Tuesday, April 16, 2013


As I viewed the Boston Marathon end in a disaster, I thought about how the 17 agencies compromising the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) are on “Z” while most of the American public and news media remain on “A” regarding the topic of homegrown terrorism. My mind wandered back to an Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) seminar held in Tyson Corner, VA in 2006, when Charles "Charlie" Allen, a top counterintelligence expert warned us of the growing numbers of radicalized U.S. citizens...who become radical Islamist supporters or joiners.

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This discord exists because counterintelligence and counterterrorism professionals, rightfully so, do not want to release any information that may give away sources and methods to radical Islamists and other terrorist groups. 
However, perhaps this bridge between America's right to know and protection of secrets can be bridged by establishing a pure, sanitized public relations campaign to combat terrorism, akin to existing Community Block Watch Programs (CBWP). It would greatly expand the scope and sequence of the Public Affairs office inside the CIA, FBI, etc.

In a broad sense, citizen participation to protect America from homegrown terrorists; i.e., American citizens who have been radicalized into becoming radical Islamists, can be utilized more effectively without giving away counterterrorism or counterintelligence secrets. My plan would avoid vigilantism, and actually protect innocent American Muslims through an awareness program that would be absorbed into existing CBWP‘s which exist in thousands of American neighborhoods. Block Watch programs help neighbors to get better acquainted with each other and help local police by reporting unusual activities as they occur.

The plan would enable neighborhoods across America to have a much-closer link with, and actually partner with the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). It would be a "win-win" partnership, where the IC would benefit because local denizens know what’s “normal” activity in their respective residential settings; they would become grassroots 'eyes and ears' for them. And, citizens would feel an ownership in the battle against radical Islam and other terrorist influences, which are increasing in numbers inside America. 

Could such an arrangement have prevented the Boston Marathon bombings? Could the terrorists who planned the operation, purchased the pressure cookers and other related 
materials, assembled and physically planted the bombs, and who met with each other (probably often) have been spotted by a neighbor, coworker, friend, acquaintance or blood relation? I believe so, especially when you look at how Block Watch programs operate.

To prevent local crimes, CBWP enables local law enforcement to train neighbors to write down descriptions of suspicious persons and vehicle license plate numbers, models, colors, etc. But, now that we have local police and counterintelligence professionals working in Fusion Centers (FC), we can enhance intelligence-gathering by incorporating local citizens and businesses who “know” their neighborhood’s idiosyncrasies and customs. Residents are familiar with their neighbor’s habits, types of friends, relatives, vehicles, leisure pursuits, interests, etc.

So, why not, through risk-free and vetted workshops, teach citizens what to look for, regarding terrorist behavior? Even a well-integrated homegrown American citizen who has become radicalized has lived and worked in a particular neighborhood and remains underneath the radar of homeland security. But he/she probably begins to behave differently, especially when he begins to plan an attack. As the attack plan nears fruition, his behavior will most likely become more odd and noticeable.

The terrorists who bombed the Boston Marathon spent a great deal of time and energy to plan, prepare, finance, purchase and store materials, and to meet with each other in order to execute a devastating attack that killed 3 and injured over 130. These killers remained unseen and unnoticed inside the home, garage, workplace...whatever, where the physical bomb material was stored and assemble. Could they have been detected if laypeople were educated on what to look for?

I believe so. And, future terrorist attacks in America's heartland can be prevented if local police agencies conducting CBWP’s invited overt intelligence officials, such as FBI agents, CIA analysts, or officials in the CIA's public relations office to speak at their public meetings. Detailed descriptions of “terrorist-like” behaviors could be incorporated into the established system of CBWP’s. A toll-free IC hot line number to call could be distributed. This would make federal counterintelligence and counterterrorist agencies more open and available to the public. Of course, covert agents would never show their faces at such public gatherings. But, other federal representatives could. It would be an exciting new role for the public relations offices in each of the IC's 17 agencies.

"Terrorist-specific” observable behaviors could be taught to Americans through the CBWP network. The term "observable behavior" describes actions in a way you can record with a pencil and check-off. For example, instead of saying “My son is lazy”, which isn’t really observable or “checkable”, you could say “My son didn’t take out the garbage on Tuesday‘s garbage pick-up day.” I prefer observable behaviors because they make citizen observations more accurate and confirm-able. Also, such observations aid citizens to identify homegrown terrorists who do not fit the stereotype of an Islamic terrorist. For example, Colleen LaRose, or Jihad Jane, did not look like the public perception of a radicalized Islamic warrior. Yet, the blond-haired, blue-eyed suburbanite from Philadelphia was charged in connection with a plot to kill a Danish cartoonist.

