Modern terror groups have proven adept at modifying the tactics and methods used to launch attacks. Their preferred weapons and delivery systems have adapted to changing security systems and procedures – from knives and handguns used in hijackings in the 60s and 70s, to VBIEDs to airplanes as weapons over the past 15 years. However, there is one aspect of their attack methodology that has remained unchanged: their disciplined and aggressive collection of intelligence on the intended target. This practice is arguably the single most important reason for their success. While the level and complexity of these pre-attack preparations vary from target to target, the fact remains very few major terror operations have been conducted without significant pre-attack intelligence collection.
Despite this reality, most counter-terror measures continue to focus on thwarting the operation on the day of the attack. While physical security measures and first responder preparation remain critical components of any security plan, far more attention and effort should be dedicated towards detecting terror plots in the planning phases. Understanding the goals (and limitations) of hostile reconnaissance operations should be part of every law enforcement and private security training program. While their intelligence collection practices are critical to their success, they also represent a major vulnerability. Knowing how to exploit that vulnerability is key to establishing an effective defense against terrorism. The first step in that process is understanding the Terrorist Pre-Attack Sequence.