Thursday, December 3, 2015

Learning to Thwart, Not Just Watch Barbarians

Yesterday's carnage in San Bernardino makes one wonder whether in the battle between civilization and barbarism the latter is not getting the upper hand. Historian Will Durant once observed that civilization begins where chaos and insecurity end ( Yet for Seyd Farook, the shooter identified as principal antagonist, the blandishments of a good-paying public sector job and an environment where co-workers had recently given him a baby shower and were apparently enjoying his company in a Christmas party moments before he started shooting them -- this was not enough.

A focused enemy amplifies his lethality when his targeting, unambiguous to him, remains to his targets a question of doubt, debate, denial, and convoluted navel-gazing about grievances and moral equivalences. Expect the discussion in the aftermath to highlight all these things as the inevitable search for root causes takes a winding path to blaming American society for this tragedy. To the rest of the world, however, the contest between shooters and victims showcases certain contrasts. The adversary wants you dead. The target wants to talk about it. If you're impressionable, young enough to want more but frustrated with a world that refuses to serve it up to you -- right now -- which group would you rather join: focused attacker or dithering target?

Fusion of Grudge and Jihad

Welcome to Barbarian Outreach 101. The best recruiting tool is the prospect of spoils, success, and palpable payoff in, at the very least, notoriety, hence the GoPro cameras packed by the shooters to document their slaughter of the undefended. And in the absence of civilizing constraints to keep savage behaviors in check, then few things can compete with the siren call of jihad. The allure is as powerful as it is timeless: instant gratification combined with settling of scores.

The San Bernardino attacks differed markedly from workplace violence cases and, at the same time, from the kind of terrorist attacks that recently consumed Paris. The odd thing about affixing a workplace violence label on this is that eruptions don't come this way, with a planned assault and a team vs. one lone individual who feels beleaguered, isolated, and at a breaking point. Early accounts that the main shooter was affiliated with the targeted group and somehow dropped his daughter off on the way to the shooting but brought his wife and brother to join into the fray are inconsistent with the way workplace violence incidents tend to unfold. Indeed anyone worried about the potential for such violence to erupt at the hands of one volatile individual usually takes comfort on learning that that person is married and even has a young child. Those circumstances point to a reason for living rather than for going out guns blazing. This is why most shooters in workplace violence cases tend to raise more concern; they have no one to go home to, no one to offer perspective and balance in circumstances where they may be overreacting to perceived or actual insults to personal dignity. Nor does the typical workplace violence case involve high-powered rifles and body armor. Nor, an escape, either. More than half of such shootings end on the spot with the shooter taking his own life. Otherwise, the shooter succumbs to police gunfire or gets captured. Rarely do they elude capture or even have an escape plan, unlike yesterday's shooters.

Age is also a factor. People of the shooter's age, 28, typically don't develop the same kind of work-related resentments as someone 20 years older. At that age, they just move on to another job. Only later in a career, when they feel trapped and at the same time incapable of finding comparable employment elsewhere, do they develop more obsessive and alarming tendencies that surface on the job.

If it is an act of terror instead, questions arise about target selection and object sought. The curious will always ask why, seeking answers that may be impossible to produce to anyone's total satisfaction. Defenders want to understand the pattern, the rationale -- however illogical or convoluted -- behind target selection and perceived value of attacking one particular group versus another, and at this particular venue. The venue certainly offered an abundance of escape routes, being near an unusually high number of major freeways. The site itself and the group were hardly iconic, however. This suggests attacker favoring of ready access over symbolism. If you're just looking for a high body count, hitting a Disneyland or a Las Vegas casino would seem better choices, particularly if also seeking to magnify public terror. Otherwise, the act loses some of its impact if target selection is based on a personal grudge instead of something that has a more random, it-could-happen-to-you character.

No witness statements have yet surfaced about whether there where were any chants of "Allahu akbar" as the bullets were flying. That is another data point to ponder.

