By Juliette Kayyem, CNN National Security Analyst
The attacks in Paris were purposefully targeted to impact a city where people go to eat, drink, watch sports and listen to music. These were no military targets, embassies, mass transit systems, hotels holding foreign officials or government buildings.
Instead, restaurants, a sporting arena and a concert hall were chosen because they represent the very benefits of urban life and the vulnerabilities of a crowded space. The Paris tragedy is of such consequence because it was an attack focused on the young, the social, the future: the very heart of every city.
If this is the wave of the future, then every city is inherently vulnerable. What makes them vital — their very openness — also puts residents at risk. For public safety officials, what to do about threats in a city is a constant balance between the risk and the reward. And it is in this context that the decision for an indeterminate lockdown must be considered.
Soldiers stand guard in front of the Brussels Central Train Station on Sunday as the Belgian capital remained on the highest security alert level over fears of a Paris-style attack.
Soldiers stand guard in front of the Brussels Central Train Station on Sunday as the Belgian capital remained on the highest security alert level over fears of a Paris-style attack.
This weekend in Belgium, in response to specific and presumably credible intelligence in the hunt for the Paris terrorists, Brussels went into lockdown. The decision has now been made by the Prime Minister to extend the lockdown through Monday, a work and school day, at the very least. The economic and psychological impact are immeasurable.
Belgium is in the midst of a counterterrorism mission, and we must rely on its good-faith efforts to protect the population and thwart the next attack. But Belgian leaders’ decisions expose a major challenge in security efforts and one that needs to be prioritized for a future when most cities are likely to have to respond to threats of terror: How do you close down an entire city?
Terror alert raised to maximum in Brussels
Terror alert raised to maximum in Brussels 01:25
Given mobility of people and mass transit systems, cities can find it impossible to try to limit the impact — or what we in disaster management call the cascading consequences — of a shutdown.
Mass transit systems are a perfect example.
During the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent chase of the Tsarnaev brothers, city and state public safety officials believed it was important to shut down areas of Boston as they pursued Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. What they found, however, was that the system of mass transit was so intertwined — buses leading to trains, and vice versa — that to close down a single part of it was impossible. It was all or nothing. And they chose all, closing Boston and surrounding suburbs for a day.
Why planes remain a terrorist target
Why planes remain a terrorist target (Opinion)
This will be true for most cities.
Therefore, emergency response planners should begin to make plans for the potential of closures that are the least disruptive. Most training around city closures, especially in the context of snow storms or hurricanes, assumes that systems are either running or not. It may be in the context of the threat environment that leaders — not just public safety leaders, but those in transit and design — need to develop more limited responses.
But, assuming that isn’t possible, the next step must be to ensure that criteria are well established for when a lockdown occurs and as importantly, when it will be lifted.
It cannot simply be that a terrorist has gone missing; that would mean every major city would be in constant shutdown. Such criteria could include the specificity and veracity of the intelligence and the likelihood that the attack would be thwarted by a shutdown.
Cities and nations must have very clear criteria for when and how they will reopen. In Boston during the marathon bombing in 2013, the governor reopened the city before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured. The city struggled to explain how it could convince people that things were safe while there was a terrorist still on the loose.
As it turned out, it was because the lockdown was lifted that a suburban resident saw traces of blood and alerted the police to where Dzhokhar was hiding, suggesting that the “crowds” can often be used to help in counterterrorism efforts.
How GOP 'outrage' helps ISIS deliver its message
How GOP ‘outrage’ over refugees helps ISIS
I don’t know, in the absence of a major arrest, how Brussels moves forward after Monday. The country is rightfully on edge, made more so by being told to stay put. The economic impact of a lost business day alone will be felt throughout the country and much of the EU.
The psychological impacts only aid the sense that that terrorists have changed how we live. Thus, shutting down a city is a tactic that should only be used in the rarest of circumstances, based on criteria that are known to the public and that are understood by those who implement them.
From public accounts, Belgium chose to close the city because of an imminent threat and the hunt for the terrorist, Salah Abdeslam, responsible for the French bombings.
Only they can make that judgment call, and there is no “right” answer about what they should have done. But, at some stage soon, there has to be a return to normal, and to do so, leaders need to publicly set the stage for how the city’s engines of activity will start churning again, especially if the elusive Abdeslam is not found.
