May 22, 2018
One year ago today, a suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device as concertgoers were leaving an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 people and wounding hundreds of others. As we look back at this horrific incident, it is critical that we recognize the importance of collecting and sharing community-sourced intelligence to help detect and prevent attacks.
Our security and law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed by the volume of counterterrorism investigations and surveillance requirements. The FBI, for example, has acknowledged there are counterterrorism investigations underway in all 50 states. In the U.K., there are 500 known plots under investigation involving 3,000 potential attackers. The only way terrorism prevention will improve in the short-term is for organizations to develop safety and security communities of interest who have the knowledge and tools to identify emerging threats and report them.
In the world of counterterrrorism, we know that major terrorist organizations often follow a well-defined planning process that involves observable activities at every stage. If we learn a little bit about that process, we can detect those things that the U.S. Secret Service refers to as a “DLR” – things that “Don’t look right.”
Almost all terrorist attacks follow a five-stage process, during which all of the pieces of the puzzle are put together to improve the chances of the attack succeeding. The good news is that nearly all of the activities associated with each phase of this process can be observed and reported.
The stages of a terrorist attack are as follows:
1. Initial planning: This is the stage when potential targets are selected, attackers are identified/recruited, and tactics are chosen. Terrorists seek targets that promise high numbers of casualties (such as stadiums, mass transit, schools), iconic value (major corporations, government agencies), and economic impact (critical infrastructure).
2. Acquiring weapons, funding and support: Terrorist attacks require more than just bombs, bullets and rental trucks. They require money, communications, travel arrangements and sometimes even false identities. Sometimes smaller crimes are committed in the pursuit of these items.
3. Conducting surveillance: Taking photos, drawing diagrams, watching security checkpoints, asking unusual questions about facilities and wandering around without any discernible aim are all indicators of possible surveillance.
4. Rehearsal – validating the attack plan.
- Believe it or not, rehearsals of terrorist attacks do occur, particularly if the planned attack is large and requires close coordination. You might observe what looks like an impending attack (e.g. someone leaving an unattended bag in a busy area). Although the incident may turn out to be nothing, it may very well have been part of an effort to observe how local security reacts to the incident – a rehearsal.
5. The actual attack.
- Even right up to the last minute, if you observe what looks like an act of violence or a terrorist attack, a report to local security or the police can make a difference. Even a few seconds of warning in a suicide bomber scenario can be enough time to get people far enough away to prevent serious injury or death.
- If it doesn’t look right, say something.
See It, Share It, Stop It
It’s been 17 years since the 9/11 attacks and yet we continue to see mass shootings and other terrorist acts that could have been prevented had one of the many pre-attack indicators been reported to authorities. The main roadblocks to increasing reporting have been the lack of an ability to report suspicious activity anonymously and the lack of an automated tool that could get the reports into the hands of the right security officials at the right time.
Today, the LiveSafe mobile platform solves these problems and more. Co-founded by Kristina Anderson, the most injured survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting, LiveSafe enables business enterprises and college campuses to leverage the safety and security observations of their employees. Through an easy-to-use Mobile App and a robust Command and Communications Dashboard, the LiveSafe platform transforms employees and students into mobile human sensors capable of delivering actionable intelligence on emerging threats.
Community-sourced intelligence that can shift an organization’s security posture from reaction to prevention is now a reality with LiveSafe. We all have a role to play in preventing terrorist attacks from happening. And now we all have a way to make a difference.
About Dan: Dan Verton is a Sales and Marketing Content Writer at LiveSafe. He is also an award-winning journalist, former military intelligence officer, and author of Left of Boom: The Citizen’s Guide to Detecting and Preventing Terrorist Attacks.