Ever notice in all the Die Hard movies that once the bad guys are dead, they stay dead? They don’t continue to inspire hundreds if not thousands of others? Too bad movies don’t imitate real life.
For the past few years, YouTube has been the place for those really upset with society to get their terrorist freak on. Fortunately, the propaganda machine was hit with the heavy sledge hammer on the day that YouTube Star and Chief Motivational Officer (CMO?) for al-Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Inspire magazine editor Samir Khan had Hellfire missile for breakfast. But I guess there are a few previously inspired nutjobs still out there.
The recent arrest of Jose Pimentel, suspected of plotting terrorist attacks in the U.S. demonstrates the power of the spoken word and the threat posed by those who not only inspire violence, but provide information on how to carry out such attacks. This model is not without precedent – it is well known now that Timothy McVeigh was inspired by the Turner Diaries, to carry out his attack on Murrah Building. Now, being a writer, I’m the last one to dress down our 1st amendment right to free speech, but every writer should realize that what you write, sometimes has power and influence. I guess if you’re going to yell fire in a crowded theater, when there’s no fire, don’t be surprised when someone pops you one. Remember Salman Rushdie?
The power of the Lone Wolf nor the propaganda ministers, should not be ignored. While large scale attacks, such as the Mumbai active shooter assaults, the train bombings in Madrid and the subway and bus bombings in London, along with 9/11, are devastating, hundreds have been killed by a lone wolf. The downing of PSA Flight 1771 in 1987 was by a distraught airline employee as just one for instance. The bombings of numerous aircraft throughout aviation’s history were carried out by a single person.
The Lone Wolf attacks seem to be ramping up. It’s apparently getting harder for the bad guys to put together a large-scale attack, but consider if Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber,” or Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, had been successful. Hundreds would have perished, and the response from Congress and Homeland Security would have cost billions more to the U.S. economy and eroded more of our personal freedoms and way of life.
While we have been worried about the large scale attacks, we should not lose focus on the Lone Wolf. The Lone Wolf is harder to detect – he or she lives among us and moves throughout our society with less suspicion. Operational security is easier to maintain when the Lone Wolf keeps his mouth shut, as compared to 19 people, their handlers and trainers, and support personnel, trying to keep their mouths shut. The Lone Wolf, when properly motivated, carries out his or her mission, rather than, as in the case of one of the 9/11 hijackers, who began to lose heart because he had a wife and child to live for. The Lone Wolf is a one-and-done operation, which are among the hardest to defeat.
What will stop the Lone Wolf? The first step is to eliminate the motivators and opportunities for training. The killing of a Anwar al-Awlaki and the editor of Inspire magazine, Samir Khan, is a victory for the good guys. Both used the power of social media to influence the masses, just as Hitler and others controlled the media in order to ensure only approved messages were sent forth. Inspire magazine provided blueprints for creating bombs and carrying out attacks. While similar “instructional” documents are available on the Internet, consider that much of what is on the Internet, isn’t accurate enough to stake your life on. Just ask any academic or researcher.
Most of the Lone Wolf attacks that have been recently thwarted have been the result of good investigative and intelligence work. This layer of aviation security cannot be underestimated. While the focus is always on the screening checkpoint, the reality is that the checkpoint is near the FINAL point of failure of the system – it’s better to stop the attack in the initial phases.
Other Lone Wolf preventative measures include, as I’ve always encouraged, good workplace violence training and being aware of your surroundings and the people you come into contact with. Lone Wolves exhibit signs far ahead of time, that they are disenfranchised – not like everyone else in the U.S. workforce, but enough to take violent action. While we all may despise working for “the Man,” there are those who have decided that their lot in life is really someone else’s fault, and they find inspiration and instruction on YouTube and in the pages of terrorist publications.
While the recent deaths of bin Laden, al-Awlaki and their ilk, have struck a blow for justice, there always seems to be someone coming along to take their place. Their influence has extended beyond their years here among the living, and continue to inspire others. There will be others. There will always be others. It’s not time to let the guard down. Bruce Willis’ enemies may die hard, but ideology dies hardest.