With as many as 1,000 active cases, Fox News has learned at least 48 ISIS suspects are considered so high-risk that the FBI is using its elite tracking squads, known as the mobile surveillance teams or MSTs, to track them domestically.
“There is a very significant number of people that are on suspicious watch lists, under surveillance,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana).
Coats, who sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence, would not comment on specifics, but said the around-the-clock surveillance is a major commitment for the bureau. “The FBI together with law enforcement agencies across the country are engaged in this. It takes enormous amount of manpower to do this on a 24/7 basis. It takes enormous amount of money to do this,” Coats explained.
These elite FBI teams are reserved for espionage, mob violence and high-priority terrorism cases, like a joint terrorism task force case last June, where a 26-year-old suspect, Usaama Rahim, was killed outside a Massachusetts CVS. When a police officer and FBI agent tried to question him, the Boston police commissioner said, Rahim threatened them with a knife, and was shot dead.
On June 2, law enforcement officials lift the knife Usaama Rahim brandished toward a police officer and an FBI agent.Photo: AP
With at least a dozen agents assigned to each case, providing 24/7 coverage, this high level of surveillance reflects the severe risk associated with suspects most likely to attempt copycat attacks after Paris.
“It is a big resource drain. Yes it is. Almost overwhelming,” Coats said when asked about the demand placed on the FBI. “There will be a lot of people over the Thanksgiving weekend that will not be enjoying turkey with their family. They’ll be out there providing security for the American people and the threat is particularly high during this holiday period.”
One of the lessons of Paris is that the radicalization process can be swift. According to published reports, friends of the female suspect who was killed in the siege of Saint-Denis, Hasna Ait Boulahcen, abandoned her party life only a month before joining her cousin, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the commander of the plot on the ground. He was also killed in the siege.
On June 30, 2014, ISIS fighters parade through Raqqa, Syria, the nominal capital of the Islamic State’s caliphate.Photo: Reuters
FBI Director James Comey has consistently drawn attention to this phenomenon, calling it the “flash to bang,” that the time between radicalization and crossing the threshold to violent action can be very short. Last week, in a rare public appearance with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Comey would only say that “dozens” of suspected radicals have been under “tight surveillance.”
“Together we are watching people of concern using all of our lawful tools. We will keep watching them and if we see something, we will work to disrupt it,” Comey said.
Contacted by Fox News, an FBI spokesman had no comment on the high-risk cases, nor the use of elite surveillance teams.
The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. Current information suggests that ISIL (aka Da’esh), al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics, using conventional and non-conventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests. This Travel Alert expires on February 24, 2016.
Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da’esh return from Syria and Iraq. Additionally, there is a continuing threat from unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis. Extremists have targeted large sporting events, theatres, open markets, and aviation services. In the past year, there have been multiple attacks in France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey, and Mali. ISIL/Da’esh has claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt.
U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places. Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events. U.S. citizens should monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities. Persons with specific safety concerns should contact local law enforcement authorities who are responsible for the safety and security of all visitors to their host country. U.S. citizens should:
- Follow the instructions of local authorities. Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.
- Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions.
- Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.
- Register in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Foreign governments have taken action to guard against terrorist attacks, and some have made official declarations regarding heightened threat conditions. Authorities continue to conduct raids and disrupt terror plots. We continue to work closely with our allies on the threat from international terrorism. Information is routinely shared between the United States and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.
For further information:
- See the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution,Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
- Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
DHS’s BioWatch program aims to provide early indication of an aerosolized biological weapon attack. Until April 2014, DHSpursued a next-generation autonomous detection technology (Gen-3), which aimed to enable collection and analysis of air samples in less than six hours, unlike the current system (Gen-2), which requires manual intervention and can take up to thirty-six hours to detect the presence of biological pathogens. A GAOreport found that DHS lacks reliable information about BioWatch Gen-2’s technical capabilities to detect a biological attack, and therefore lacks the basis for informed cost-benefit decisions about upgrades to the system.
DHS’s BioWatch program aims to provide early indication of an aerosolized biological weapon attack. Until April 2014, DHS pursued a next-generation autonomous detection technology (Gen-3), which aimed to enable collection and analysis of air samples in less than six hours, unlike the current system (Gen-2), which requires manual intervention and can take up to thirty-six hours to detect the presence of biological pathogens.
DHS is taking steps to address the capability gap which resulted from the April 2014 cancellation of Gen-3 by exploring other technology upgrades and improvements to the Gen-2 system.
