Law Enforcement Personnel Can Spot Terrorist Suspects Before Attacks
By Stew Magnuson and Breanne Wagner
Law enforcement and intelligence personnel need to be aware of specific activities terrorists engage in during the build up of an attack, said Rohan Kumar Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Violence in Singapore.
Most law enforcement personnel are trained to respond to the execution phase of an attack, but they need a separate set of skills to prevent one, Gunaratna said during the GovSec homeland defense conference.
Terrorists first use propaganda to gain support for their cause because they can’t recruit or radicalize without it, he noted.
Next, they move on to fundraising, which is sometimes done illegally through identity theft or other means.
After acquiring funds, they procure weapons or materials to make them. Gunaratna pointed out that terrorists buy commercially available products, such as pesticides, fertilizer, diving equipment, remote controls or chemicals. Terrorists are now making more homemade explosives that use these everyday materials, he added.
The New York Police Department is already taking steps to disrupt the procurement of these products through a program called Operation Nexis, he noted. The NYPD educates vendors about what terrorists might buy and what looks suspicious.
Terrorists also travel frequently during the planning stages of an attack and will use traditional modes of communication such as drop boxes, phones and the Internet. They may also take on multiple identities to evade detection. These could include impersonation, forging signatures, switching passports, fake identification, as well as using a real ID, Gunaratna explained.
One of the most obvious activities is training, during which terrorists may buy military equipment such as night vision goggles and uniforms.
Right before the execution phase of an attack, terrorists will conduct initial surveillance and reconnaissance and then begin rehearsing, Gunaratna said. Before the USS Cole warship was attacked in 2000, terrorists had plans to rehearse on another ship, but that vessel sank before it could be attacked, he noted.
After rehearsal, terrorists will conduct final surveillance and reconnaissance.
Gunaratna believes the U.S. government has successfully disrupted at least some of these activities. He asserted that one of the reasons the United States has not been attacked since 9/11 is because of the nation’s intelligence operations, such as the tracking of electronic communications.