' ... being able to distinguish the ordinary from the extraordinary'
Coinciding with concerns among some intelligence services that suspected Hezbollah "sleeper cells" in Canada have been activated, Canadian law enforcement authorities increasingly are training for spotting potentially suspicious activity and behavior that may indicate terrorists are conducting surveillance or other goings-on in preparation for targeting a specific structure or location for attack.
Several years ago, Robert David Steele, an outspoken veteran intelligence officer, told HSToday.us that “50 percent of the ‘dots’ that prevent the next 9/11 will come from bottom-up [local] level observation” and unconventional intelligence from “private sector parties.”
Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and law enforcement in the Washington, DC capital region have actively urged citizens to report “suspicious activity.” Mobile electronic signs urging people to report suspicious activity are routinely placed at strategic locations throughout the metro area for periods of time. The last one of these portable warnings I saw was at the convergence of Key Bridge and George Washington Memorial Parkway on the Virginia-side of the Potomac River just across from Georgetown.
Lynda Howes, a civilian member of the emergency event and management unit of the Calgary (Canada) Police Service, told attendees of the “Tri-lateral Security Conference” in Calgary last week that law enforcement must learn how terrorists operating in order to prevent attacks. She said counterterrorism is only manageable if it is tackled at the grass roots level. She explained that it’s vital that everyone - including the public, the police, government and private industry – recognizes the potential indicators of terrorism and what actions to take if, and when, they are encountered. Howes said terrorists must recruit members, research their targets, procure resources, receive, transfer and conceal money, and provide transportation and communication.
And "each one of those phases represents an activity” that can be identified if a person is trained to know what to be on the look-out for. “Those activities are associated with a behavior. Once we have that behavior, those are things you and I will be witnessing every single day and are things we can pick up on as potential indicators.”
In late 2002, The Air Force's Office of Special Investigations launched “Eagle Eyes,” a program to "deter terrorism by recognizing and reporting pre-attack activities," according an OSI memo.
"Every terrorist act is preceded by observable planning activities," according to the OSI memo. "When troops and citizens know what to look for and how to report suspicious activity, terrorist acts can be prevented."
Department of Defense personnel have routinely been advised to report suspicious reconnoitering of military facilities, people asking detailed information about specific sites, and any other activity which could indicate a "dry run” attack.
DHS says “knowing what to look for and being able to distinguish the ordinary from the extraordinary are the key elements to successful surveillance detection.”
“A persistent stream of reported suspicious incidents requires an understanding of the purpose of terrorist surveillance, to know what terrorists look for, and how they conduct surveillance operations,” DHS’s advice states.
DHS states “terrorists conduct surveillance to determine a target's suitability for attack by assessing the capabilities of existing security and discerning weaknesses in the facility. After identifying weaknesses, they plan their attack at the point of greatest vulnerability.”
“Because terrorists must conduct surveillance-often over a period of weeks, months, or years-detection of their activities is possible,” DHS continued, noting, “regardless of their level of expertise, terrorists invariably make mistakes. The emphasis of surveillance detection is to key in on indicators of terrorist surveillance activities."
DHS states “successful surveillance detection efforts require immediate reporting of incidents similar to the following:
Other activity which should cause a heightened sense of suspicion include:
“Terrorists may also employ aggressive surveillance techniques, such as making false phone threats, approaching security checkpoints to ask for directions, or ‘innocently’ attempting to smuggle nonlethal contraband through checkpoints,” DHS’s advice states. “The terrorists intend to determine firsthand the effectiveness of search procedures and to gauge the alertness and reaction of security personnel.”
Karen Morley, senior director of TerraGo Technologies, Atlanta, Ga., who began her career in the geospatial industry in the US Air Force as a target intelligence specialist, told HSToday.us that terrorists need to conduct careful surveillance of a potential target in order to be confident that they can pull off a successful attack.
In 2004, RAND developed the book, “Mapping the Risks: Assessing Homeland Security Implications of Publicly Available Geospatial Information,” for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, determined that “potential attackers, such as terrorist groups or hostile governments, are more likely to [utilize] reliable and timely information … such as through direct access or observation. In addition, many types of attacks, such as those by ground parties, are likely to require detailed information for attack planning purposes (depending on the target type and mode of attack). This type of information, which mostly comes from such nongeospatial sources as engineering textbooks or human expertise on the operations of a particular type of industrial complex, is essential for attackers to have a high confidence in their plan.”
But according to John Bumgarner, an 18-year veteran of special operations who has worked with most of the three-letter intelligence agencies at one time or another and is now research director for security technology at the US Cyber Consequences Unit, a non-profit research institute, because of training like that promoted by Howes it has become more and more difficult for terrorists to physically recon targets, especially in the US.
“To actually start planning very detailed reconnaissance of a building, and all the streets that go into it, and all the alleyways and everything else, that could require a lot of physical reconnaissance on the ground - it’s not something that you can actually just easily do anymore,” Bumgarner stressed, especially in the post-9/11 environment where conspicuous photographing, videoing and other apparent physical surveillance can, and has - repeatedly across the nation - caused people to be detained and questioned about their activities.
“In other words,” said Bumgarner, “it’s gotten a whole lot harder for a terrorist to conduct the kind of conspicuous physical surveillance of a target that’s necessary for conducting a large-scale or mass casualty attack.”
Consequently, more sophisticated terrorists are utilizing easily accessible geospatial information, which was examined in the April HSToday cover report, “Every Eye a Spy.”