A Government Accountability office (GAO) was asked to review the technical capabilities of the currently deployed BioWatch system (Gen-2); the Gen-3 testing effort; and the characteristics of autonomous detection as a possible option to replace the current BioWatch system.
GAO says it analyzed key program documents, including test plans, test results, and modeling studies. GAO assessed Gen-3 testing against best practices, reviewed relevant literature, and discussed the BioWatch program and testing efforts with key agency officials and national laboratories staff.
BioWatch Gen-2: Unreliable information
A Government Accountability office (GAO) report found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lacks reliable information about BioWatch Gen-2’s technical capabilities to detect a biological attack, and therefore lacks the basis for informed cost-benefit decisions about upgrades to the system.
DHS commissioned several tests of the technical performance characteristics of the current BioWatch Gen-2 system, but the department has not developed performance requirements which would enable it to interpret the test results and draw conclusions about the system’s ability to detect attacks. GAO notes that although DHS officials said that the system can detect catastrophic attacks, which they define as attacks large enough to cause 10,000 casualties, they have not specified the performance requirements necessary to reliably meet this operational objective.
In the absence of performance requirements, DHS officials said computer modeling and simulation studies support their assertion, but none of these studies were designed to incorporate test results from the Gen-2 system and comprehensively assess the system against the stated operational objective. Additionally, the GAO report says, DHS has not prepared an analysis that combines the modeling and simulation studies with the specific Gen-2 test results to assess the system’s capabilities to detect attacks.
Finally, GAO found limitations and uncertainties in the four key tests of the Gen-2 system’s performance. Because it is not possible to test the BioWatch system directly by releasing live biothreat agents into the air in operational environments, DHS relied on chamber testing and the use of simulated biothreat agents, which limit the applicability of the results.
“These limitations underscore the need for a full accounting of statistical and other uncertainties, without which decision makers lack a full understanding of the Gen-2 system’s capability to detect attacks of defined types and sizes and cannot make informed decisions about the value of proposed upgrades,” the report says.
GAO notes that the actions and decisions DHS made regarding the acquisition and testing of a proposed next generation of BioWatch (Gen-3) partially aligned with best practices GAO previously identified for developmental testing of threat detection systems. For example, best practices indicate that resilience testing, or testing for vulnerabilities, can help uncover problems early. DHS took steps to help build resilience into the Gen-3 testing, but the report says that future testing could be improved by using more rigorous methods to help predict performance in different operational environments.
DHS canceled the Gen-3 acquisition in April 2014, but GAO identified lessonsDHS could learn by applying these best practices to the proposed Gen-2 upgrades.
According to experts and practitioners, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which detects genetic signatures of biothreat agents, is the most mature technology to use for an autonomous detection system. DHS is considering autonomous detection as an upgrade to Gen-2, because according to DHS, it may provide benefits such as reduction in casualties or clean-up costs. But the extent of these benefits, GAO says, is uncertain because of several assumptions, such as the speed of response after a detection, whih are largely outside of DHS’s control. As a result, the effectiveness of the response and the number of lives that could be saved is uncertain. Further, an autonomous detection system must address several likely challenges, including minimizing possible false positive readings, meeting sensitivity requirements, and securing information technology networks.
GAO recommends that DHS not pursue upgrades or enhancements for Gen-2 until DHS reliably establishes the system’s current capabilities. GAO also recommends DHS incorporate best practices for testing in conducting any system upgrades.
DHS has generally concurred with GAO’s recommendations.
— Read more in Biosurveillance: DHS Should Not Pursue BioWatch Upgrades or Enhancements Until System Capabilities Are Established, GAO-16-99 (23 November 2015)
Israel’s cabinet has approved the construction of a new high-tech fencing along Israel’s border with Jordan, with the aim of making it more difficult for Islamist terrorists such as members of ISIS from entering the country. Israel has built sophisticated fencing – indeed, complex defensive systems — along its borders with Lebanon, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Sinai. A similar system has been built along parts of Israel’s border with Syria. The Israeli security services are worried that a route through Jordan, the border with which is not as tightly secured as Israel’s borders with its other neighbors, may be an entryway for its enemies.
Israel’s cabinet has approved the construction of a new high-tech fencing along Israel’s border with Jordan, with the aim of making it more difficult for Islamist terrorists such as members of ISIS from entering the country.
