Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fighting ISIS: Bubbling Up in the Homeland

Northcom takes proactive stance as the background noise increases Force Protection Level Boosted at DoD Facilities Nationwide
The commander of U.S. Northern Command has elevated the force protection level for all Defense Department facilities in the continental United States, but not because of a specific threat, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said here today.

Force protection condition levels, or FPCON levels, range from Alpha, which applies when an increased general and unpredictable terrorist threat exists against personnel or facilities, to Delta, which applies in an immediate area where a terrorist attack has occurred or is imminent.

Today, Northcom raised the force protection level at all DoD facilities nationwide from Alpha to Bravo. Bravo applies when an increased or more predictable threat of terrorist activity exists.

“I won't go into the specifics of what that means because it is information that a potential adversary could use against us,” Warren said.
This is an acknowledgement, Warren added, that “right now we believe the threat level nationwide has increased.”

According to Northcom, the potential for another attack is always possible and implementing random force protection measures is one way to minimize the likelihood of an attack on an installation or service members.

“Some of you can see for yourselves -- you can look at Twitter or at other social media sites and see threats,” Warren said.

“We have a little bit more capability than you do so we see a little bit more than you do. Some of [the threats] are international, some are domestic … but it’s an overall increase in the environment,” he said.

Warren added, “It's as if the temperature of the water has gone up a degree or two.”
How much heat? Secretary of Homeland Security says:
The effective use of social media by the terror group ISIS has thrust the United States into a “new environment” when it comes to the threat against the homeland, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said today on "This Week."

“We’re definitely in a new phase in the global terrorist threat where the so-called lone wolf could strike at any moment," Johnson told ABC's Martha Raddatz. "It is a new environment, but we are not discouraging Americans from doing the things they do on a daily basis.”
And then there is Purported ISIS warning claims terror cells in place in 15 states:
A grim online warning from a self-described American jihadist said Sunday's terror attack in Texas was the work of ISIS and that the terrorist group has scores of "trained soldiers" positioned in 15 states, awaiting orders to carry out more operations.

The warning, which was posted on a file-sharing site, could not be verified, but was signed by Abu Ibrahim Al Ameriki. That name matches the moniker of a shadowy American known to have joined a terrorist group in Pakistan several years ago and who has appeared in propaganda videos before. The chilling threat named five of the states where it is claimed that ISIS has terror cells in place.
Well, some of that may be pure baloney, but the same Fox News report notes
In February, FBI Director James Comey said the FBI is investigating suspects with ties to ISIS in 49 states, but that number is believed to include self-radicalized Americans who have followed jihadist websites but don't have direct links to the group.
Of course, any terror group wants to make people nervous. As noted here:
Terrorism . . . involves the weaponization of fear itself. Through the targeting of civilian noncombatants, terrorists hope to use fear to achieve their objective.
How to fight terrorism? Freakonomics asked that question
Select excerpts:
BLOOM: I asked, for example, a close friend of mine, Mubin Shaikh, about his experiences because he ended up in an Al-Qaeda training camp and in fact, came back to North America with the intent to perpetrate a terrorist attack. And he eventually changed his mind and he began to work as an undercover agent for the Canadian security services. But I asked him what appealed to him. You know, this was a middle-class kid who had grown up, you know, he didn’t personally experience Islamophobia or hatred. He was well-integrated. And I asked Mubin how he was able to be convinced of the value of Jihad, and he said, “Well one of the things that they did was they distorted the Koran.” So perhaps we need to make sure that people have a good Islamic education. It’s not a secular education that is the solution, but it’s to make sure that people have an education that is grounded in the Koran and doesn’t skip chapters or verses, doesn’t look at Surat At-Tawbah and go from verse five and chapter nine to verse seven, skipping six, which you know talks about the Prophet provided free access or free exit for people who wanted to leave the battlefield, and he protected them. So it’s really important that you know, perhaps when young people are studying the great books, one of the great books should be the Koran. Perhaps children in middle America, in the middle of Nebraska, should know what the Koran is about, and demystify it, not just for Muslim communities so that they integrate and they don’t feel isolated, but also just to educate, you know, the country in general.
DUBNER: *** As Mia Bloom and Robert Pape told us, the root causes of terrorism are often not what we assume—and this, obviously, affects how you think about prevention. Jack Jacobs and Nathan Myhrvold warned us not to spend so many resources preventing old-fashioned, physical terrorism when the threats of bioterrorism and cyberterrorism may be much greater. Steve Levitt, meanwhile, my economist friend—he too thinks that Americans worry more than they should about the threat of physical terrorism:

