The Paris attacks represent a form of terrorism that will be extremely difficult for Western nations to defeat. This modus operandi hits soft targets, is cheap, low-tech and effective. Moreover, this threat is decentralized, with thousands of potential Jihadis now in place across Europe and the U.S. With the current 24-hour news cycle, it is also guaranteed to capture the world’s attention for weeks. The fact that France considered closing its borders and implementing its first national curfew since WWII is a success metric beyond what ISIS could have anticipated. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies will have an extremely difficult time acquiring actionable intelligence ahead of such attacks. The fact is, they need help. What can we do?
The only way we will thwart these types of events is by detecting attacks in the preparatory phases. Paris was well-planned and rehearsed. In the post-attack investigation clues will emerge showing that people in Paris and Belgium saw suspicious activity – surveillance of the sites, logistical preparations/stashing of weapons, or social media commentary. It is time that these dots are connected ahead of an attack, not afterwards.
Given this reality, we all must understand the following points:
- Responding by adding CCTV cameras, barriers and exhibiting a “show-of-force,” while perhaps necessary in the immediate wake of an attack, is not sustainable for the long haul. Moreover, it will not stop a determined attacker.
- Indicators of pre-attack preparations must be collected and analyzed before an attack is carried out, not after.
- Private citizens have a critical role to play in this battle by reporting suspicious incidents to security and law enforcement officials.
There are tools out there that can help accomplish this – TRAPWIRE being the pre-eminent system for pre-attack detection. At a minimum communities should begin implementing a concerned citizen reporting system that ties together disparate reporting across broad geographies looking for patterns indicative of attack preparation. We have successfully deployed exactly this type of community awareness system in several locations across the country. Connecting to our national network is simple, cost effective and sustainable. In addition to advanced analytical tools specifically designed to detect patterns of pre-attack activity reported by private citizens and security personnel, our Support Center assists law enforcement and the private sector in making sense of the data being collected. We have done this with great success with various fusion centers, law enforcement agencies, military commands, and business sectors across the country. These tools can and should be deployed in a manner that increases the chances of thwarting an attack while adhering to our society’s high standards of civil liberties and privacy rights. For example, security personnel should be trained to ignore ethnic profiles and focus on what “suspicious activity” and behavior look like, not only in general terms, but specifically for the assets they are charged with protecting. We cannot expect the intelligence community and law enforcement to protect every private and public site in the US. Our approach should be to make use of the millions of eyes and ears we have available across the country to generate the information and leads necessary to prevent attacks. Law enforcement needs our help, we need to respond.