Defensive Strategies

From the point of view of one looking to enhance security of targeted people and affected assets, one focuses more on countering the threat than on theorizing about what societal antipathies may have let to it. Certain immediate concerns constitute the defender's challenge:

1. Forget traditional vetting.

It neither applies nor avails. Farook was a five-year public employee without a criminal record. The traditional background investigation would not have uncovered antisocial tendencies which were likely absent at his initial hire. Most people still come in through the door smiling, happy to be starting a new job. Only later do resentments and frustrations arise, and in the shooter's case there were probably no detectable signs of radicalization because the radicalization had not yet taken place, because background checks do not screen for such things, or both. So if vetting offers limited or only illusory value in denying access to threats, what is one to do?

2. Lengthen the odds in your favor.

This means either denying opportunity for attack or denying access, which can sometimes be the same thing. One method of opportunity denial is through instituting protocols for knowledgeable escort and timely intervention, about which more, below. Another method is to reconsider the kind of restrictions to many work spaces that once barred entry to Communists or identifiable members of a belief system that was avowedly not only resistant to but opposed to American traditions and laws. Yesterday's Communist fifth columnist has become today's radical Islamist.

3. Recognize and act on the indelicate obvious.

In line with the foregoing proposition, one must look at objective data and draw reasonable inferences. Existential attacks against innocents and, by extension, Western institutions and way of life are not coming at the hands of Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, Quakers, Amish, Mormons, or Native Americans -- all of whom at various times and to different extents have organized into affinity groups with some level of self-governance. What, instead, do today's antagonists have in common? By any objective measure, it is an adherence to an ideology inimical to America and Americans. Other faiths seem better able to arrive at an accommodation between their system of belief and the laws and culture of the land in which they find themselves practicing it. This is only obvious if one looks at the Tsarnaevs and Farooks who, despite enjoying the benefits of a generous American society, repay their benefactors by respectively bombing a marathon and shooting up a Christmas party. But what if an organization cannot close its doors to people with anti-American sympathies because, among other things, the organization lacks the means to detect them?

4. Rethink openness as a default setting.

If one cannot stop an attacker from infiltrating the organization because of any number of operating constraints or deficits in detecting threats, one can at least change one's own default settings when it comes to protection. Instead of being automatically open and instinctively unguarded, we must learn to be more circumspect. Just as the days of leaving doors unlocked are anachronistic in modern society, so, too, is the notion that everyone should be given unfettered access unless deemed to be a threat. The new normal is to reserve such openness only to people you trust and only for those who have earned that trust over time. And that trust will not only have to be earned once but refreshed from time to time. Thus, just because an individual appears to be one of the guys and a decent co-worker, this doesn't entitle him or her to perpetual free access to any and all parts of the organization. Does this mean that even Christmas parties will one day require advance clearance? No. But it may mean rethinking -- at least temporarily -- the merits of hosting optional group events if such events present would-be killers with a shooting gallery of victims in waiting.

5. Give thought to thwarting.

If you cannot vet to the point of trusting someone with your life, don't toss your life into his hands. This means instituting intelligent protocols for knowledgeable escort and timely intervention (topics covered at some length in Managing the Insider Threat: No Dark Corners, Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2012, available at We must learn anew hot to not just observe and report but to actively thwart those who would do us harm.

6. Abandon the fantasy of total reliance on experts.

In line with the need to actively intervene when attacks are imminent, defenders must at once acknowledge and overcome the responder's curse of L.I.T.E.

Ours is a society with a current penchant for assuming the lowest common denominator in the judging of capacities of the general public. Thus we advise LITE at every turn, namely, "Leave it to the experts." And this strategy works well enough -- until it doesn't. Under normal circumstances, when emergencies are rare and there may well be an over abundance of trained professionals on tap to respond to a single event, LITE seems perfectly reasonable. Moreover, given today's litigious world, it may even seem wise. But what happens when events overwhelm response resources? The chant "Leave it to the experts" rings on, in falsetto, long after it becomes clear that there just aren't enough experts to go around.

Finding Actionable Middle Ground

There is a reasonable compromise between a shoot-first, wild-West approach to robust personal defense and a hand-wringing, sitting-duck approach to outsourcing all personal security to experts. Rethinking draconian restrictions on law abiding citizens to carry defensive weapons is one approach. It need not extend to the point of passing out guns like candy. Nor will many responsible citizens necessarily feel qualified nor inclined to develop the proficiency it takes to use such weapons without endangering themselves and others out of all proportion to the defensive benefit sought.