LEVITT: I think you just want to start with the basic idea that it is almost at zero. That whether it’s a little bit bigger now or a little less now, terrorism for essentially forever has been just a drop in the bucket of the ways that people can die. And, if you compare it to any sort of health risk, like diabetes or heart attacks or cancer, or any sort of socially constructed risk, like dying in a car crash or even accidents like falling down stairs, in general terrorism in America is not something to worry about. Very different if you live in Syria or Iraq or someplace like that, terrorism matters there because terrorism is like a way of life. It’s really terrorism and, you know, the fight for control of government or whatnot that are all kind of mixed together. But, you know, if you’re American and you don’t want to be a victim of terror, if you basically stay in the United States or anywhere other than places that are actively fighting for control of government, you’re incredibly safe.
LEVITT: To be honest, I think if someone wanted to use my services more effectively, I think I would be much less effective in an Obama Administration get together trying to fight terrorism than actually working on the other side. I think it’s much easier for economists to come up with good ideas about how to be terrorists rather than how to fight terrorists, because how to be a good terrorist is about thinking what are the things you can do to a society, which is most disruptive and most affects either the psychology or the commerce of a country. And it’s almost the economic question in reverse. And economists spend a lot of time thinking about how most efficiently to make economies run, so I think we’re actually pretty good at thinking about how to destroy economies, too. And so, not that I think any of us are actively engaged in that endeavor, but I do think that we would be more useful on that side of the table.
If you know that a "good terrorist" is looking for those acts which would be "most disruptive and most affects either the psychology or the commerce of a country," you do have a leg up on countering those moves.

In the case of ISIS, if the Garland, Texas, attack on the cartoon show was really one its ideas(update - see here), it show they are not interested in the "big ideas" but are more inclined to pursue low level attacks using relatively unsophisticated tactics. Even the attack on the Charley Hebdo attack was not very sophisticated - and might only have worked because of a largely unarmed civilian population.

What's the lesson? Don't panic. Maintain situational awareness. Be prepared. And, as the saying goes, "An armed society is a polite society."

Why is it hard to fight the "lone wolf" terrorists? Another excerpt from the Freakonomics interview:
LEVITT: If you turn to economics and what economics has to say about fighting terrorism, it’s a hard problem because economics really centers around incentives. And the kind of incentives we tend to use are things like prices or punishment in prison or whatnot. But when people are willing to pay the ultimate price in the form of suicide to reach a goal, they’re not the kind of folks that we’re used to incentivizing and motivating.
Nope, you just can give them that "ultimate price" before they have the chance to take others with them.

Interesting article from Foreign Affairs from 2014, Audrey Kurth Cronin's ISIS Is Not a Terrorist Group:
As ISIS has grown, its goals and intentions have become clearer. Al Qaeda conceived of itself as the vanguard of a global insurgency mobilizing Muslim communities against secular rule. ISIS, in contrast, seeks to control territory and create a “pure” Sunni Islamist state governed by a brutal interpretation of sharia; to immediately obliterate the political borders of the Middle East that were created by Western powers in the twentieth century; and to position itself as the sole political, religious, and military authority over all of the world’s Muslims.
ISIS *** offers a very different message for young men, and sometimes women. The group attracts followers yearning for not only religious righteousness but also adventure, personal power, and a sense of self and community. And, of course, some people just want to kill—and ISIS welcomes them, too. The group’s brutal violence attracts attention, demonstrates dominance, and draws people to the action.
The first part is mostly correct, which is why we really need to fight a semi-conventional war in the ISIS territorial claims. The second part is also correct and allows ISIS to attract "foreign fighters" to it fight. More than that, it explains the attraction to the disaffected in Western societies - and how they may have a group of such young men and women lying in wait in the West - not as a main front in the ISIS battle, but as a diversionary, asymmetric threat.

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