ANALYSIS: Preventing Terrorism Requires ‘Deep and Analytical Understanding’

Prevention and intelligence are two essential elements in the fight against terrorism, which are directly tied to each other and can only be achieved with extensive field experience and training.

Counterterrorism officers must have a deep and analytical understanding of the terrorist organizations they are dealing with; should read most of their literature; must know the groups’ history, tactics, methods; what kind of weapons and explosives they use; their recruitment and training schemes; their social media activities and posts; and, more importantly, their past activities and attacks in a given jurisdiction. They also must know the people who support them and the members of the terrorist organizations.

Most of the time, this only constitutes one leg of the proverbial chair, and a chair needs four legs to stand. The second important aspect of a successful counterterrorism officer is having the necessary field experience, where there is direct interaction with possible targets and suspects and where there are opportunities to carry out firsthand field operations. An officer who is not comfortable enough with his background and who does not have enough time in tenure would be unlikely to successfully analyze the situation at hand.

Thirdly, the officers must know their jurisdictions very well, which enables them to better assess and analyze high value targets, possible routes terrorists would use, and be aware of the possible hiding places and safe heavens terrorists would use.

Finally, a counterterrorism officer must be constantly fed with live intelligence. A successful counterterrorism campaign cannot be waged without solid and reliable intelligence. The combination of all four of these elements can lead to a successful terrorism prevention campaign, ensuring that it is very difficult for terrorists to carry out attacks in the first place by eliminating threats before they are able to act.

If this is not possible, especially for important and significant dates, one can take appropriate preventative and mitigative measures to thwart possible attacks by analyzing and overseeing feasible ways of future attacks based on the worst case scenario and prior attack information.

These actions may involve taking extra security measures with extra personnel and additional forces, fortifying possible important targets, communicating the nature of the expected threat to the public, and even disrupting planned attacks by interviewing or visiting possible perpetrators to scare them off so that the terrorist organization in question decides to cancel an attack that would not be stopped otherwise.

Carrying out operations after an incident has already happened (which was not prevented) should not be considered as success, only a duty.

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