The primary means to counter terrorism are policework and defence in depth. “Policework” encompasses the fields of surveillance, investigation, intelligence gathering and patrolling. Note that most of these activities are the province of law enforcement and intelligence agencies rather than that of the conventional military. To put it another way, preventing a terrorist action is achieved in the same way as the prevention of any other criminal activity.
It is interesting that many of the voices I see demanding that “something be done” after a terrorist attack are the same that so loudly complain about police and intelligence services attempting to do their jobs. A large chunk of our society wants to “cut off the nose to spite the face” and bend over backwards making excuses for our attackers.
Suppose, for example, an individual is suspected of being involved in terrorist-related activities. The first thing that needs to be done is to investigate if these suspicions have any veracity. The only way to do this is surveillance and investigation. It may be necessary to follow that individual. It may be necessary to investigate his friends, acquaintances and contacts. It may be necessary to read his mail or monitor his conversations. Such things are necessary if terrorist attacks are going to be prevented. They are also necessary to establish the innocence of a suspect.
Think about this the next time you read the latest “scandal” that our intelligence services tapped a phone. How can you demand that they do their job when you simultaneously bind and blind them? After attacks there are often complaints that “known extremists” were operating, ignoring the lack of legal options that could have been used on them.
Do not misunderstand me. Civil liberties, freedom of speech and privacy are all important. A healthy society balances the requirements of the individual and those of the many. Our police and intelligence services do need overview and culpability. An overview panel should be drawn from all of the major parties. The panel would prevent information and resources being used for personal or partisan agendas. Unlike the public hearings in favour in certain circles the panel would not be used to generate publicity for its members.
In many worldviews criminal activity and terrorist activity are distinct. Organised crime groups can be just as serious a threat to public safety as terrorist groups. Certain terrorist groups are active in organized crime and many criminal groups will use terrorist tactics and weaponry. Criminals and terrorists can be countered using the same tools and techniques. In some countries the responsibilities for surveillance, investigation and intelligence gathering are spread between half a dozen or more agencies. There may be unproductive lines of demarcation between them and sharing of information may be variable.
Since terrorism and criminal activity can be countered in the same way it would be prudent for the relevant sections of police and counter-intelligence forces to act together. Ideally this would become a chimeric “corporation” that gathers and processes data from local, national and international sources. It would deal with both criminal and political threats. Personnel would be drawn from law enforcement, intelligence, military and civilian career paths.
More efficient support of investigation, surveillance and intelligence gathering will help prevent terrorist attacks. No human system can be expected to be perfect, however, which brings me to defence in depth.
As I have stated in my books and other posts, the reason shootings and stabbings occur at schools is that our schoolchildren are unprotected. Machete attacks occur in public places because the attackers know their victims will be unarmed. Gunmen shoot into crowds because they know no one will be shooting back. Bombs get planted because they can be. Soft targets invite attack.
In 1940 Britain lived in fear of sudden Nazi paratroop attacks. The solution was bands of local armed volunteers who were to become the Home Guard. If such attacks had ever occurred these men would have taken up their rifles and held the invaders until reinforcements could arrive. Incidentally, many Home Guard units kept their arms caches separate from the local police station since they knew the police station would have been a priority enemy target.
Modern “pop-up” terrorists attacks are actually a similar tactical problem to the anticipated Nazi paratroopers. The difference is these will emerge from the crowds rather than down from the sky.
Where is our “defence in depth”? Where is our local defence response? How often do you see even a single policeman walking around a public area? And if there is one, it is likely he has nothing more than a handgun or tazer. If something happened in your area right now, how long would it take an armed squad from the local station or barracks to reach you?
I recently visited a museum with my girlfriend. On entry her bag was checked but the cardboard box I had under my arm was ignored. It held a new laptop, but the box could easily have accommodated an AK47 and a few grenades. The “increased security measures” in this building at the moment are that an unarmed, overweight security guard asks for my photo ID.
Defence in depth is about effective security precautions and being able to back them up in a timely fashion.
Yes, it may mean more searches. It may mean random traffic stops. There may be more armed police on the streets, or even military.