The IEDs Come Home
After recently attending a military veterans conference at the University of Southern California, I could forgive the government, private and non-profit organization attendees for thinking that they were gathered to discuss how returning military veterans could better adjust to civilian life. Instead, after another weekend of improvised attacks in the U.S. and Western Europe, I wonder if it’s average Americans who should be transitioning into a more militarized life, replete with improvised explosive device (IED) detection training, emergency tourniquet instruction and mastering barricade-in-place strategies for your school, your place of work or even your home.
If you're news-numb from the reports of killings in Chattanooga, San Bernardino, Orlando or any other number of terror attacks in the U.S., then I would urge you to take pause and consider this week’s three attacks; two with IEDs in New York and New jersey and a third with a knife in Minnesota. Although information about the attacks is still limited, two things are significant about this weekend in American life:
One, terrorist attacks in America have definitively graduated beyond high-profile targets; to focus on a range of softer targets. Al-Qaeda and ISIS supported attacks would certainly strike high-profile landmarks and infrastructure if they possessed the capability to overcome or bypass existing security measures. To that point, this weekend we are not talking about one of the most sophisticated bomb builders in Al-Qaeda’s roster; Ibrahim al-Asiri, the bomb maker who is credited with building Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s 2009 “underwear bomb” and the 2010 toner cartridge bombs that very nearly brought down three separate aircraft. Instead, attacks with seemingly less complex designs; knives, pressure cooker bombs, were effective in terrorizing three separate states for what I would reason was no more than two to three hundred dollars of equipment and a pro-rata internet connectivity for the still-at-large bombers. If you take solace in the fact that it only took three years for terrorists to ratchet down their targets from the Boston Marathon in 2013 to a Your-Town-USA 5K run- then don’t. Diffuse targets mean that we have traded one defensive block for another challenge, and this challenge comes with higher costs and more potential victims. While in uniform, I briefed my units deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq on the IED “hotspots” that were considered the most dangerous areas. Those briefs, while critical, lost some of their importance when insurgents made gains in infiltrating friendly military forces for the purpose of insider attacks and assassinations of coalition personnel. The interior of our own combat outposts were now suddenly “hotspots,” and the idea of a green zone needed to be stripped from our collective vocabulary. When I read in early reports that the Minnesota attacker was in a jacket marked as “security” as he stabbed eight victims, I couldn’t help but think how easily that tactic had migrated from one battlefield in Afghanistan to one shopping mall in America.
A second point, Unlike in previous high-profile attacks, life in America is quickly moving forward. The news generated about the attacks in New Jersey; at least on social media platforms, had trouble keeping up with other pop-culture topics such as a potential Notre Dame Football fourth quarter rally against Michigan State. In part, public attention may wane at these low or no casualty events compared to the astoundingly high number of fatalities in Orlando or Nice, France earlier this year. But for the bulk of Americans who don’t live near the Pentagon, New York City or major sporting venues, the week’s attacks should be all the more troubling. There is no consolation in staying away from New York City during 9/11 memorials or getting out of the Beltway on a Fourth of July weekend for fear of being too close to potential harm. Your mall could just as easily be the St. Cloud Mall; your fundraiser could just as easily be the New Jersey Semper Five race that was targeted over the weekend. So what then? Do terror attacks simply become another insurance category for Act of God or Force Majeure that we must suffer through? I personally think not. Like many returning service members, I see threats to American society and solutions to those threats embedded in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Shortly after the September 11th attacks, I heard Jordanian and Israeli defense officials separately remark that the expanded U.S. Air Marshal programs and random anti-terror measures were just the beginning. You will look more like us, was the message. I didn’t fully appreciate their point of view, nor did I fully understand what “they” looked like at the time, but as I consider the world my infant son will grow up in (as he is beginning to crawl around my feet now) I want to consider the things he may take for granted growing up if the volume and ingenuity of terrorist attacks do not relent. With the U.S. military and Israeli force protection model in mind, here are just a few things that I think these attacks portend:
- Anti-terrorism force protection roles, unique and distinct from the requirements of law enforcement, become a part of the local and municipal government, perhaps even joining the cadre of electable positions or seats we see in election years, not unlike a county judge or comptroller. The pressure on local authorities to handle crises effectively will be high, and that pressure could generate more full-time roles in this field.
- Taxes for visible and undercover private security guards are partly subsidized by the venues that need them the most, with Israeli’s restaurant security tax mimicked or even mandated in the U.S. for restaurateurs, club owners, malls and large retail chains- who will be all too eager to have the surcharge itemized in the receipt to reassure customers their prices are not predatory
- Opt-out mass text and social media alerts, like Amber Alerts in the case of child abduction, are the norm for all the electronic media we utilize, with victim call chain confirmations an important element for parents and loved ones to determine the relative safety of a loved one in an attack.
- And sadly, the average American citizen will relate much more closely to the American military veteran (where I started this piece), since the world the American civilian inhabits will not appear all that different - at least in tone and threat posture - from the world the service member recently departed.
The above is speculation based on what I saw in the U.S. Military, and none of it may come to pass. But I find myself suddenly a parent now and ruminating on what I will do as a parent.
When my son is old enough, will I teach him to tackle “heads-up” so he doesn’t receive a concussion in football? Will I teach him to permanently keep his personal electronics on “vibrate” so he won’t draw an active shooter to him? Will I teach him some silly rhyme about ‘liquor and beer’ for when he drinks alcohol for the first time? Will I teach him to count door exits when he enters a movie theater so he can better escape in an attack; or to be wary of vehicles that have a low suspension like the heavily packed car bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan? Will I teach him to always walk along the innocuous but ever-present traffic barricades that would give him cover in an improvised vehicle attack, as in Nice, France?
Yes. Yes, I will teach him all of those other things. Because that is what American parents must now do.