radar of law enforcement has meant that some lone wolf militants such as Joseph Paul Franklin, Theodore Kaczynski and Eric Rudolph were able to operate for years before being identified and captured. Indeed, from Breivik’s diary, we know he took several years to plan and execute his attack without detection.
As the Breivik case illustrates, lone wolves also pose problems because they can come from a variety of backgrounds with a wide range of motivations. While some lone wolves are politically motivated, others are religiously motivated and some are mentally unstable.
In addition to the wide spectrum of ideologies and motivations among lone wolves, there is also the issue of geographic dispersal. As we’ve seen from past cases, their plots and attacks have occurred in many different locations and are not confined just to Manhattan, London or Washington. Lone wolf attacks can occur anywhere.
Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to differentiate between those extremists who intend to commit attacks and those who simply preach hate or hold radical beliefs (things that are not in themselves illegal in many countries). Therefore, to single out likely lone wolves before they strike, authorities must spend a great deal of time and resources looking at individuals who might be moving from radical beliefs to radical actions. This is a daunting task given the large universe of potential suspects.
In spite of the challenges presented by lone wolf operatives, they are vulnerable to detection at several different stages of their attack cycle. One of these vulnerabilities comes during the planning stage when weapons are acquired. From reading Breivik’s diary, it is clear that he felt exposed as he tried to purchase the chemicals he needed to build his IED. Because of this vulnerability, Breivik created an extensive cover story that included renting a farm in order to explain his purchase of a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The farm also provided a private, spacious place for him to construct his IED.
Breivik also exposed himself to potential detection when he traveled to Prague to attempt to purchase weapons. One of the criminals he contacted could have turned him in to authorities. (In June 2011 we saw a jihadist cell in Seattle detected and arrested while attempting to buy guns from a criminal acquaintance. Another small cell was arrested in New York in May 2011, also while attempting to obtain weapons.) Even if Breivik had succeeded in purchasing weapons in Prague, he would still have been vulnerable as he smuggled the weapons back into Norway in his car (though it is important to remember that EU countries have open borders so security checks would not have been too stringent).
Breivik also exposed himself to detection as he conducted surveillance on his targets. Interestingly, in his diary, Breivik goes into excruciating detail discussing how he manufactured his device based on information he was able to obtain from the Internet, but he mentions very little about how he selected specific targets or how he conducted surveillance on them. He mentions only that he visited the sites and programmed the locations into his GPS. He also discusses using a video camera to record his attack but does not mention if he used still or video cameras in his target surveillance. How Breivik specifically chose his targets and how he conducted surveillance on them will be important for the Norwegian authorities to examine.
Finally, Breivik mentions several times in his diary that the steps he was taking would be far more difficult if he were a foreign-born Muslim instead of a Caucasian Norwegian. This underscores a problem we have discussed with profiling suspects based on their ethnicity or nationality. In an environment where potential threats are hard to identify, it is doubly important to profile individuals based on their behavior rather than their ethnicity or nationality — what we refer to as focusing on the “how” rather than the “who.”
Not All Lone Wolves are Equal
Finally, in the Breivik case we need to recognize that Norwegian authorities were dealing with a very capable lone wolf operator. While lone wolf theory has been propagated for many years now, there have been relatively few successful lone wolf attacks. This is because it takes a special individual to be a successful lone wolf assailant. Unlike many lone wolves, Breivik demonstrated that he possessed the intelligence and discipline to plan and carry out an attack that spanned several years of preparation. For example, he joined a pistol club in 2005 just in case he ever needed to buy a gun through legal means in Norway, and was able to rely on that alternate plan when his efforts to purchase firearms in Prague failed. Breivik was also driven, detail-oriented and meticulous in his planning. His diary documents that he was also extremely patient and careful during the dangerous trial-and-error process of manufacturing explosives.
It is rare to find a lone wolf militant who possesses all those traits, and Breivik stands in stark contrast to other European grassroots operatives like Nick Reilly or Bilal Abdullah and Kafeel Ahmed, who made amateurish attempts at attacks. Breivik appears to have been a hard worker who claims to have amassed some 500,000 euros by working a variety of jobs and selling a communications company. After some unsuccessful speculation on the stock market he still had enough money and credit to rent the farm and the vehicles he used in the attack and to buy the required bomb components, weapons and body armor. In his diary he says that he began his two tasks — writing the manifesto and conducting the attack — with a war chest of 250,000 euros and several credit cards.
Breivik also is somewhat unique in that he did not attempt to escape after his attacks or become a martyr by his own hand or that of the authorities. Instead, as outlined in his manifesto, he sought to be tried so that he could turn his trial into a grandstand for promoting his ideology beyond what he did with his manifesto and video. He was willing to risk a long prison sentence in order to communicate his principles to the public. This means that the authorities have to be concerned not only about other existing Justiciar Knights but also anyone who may be influenced by Breivik’s message and follow his example.
There is also the possibility that individuals who do not adhere to Breivik’s ideology will seek to exploit the loopholes and security lapses highlighted by this incident to conduct their own attacks. Breivik’s diary provides a detailed step-by-step guide to manufacturing a successful VBIED, and the authorities will be scrutinizing it carefully to address the vulnerabilities Breivik exposed before those instructions can be used again.
Norway: Lessons from a Successful Lone Wolf Attacker is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
Earlier this week, I shared information about a video from STRATFOR Global Intelligence in which Fred Burton, former special agent and STRATFOR’s Vice President of Intelligence, discussed tips on how to stay safe while traveling.
Well, tonight I opened up a STRATFOR e-mail in my inbox that contained info regarding a new video. This time, Mr. Burton discusses ways to keep your home safe while you’re away. Short but sweet (in terms of advice and tips), this 2 minute 46 second video can be viewed on the STRATFOR website here.
At the end of last week, I discussed the vulnerabilities of U.S. airport security. While you might arrive at your accommodations safely, threats to personal safety still abound. This weekend I happened to watch a video from STRATFOR Global Intelligence in which Fred Burton, former special agent and STRATFOR’s Vice President of Intelligence, discussed tips on how to stay safe while traveling. Burton points out a number of situations and solutions- most of which would probably never enter the minds of many. The short 4 minute 18 second video is definitely worth watching, which you can view on the STRATFOR site here.
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