Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Red Team: Terrorist Attack on America

(Note: originally written in early 2015)

As a Special Forces Intelligence Sergeant (18 Fox), it is part of the job to understand the enemy and learn everything you can about him so you can try to predict what they will do. Part of this is playing Red Team during Course of Action (COA) development, and some of it comes into play during the planning for the mission.

In preparing the Concept of the Operation (CONOP) and planning, one of the 18F's duties is to come up with the enemies Most Likely COA (MLCOA), and Most Dangerous COA (MDCOA). It could focus on a specific target that you are going after, the Tactics Techniques and Procedures (TTP’s) that have been historically utilized, the location of these attacks, personal knowledge of the target and numerous other factors. MLCOA is usually not as dangerous as the MDCOA which, by its nature, usually takes the "worst case" option.
I would like to consider these two COAs on what an attack in the United States by Islamic Militants would look like. The point of this article is not to say they are coming right now, or that any of these attacks will certainly take place. This is simply an analysis of what a potential attack would look like, period.

The MLCOA will have a few categories, from unaligned Jihadist working on his own, to professionally trained cells working under direction of a State, or Non-State actor, under a unifying strategic plan. The MDCOA is actually the scariest, not only by the amount of casualties it could potentially account for, but the ease with which it could be done, plus there are some indicators that point to a test run that was done last year, but the authorities still don't know who was behind it.

Many people will claim that I'm being a "fear monger," "moon-bat," "wing-nut," or that "I'm living in fear of some all-powerful Muslim Super Army" and that "this is all just war machine propaganda." To those people, I will say that this is just an intellectual exercise I played to keep my skills sharp. I always enjoyed playing the Red Team, and using my analysis skills it has allowed me to stay focused and, given me a reason to do something that I love.
Check out this article from the guys at Havok Journal about the beheading of James Foley. The amount of disdain ISIS has for us, and their many open declarations of war toward us, should at the very least get us talking about the security of the United States, especially since Britian raised their threat level to "severe", one step below "critical," which is their highest security level:

Alarmed by the suspected presence of hundreds of British jihadists among Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq, Britain increased its assessment of the terrorism threat on its own soil on Friday and said new laws would be introduced to counter what Prime Minister David Cameron called "a greater threat to our security than we have seen before."

Lone Jihadist
How many Americans are fighting in Syria or Iraq right now?
"As an intelligence community, it is a challenge for us," the official said. "Once an American arrives in this no man's land, our ability to track them clearly diminishes. That's why it's best to stop them before they go because we lose insight on where they're fighting and with who."
In fact, FBI Director James Comey said last week that his agency cannot be certain of even the range of Americans who've traveled to Syria.

"When I give you the number of more than 100, I can't tell you with high confidence that's a 100 of 200, that's a 100 of 500, that's a 100 of a 1,000 or more, because it's so hard to track," Comey said in remarks at the Dallas FBI Field Office.

American Jihadis recently arrested this year
  • Adam "Fadi Fadi" Dandach, 20, who was arrested by FBI at Los Angeles International Airport in early July 2014 and later told agents that he was trying to travel to Syria to join ISIS.
  • Donald Ray Morgan, 44, of North Carolina, who was arrested by the FBI for firearms violations on Aug. 2. Investigators found he had posted numerous pro-ISIS messages on social media and believe he was seeking to join ISIS.
  • Shannon Maureen Conley, 19, of Colorado pleaded guilty on April 8 to federal charges that she attempted to fly to Turkey on the first leg of a journey to join ISIS.
American's killed in Syria
  • Troy Kastigar, killed in 2009 fighting in Somalia for al-Shabab
  • Nicole Lynn Mansfield, an American female convert to Islam, was killed last year in Syria while reportedly fighting with a group called AQ affiliated Ahrar al-Sham ("Free Men of Syria").
  • Moner Mohammad Abusalha, from Florida, fighting with Al-Nusra, drove a truck loaded with munitions up a hillside in northern Syria.
  • Douglas McAuthur McCain, of San Diego, California, was killed over the weekend, fighting for ISIS.
  • Another American is reportedly killed just days after McCain.
Lone Wolf attacks in the U.S.
MLCOA - Lone Wolf
The most likely threat from the lone wolf, who may or may not be aligned with any specific group, is using the information and how-to instructions from the Internet to plan and conduct an attack. They would probably use hometown knowledge and advice from extremist websites on what type of targets to look for, and TTPs to use for pre-mission planning, intelligence gathering and OPSEC. These sites will also offer proven strategies and tactics to use during the attack. AQAP did just that a few weeks ago, attempting to recruit Lone Wolfs.

