How the Threat of Terrorism has Changed Since 9/11

Now that law enforcement — particularly the FBI — has placed such an emphasis on investigating and thwarting attacks, a complex and costly plan like the one used on 9/11 would come to the attention of some three-letter agency, and the attackers arrested or killed (depending upon where we found them). Consequently, the tactics of the major terrorist organizations have changed.

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Earlier this week, we paused to pay tribute to the Americans who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Of the 2,996 people killed, 23 were officers with the New York City Police Department, 343 were firefighters with the New York City Fire Department, and 37 were officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department — all of whom perished when the Twin Towers collapsed.

Countless other first responders have died — or soon will die — from 9/11-related disease they contracted by spending months at the hole in the ground where the towers once stood.

This column is written in honor of their memory — as well as for every civilian killed, injured, or who lost a loved one on that terrible day.

We will never forget you.

Changing Landscape

The September 11 attacks were perpetrated by 19 individuals — one of the plotters was unable to participate in the attack because he was repeatedly denied a visa for entry into the United States.

Each of those men made several dry runs on multiple airlines to identify the flights they wanted to take — they were looking for flights that had faraway destinations (more fuel on board) and light passenger manifests (fewer potential counter-attackers).

The 9/11 plotters spent between $400,000 and $500,000 — the overwhelming majority of which was provided directly by al Qaeda either through wire transfers or in cash, according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed first presented the 9/11 plan to Osama bin Laden sometime in 1996, and in late 1998 or early 1999, OBL gave KSM the go-ahead to proceed. This means that the planning phase would have lasted roughly two and a half years at a minimum — an unknown number of years went into the planning before the green light on the attack.

Why do I bring all of this stuff up?

Because conducting such a complex and costly operation — involving dozens of participants, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many years of planning — would be next to impossible today.

Now that law enforcement — particularly the FBI — has placed such an emphasis on investigating and thwarting attacks, a plan like the one used on 9/11 would come to the attention of some three-letter agency, and the attackers arrested or killed (depending upon where we found them).

The FBI even stated in 2002 that its number one priority is now to "protect the United States from terrorist attack." And the agency has been largely successful.

For example, in 2003, the FBI learned of a plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, and turned the primary plotter into a double agent who helped the agency investigate other potential plots.

The agency arrested several men who were plotting an attack on the Fort Dix military base in 2007.

A plot to attack an Independence Day Celebration in Cleveland was foiled just this year.

There are dozens of other examples of successful FBI counterterrorism operations — too many to list.

Different Threat

Consequently, the tactics of the major terrorist organizations — ISIS currently being the most dangerous, but al Qaeda, AQAP, Boko Haram, al Shabaab, and Hezbollah certainly remaining relevant — have changed.

In online recruitment literature and videos, groups like ISIS and al Qaeda have given instructions — while simultaneously radicalizing impressionable young American citizens to participate in jihad — to use simple weapons and tactics to conduct lone-wolf attacks.

In one issue of an "online magazine" called Rumiyah — the name refers to an Islamic prophecy that tells of the downfall of Rome and calls for killing infidels — ISIS gives detailed instructions on how to make an attack with an edged weapon.

In one issue of Inspire — an online magazine that has since ceased publication — articles detailed instruction on how an individual or small group can derail a train, saying that it "is a daunting and almost impossible task to protect the long railroad length, and yet one of the easiest to target."

Previous issues of Inspire taught potential self-radicalized jihadis to use vehicles as weapons (which has been done in many places in Europe and a couple of cities in America). They have also advocated for lighting multiple forest fires to create not only dangers to nearby cities, but to draw first responders away from their home jurisdictions so that other attacks may occur with less resistance.

Finally — and probably most importantly — these groups have advocated for the use of small arms such as handguns, rifles, and shotguns to commit mass murder. They are radicalizing disillusioned and disaffected American citizens to become active shooters for Allah.

Consider the following list of attacks conducted on American soil — allegedly by radical Islamic terrorists — in the 17 years since 9/11.

  • 2002 — Shooting at El Al ticket counter at LAX — 2 dead
  • 2002 — D.C. Beltway sniper killings — 10 dead
  • 2006 — Shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation — 1 dead
  • 2009 — Shooting at Fort Hood — 13 dead
  • 2009 — Shooting at a Little Rock military recruiting office — 1 dead
  • 2013 — Boston Marathon Bombing — 5 dead
  • 2014 — Beheading in an Oklahoma food processing plant — 1 dead
  • 2015 — Shootings at two military facilities in Chattanooga — 5 dead
  • 2015 — The San Bernardino shooting — 14 dead
  • 2016 — The Orlando nightclub shooting — 49 dead

In all but two of the abovementioned attacks, the weapons used were small arms — the outliers were a pair of homemade pressure cooker bombs (constructed using instructions published in Inspire Magazine) and an edged weapon (following instructions in Rumiyah Magazine).

This brings me to state, county, and municipal law enforcement — police agencies I intentionally ignored when talking about the success of the FBI's efforts above.

Cops on the streets are the frontline defense against an active shooter attack. It is this level of law enforcement that "runs to the sound of the guns" when an active killer is murdering innocents.

Sidebar: It would be helpful if police got an occasional assist from the co-workers, teachers, family members, and neighbors who are most likely to be close enough to a person susceptible to becoming radicalized enough to become violent against Americans and report them to police.

But that's another matter entirely.

On the topic of an active shooter attack committed by a radicalized Islamist jihadist…

Be advised that a truly committed fighter might have a higher level of tactical capability — and certainly a higher level of motivation — than another active shooter.

They might have had access to online training from a magazine like Rumiyah or Inspire.

They might have had training from any one of countless legitimate firearms training companies here in the United States.

They might have had training — and potentially even battlefield experience — in places like Iraq, Syria, Somalia, or some other "vacation spot" in sandland.

Terrorist Goals

The FBI defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."

Translated, a terrorist wants to change the behavior of a targeted group of people, and uses violence — or the threat of violence — in order to accomplish that goal.

The fact of the matter is that the behavior of a very specific group of Americans has been changed by the looming threat of terrorist attack — but I posit that this particular change is for the better.

First and foremost, American law enforcement is now far more vigilant for signs of a terror attack than it was on the 10th of September 2001.

Further, American police are considerably more active in hunting plotters of attacks and arresting them.

Finally, we — as a nation — are also more likely to unleash the dogs of war in the aftermath of an attack on American soil and/or American interests overseas.

These outcomes are all good things.

God bless America.

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