Evolving Threats and the Fourth Generation Warfare Problem Here at Home

Fourth generation warfare (4GW) is conflict characterized by a blurring of the lines between war and politics, soldier and civilian. ~William Lind

An alarming series of articles, Gun rigged to kill Calif. gang detectives, Calif. gang officers targeted a third time, Calif. gang task force finds explosive device in its office has me thinking again about the evolution of the threats law enforcement face and the need to develop full spectrum police officers capable of dealing with these aggressive and networked criminal organizations that pose a serious threats.

"It is incredible and I think unprecedented that police officers in the line of duty could be subjected to these kinds of terrorist attempts on their lives," Attorney General Jerry Brown said.

Law enforcement has long been the target of retaliation on a small scale. In the past, criminals typically avoided the police, so retaliatory or outright targeted and planned attacks on law enforcement were rare. Today, it appears there are ever-increasing attacks on police officers. What lessons have these elicit organizations learned from the current world situation that blurs the lines between criminal and terrorist? What lesson must law enforcement learn and APPLY to stay ahead in the decision making cycle to detect, deter, disrupt, prevent or respond to these unpredictable, uncertain, unexpected and unconventional threats?

There is a clear shift in the climate and gangs are no longer only from run down urban areas. Gangs today are more sophisticated and organized and at the same time loosely connected to other criminals and gangs looking to prosper in the criminal economy. In some instances, gangs are highly trained from the experience of actual guerrilla warfare learned and applied while surviving in their native homeland.

Today, many gangs are practicing fourth generation warfare and the question is, are we ready for the next generation of crime and violence? Are we ready for the actual targeting of cops and their stations and substation here at home?

"There's a person or people out there, a bunch of idiots, trying to do damage to us," Hemet Police Chief Richard Dana said. "We can't expect our luck to hold up, we need help."

“Since New Year's Eve, there have been several other booby trap attempts to kill officers,” Dana said.

"The only reason they haven't killed an officer yet is because we've been observant enough to see devices planted around the station and in cars and different places," he said.

“Gang enforcement officers appear to be the target of the assassination attempts, though Dana noted the devices were indiscriminate by nature and could have killed any police or law enforcement officer.”

Dealing with evolving threats takes a serious shift of mindset and accepting that things have changed. Criminal networks and gangs learn from history and current world situations and apply these lessons as they operate. Evolving patterns of conflict and violence and the makeup of organized crime and gangs share characteristics with twenty-first century insurgencies. Law enforcement must learn and apply new methods from these lessons to deal with the changing threats.

John Robb of Global Guerrillas states that 4GW can be defined as a method of warfare that uses the following to achieve a moral victory:

    •  Undermines enemy strengths (this may seem obvious, but most of modern warfare has involved direct attacks on enemy strengths -- find the enemy army and destroy it).
    • Exploits enemy weaknesses.
    • Uses asymmetric operations (weapons and techniques that differ substantially from opponents).

William Lind in his 2004 article 4GW on the Home Front states:

Focused as we are on Fourth Generation war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is easy to forget that the phenomenon is vastly larger than any single war or opponent, even Islam. An article in a local Washington paper, The Journal, reminds us that 4GW is also being fought on American soil, by parties that have nothing to do with the armies of the Prophet.

The article Bill Lind references, by staff writer Robert Arkell, was titled "Police: MS-13 threatened Maryland officers:"

    • The notorious E1 Salvadoran gang known as MS-13 has threatened to execute Prince George's County police officers as tensions continue to escalate between officers and gang members, police said.
    • MS-13, which stands for Mara Salvatrucha, has increased its presence in Prince George's County with more than 600 active members..
    • . Some of those MS-13 gang members recently confided to police about carrying out a deadly ambush plan that targeted county police officers...

Who are our new adversaries and what type of new threat is this where law enforcement is targeted for doing their jobs?

Our adversaries are networks of criminals, gangs and terrorists working individually in leaderless organizations to reach their goals. Collective they work together using technology and the transnational criminal underground for resources to enter and exploit our country from within.

The threat focuses on soft targets. That’s right, most police stations and substations are soft targets, including patrol officers on the street and special units such gang and vice units. The intent of this method is to disrupt our response, social and political systems through fear and intimidation.  Freedom, our greatest strength, and our open society are an open door to exploiting prime opportunities and seizing the initiative. Even if their efforts fail, fear will spread.

John Robb has introduced his ideas on failure as a strategy when it comes to insurgents and terrorist. Failure as a strategy does not require much planning; it is cheaper, and training can be minimal. Yet those using failure as method still accomplish their goals of disrupting our normal system. It seems apparent that criminals are using these techniques to keep our society and law enforcement guessing, creating confusion and slowing down our decision making cycle.

It’s important to take initiative-driven action throughout the justice system to ensure that these threats are seen for what they are: not ordinary violence and crime, but a much more serious evolving threat and a form of warfare (4GW) here at home all in an effort to disrupt our justice, political and social systems through fear and intimidation, i.e. terror.

The number one factor in preventing these acts at the tactical and operational level is our ability to stay oriented to our surroundings and understand the climate of what’s going on around and within these surroundings. We must possess superior situational awareness (via the Boyd Cycle) and implement strategy and tactics that reflect the moral, mental and physical dimensions of conflict. These types of actors use our openness, technological advances, laws and rules, and a shaky economy as a strategy against us, exploiting moral, mental and physical dimensions.  They use human and technological intelligence to develop superior situational awareness. They use mobility and concealment to remain elusive. They incorporate a range of different hybrid methods, including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence and coercion, and criminal disorder.

Hybrid warfare incorporates a range of different modes of warfare, including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence and coercion, and criminal disorder. These multi-modal activities can be conducted by separate units, or even by the same unit, but are generally operationally and tactically directed and coordinated within the main battlespace to achieve synergistic effects. Hybrid wars can be conducted by both states and a variety of non-state actors. ~ Project White Horse

How do we confront this new form of terror and violence? What is needed is a full spectrum frontline capable of forming hybrid forces on the fly; one that is able to read the scene and orient to what’s going on and what needs to be done; a frontline that can adapt, think on its feet and work individually and as a team to defeat this new threat. We need information on who and where our adversaries are; what they’re like and what they likely are likely to do. When criminals, gangs and terrorists operate using adaptation, so must law enforcement in order to combat this threat effectively. Only agile decision making organizations will adapt quickly enough to change the tempo and respond accordingly.

Preparation through sound human and technological intelligence gathering shared at the operational and tactical levels fast enough to make a difference is critical. Training in critical skill and attributes is necessary to meet our overall strategy to protect and serve, again taking into consideration the moral, mental and physical dimensions of conflict. Preparation and training lead to readiness. Readiness is the ability to get in fast with what we have at our disposal using our wits and skills. Our adversaries clearly are! Don’t you think its time we develop full spectrum officers capable of detecting and dealing with the evolving 4GW threat?

Stay Oriented