We’re here again, everybody. Another major shooting, and the politicians racing to find ways to exploit it by selling safety measures.
ISIS is an interesting form of terrorism. It shatters all of the previous rules we’re used to, and certainly wrecks the mystique politicians have used on a regular basis. It is no longer “the Nazis” or “Al-Qaeda” or some other specific organization. ISIS’ main way of reaching the states is through propaganda. It is through this propaganda that ISIS achieves one of the most covert, yet lethal, brands of follower; a dedicated person who radicalizes himself and is willing to commit acts like what we saw this week in near total darkness. All the “main” ISIS forces have to do is send out a Tweet or two.
As in Newtonian, we will examine the targets, the motives, and defensive measures. But this case it is also worth monitoring the sadly predictable political fallout. As in Newtonian, looking at the event clinically will require removing virtually all emotion from it.
1.) Radar. Virtually all reports say that the Chattanooga shooter was not on any anti-terror group’s radar. This is in line not only with other shootings on military bases, but also shootings such as the events in Newtown and Aurora. Put bluntly, the actors in these shootings planned their work out in secret, very likely working alone in order to keep it that way. We already know the Aurora shooter kept a diary, which prosecutors easily used to show criminal intent. (It was also a major part in the prosecution’s attempts to can the insanity defense the shooter’s defense cobbled together.)
That is what makes the so-called “lone wolf” so devastating. He operates alone, with incredible Operational Security, but is absolutely driven to commit whatever it is he intends to do. Now, while the objectives of the Aurora and Chattanooga shooters are obviously different, both “lone wolves” followed the same approach and were absolutely impossible to detect.
2.) Value. The military has a rather obvious place in society, both in terms of defense and just the cultural values they represent. This makes attacking a military installation of any kind (base, recruiting center, etc.) especially valuable for terrorism, as it both makes the military look practically defenseless on their own property and attacks an institution held in high regard by almost everybody (barring outfits like the Westboro Church, who have sworn to protest at the funerals of all five victims). As an excellent note from STRATFOR suggests:
By design, terrorist attacks are intended to have a psychological impact far outweighing the physical damage the attack causes. As their name suggests, they are meant to cause terror that amplifies the actual attack. A target population responding to a terrorist attack with panic and hysteria allows the perpetrators to obtain a maximum return on their physical effort. Certainly, al Qaeda reaped such a maximum return from the Sept. 11 attacks, which totally altered the foreign policy and domestic security policies of the world’s only superpower and resulted in the invasion of Afghanistan and military operations across the globe. Al Qaeda also maximized its return from the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings, which occurred three days before the 2004 Spanish general elections that ousted the ruling party from power.
(Keeping Terrorism in Perspective is republished with permission of Stratfor.)
In other words, terrorists look for maximum impact with minimal effort. Yes, exactly like the Charleston shooting which resulted the death of a state Senator and was intended to kick off a race war.
3.) Impact. In following with that theme, we have seen some (in many cases predictable) responses to the attacks in Chattanooga. We have seen gun control groups call for more gun laws (leaving aside that the targeted buildings were already gun-free zones). Gun control groups have also called to close what they call the “Charleston Loophole,” which basically repeals the current law stating that a firearm may be sold 3 days after a background check is initiated (when the FBI sends back a “delay” authorization instead of “proceed.”)
The National Shooting Sports Foundation has directly challenged the effort, saying that “Anti-gun advocates are choosing to fault the three-day rule, suggesting that the examiner did not have enough time to finish the background check. But it’s clear that whether the FBI had three days or two months, they were not able to get the right answers because they were asking the wrong people.” (It’s also worth noting that this delay needed a name that directly references a shooting for emotional effect.)
On the flipside, we have Representative Peter King, who has called for more surveillance efforts of virtually all Muslims after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, the hostage siege in France, the shootings in Texas in May of this year. He said that surveillance should be allowed in US Mosques or bloodbaths were certain.
All of that should be done despite the criticisms of “moron” civil liberties advocates.
On FOX News’ “The Kelly File,” King told host Megyn Kelly that the shootings in Chattanooga are reason for yet more surveillance of the entire Muslim community.
When the PATRIOT Act was up for debate earlier this year, King and Representative Rand Paul butted heads regularly, with Paul looking to sunset or diminish the power of the PATRIOT Act. King called Paul’s efforts “shameful and disgraceful” in June of this year.
In May, the FBI said that the PATRIOT Act didn’t really help anti-terrorism efforts. Specifically, the bulk collection of records belonging to people who, more often than not, had absolutely no ties to terrorism whatsoever.
4.) Solutions. There is no question that, in the modern world, some form of intelligence gathering is needed. In American culture, however, surveillance has become an extremely touchy issue. The debate now is where the line is between surveillance and paranoia. As we have discussed numerous times here, violence cannot be prevented, only mitigated.
Allow me to return to the STRATFOR report to provide some closing food for thought:
Terrorist attacks are relatively easy to conduct, especially if the assailant is not concerned about escaping after the attack. As AQAP has noted in its Inspire magazine, a determined person can conduct attacks using a variety of simple weapons, such as a knife, axe or gun. And while the authorities in the United States and elsewhere have proved quite successful in foiling attacks over the past few years, any number of vulnerable targets exists in the open societies of the West. Western governments simply do not have the resources to protect everything; not even authoritarian police states can protect everything. This means that some terrorist attacks invariably will succeed. How the media, governments and populations respond to those successful strikes will shape the way the attackers gauge their success. Obviously, the response to 9/11 meant the attackers probably were far more successful than they could have hoped. The London bombings on July 7, 2005, after which the British public went to work as usual the next day, were seen as less successful.
We discussed this in Blowback. It is completely likely and, indeed, inevitable that ISIS or someone inspired by their propaganda will succeed. The onus is then placed on the citizens to act in a way that shows not weakness and desperation to change how we live, but the strength to show that terrorism won’t change how we live.
The world is a dangerous place. Everyone is going to die, and some people are certain to die in a manner that is brutal or painful. Recognizing that terrorist attacks, like car crashes and cancer and natural disasters, are part of the human condition permits people to take prudent, measured actions to prepare for such contingencies and avoid becoming victims (vicarious or otherwise). It is the resilience of the population and its perseverance that determine how much a terrorist attack is allowed to terrorize. By separating terror from terrorism, citizens can deny the practitioners of terror the ability to magnify their reach and power.
Stay alert. Stay informed. Stay free.