The barrier is set to span nineteen miles in the south of the country, near the Red Sea. In addition to keeping out Islamist terrorists, the barrier is also aimed at preventing African migrants from entering Israel through Jordan, after travelling across the Red Sea.
Israel has completed a high-tech fence along the Israel-Egypt border in 2013, and the Independent reports that The Israeli security services are worried that a route through Jordan, which is not as tightly secured as Israel’s borders with its other neighbors, may be an entryway for its enemies.
During a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the extension of the Jordanian border fence “important,” and said it is a “very important step” in Israel’s national security.
He added that it will join the fence built along the Sinai and Golan Heights borders, which he said have been important in keeping out illegal migrants and “the various terrorist movements.”
Netanyahu said the fence was not an act of aggression or intimidation toward Jordan, stressing that the fence will be constructed “without in any way harming the sovereignty or national interests of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”
Netanyahu noted that the fence would also protect the Timna airport which is scheduled to open next year, and which is billed as an alternative “second airport” which could be used in case the Ben-Gurion airport near Tel Aviv comes under attack.
Israel has built sophisticated fencing – indeed, complex defensive systems — along its borders with Lebanon, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Sinai. A similar system has been built along parts of Israel’s border with Syria.
Islamic State fighters in Iraq. Photo:Medyan Dairieh / VICE News
Four days after the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, my team and I asked the audience of my BBC Asian Network phone-in show a question, as we do every day. This time, it was: “Will the Paris attacks make life more difficult for British Muslims?”
It had been less than a week since the terrorists of Daesh, or the so-called Islamic State, had gone on their murderous rampage. So, to some, it may have seemed insensitive to be asking so soon how British Muslims were feeling when French hearts from all backgrounds were broken and a manhunt to catch the surviving perpetrators was still ongoing.
Our reasoning was that what IS wanted was for discord to fester—for Islamophobia in the West to become deeply embedded, with the subsequent hatred and mistrust leading to more eager recruits being seduced into their death cult. So it was important for us to gauge whether or not they were succeeding in their aim. We also wanted to discover what it felt like on the ground for the average law-abiding, tax-paying, house-tending, car-driving, life-living British Muslim—or indeed British Asian, being that the average Islamophobe isn’t going to ask a potential victim to fill in a questionnaire clarifying their religious viewpoint before attacking them.
The calls, emails, and texts largely portrayed a depressing picture. I remember a British Muslim caller talking about how his sister had told their mother to not go to the bank that morning because “white people may attack you.” And this was not an isolated case of fear.
There are those who are in utter denial over the issue of increased (or indeed the very concept of) Islamophobia, and yet the statistics seem to challenge the belief some hold that we live in a tolerant, multicultural society. In the week following the Paris attacks, according to the government’s working group on anti-Muslim hatred, Islamophobic hate crime rose by 300 percent. Women having their headscarves ripped off, people being called terrorists, and facing aggressive behavior from strangers, being spat on and abused in front of their children. This is a reality for many British Muslims who have communicated with me on my phone-in show.
It is against this backdrop that The Sun newspaper printed its recent front page headline, “1 in 5 Brit Muslims have sympathy for Jihadis”—a conclusion the journalist responsible made after seeing the results of a poll that never mentioned the word jihadis. The survey’s 1,003 respondents were asked if they had any sympathy for young British Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria. Did that include members of the British Kurdish community going to Syria to fight IS, or joining the Free Syrian Army who are battling Assad and IS?
On the Sunday night before the print copy of the paper hit the newsstands, some had already seen the front page online and tweeted about how irresponsible and inflammatory they felt it was. A British Muslim member of the public, who also happens to follows me on Twitter, tweeted “All 5 Muslims in our household despise extremists. Either me or @TheSun is lying. Only one of us lies habitually.”
On Monday morning as people awoke to this headline, my debate show team knew that our listeners would want to discuss the impact it would have. We asked “Is today’s Sunheadline a wake up call to British Muslims or irresponsible journalism?” Many sided with the latter part of the question, as did others in the media. That same day there were articles in other newspapers questioning the methodology and the very basic journalistic shortcomings of the piece, and it was beginning to look like a blatant piece of hate-mongering to some of my listeners.