I offer 13 tell-tale signs, or observable behaviors, that a homegrown terrorist will make. In fact, I'll wager the Boston Marathon bombers exhibited most of them. I just wish there were more citizens trained through a  CBWP in the neighborhood where they dwell. Perhaps, some citizen antennae would have been raised. Here they are: 

Observable Behavior 1- Uncommon cell phone behavior. The Boston Marathon bombers needed to communicate to plan meetings or buy materials and chemicals. They may have used multiple anonymous pay-as-you-go mobiles phones, swapped SIM cards and handsets, or used stolen mobiles. They didn't want to leave an electronic trail! Did a neighbor or acquaintance accidentally spot large quantities of mobile phones? Did a store owner grow suspicious because they purchased so many? I remember, some years ago, when a small group of homegrown terrorists in Ohio purchased hundreds of cell phones from Wal*Mart stores throughout Ohio.

Observable Behavior 2- Suspicious Passports. Did the Boston Marathon bombers travel overseas to their native countries for training? Even thought the Taliban announced they aren't responsible for the bombings in Boston, could they have been? They don't want DHS and the IC to know they are recruiting and training American citizens to conduct terrorism within America's heartland. Of course, they would purposefully lie. I wonder why the Taliban would even bother to announce that they didn't have anything to do with the bombings. At any rate, could the Boston Marathon bombers have been given and used multiple identities and documents for no apparent reason, save to travel overseas for further indoctrination and training in bomb-making?

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Observable Behavior 3- Small truck, vans and station wagon vehicles. Probably not the case here, but larger WMD's need to be transported. Terrorists buy, rent, or lease a van or small truck for transport, even possibly for use in the attack itself. Anyone working in commercial vehicle renting, leasing or sales should be on the look out for suspicious behaviors. It's possible that when the Boston Marathon bombers bought cell phones or bomb-making materials, they didn't use their personal vehicles. They would want to remain below the radar by renting a vehicle and traveling miles away to purchase the materials at different locations. If so, A CBWP citizen could have spotted a different vehicle parked in their driveway.

Observable Behavior 4- Excessively thorough interest in local site. They knew where to plant the bombs and when to detonate them so the maximum number of people would be killed and injured. Did the Boston Marathon bombers use cameras or camcorders to gain logistics and other information about potential attack sites along the marathon's route? They certainly planned a coordinated attack. I wonder if an old security camera at the blast sites has one of them recorded, showing a preoccupation with security arrangements, heavy pedestrian traffic, the corridor that funneled the bomb's energy toward the street, etc.

Observable Behavior 5- Over-abundant purchases. Maybe not a behavior shown by these bombers, but citizen's should be on the watch for persons buying large or unusual quantities of chemicals for no reason. Anything odd, such as accumulating BBQ propane canisters from different stores falls under this category. I remember, years ago conducting police surveillance at the local supermarkets for excessively large purchases of baking soda, which dealers used to cut their pure cocaine. We simply followed them out to the parking lot and followed them home. Remember years ago, when Zazi and three others linked to the Denver-NYC terrorist connection bought large quantities of peroxide and acetone from Denver, CO beauty supply stores? One store owner alerted the authorities; another example of the critical importance of citizen participation.

Observable Behavior 6- Suspicious financial transactions.   Radicalized American terrorists need to remain under the radar. Probably not in the case of the Boston Marathon bombers, but they need funding and check and credit card fraud may run rampant among homegrown terrorists. Remember, observable and “checkable” actions- do they open up numerous checking accounts? Use lost or stolen credit card reports? Carry around separate check books from different banks?
Observable Behavior 7- Suspicious use of and heavy reliance on computers. One of the reasons that the Boston bombing group may be radicalized American citizens is that they made no instant press release via a letter to the news media. Foreign terrorists would make instant press releases about the Boston massacre on their respective websites!I find it rather odd that the Taliban released a message that they had no part in the event...why? Many American radicalized citizens use the cutting edge of computer technology and organizational networking to recruit new members, raise money, organize activities, and distribute propaganda. Suspicious computer behavior, such as visiting terrorist-related websites should be a red flag. If you ever witness such unusual Internet behavior, grow suspicious!

