Uncertain Future – Part XV – The Black Swan

The last leg of this answer to, “What are the biggest ways in which the world 20 years from now will probably be different from today?” is the Black Swan.

Black Swan events, as defined by the guy who proposed their theory are thus:

  1. The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
  2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
  3. The psychological biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event’s massive role in historical affairs.

This is the stuff no one saw coming that will, more or less, invalidate every prediction we have had so far. They are the agents of chaos, and the disorder in ordered states. They are events which cannot be predicted with ease, never predicted together, and barely explained even in hindsight, but which have monumental effects on the hereafter. They are the surprises God throws at us that both level and unlevel the playing fields as industries rise up out of nowhere, nations fall into memory, and cities crumble as the earth shakes. Consider technology, the surprise we all see coming, but no one guesses quite right. Technology is still growing at an exponential pace. Every day it continues to change the way we live, the way we communicate, and how we conduct business. The rise of social media, perhaps the most unexpected event of the last ten years, and the rise of cellular communications in general over the last twenty certainly fits the ticket. Unfortunately, as technology has become a tool which has empowered literally billions of people into a better, more enlightened and more productive life, so too has it empowered millions of others to pursue their own interests at the detriment of everyone else. Twitter, something that was only founded exactly 10 years to this month helped spur revolution in states like Libya and Syria. Of course, now it also serves as a recruiting tool for Islamic State radicals. Drones, the weapons that were only in their infancy during my first deployment to Iraq, are now toys for children and delivery tools for Amazon. Of course, they too have a dark side which many, many already fear.

For that reason, from Swarm of Things to Human Augmentation, Crowd-sourcing to Autonomous vehicles, 3D Printing to Genetic Engineering, the brave new world we are all ready to embrace will empower those of ill-aims so greatly that only an equally aggressive improvement in the means by which we secure our safety, both bodily and the information about us, will ensure the dream of tomorrow the builder’s of this technology wish to provide today.

Beyond technology, Black Swans are the wills of billions of people; competing, converging, colliding. Nearly all you will never meet, but a few of which, will shape your future.

A Black Swan is former fighter of the Soviet Union, setting his sights on his former ally. [83]

Black Swans are are planes filled with people crashing into buildings on a clear day in September, and from the visceral reaction, war in two nations erupts.

As those wars drug on, the Black Swan was an angry and deeply confused young Army private, with a desire to punish the world. He let slip the largest stockpile of military secrets in history. Some were secrets of the United States, but more importantly was what we had learned of everyone else.

In the aftermath, a Black Swan was a wave of democratic energy and revolution. Spurred by the leaks, and the revelations about their dictators, millions went to the streets demanding reform.

Amidst the cheering, the sounds of bullets rang out and three civil wars began.

In the void that arose, one of these saw the Blackest of Swans, a resurrected medieval empire of hate rising from the desert sands to engulf and overwhelm the Levant.

In the terror it brought millions set to flight, many overwhelming Europe.

And terror following them in.

Those of us alive in 1996 remember that time before the towers fell and not a single one could have predicted any of this. Then we lived in a world of plenty where we were all still cheering the fall of the last evil empire which crumbled when its reach was greater than its capabilities. We were building relationships and the world was going closer together. “They were simpler times,” is something old ones always say of when they were young, but looking back to the last two decades, do we not all feel old now? Who, in their most honest self could have predicted any of the events of chaos which bears fruit only to more chaos like it? Who standing back before would have suspected a future like we have seen in his next 20 years?

