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SPECIAL ANALYSIS: Lauderdale Attack Lament

SPECIAL ANALYSIS: Lauderdale Attack Lament Homeland Security TodayThe sights and sounds emerging from Terminal Two of Fort Lauderdale Airport were strangely redolent of recent ISIS suspected linked attacks like the massacre at Atatürk Airport located just outside Istanbul last June in which 44 were killed and hundreds wounded. While the motivations of the suspect, Esteban Santiago, are yet to be fully understood, what is clear is that a major airport has become the center of another awful mass killing. Sadly, it is unlikely to be the last time such a tragedy occurs.

Airports are a magnet for terrorists and anyone who wishes to kill spontaneously. This incident sees a re-run of at least six previous attacks at airports in the United States since the Independence Day attack on an El Al ticket desk at Los Angeles Airport in 2002. This saw Hesham Mohamed Hadayet use two hand guns to kill two people and wound four before being shot by an armed security guard.

[Editor’s note: See the Aug/Sep Homeland Security Today report, Curbside Vulnerability: No-Man’s Land’ Outside of Airport Security Lacks Personnel, Adequate Protective Structures and Security Technology]

Hadayet was staunchly anti-Israeli and had applied for asylum in the United States in 1992. Egyptian authorities had accused him of being a member of the outlawed Islamic Group Gama’a Al Islamiyya (IG), which was on the United States Foreign Terrorist Organization List.

His request was denied and he was placed in removal proceedings — but he did not receive notice of his immigration hearing as a result of an incorrect mailing address. These were terminated and Hadayet was allowed, in effect, to remain in the United States and go onto to murder two people years later.

While the story of the Santiago may yet turn out to yield somewhat different motivations for his actions – last week FBI special agent Michael Ferlazzo testified at Santiago’s bond hearing that Santiago told FBI agents his attack was on behalf of ISIS, though Ferlazzo did not elaborate on whether Santiago was purporting to be linked to ISIS or simply inspired by the terrorist organization — there is an underlying theme that works with all of these events where lone gunmen suddenly decide to act.

That theme is that it was always easy to understand the pathway to tragedy after the event.  Hindsight is, as ever, the perfect science. One can easily be knowledgeable after the event. So-called experts, dining out on past experiences, make a living out of it on television all the time by opining on the blindingly obvious. Their comments show the intellectual paucity that exists at the heart of the system. What is needed is new thinking. Not the same old laments.

For those involved in trying to prevent such attacks, the question is how to turn that knowledge and insight into closing the proverbial stable door before the horse has decided to bolt. In the case of the suspect Santiago, the straws were in the wind. Something was not quite right in his life. But society did not pick up on the warnings and indicators of the tragic journey he was about to embark on.

From information published in the public domain, it is possible to start to suggest how he came to make that journey. As a combat veteran from Iraq, he had specific vulnerabilities. While diagnosing that he may be suffering from some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may seem somewhat stereotypical, it is clear he had mental issues. Even his girlfriend was concerned over his recent behaviour.

To his credit, when he started to hear voices suggesting he become involved in the activities of the so-called Islamic State, Santiago had his faculties to report this to authorities. That is to his credit. But hat done, Hadayet went missing from the system. In today’s society, where so much data is available, one must certainly ask: “how is that possible?”

With so many combat veterans now vulnerable to some form of PTSD, no matter where on a scale of one to four they reside, it is important for society at large to offer more tangible support and help to prevent them from lashing out in anger.

It is no good for so-called experts to go on television and simply opine that this is the nature of the system, and to suggest little can be done to prevent such events – implying they are a by-product of society’s freedoms and the Fourth Amendment. It is incumbent on society to intervene before tragedies occur, not to lament them and accept them as inevitable.

That course of action is entirely vacuous. It lacks any intellectual rigour. It’s Albert Einstein’s prescient definition of insanity come to mind. He defined it as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That is the position society finds itself in today. People arguing that this is another example of a tragedy are defending the indefensible.

Central to this point is the question, “how can someone who has reported to the authorities and who has obvious mental health issues be allowed to transport a weapon onto an aircraft?” If that had been prevented, five people would be alive today. Eight others would not be facing an uncertain future, and countless eye witnesses would not be facing an uncertain future haunted by the images they watched unfold before them – some only feetaway from the shooter.

That is a long-term cost to society. Arguably, those who may suffer from PTSD in the future are the “silent victims” — those whom society will once again quickly forget.

It is possible to suggest that, given his views, he wold agree that one solution is to look at the science of big data to see what society can do to start to linking the proverbial dots – the famous phrase used after September 11 to understand who might be at risk to succumbing to radicalization.

While human rights activists will shout infringement of certain “inestimable” founding rights for individuals, there is an essential paradox at play here. If society can arrange for major discount shops to figure out aspects of human behaviour that have commercial value, why can it not try to build a picture of human vulnerabilities, especially those who are combat veterans.

It seems madness, to a point of extreme, that having appeared on the horizon of the FBI in Alaska as a self-presenting case exhibiting symptoms of paranoia and delusion that Esteban should have been allowed –- only a matter of months later — to check a weapon onto a plane.

The fact that while on the flight some kind of altercation occurred is too late. By then, the end game was in sight. Prevention has to occur much earlier in the build up to the point where violence occurs. There are examples where prompt action by authorities has prevented such an outcome. Sadly, on occasions, that has been because of luck rather than great forensic intelligence work.

While the final analysis on this tragic case awaits more insight and analysis, it is possible to draw some initial conclusions. The fact that it was reported by eye witnesses that Santiago laid down his weapon when challenged by law enforcement suggests an innate humanity lies at the heart of his values and belief system.

Anyone can be provoked into short-term acts of extreme violence, especially if they are vulnerable. Let he who has not considered this, in extremis, cast the first stone. But in surrendering to law enforcement officials who did not have to fire a shot belies the notion that this was an act of terror.

Had the accused had a greater malign intent in his heart, the chances are many more would have died. The case of Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing Christian “crusader” who detonated a bomb outside government buildings in Oslo, Norway in July 2011, shows just what a motivated and well-rehearsed individual can achieve when evil stalks his persona.  He said afterwards he’d killed his first female victim and therefore it was easy to kill again. He exhibited all the characteristics of an Oedipus relationship with his mother – hence the mental barrier that needed to be overcome with respect to killing a woman.

The catalogue of information emerging in the aftermath of the attack at Fort Lauderdale Airport does not suggest an Anders Breivik style of attack. This does not appear to have been pre-planned. Rather, it appears a spontaneous act that was a result of a series of events that built cumulatively, starting on deployment in Iraq and possibly ending in an altercation on an aircraft that provided the final catalyst required for violence to occur.

Until society accepts it has a long-term obligation to men and women who go to war to defend the values and belief systems laid out in the Constitution, more events like this will occur.

It is time to turn the science of big data toward the problem. Intervention earlier, rather than subsequent public anger and lament afterthe event, is what is required.

Dr. Dave Sloggett is a contributing writer and an authority on international terrorism with over 42 years of experience in the military and law enforcement sectors working in a variety of roles, specializing in intelligence analysis and human behavior in the context of hybrid and asymmetric warfare. He is an authority on counterterrorism and his work has taken him to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans, WestAfrica and Northern Ireland where he has studied the problems of insurgencies, terrorism and criminality on the ground often working closely with NATO. His research work at Oxford University in the United Kingdom focuses on the prevention of acts of terror.

Read Esteban Santiago’s criminal complaint.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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