Observable Behavior 8- Protection Paraphernalia. Not the case here, but others may need to handle hazardous waste and radioactive, biological or other WMD material. Masks, goggles, thick rubber gloves, disposable or reusable coveralls, hardhats, safety glasses, chemical-resistant clothing, face shields, even devices to protect their hearing or portable respirators to cover only the mouth and nose or larger varieties that supply oxygen to self-contained suits. You may see someone carrying these items into the garage at night or find them thrown away in a dumpster.

Observable Behavior 9- Padlocks. Could the Boston Marathon bombers been paranoid about storing their bombing material? They needed storage. Lock-ups, garages, backyard sheds, storage rentals, etc. could have been used to store equipment.

Observable Behavior 10- Terrorists need to travel. The counterterrorism and counterintelligence agencies battle in protecting us has turned upside down. All terrorist attacks in the last year, inside America, were from home grown, radicalized American "citizens." But, they were influenced, funded and trained overseas. Many U.S. citizens turned terrorists have flown to the Middle East to train and plan attacks back in the U.S. They certainly don’t freely brag about their vacations when they arrive back in the U.S. I wonder if any of the Boston Marathon bombers were vague to naive friends, coworkers or neighbors about where they went on vacation, sites they saw, etc.

Observable Behavior 11- Change in behavior.  I'll wager the Boston bombers began to behave differently when they began planning and finalizing their massacre. I wonder if anyone in their neighborhood, workplace, or hangouts noticed them behaving differently than they have in the past.

Observable Behavior 12- Strange visitations. The person who spearheaded this Boston terrorist attack had accomplices, I believe. He had people helping him and they may have come and left to his home at odd hours. Would neighbors who participated in a Community Block Watch Program have noticed this observable behavior?

Observable Behavior 13- Overhear threats. A true radicalized American "citizen" is full of hate for western ideology and democratic beliefs. If the Boston Marathon bombers were, indeed, possessed with their uncompromising beliefs, they may have grown angry at times in the past or even shouted and boasted during a normal chat their intention to harm civilians. They may have expressed unusually obstinate and unbending viewpoints when discussing politics, religion, societal issues, etc. I wonder if anyone in their past heard them make intimidating or even threatening vocalizations. Or, did they suddenly become passive as the Boston Marathon event approached? That's why a CBWP makes so much sense to me. No intelligence-gathering source can compare such emotional and behavioral transformations. Only coworkers, neighbors, blood relatives or friends and acquaintances at their local hangouts would notice.

Ironically, by incorporating a “terrorist watch” program and incorporating it into a national community organization such as Block Watch, we may not have to worry about big government intruding on our lives. Let me explain. I recall Democratic Representative Jane Harmon, not too many years ago, introduced National Security legislation that passed the US House of Representatives by a secretive voice vote, but failed to pass the US Senate.

Harmon’s bill, the federal “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act” was supported by President Obama and his top counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan. Both men were deeply concerned about the problem of home-grown terrorists and the increasing number of individuals in the US who have become “captivated by extremist ideology or causes.” Unfortunately, the bill didn't spell out Observable Behaviors and leaves the defining and identifying of homegrown terrorists left to political whims of the future. Perhaps, we should rethink this bill and enhance its effectiveness by initiating a "Homegrown Terrorist Blockwatch Program."

I believe that America needs to determine what is and what isn’t terrorist behavior and who is and who isn’t a terrorist. I  studied the resource Al Qaeda in Europe by Lorenzo Vidino, the European expert at The Investigative Project in Washington, D.C. This resource details what could materialize in America. Europe has become a key battleground in the global war on terror, and I hope America does not. But, I think we will experience more terrorist attacks in America's heartland. From the July 2005 London bombings, the Madrid train bombings, the thwarted plot to attack various European capitals with chemical weapons, the movements of hundreds of European Muslims who are joining terrorist groups in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and NW Pakistan to fight U.S. and Western forces, to the burgeoning of radical Muslim ideology in the hearts and minds of "citizens" throughout the EU, the region has become not only a target but as a base of operations...against America.

The implications for the United States are tremendous: under existing law, for example, terrorists carrying European passports could easily enter the U.S. It is not a coincidence, in fact, that every attack planned or executed against the United States, including 9/11, has had strong European ties.
It's a sad state of affairs when terrorists-most of them native to the countries of Europe, raise money, communicate, and hide in plain sight in the suburbs of London (I call it "Londonistan"), Paris, Amsterdam, etc. And, law enforcement agencies worldwide are having more difficulties when attempting to shut down terror cells.

I think Vidino's European prophecies will materialize in America's heartland...soon.

Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. is a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and writes the online spy series "Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster in the Caribbean." He welcomes your ideas and comments. Contact him on the SECURE CONTACT FORM.

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