How To Spot a Terrorist: The Dangers of Profiling

June 6, 2016

The recent arrest of a French national in the Ukraine, who had reportedly planned a series of attacks around the Euro 2016 soccer tournament, highlights a challenge faced by many law enforcement and security officials: how do I identify a “terrorist?” In this case, the French citizen, apparently motivated by “ultra-nationalist views,” had planned on attacking various infrastructure and transportation sites, as well as mosques and synagogues. Anyone focused solely on jihadist terror groups and their followers would have had a difficult time spotting this individual based on typical profiling techniques.

Beginning with the Baader-Meinhoff group in Germany in the 1970s, to Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma, and on through Anders Breivik in Norway, terrorists have been motivated by a wide-variety of causes. As such, security professionals must not focus exclusively on ethnic profiling, but rather on the actions and activities associated with preparing for an attack. At TRAPWIRE, a great deal of our Surveillance and Threat Detection training program is dedicated on ignoring pre-conceived notions about what a terrorist is and, instead, focusing on known pre-attack indicators. As terror groups decentralize and attempt to empower even more lone-wolf style attacks, the ethnicity and ideology of terror operatives will diversify exponentially.

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