What we can be sure of is that not everything will turn out as we hope. Change will come, but not like we expect. We can’t turn away from it. It’s coming whether we like it or not. And as soon as think we have it all figured out, a black swan will swoop down to remind us how little foresight we had. This post isn’t meant to scare or to paint a dark cloud on the future because of a few of the nightmares that exist today. It is simply a reminder that the unexpected is a factor, and that running from it, or being afraid of it, we need to prepare for it. The best we can do is prepare. Learn the threats that exist today and prepare as best we can so that when change come, we… you, me, us, are able to embrace it. Only those who build their houses on solid rock will weather the coming storms or terror, hacking, disasters, cyberware, and the dark abyss of humanity behind a mask of anonymity and a jihadist’s mask. Don’t be afraid. I’m sure, exactly because of all the answers which existed to this question, that the world of tomorrow will be as a utopia to the one I live in today, but only if we are collectively prepared for the changes utopia brings along the way. That’s why, above all else, those who look to their own security, their adaptability, and their capacity to embrace change and endure disruption… they will be the x factor in the next 20 years.

Escape From Terror – A Guide to Getting Out

Given no other information than that there is a shooter or an active terrorist attack, one in which the attackers didn’t kill themselves in the beginning, there is a lot you can do to maintain your own survival and the survival of others.

Stay positive

I know it sounds flippant to start off with “Stay positive,” but this is literally a guiding principle taught in the United States Marine Corps Recruit Manual and is part of the US military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) schools to train Marines, Army, and even Navy SEALs and other Special Forces survival in the harshest of situations. The overriding theme of that first section is that in horrifying situations, much like those of this question, the number one life saving mentality is to stay positive so that you don’t panic. A panicked mind does not make smart decisions. Furthermore, maintaining optimism maintains the belief that survival is possible. When one believes they will be all right in the end, really believes it, their instincts work to support their mind toward maintaining their survival.

Note that I didn’t say that you should tell yourself, “Don’t panic”, because saying “don’t panic” doesn’t actually prevent people from panicking. It’s just something they do in movies to add intensity. It doesn’t help in real life. You do need to stay positive. Most people panic from a flood of many things happening at once. People hear shooting. Someone else screams. A flood of people start moving. Children get separated from parents. More screaming. You should remember to stay calm, not by saying, “stay calm”, but by saying things like, “It’s going to be OK, I know what to do, I will be all right.” Keep repeating affirmations to yourself like this to ensure that you actually do stay calm and remember everything else you need to do to get to safety.


After staying positive, an acronym currently being used to train students, teachers, and businesses on how to handle terror events and active shooters is ALICE.

  1. Alert
  2. Lockdown
  3. Inform
  4. Counter
  5. Evacuate

ALICE is a tool used to keep victims and staff aware of their options during what is called an “active shooter event” and is also useful advice if are involve in an act of terror. It quickly guides you through the important decisions you may need to make. It is important to understand the ALICE acronym is not meant to serve as a sequential list of steps to follow, but to serve as a guide for understanding your role – which it is important we understand isn’t determined by you, but by the shooter or terrorist – in surviving the encounter and aiding others to do so, as well. Depending on where the shooter is in relation to you, you have several different responsibilities to ensure your own safety and help you escape, as well as that of others. In relation to this question, most of the steps involved do not involve interacting with the shooter – in fact, they specifically attempt to avoid it.

Alert

The first is that you witness the event taking place. It is important to remember that, as members of a civilized society, we are all the responsible in some way during a threatening situation to preserve as many lives as possible. Even if you aren’t trained to do much, or aren’t in a position to physically help, the information you know may be vital to others when added to their own. Consider this someone who, from a safe distance, saw someone enter the building with a weapon or acting in a suspicious manner. Perhaps this person saw or heard an explosion or can hear shooting off. This person has the responsibility to stay safe (by not entering the dangerous area) and alerting police or any other official. The information you saw and reported could be compiled with others to help ensure that hundreds who aren’t safe are able to escape who don’t have the benefit of your point of view. Your testimony may also help provide key evidence after the fact, as well.

Lockdown

If you aren’t in the immediate presence of danger, and if warning is given, people should attempt to take a Lockdown, ready stance. If you are very near the threat and a known secure means of escape already exists, then you should always escape first before attempting Lockdown.

