Scott Koenig is bemused by those who believe that dated attack plans are somehow evidence that counter-terrorist intelligence is bad or, worse, politically motivated.
We know that al Qaeda operatives typically spend several months or even years surveiling a potential target, probing for weaknesses. By increasing security of likely targets on the basis of the slightest intelligence (or even at random), we can disrupt their planning process, and possibly force them to abandon a plan altogether.
The easiest time to thwart a potential terrorist plan is during this critical planning period. If the surveillance can be detected, it may be possible to track the movement of the reconnaissance elements, and ultimately bust an entire terrorist cell.
But typically, the critical piece of information that thwarts an attack wonÃ¢€™t come from captured documents, or even trained security personnel. It generally comes from an alert civilian who witnesses suspicious activity, and reports it to authorities.
In a discussion that ensues in his comments section, he defines “suspicious”:
First, let’s dispense with the BS: ethnic profiling works. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but Middle Eastern men in their 20s and 30s are much more likely to be terrorists than say, an elderly Scandanavian woman.
What you’re typically looking for is someone who is taking numerous photos of high-profile buildings or other vital infrastructure beyond what a tourist might want for his scrapbook. They would be paying particular attention to critical structural elements, like support beams, etc. Anyone who is spending an unusual amount of time observing people (especially security or delivery personnel) entering and leaving a building is obviously suspicious. Even more suspicious if he is taking notes. Anyone observing from a distance with a telescope or binoculars should raise your attennae.
But mainly, it’s just any behavior that strikes you as unusual for a person going about their business, but which could easily be consistent with scoping out a potential target.
Clearly, this isn’t rocket science. The bottom line is that if you have a gut feeling about someone, don’t ignore it. Observe their behavior, but don’t confront them directly. Make sure you can give a good description, and report the incident to the proper authorities.
Ethnic profiling isn’t foolproof. While al Qaeda operatives are mainly young, male, and Arab, not all are. Still, one has to start somewhere. And it’s not simply the presence of people who “look” like the people who staged the 9/11 attacks. The phones would ring off the hook in the DC area if people called the police to report every sighting of a “Middle Eastern man in their 20s and 30s.” Or, for that matter, people taking pictures of buildings. But, certainly, people can develop a sense of what is “normal” for their part of the country and figure out what constitutes “suspicious.”