The Sun replied to the criticism by stating that they had “published the poll’s findings clearly and accurately, including the questions in full.” A non-Muslim emailer called Karamjeet wrote, “The reporting in The Sun certainly doesn’t surprise me, but the way it is reported is totally irresponsible and inflammatory.” Another listener texted, “The Sun is very conniving… they were asking very leading questions, the answers of which could be easily manipulated.” With more than a hint of frustration in her tone, another listener said, “Like those three monkeys, the media by and large chooses to stay blind, deaf, and dumb to those voices who speak out against extremists and terrorists. What do they want? That I renounce my faith? That I take up non-Islamic practices? Will that then assuage them?”
The fact that British Muslim callers have described how their work colleagues no longer treat them with the courtesy they once experienced, or that they are fearful for the futures of their kids, should act as a wake-up call to politicians and journalists that ill-conceived headlines have repercussions for people who just wish to practice their faith and go about their business. We all have a responsibility to confront hatred and bigotry wherever it exists, and at the very least do nothing to unnecessarily exacerbate the situation.
You only have to see the ridicule and backlash that The Sun has faced this week to realize that we are a tolerant nation. But for some of my British Muslim listeners, the fear is that those headlines will be read by some as gospel, tainting the way some of their fellow Brits view them. Instead, we must all unite and show solidarity, for that will only infuriate IS and help to quell the number of Europeans making the journey to Syria to join the terrorists.
by Angel Rabasa, Cheryl Benard
Related Topics: Europe, Religious Fundamentalism, Syria, Terrorism
Throughout history, factors of radicalization have involved social and economic conditions and issues of identity. Patterns of Islamist radicalization in Europe reflect the historical experience of European Muslim communities, particularly their links to their home countries, the prevalence of militant groups there, and the extent to which factors of radicalization in Muslim countries transfer to European Muslim diasporas. Eurojihad examines the sources of radicalization in Muslim communities in Europe and the responses of European governments and societies. In an effort to understand the scope and dynamics of Islamist extremism and terrorism in Europe, this book takes into account recent developments, in particular the emergence of Syria as a major destination of European jihadists. Angel Rabasa and Cheryl Benard describe the history, methods, and evolution of jihadist networks in Europe with particular nuance, providing a useful primer for the layperson and a sophisticated analysis for the expert.
“Mafia heir warns ISIS to stay away from New York—but slams ‘Hollywood gangsters’ De Niro and Pacino for failing to ‘stand up’ to the terrorists” is how the ever-subtle Daily Mailput it. The Russian government–funded outlet RT, in an early version of the story that got more than 56,000 Facebook likes, quoted Gambino at length: “The world is dangerous today, but people living in New York neighborhoods with Sicilian connections should feel safe,” he said. “We make sure our friends and families are protected from extremists and terrorists, especially the brutal, psychopathic organization that calls itself the Islamic State.”
Strong words. Viral words, even. But where’d they come from? RT cites (but doesn’t link to) a Reuters piece that supposedly in turn quotes an NBC News interview. But that Reuters article is actually just a November 19 press release, and the video embedded in it is a 2012 interview Gambino did to promote his book Prince of Omerta. To make matters more muddled, he was actually speaking to the hosts of Good Company, a local Cleveland talk show, and the conversation in the YouTube clip never touches on the Islamic State. (The YouTube clip is apparently mislabeled.) If Gambino appeared on NBC News recently, we couldn’t find that video.
So where did those quotes in the press release that spread far and wide come from? To clear things up, VICE called Joseph Savoy, a friend of Gambino’s who was listed as the contact on the press release. He wasn’t sure how that old 2012 video clip got involved, but confirmed that the quotes “came from Giovanni directly” and “that’s how he feels.”
Attribution issues aside, Gambino seems to be enjoying the attention. Even if that NBC News interview referenced in the first line of the press release never happened, his quotes were picked up by media outlets all over the world, to the point where he’s now being invited to expound upon his views. On Monday, Gambino was a guest on Michael Savage’s right-wing radio show, Savage Nation, where he said, “We have to stand up together to fight this monster [ISIS],” and claimed the Islamic State is scared to take action in the US because “the Sicilians would take action right away.”
Gambino also spread a version of the story—suddenly popular again in Republican circles—that American Muslims cheered after 9/11.
“When the Twin Towers went down you had everybody from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn celebrating in the streets,” Gambino told Savage. “I live in Bay Ridge, I saw it with my own eyes. The cops were protecting them.”
The press release says that Gambino “has fostered relationships with major movie producers, and he is on his way to building a highly respected career in Hollywood.”