This need not be an all-or-nothing defensive posture. Too often, we forget that there are many things that people can do under the banner of lawful disruption that can have the effect of disrupting attacks and complicating targeting efforts of would-be assassins. (The theme of lawful disruption as something within the grasp of average non-specialists takes up an entire chapter of Managing the Insider Threat: No Dark Corners, which readers may consult at their leisure for more ideas along these lines.)

There are resources to help people and organizations start taking a more active hand in their own protection. One consultant with real-world experience of such situations tracing to Israel offers such an example as in teaching people a last resort for dealing with active shooters, at

The bottom line, once again, is that we must learn anew how to not just observe but to thwart.

-- Nick Catrantzos

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris Attacks Prove Jihadis Adept at Exploiting Refugee Crisis

No sooner had I written the article below this morning than breaking news revealed that the first terrorist to be identified from yesterday's Paris attacks was a Syrian "refugee" who only came to France via Greece last month in a wave of people fleeing the war-torn Middle East. Coincidence? You decide. First, however, consider the argument behind item Number 1 below and the assertion that it would have represented jihadi malpractice for terrorists NOT to exploit the refugee crisis this way.

Immigrant Terror Threats: Imported Time Bombs in an Age of Poses

The threats Paris just encountered trace to vulnerabilities that extend along at least three dimensions we also experience a continent away, namely,

1. IMMEDIATE: Inability to vet hence screen assassins mixed among incoming refugees. A universal precept in safeguarding the people and assets of any organization is to begin by denying access to known or likely enemies. Thus the bank shies away from hiring convicted embezzlers, the liquor store from alcoholics, and the daycare center from child molesters. Before an organization can vet such people to make some intelligent decision about who gets in, it must begin with the most rudimentary of first steps: establish the person's identity. This, sadly, is not possible when incoming droves hail from war-torn, hostile countries that are not about to do anything but impede attempts to trace a given individual's pedigree and criminal record. Thus we have no way of vetting people like this, and our adversaries know it. The temptation to infiltrate adversaries agents into such migrant waves must be irresistible. It is such a windfall for those who would destroy us, that to not exploit such an opportunity would be jihadi malpractice.

2. EVENTUAL: The tendency of a succeeding generation to succumb to radicalization. A Western country can do everything right in extending humanitarian relief across its borders to welcome oppressed refugees, supplying them opportunities and civil liberties never before available, only to find the gratitude of the first wave of immigrant families turn into a tsunami of resentment for succeeding generations. Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon better portrayed than in The Islamist, Ed Husain's 2009 story of how he grew up in a diaspora community in Britain only to be radicalized in a process that began with a longing for a mother country he first saw through the rosy, airbrushed accounts of disgruntled relatives other than his parents. His parents, after all, having emigrated to find a better life, wanted to assimilate, to regard themselves British citizens. But as a youngster, Husain felt estranged, neither fish nor fowl, as he didn't look or feel British on the one hand and didn't have a strong Muslim identity on the other. Into this vacuum came recruiters capitalizing on alienation and holding out the allure of a welcoming cultural identity, a sense of purpose, a call to battle for a radical vision of an imagined greatness ideally experienced in snapshots and trickle charges of brief visits to an exotic mother land and to secret meetings of radicals at home. The pattern is revealing: it isn't the first or true refugees who turn on their host; they are grateful. It's the succeeding generations, the ones born in relative safety and comfort, the ones who have the luxury of growing up resentful, wanting more and, hence, malleable in the hands of radicals who dangle before them dreams of greatness attained via the express route of jihad rather than the long road of hard work and gradual ascendancy.