The types of attack you can expect with a Lone Wolf, may include:
Bladed weapon attack similar to the murder of British soldier on the streets of London, to make as violent and brutal a statement as possible. Just so the message wouldn't get lost his attackers stated:

"We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you...many, many... throughout the Koran, that we must fight them as they fight us, an eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth"
Instead of one sensational attack, it may be multiple, premeditated murders like the recent "Jihadi Serial Killer," who claimed:
"My mission is vengeance. For the lives, millions of lives are lost every day." When asked to clarify, it was "done for vengeance for the actions of the United States in the Middle East... just doing [his] small part."
Kidnapping of non-Muslim citizens and the filming of a brutal execution that will be posted on the internet. Perhaps a beheading, perhaps a crucifixion, then the body displayed in a public area for the biggest shock value. Thanks to ISIS' use of social media, the thrill of being famous and getting worldwide coverage could cause some to emulate the executions that are occurring in Iraq and Syria. The more brutal and shocking, the bigger the message will be.

Small IED in a crowded venue similar to the Boston Marathon bombing. Hitting a sporting event, concert, festival, night club, etc. Use your imagination and think about your own home town. Think about places where a small, backpack-sized IED would inflict maximum casualties.

Heavily armed gunmen going into a populated venue and attempting to kill as many people as possible. This could be used in coordination with either a small IED or suicide vest. Targets could be malls, schools, mega churches, public transportation or college dorms. I think these type of attacks will stay away from government targets due to the amount of security and armed guards normally found in these locations. Gun free zones will allow the gunmen to have more time to systematically go through and execute as many people prior to armed officers arriving.

Car bombs, whether big or small can be made, with instructions from Jihadi websites. The bigger they are, the more materials required and the greater the chance of getting caught. The Vehicle Borne IED (VBIED) can be used either in a suicide type attack, or can be parked and set off remotely or with a timer. Devastating by themselves, if used in conjunction with another type of attack as described above, either as a decoy or to take out first responders, it has the potential to significantly multiply the chaos and casualties.
None of these methods require many resources that are difficult to acquire. Look at the news coverage of any "mass shooting" type of crime in America, and you can see the effectiveness and appeal for someone who is trying to make a religious statement with a maximum impact. This statement would get them noticed and praised throughout the international Jihadi world, which is what many of them desire.

MDCOA – Lone Wolf
Add multiple players to any of the above, and it will give them more options to cause more death and destruction. The more players, the more chaos, but it also becomes harder to control the OPSEC. So at most it will consist of 2-3 people who are related, or have known each other a long time.

Organized State/Non-State Sponsored Attack
The list of enemies of the United States is a long one, and many, if the right opportunity presented itself, would not hesitate to attempt to do us harm. From Iran's IRQCs Quds force, to Hamas, Hezbollah, AQ, and now the Islamic State, the list goes on. Some of these may have the means, but not the will; some, like AQ, have proven that they have means and the will. With the rise of IS, and the defection of many groups from AQ to IS, there is potential for AQ to attempt another big scale attack in the U.S. It would send a message not only to the U.S. but also to IS and the groups who are contemplating switching allegiances. This is very dangerous because it could cause retaliation attacks from IS. This would be the Jihadist version of "keeping up with the Joneses."

To understand the different potential threats, we need to look at what has been done in the past to understand their level of tactical competence, and also the types of targets they would consider.

Coordinated attack with multiple diversions (Mumbai Model)
This example is a highly coordinated multi-pronged assault with the intent of overwhelming first responders, and to conceal their real target. It causes a significant amount of destruction with a very high death toll. In 2008, 10 terrorists hit 12 locations and were able to kill 166 people and wound at least 308. They were members of Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Talibi, which was affiliated with AQ. Review timeline of the LET's attack on Mumbai. Watch some closed circuit T.V. footage of the Mumbai attack:

This kind of attack in any city in the U.S. would quickly overwhelm first responders, giving the terrorists much-needed time to kill as many people as possible. If a diversionary attack away from the main target was hit, it would draw the first responders away from the real target and delay response. It would also force the police to split their forces and assets, and in the "fog of war" who knows how long it would take to sort it all out. All this confusion and delay plays right into the hands of the terrorists who will use it to kill more and more people.

