The holiday season is here and for most of us, it's a time for shopping, gift-giving, and reconnecting with loved ones. For the terrorist, the holiday season is an opportune time to attack.
The religious component to this cannot be ignored. Terrorists groups like ISIS, AQ and other jihadists, find Hanukkah and Christmas an especially attractive time to attack. Fueled by their hatred for the "people of the book" (a euphemism for Christians and Jews), these groups have called on their followers to attack churches, synagogues, and other public celebrations during this time of year.
If you've attended any of our counter-terrorism or security training, you've heard us say, "the best way to survive an attack is to see it before it's coming." You can't do that if you don't know what to look for. So, here's a few signs to pay attention to as you're out in public.
1. Covert Surveillance. Terrorists usually conduct surveillance to gather information on their target prior to an attack. Activities such as recording, monitoring, or photographing of an area should raise red flags. Of course, people take photographs in public all the time. The question is, why are they taking photos? Are they taking selfies of themselves having fun with friends? Or, are they taking photos of security cameras, entrances and security personnel. Intent is what matters here.
2. Attempts at Elicitation. Pay attention to anyone one attempting to elicit information about the environment, buildings, or operations. Elicitation is an overt act that requires the terrorist to make contact. I know churches who have had visitors inquire about their security programs. In Boston, I met a police officer who used to work security at a mall part-time. A certain individual repeatedly engaged him to ask questions about police response time and other security matters related to the mall. That same individual was later arrested and is serving time in federal prison for, among other things, planning an terrorist attack at that mall!
3. Security Tests. Any attempts to measure the reaction time to a security breach or gain access to a restricted area should be taken seriously. Terrorist often conduct these tests to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the security apparatus.
If we all keep our eyes open and know what to look for, we can better protect ourselves and our communities this holiday season. It really is the most wonderful time of the year, so let's keep it that way.
Merry Christmas from my family to yours.