3. SYSTEMIC: The unchecked erosion of cohesive elements of the host society under the banner of tolerance to the point of enabling the rise of saboteurs from within. It begins with the demonization of the melting pot. There was a time, remembered more vividly perhaps by first generation children of immigrants whose parents fled countries in tatters in the wake of occupation and civil war, when assimilation wasn't a dirty word. It was an objective to be pursued with pride and a sense of achievement. The émigrés landing successfully in the New World had to earn their keep and were only too happy to do so. They learned the language and conformed to the laws and customs of the new land providing them opportunities denied them back home. Only now, they were in a new and better home, and they knew it. Thus they thought themselves Americans or Canadians, and they insisted that their children take on the traditions and culture of their new home, sometimes even if this meant diluting the ties to the Old World. When law or custom of the new country conflicted with those of the old country, then the default choice was to go with the new land. After all, this was the source of opportunity, the current home, the place which gave the immigrants the chance they most desired and thus, by extension, the place that deserved their allegiance in return. Sure, it was fine to respect old ways, language, and tradition, but the old folks weren't kidding themselves. "I enjoy the music and the food and the occasional festivals," my mother's kid brother once told me, "but I see myself as an American more than a Greek. This is my country and I put it first." This was from a man who, like my parents, was in Greece during the Second World War, when the population starved in record numbers as the Nazis and their Italian allies plundered it. He didn't remember that part; he was in a Nazi concentration camp at the time, having been rounded up as a low-level courier as a kid working for the resistance.

Today, the melting pot of yesteryear is regarded an insult, an offense to sustaining cultural identity. Instead, to the extent any kind of nod to assimilation is even considered, the preferred metaphor is the salad bowl. This allows theoretical mixing without loss of identity. Instead of blending in a melting pot, people are supposed to remain distinct "chunks" that tumble in the bowl, coated by some light but not too sticky vinaigrette, such as the shared watching of situation comedies and reality TV shows, instead of shared traditions or, heaven forbid, open profession of allegiance to country or national traditions. Mix together minimally but remain distinct. That's the mantra. It preserves whatever one wants held inviolate in one's particular "chunk." And this distinctness also proves handy in clutching resentments.

We make it worse. By bending over backwards today to open borders unconditionally to people without demanding of them both assimilation and self sufficiency, we load a pistol of cultural castration, cock it, aim it at our own national body parts, and then, perhaps, in a fleeting moment of hesitant misgiving cry out, "Don't move!"

No Easy Answers

Diagnosing a malady does not necessarily mean offering a cure in the same breath. Doesn't proper diagnosis at least uncover enough about root causes to suggest that there are things the patient should stop doing in order to prevent the situation from getting worse? If so, then some remedies based on the foregoing analysis would begin with a tenet traceable to both the Hippocratic Oath and emergency management circles: Don't make it worse.

Places to Start

To counter the immediate problem of vetting incoming hordes, prudence would suggest taking a more cautious view to opening floodgates to people whose only qualification is a hard luck story. People value what they earn, and this applies to immigrants as much as to students or workers of any kind. If citizenship and its rights are to be valued, the country conferring them must treat them as valuable, not as candy to be tossed to win smiles and demonstrate humanitarian impulses in front of cameras. It would make sense to demand of immigrants that they meet some conditions as a ticket for admission. These include fluency in a national language, conversance with the laws and history of their new home country, and a pledge to both abide by the host country's laws and traditions even when those are in conflict with those of the emigre's country of origin. Otherwise, why import any avowed malcontent?

To counter the eventual and systemic problems, there needs to be serious recalibrating of institutions to promote and transmit some unifying vision of what it means to be a good citizen without demonizing patriotism. It is fine to maintain a fondness for and recognition of ancestral traditions and culture, but if one is leaving a place for greener pastures, there must be a recognition that the laws of the host country take precedence and deserve respect. For Muslims, this means no, you can't run your community by Sharia law in defiance of the laws of the land. For others, you can't insist on having government forms in your native language or fly any flag other than that of your host. Nor can you have your own schools or distinct enclaves designed to self-segregate. If you want to be here, blend. If you don't, then rethink coming over in the first place.

Too often an otherwise advanced society, losing sight of its cohesive elements, can embark on self-defeating measures, such as a misguided, unchecked immigration policy under the banner of humanitarian relief. It takes level thinking and a weighing of consequences to realize that a nation's first duty is to protecting its citizens and that impetuous opening of floodgates to near term or nascent saboteurs is no way to perform this duty.

-- Nick Catrantzos