Lockdown allows small groups time to create as defensible a position as possible. The average response time for police is somewhere around 14 minutes to produce first responders to a scene of a violent incident. This in no way is a failure of police, but just a reality of having very few people responsible for the safety of very, very many and never knowing where a situation might happen. For this reason, those who are alerted to the presence of danger are asked to Lockdown, in an effort to gain some security during the time when it isn’t known if a safe escape route exists and when first responders have not yet arrived on the scene. Lockdown drills are performed by most schools already, though this is typically the extent of the exercise. They do this by locking all doors, both exterior and interior, and barricading those doors before taking a position in a darkened room, away from visible sightlines of any windows and in a defensive posture.

By defensive posture, this means that students or anyone caught in a terror environment where a terrorist or shooter currently isn’t, such as a room behind a locked door, are to try to use whatever means necessary to provide them with cover and concealment. Concealment is anything that will prevent an enemy from seeing a target, like a curtain. Cover is the military term for something that can conceal you from a threat and be used as a source of shielding in the event that you’re shot at. Once the students are in the most covered and concealed location they can create in a timely manner, they should stay vigilant, and stay prepared to move to escape or react to a forced entry by the shooter.

This is an effort to create a “safe space”, not meant to say that it is perfectly defensible, but as a primary fall back point for all students and individuals to retreat and seek shelter in the event of terror until an escape route can be secured. A terrorist’s goal is to cause as many casualties as possible. That said, if the terrorist or shooter remains a threat after the initial attack, they will often be deterred by obstacles like locked doors, instead looking for easier targets. In this event, creating barriers between a shooter and potential victims often ends the threat of a direct confrontation, before it starts. That said, having a secondary fall back position, in case it seems apparent that a shooter is set to enter your safe space, is a good idea if one is available.

Lockdown is not the same as hiding. We have seen examples of those involved in shootings attempting to make use of whatever concealment they have to hide from the attacker. This includes hiding under tables in the room they are in or in unsecured rooms, then staying put there for several minutes during a massacre. In the Columbine attack, students who hid under tables when it became known that an event had begun were eventually found and murdered. Any defensive position can be overcome by a determined adversary. For that reason, do not get too comfortable in your relative safety, but always remember that your primary goal is escape, not defense. Always be looking for information that will be help you get away from

Inform

Someone in the room should be communicating with police and emergency personnel, both to tell them what you are witnessing and to have a link with information from the outside. During lockdown, communications may be disrupted, or it may not be advised to broadcast escape information while the shooter is active. This isolates victims, which can be deadly. For that reason, it is important for someone in the room to keep an active communication line to the police in the event of an emergency. Most police departments are equipped to handle overflow traffic in the event of a major emergency.

My personal advice is that the person on the phone shouldn’t be the person charge, be it a teacher, the boss, or whoever takes charge of a situation. They need to be in charge of leading the students in whatever circumstances take place from then on. If specific instructions need to be given, than the leader can be given the phone, but generally, the leader’s job in this instance is to keep the rest of the room calm and prepared. Communicating with the outside takes the leader’s focus away from the room and away from what is going on outside their safe space. The communicator needs to calm and level headed and able to communicate; the type of person who can decipher what is important for police and the leader to know and what to communicate. For high school, a student who is calm and reliable should be able to communicate with emergency response and relay important information to the teacher. Most middle school classrooms should, as well. For elementary and primary schools, the teacher unfortunately needs to be the one responsible for many roles.

Key things to be aware of at all times, but particularly in lockdown:

  • Know the source of danger
    Where is the threat? Know where the danger is coming from. Is this person shooting actively? Are they on the move? In which direction?

    Maintain your wits and try to assess what actually caused the threat. Don’t take more than a few seconds on this. Don’t take more than a few seconds on this. This doesn’t mean you create a doctoral thesis on the threat’s relationship with his mother. Where is it that you get the instinctive reaction that the threat is coming from? Don’t look at which way people are running, or running from. Numerous accounts exist of people, usually in panic, running directly toward the danger, in some instances leading others as well. This isn’t their fault. They just lacked the training to know what to do. From there, you have a few options that you need to consider.