Single Target, Multiple Breach Points (Nairobi Model)
The operation was planned by Al-Shabab in Somalia, and they used specially selected teams of English-speaking foreign fighters who trained specifically for this mission. They infiltrated into Kenya through the porous border (good thing we don't have one of those), studied the blueprints, and even rented a shop which gave them access to the restricted areas of the mall and allowed them to stash extra supplies, including belt-fed machine guns. They entered from multiple entrances and proceeded to kill and herd as many hostages as they could; by the time it was over, 67 people were dead.

A takeoff on this type of attack is the Beslan School Massacre by Sunni Chechen rebels in 2004. By the time it was over, 334 people had been killed, including 186 children, and more than 700 people wounded. The terrorists stormed the school with belt-fed machine guns, automatic rifles, explosives, grenades and RPGs. Once they had herded all the hostages into the gymnasium, they rigged explosives to a pressure sensitive switch that a terrorist stood on (look at the 3:13 mark). Watch a video of Russians clearing the school.

A point I want to make about Beslan is that most police forces are not equipped or capable of handling a situation of this magnitude. It would require FBI's HRT, at a minimum, to deal with this level of firepower. If you think it would be difficult to acquire this type of armament, a California State Senator Leland Yee was recently charged with brokering a deal to smuggle machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades into the United States. The Mexican Cartels are armed with and routinely use AKs, grenade launchers, grenades, light to heavy machine guns, sniper rifles up to .50, and RPGs. This is why ISIS eyes our Southern Border.

For more information on Mumbai and Nairobi, and more details on what this kind of attack would look like here in America, check out this article from the guys at ISIS Study Group

Coordinated Vehicle Borne IED (VBIED) attack
AQI and IS have repeatedly shown that they can conduct large-scale coordinated attacks using VBIEDs. Just a little over a year ago, in May of 2013
"A wave of 11 VBIED attacks and seven additional explosions struck urban centers across Iraq on Monday, May 20 resulting in at least 60 deaths and 178 injuries. Two other VBIEDs were defused before they could explode on their targets."
A week later:
"AQI launched a second wave of 13 VBIEDS and one additional explosion on May 27 that killed 36 and wounded 147. This time, all 14 attacks occurred in the vicinity of Baghdad, indicating a deliberate shift to focus upon the capital region."
With IS's military leadership, who understand the finer points of warfare, from compartmentalization and OPSEC to support and logistical consideration, they would be able to identify and train multiple teams who could be infiltrated into America with the mission of hitting one specific location, at a designated time.

The teams would not know about the others, or even the fact that there would be more than one team conducting operations. These teams, once in America, would identify targets and buy the supplies needed for construction of their weapons. They would be able to be in place in order to initiate their VBIED at the proper time. With their knowledge of modern American surveillance practices, they would conduct their training overseas, and would be given their mission right before they depart.

Personally, I would have an advanced team and an operational team for each target. The advance team could take care of the logistics, recon and construction, and when everything was in place, the operational element would come in. They would do a handover and the reconnaissance team could either exfil or move on and prepare another target.

The teams would be the equivalent of "fire and forget" weapons, as there would be no communications once they were gone. With the resources and money that ISIS has, each team would be well-funded. Coordination with the Mexican Cartels and America's open border would ensure that they could safely arrive at their target location. Due to the compartmentalized aspect of the operation, even if one of the teams were captured or unable to complete the mission, enough would be available that they would cause significant damage.

Coordinated Vehicle Borne IED (VBIED) Attack, Part 2
The next step up in sophistication and lethality would be to conduct a simultaneous multi-pronged attack using all of the aforementioned methods. Imagine attacks like "Mumbai, Nairobi, Beslan and multiple VBIED/IED/Suicide Vests" all happening on a Monday morning during rush hour. VBIEDs detonating in NY, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta focusing on soft targets, public transportation, airports and infrastructure (water, electricity and transportation). Whole schools being hit and held hostages in Baltimore, Denver Seatle, and Houston. Gunmen running through the casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, high-end malls in Los Angeles and New York gathering up hostages to be held for the long standoff. Secondary, prepositioned VBIED/IED along likely avenues of approach, or potential staging areas targeting first responders.

Throughout the following weeks, secondary teams will continue to hit soft targets and first responders. Expect fire and police stations to be targeted by individuals wearing suicide vest and more VBIEDs. Police will be ambushed with IEDs and small arms, which will force them to change how they respond, thus reducing already slow reaction times. Churches, Synagogues and other places of worship will be especially dangerous; historically; when extremist get strong, they target religious institutions.

