The face of terror is changing. More precisely, the faces of terror are changing. And I mean that literally.
Changes happen quickly in the world of terror. So quickly, it is as if the tools of terror are actually morphing - one technique blends with the next and then the next and suddenly, we have a new threat. On 9/11 terrorists took to the skies, a short time later Richard Reid attempted to wear explosive laden sneakers onto a plane, a short time after that a plot was exposed that would have used liquids to explode airliners. One technique begets another.
Cavemen had their clubs. The Wild West had bows and arrows. The Civil War had rifles. Arabian marauders brandished daggers. Today's bad guys have come a long way from their role models of old. Today's terrorists are using the most sophisticated science and state-of-the-art technology on the market, or the black market. But they have not forsaken the lesson of old. Today's terrorists are putting the knowledge they glean from high tech tools of terror to allow themselves to perfect and perform the low tech operations that keep their activities below the radar of detection.
Certainly, in order to fight terror and prevent terrorist attacks we must see the changes in terrorist technique and anticipate future tactics. We must know what they know and have their tools at our fingertips. That is possibly the most essential dimension in keeping our society safe from terror. But it is low tech opportunities that, right now, have me the most worried. It is the intel we are now receiving telling us that al Qaeda may be using non-Muslims and non-Arabs as recruits and terrorists-in-training.
These new terrorists may be believers, but they may also be guns for hire. They may be al Qaeda type missionaries or they may be modern-day mercenaries. They are the new faces of terror. They are the undetectable faces of terror. They are the blend right in faces of terror. Their faces are what have me worried.
Using locals is a brilliant move on the part of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups employing the same technique. It makes our work, the process of prevention and interception, that much harder. And when this tactic was used in the past, the results from the standpoint of the terrorist, were tremendous.
One of the most deadly terrorist attacks in Israel's history took place in one of the most secure environments in the country - in the arrival terminal of the international airport. Not outside the terminal but inside, in a sterile totally secure zone - baggage claim. A group of Japanese terrorists opened fired and murdered numerous tourists coming to Israel for a holiday pilgrimage. The attack was allowed to happen because Japanese tourists in Israel were thought to be low risk. Because despite the common perception, most tourists arriving in Israel are not Jewish, they are Christians visiting the hold land. And so these assumedly innocent travelers were able to smuggle weapons into the terminal, open fire and perpetrate their crime.
Not too very long ago a famous Tel Aviv watering hold, Mike's Bar, was blown up by British tourists of Pakistani decent. Yes, the British Pakistanis fit into a risk profile, but not a high risk profile. And with their legitimate, legally issued British passports this band of terrorists was able to zigzag back and forth between Tel Aviv and the West Bank Gaza with apparent ease. Until one day - boom.
The devastating and horrific bombings in London's subway and the intercepted failed plan to replicate those bombings were carried out by British locals, not by foreign born terrorists. The terrorists now under arrest for planning to hijack and blow-up transatlantic flights en route from London to the United States were also locals.
The changing face of the terrorist is the greatest obstacle the West now faces in fighting terror. To break through and get back on the terror fighting track requires a new mind set, it requires an entirely different approach to security.
When the threat is purely external, defense and security people feel safer. Red tape and bureaucracy act as checks to prevent many of the wrong people from coming in, from invading. A series of checks and checkpoints are in place and act as a barrier even if that person has managed to enter. But when that person is one of us the rules have been changed. The stakes are higher, the risks are greater and the chances of discovery are much, much smaller.
When that face looks like our faces, we need to create a new and better mirror.
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