The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently published an assessment on plots and attacks targeting government facilities in the United States, which should be of interest to most first responders.
The good news: DHS and the FBI have no credible or specific information indicating an imminent threat to U.S. government facilities.
The bad news: Compared with the years 1993 to 2008, there’s been an increase in attacks involving organized terrorist groups against U.S. government facilities over the past 2 years.
By the Numbers
Since March 2008, there were a total of 13 violent incidents against government facilities, compared with 15 incidents from February 1993 to February 2008. There’s been a sharp increase in recent attacks involving lone offenders; 8 of the13 most recent events were committed by sole operators. In previous years, incidents where organized terrorist groups committed attacks were much more common.
Six of those 13 events resulted in 20 deaths and 50 injuries. Guns were used in five events, while explosive devices were used in eight events and an aircraft was used in one attack. In eight of the 13 incidents, men carried out the attack; the majority of all attackers were U.S. citizens.
Explosives continue to be the preferred weapon of choice, specifically improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and improvised incendiary devices.
The singular aircraft incident occurred on Feb. 18, 2010, when a 53-year-old man, reportedly disgruntled with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), intentionally crashed a single-engine plane into a building housing an IRS office in Austin. At least 13 people were injured and two died in the crash, including the pilot.
But perhaps most importantly were the incidents that didn’t occur and were prevented by diligent undercover law enforcement operations. Between May of 2009 and September 2009, three attempted terrorist attacks occurred in Texas, Illinois and New York. All were unsuccessful.
The first involved a Jordanian who said he wanted to commit “violent jihad” by plotting to detonate a VBIED in the underground garage of a 60-story office building that housed the General Services Administration (GSA) in Texas.
The second incident involved the U.S. courthouse in Springfield, Ill. The suspect stated that he wanted to become a jihadist fighter overseas and plotted to use a VBIED.
The final event occurred in the Bronx, where four men plotted to blow up two Jewish centers and shoot down a military aircraft at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh. The suspects constructed VBIEDs, unaware that federal authorities had provided harmless materials for the explosives used in the vehicles and surface-to-air missiles that authorities had rendered inert.
Coming Under Scrutiny
Since the attacks of 9/11, the creation of the DHS has led to a greater level of situational awareness and an overall heightened state of awareness that has served the nation well in terms of reducing or thwarting physical attacks against governmental and civilian targets.
The prevention of terrorist attacks is directly proportional to assessment, detection and quick response. Key to prevention is public awareness and vigilance on behalf of all Americans, based upon the understanding that those who seek to do us harm are both patient and persistent.
In a recent news report critical of homeland security spending, the basic premise was that after 9/11, anything worth doing was worth “overdoing” when it came to homeland security.
That concept seems to have served the nation well for the last 9 years, but the trend of lone offenders, along with a troubled economy, will challenge our ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. As governmental agencies struggle to balance budgets and reduce costs, both prevention and response are being re-evaluated as the face of terrorism changes.
The bottom line of all this for first responders: We must stay vigilant, because attacks are on the rise, not decreasing. And as funds are cut, response may take an even greater role as prevention suffers. Either way, the nation is counting on us to be ready.