Islamic cells not associated with the primary group will be activated, causing even more chaos and death. (These separate groups may at times form alliances, but just as likely may fight each other, which is a weakness that could be exploited.)

Criminal elements will use the chaos and lack of law enforcement to their full advantage, increasing territory, taking out rivals, or doing anything that will increase their power and prestige.

Lone Wolfs who normally wouldn't have the courage to act, will feel empowered and initiate their own attacks. Expect mass shootings in gathering places like subways, buses and churches.

All these players with different motivations, beliefs and organizations will make law enforcement infinitely more difficult. You can't take down an organization if none of them are connected or know about each other.
Could an attack like this take place? Maybe, maybe not, but in my role of thinking like the enemy, these are some of the things that I would look at or consider. The sad thing is that this plan is more complex, difficult to conduct and would have fewer casualties than my MDCOA.

Take Out the Power Grid
Is it a realistic and legitimate threat, or conspiracy nut's unrealistic pipe dream? A report in 2012 from the  National Research Council's: Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System stated:
"The U.S. power delivery system is remarkably complex. Its network of substations, transmission lines, and distribution lines are not designed to withstand or quickly recover from damage inflicted simultaneously on multiple components. In addition, investment to strengthen and upgrade the grid has lagged, resulting in a high-voltage system with many heavily stressed parts. Overall, the nation's power grid is in need of expansion and upgrading. Since all parts of the economy — as well as human health and welfare — depend on electricity, the results of a well-planned and coordinated attack on the power delivery system could be particularly devastating." 
"If carried out in a carefully planned way by people who knew what they were doing, such an attack could deny large regions of the country access to bulk system power for weeks or even months. An event of this magnitude and duration could lead to turmoil, widespread public fear, and an image of helplessness that would play directly into the hands of the terrorists. If such large extended outages were to occur during times of extreme weather, they could also result in hundreds or even thousands of deaths due to heat stress or extended exposure to extreme cold."
Historical precedence:
"Attackers with Molotov cocktails simultaneously disabled the electrical substations of at least nine cities and towns in Michoacan, interrupting power for 15 hours."
"The attack began just before 1 a.m. on April 16 last year, when someone slipped into an underground vault not far from a busy freeway and cut telephone cables.
Within half an hour, snipers opened fire on a nearby electrical substation. Shooting for 19 minutes, they surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley. A minute before a police car arrived, the shooters disappeared into the night.
To avoid a blackout, electric-grid officials rerouted power around the site and asked power plants in Silicon Valley to produce more electricity. But it took utility workers 27 days to make repairs and bring the substation back to life.

A 2009 Energy Department report said that "physical damage of certain system components (e.g. extra-high-voltage transformers) on a large scale...could result in prolonged outages, as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years."
Mr. Wellinghoff said a FERC analysis found that if a surprisingly small number of U.S. substations were knocked out at once, that could destabilize the system enough to cause a blackout that could encompass most of the U.S."
With all the news about the danger to the power grid I'm sure that security has been increased since the attacks 16 months ago. Or not.
"A PG&E electrical substation for Silicon Valley was breached for a second time, despite the utility's efforts to bulk up security following an armed attack last year.

The Metcalf substation—south of San Jose, Calif., off U.S. Highway 101—was targeted early Wednesday morning by intruders who cut fencing at the site and stole construction equipment being used for security upgrades.

Alarms sounded in the utility's central security-dispatch center shortly after 2 a.m., although the break-in wasn't discovered until a morning shift arrived four or five hours later, PG&E said. The company reported the incident to police around 7:30 a.m. and disclosed the incident to the public eight hours later."

I personally think that the 2012 report understates the potential effects of the United States going weeks or months without power. After a week without power, imagine New Orleans after Katrina, but nationwide and with no significant help coming. If an attack like this was done right, it could bring America to her knees.

Absolute worst case would be to have a coordinated VBIED attack (part 2) on standby waiting for the power grid to get hit. The power outage out would be the signal for all the other teams to initiate their attacks. Waiting for the grid to go down first would maximize the fear, hamper coordination efforts of first responders and cause that much more chaos, which would enable the teams to continue working. With no television, most Americans wouldn't know what was going on which would increase the perception that the authorities weren't in control. People would quickly start turning on each other, criminal elements would use the chaos and lack of police to do whatever they want, and more than likely it would negatively affect the dollar causing instability in the market worldwide.

Sleep well.