  • Find the exits
    Attempt to get away from the immediate danger. Find the nearest avenue to an escape as possible. It may be a better idea to lockdown and stay where you are, but either way, you need to know where the danger is and what avenues you have to escape. Again, time is key, a few seconds at most to find the exits.
  • Arm yourself
    At my school, when we practice for one of these lockdown drills every student has at their disposal a stack of books and other objects to throw or use as weapons. The Marines call these weapons of opportunity and they are any tool you can use to help you defend yourself if you directly encounter the threat. Once you find a tool to use, keep it with you until you have successfully escaped.

Escape/Evade/Evacuate

I’m going to go out of order and talk about escape before counter. As I have said, the ultimate goal of any terror event should be to escape the situation. This needs to be repeated for emphasis. The goal should not be for individuals to stop the shooter, but to get to a safe area. Everything else listed in this answer is strictly in the event escape is deemed more unsafe than staying put, or the shooter has removed the option to escape.

Most of the people who become victims do so very early on. Either they were very close to the terrorist when they began their attack,0 or they were isolated because they hesitated in their movements, or found themselves pinned in and immobilized. Once you find the exit, you should be going there. There shouldn’t need to be thinking about which exit may be closer, or which exit may be jammed or what if there is someone waiting at the exit… just run. A person should be far enough ahead that you can’t get pinned in the event of a wrong turn.

If a shooter is in the open, such as an attack on a mall, one should attempt to get away from the immediate danger as fast as possible. Don’t call the police immediately, just get to a safe location. Immediately seek cover and concealment by staying low, out of eyesight. Remember that concealment is anything that will prevent an enemy from seeing a target and cover is anything that can both conceal a potential victim and will help deflect or absorb incoming rounds fired at the them.

From there, one should remember always to know the source of the threat and find the exits.

Knowing this, a person should find the nearest avenue to an escape as possible. Where is the nearest exit? Can I reach it while staying behind cover and/or concealment? If you know the source of danger and you know the route to the exit, watch for hardened obstacles to keep between you and the threat. A hardened pillar or support beam can be a good source of cover, as can a large desk or wall. A large fountain, a car, the corner around a turn; anything that is hard and large should be a goal of someone to keep between them and the threat. It’s important not to get pinned behind cover, and to just think of it as a temporary obstacle to keep between you and the threat until you reach the exit or safety. Again, time is key, a few seconds at most to find the exits. As soon as possible, make for the exits.

This is also why keeping in contact with police is so vital, primarily if you aren’t in the open and in a lockdown situation where your escape is determined by information you can’t know because it is outside your room. Keeping communication lines open, even if you are silent and just waiting for information to be given to you, lets police and rescue know where you are, which lets you know when it is safe to escape and by what means. Most likely, there will never be a need to encounter a shooter. This is because, once a shooting begins, entire towns shutdown to ensure that the event is taken care of as quickly as possible. For that reason, those who don’t begin an attack in a safe place need to find the safest place possible, fortify, call for help, and prepare to evacuate when it is safe to do so.

By prepare to evacuate, I don’t mean find a safe place and stay there forever. An element of static defenses, those that don’t move or change, i.e. our barricades or locked doors, as I said in the previous section, is that a determined adversary can and will overcome them. Think about if a shooter is searching for one particular person, like that bully, mean teacher, their child, ex-spouse, or their boss. If that person was the motive of the attack, then obstacles won’t deter them. They might slow them down, but not provide true safety. This is true of muggings, burglaries, terrorism, or military combat. Most of the time these are deterrents that force a shooter on, hoping to find an easier target, however, if a gunman is set to defeat a certain barrier, for any reason, they will attempt to do so. Given enough time, they will defeat it. This is why staying in a state of Lockdown throughout the duration isn’t advised.

We can see an unfortante proof for this from the Virginia Tech Shooting of 2007. There, 32 students were killed and the majority of those were traced to a single room. A professor locked the students in the room, similar to a lockdown, but wouldn’t let them leave even when an opportunity was available. The shooter eventually overcame the lock on the doors. The room had no exits and he then proceeded to kill first the teacher, then everyone else in the room. From this lesson we see that a lockdown is necessary, but not a perfect defense. While we must lockdown, we must also prepare for an escape as quickly as possible. Making a plan out of staying put is itself, a danger.

