Killing Spree or Terror… And the Impact on Prevention Efforts By Fred Leland | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

“What is the aim and purpose of strategy? Is to improve our ability to shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances so that we as, individuals, or as groups, or as a culture, or as a nation-state, can survive on our own terms.”

~Col. John Boyd

The Fort Hood shootings have sparked the debate as to whether or not the circumstances surrounding the shooting deaths of 13 people were a terrorist act or a killing spree.

Does this difference matter to prevention efforts is my question? There is too much political back and forth on the question in my view; too much blame and not enough CHANGE in how we learn from these acts of violence and adapt to the lessons learned.  How to get better at recognizing the signs and signals of crime, danger or terror is the question we must answer; not whether or not it was an act of terror or a crime. Circumstances in the world have changed. The lack of freedom and prosperity in some parts of the world is still vast, yet technology has linked and exposed these vast differences, and more and more people want a piece of our freedom and prosperity. Most seek it in positive ways toward reaching this goal, while others use hate and anger and the path of destruction and violence. How they go about it, the strategies and tactics they use are many and change frequently. How we prepare for, train to prevent and respond to violent acts must change as well.

Crime and terror are strongly linked, with criminals and terrorists forming alliances in the illicit world of transnational crime. Drugs, human trafficking and a vast of array of other crimes have linked the criminal underworld and terrorist organizations. For example, Afghanistan produces the greatest percentage of poppy which supplies the heroin trade, and al-Qaeda has used money from ecstasy and other drug sales to fund their attacks. The links are critical in the sense that they have evolved into powerful groups and they adapt to the point we struggle to keep up with the strategies they develop to exploit us here at home. We continue to look to the past and fail to open our eyes to the changing trends in crime and terror. The emerging and hybrid threats can be clearly seen abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan, Asia, Mexico and Central America. The recent attack on Mumbai and Jakarta all show small diverse groups and individuals with the “know how” to commit violence. 

“These groups, of course, have access to many of the same tools we do, from satellite phones to engineering degrees and they use them every bit as effectively. But their single most important asset is their organizational structure, and open-source community network, one that seems to me quite similar to what we see in the software industry. That’s how they’re able to continually stay one step ahead of us.  It is an extremely innovative structure, sadly, and it results in decision making cycles much shorter than those of the U.S. military. Indeed because the insurgents in Iraq lack a recognizable center of gravity a leadership or an ideology, they are immune to the application of conventional military force.”

~John Robb, Brave New War

Violent offenders can reach out through loosely coupled networks and lone wolves to commit heinous acts. They blend into society, creating a nexus of criminals and terrorists that was once broad and separate, but is now, in many cases, loosely connected. This allows for much more initiative driven capabilities. How this relates to violence in the workplace or any other place is clear in my mind.  The signs are more difficult to pick up on because the organizations are small, blended and more difficult to find even with modern day technology and traditional intelligence gathering methods. Collaborative efforts must be made with people from all walks of life: citizens, soldiers, law enforcement and security working cohesively to put the pieces of the puzzle of violence together. All need to be looking for signs and signals of crimes and violence and a broad array of motives of hostile organizations and individuals, which can be hard to predict.

My thoughts are that the specifics of “motive” do not matter to preventing acts of violence. Motive matters when investigating in the aftermath of violence, but has very little to do with prevention of these incidents. Motives and the signs and signals are there, in both obvious and subtle ways, be it from a distraught subject, a criminal or a terrorist. People who act out in violence have disconnected beliefs, loss of control or just plain want their own way or want to escape and evade capture. All have their individual reasons for doing so. The exact reasons WHY are not necessary to know in our efforts to detect and prevent the acts from happening.

What are the signs and signals that manifest when intent to do harm is present and how can we intervene to prevent these acts from being carried out? In police and security situations where conflict and violence often linger, the center of gravity is the adversary’s motives and mindset. Motives and mindset cannot be predicted with certainty; therefore we must develop knowledge of conflict and violence in its three dimensions–the moral, mental and physical–and learn how to translate this knowledge as it is applied in a given set of circumstances. Combined with the ability to apply this knowledge in the context of competition or crises based on the unfolding circumstances is ‘operational art.

The answer to prevention of violent acts lies in developing law enforcement and security operational art. That requires extensive knowledge of the dynamics of violence, psychology, and the operating environment as well as the ability to use that knowledge to guide prevention efforts, tactical responses and allocation of resources that combine the efforts of people and technology. People using their senses, including intuition, with the aid of technology to gather implicit and explicit information must analyze, synthesize and develop links to potential violent actors or disprove violent intent. Then appropriate decisions can be made and actions taken to prevent many of these violent acts from occurring.

Stay Oriented!


Comments are closed.