Part 1. Select one terrorist tactic and explain how it has evolved over time.
As post-9/11 security efforts such as airline passenger screenings, border enforcement, and domestic terror investigations have reduced the capability of terrorists to conduct larger scale attacks, smaller low-tech attacks have become more common (Clark and Klaveras, 2017). Vehicles represent one low-tech weapon that is readily available to terrorists and has progressively become an effective and difficult to prevent weapon. Vehicles attacks have the added benefit of extreme simplicity, allowing a would-be attacker with no experience to follow a simple checklist for selecting a site and executing and attack. Islamic State and Al-Qaeda have recognized the opportunity presented by these attacks as far back as 2010 and both have published guides on planning and carrying out such attacks (Clark and Klaveras, 2017).
Clark and Klaveras (2017) identify the four critical elements of density, confinement, access, and mass in planning a vehicle attack. The density of the victims is a major factor in the number of casualties that will be sustained. If pedestrians are tightly packed in an area then more will be hit be a vehicle. Confinement is closely related to density and determines the victim’s ability to disperse and evade the attack. When victims are trapped by barriers they are also easier to target with gunfire or direct contact weapons such as knives. Access refers to the route the attack vehicle can take leading to and through the crowd of victims. Impediments such as ditches, curbs, and vegetation will serve to slow down the vehicle and alert the potential victims to the danger. Barriers such as bollards and walls may be successful in preventing the attack. The bigger the vehicle and the more speed it achieves, the more inertia it will have when it starts to impact victims. The large vehicle with more mass will have more inertia and plow through more obstructions or pedestrians.
In 2006, Mohammed Taheri-azar used an SUV to run over students at the University of North Carolina (“Terror”, 2017). Vehicle ramming attacks have happened with increasing frequency in 2017, and because the attacks require no centralized leadership they can undertaken with very few detectable links to organized terror groups.
Part 2. What do you see as the most successful terrorist tactic in the next decade, and why?
Cyber attacks will be a serious threat in the near future. Short of a weapon of mass destruction being used by a terror group, cyber-attacks on the networks that control physical infrastructure will have wide reacting effects. Russian cyber attackers have already shut down the power grid in Ukraine as part of the holistic cyber and information warfare being used in the Crimean region. Many developed nations have significant vulnerabilities in their power grid networks that could be exploited by adversaries. Proper timing of a cyber-attack on physical infrastructure in crucial to achieving the largest impact. For instance, shutting down the power grid during mild weather is an inconvenience. Shutting down the power grid during a blizzard or a heat wave can be fatal across a wide geographic region. Shutting down redundant systems such as electricity and gas during a period of extreme cold weather could kill large numbers of people. The threat of cyber-attacks on utility networks will only increase as more systems are upgraded to smart devices and tied into networks.
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