Wednesday Secretary Napolitano was on the Hill testifying to the House Homeland Security Committee. I was across town working on risk readiness with a group of property owners, building managers and tenants.
The Secretary emphasized:
One of the most striking elements of today’s threat picture is that plots to attack America increasingly involve American residents and citizens. We are now operating under the assumption, based on the latest intelligence and recent arrests, that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist attacks and acts of violence might be in the United States, and they could carry out acts of violence with little or no warning.
Over the past two years, we have seen the rise of a number of terrorist groups inspired by al-Qaeda ideology – including (but not limited to) al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from Yemen, al-Shabaab from Somalia, and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – that are placing a growing emphasis on recruiting individuals who are either Westerners or have connections to the West, but who do not have strong links to terrorist groups, and are thus more difficult for authorities to identify. (The secretary then references several recent examples and their implications) …
This threat of homegrown violent extremism fundamentally changes who is most often in the best position to spot terrorist activity, investigate, and respond. More and more, state, local, and tribal front-line law enforcement officers are most likely to notice the first signs of terrorist activity. This has profound implications for how we go about securing our country against the terrorist threat, and requires a new kind of security architecture that complements the structure we have already built to protect America from threats coming from abroad.
While Secretary Napolitano was reporting out to the Committee’s new Republican majority, there were seventy-plus of us considering — among other things — the January edition of Inspire. This is the fourth issue of a full-color, all-English online magazine published by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Included in recent issues are directions on how to make bombs of simple household ingredients (a recurring theme), religious guidance on whether it is allowed to “dispossess the wealth” of disbelievers (aka stealing), and how to re-create a Mumbai-style attack in a neighborhood near the White House. Since we were meeting in a neighborhood near the White House, this last bit was especially relevant.
The obvious and self-stated purpose of the online magazine is to inspire home-grown terrorists to take free-lance action.
A senior Metropolitan Police Department official consulting with the all private-sector crowd recommended against downloading the online magazine. I disagree with this advice. It won’t take you long on Google to find a copy (took me less than 2 minutes). Otherwise I was impressed with how the MPD is using the magazine and related materials to situate the emerging threat for the public. (Is this part of the “new security architecture” referenced by the Secretary? It should be.)
Primary sources are valuable. Reading our adversary’s own words is a good way to better understand their motivations, intentions, and strategies. It also helps to recognize the superficial and slip-shod character of the ideology being schlepped. Deep thinking and profound insights do not leap off these pages. It is quickly clear that the pieces are written by self-justifying narcissists, regular readers of blogs are especially skilled in recognizing this motivation.
The magazine does reinforce the Secretary’s testimony, especially the “threat of homegrown violent extremism fundamentally changes who is most often in the best position to spot terrorist activity, investigate, and respond.” Terrorism and counter-terrorism are increasingly mass market enterprises. Further, as with many modern mass markets, terrorism and counter-terrorism feature niche products aimed at wide array of micro-channels within the mass market.
For someone living or working in Washington, the issue of home-grown terrorism is not an abstraction. In June 2009 a white supremacist killed a guard and clearly intended more harm during an invasion of the Holocaust Museum. Last September in suburban Silver Spring, Maryland a radical environmentalist took hostages at the headquarters of the Discovery Channel and claimed to have bombs strapped to his body. In recent months FBI sting operations have resulted in indictments against terrorist-wannabes in nearby Maryland and Virginia. There are lots of other leading indicators.
No surprise, Washington is a target. No surprise, eventually Washington will be hit again. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say we should not be surprised when Washington is hit again. Some will, no doubt, claim to be surprised. Shocked.
Who will hit and precisely how the hitting will be done is more difficult to know.
Al-Qaeda and its spin-offs continue to be the leading brand. Islamic extremism continues to dominate market perceptions. But as we have seen at the Holocaust Museum, Discovery Channel, and with the Tuscon assassinations brand dominance does not always track actual market activity.
Last week the Triangle Institute on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported that over the last year, “The number of (Muslim-American) suspects dropped by over half, from 47 in 2009 to 20 in 2010. This brings the total since 9/11 to 161 Muslim-American terrorist suspects and perpetrators.” Included in this number is Daniel Patrick Boyd. On Wednesday Boyd pleaded guilty to conspiring to assist violent jihadists and to participate in attacks in foreign countries. He has also been indicted on conspiring to attack the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Northern Virginia. Is Boyd a leading or lagging indicator?
Personally, I am surprised the Mexican drug cartels have been so comparatively restrained in their US operations. A year ago I would have projected much more violence on this side of the border.
Again, who hits and how we are hit will probably surprise. Being hit should be expected. Having a reasonable expectation of terrorism is one of the best means to suppress the terrorist intent to shock us, deploy our fear, and cause us to over-react.
Wednesday in Washington a cabinet secretary confirmed, again, that average Americans are the targets of purposeful murder and mayhem. Wednesday in Washington several dozen targets were meeting and — soberly, seriously — deliberating how we can recognize, deter, and preempt a threat; reduce our vulnerabilities; and wisely respond and recover from an attack. We were also getting to know one another, enjoying each other, and building relationships that will pay multiple dividends.
“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” (George Bernard Shaw)