Some guidelines to remember during an escape:

  • Move quickly
    Most of the people who become victims do so very early on. Either they were very close to the shooter when they started or they were isolated because they hesitated in their movements, or found themselves pinned in and immobilized. Once you find the exit, you should be going there. There shouldn’t need to be thinking about which exit may be closer, or which exit may be jammed or what if there is someone waiting at the exit… just run. Stay far enough ahead that you can’t get pinned in in the event of a wrong turn.
  • Use cover
    Cover is the military term for something that can conceal you from a threat and be used as a source of shielding in the event that you’re shot at. If you know the source of danger and you know the route to the exit, watch for hardened obstacles to keep between you and the threat. A hardened pillar or support beam can be a good source of cover. A large fountain in the middle of a food court, a car, the corner around a turn, anything that is hard and large should be a goal of someone to keep between them and the threat. Don’t get pinned behind cover, just think of it as a temporary obstacle to keep between you and the threat until you reach the exit.
  • Avoid traveling along walls
    Bullets travel along walls. I don’t know why, but a bullet that is fired at close to the same angle of a wall will ride the wall and stay very close to it. From what I have seen, they can do this a while. Try to stay at least six or so inches from the wall if you can.

Counter

If a terrorist or gunman enters your safe space, or if he pulls a weapon in the middle of whatever you are doing, say during a class period, work, or, just passing by they have left you with no time to prepare. You have to accept that the gunman has removed all good options from you and that you’re now left with very few alternatives. All your remaining choices boil down to basic human responses to fear. You have probably heard of “fight or flight”, and that is what I am talking about, but there are more and each choice has very different ramifications depending on the circumstances. They are flight, freeze, submit, posture, or fight. Before I continue, we need to consider these five basic human responses to fear and how they would manifest themselves in an active shooter or terror environment.

  • Flight – generally speaking, if you can, fleeing is the best option. That said, as a teacher, fleeing isn’t always an option. For example, in my classroom, which is virtually identical to all the other classrooms in the Middle School, High School, and Elementary, there is only one door. The windows are also shatter resistance, designed to prevent an intruder from the outside getting in, but also preventing students from being able to break out, as well. ( They are actually designed for storm debris because far more people are killed by tornadoes where I live than the violence of this question.) There is only one entrance to the room, and therefore, only one exit. While the ultimate goal of being in an event is the escape the situation, and most of the time, an avenue is available… frankly, sometimes we don’t have that as a real option.
  • Freeze – Freeze is a common response to panic educing situations. For many, it will be the default response. There is a saying, made most famous by the United States Navy SEALs, but common throughout the United States armed forces: “One doesn’t rise to the occasion, but falls back to their training.” This means that if a person is not trained, or have not prepared themselves to recognize and respond to a stressful situation, they will likely fail in that situation.

    A person who freezes, or fails to take any action in the presence of an active terrorist will be an easy target. Shooters aren’t targeting specific individuals usually, at least not long into the shooting. If they are attempting to right some injustice, the shooting eventually turns indiscriminate, where shooters are attempting to not find specific targets of opportunity, those that aren’t actively seeking escape, or using cover and concealment. This obviously isn’t the best solution, but not honestly the fault of the victim. A person must be trained to recognize and prepare for the possibility of violence and have a plan on how to act. If they don’t, they default to the freeze state.

  • Submit – submit refers to complying to the shooter’s demands. This is the hostage scenario. Hostage takers bargain with victims for compliance. They offer safety in exchange for control of the situation. For active shooters, those involved with terrorist attacks, school shootings, and workplace massacres, this is not common. They aren’t interested in a prolonged engagement and may not even care if they get out alive. Typically, these events take place, from beginning to end in less than 12 minutes, that being the amount of time it would take a dedicated shooter to either run out of ammunition, be brought down by police, or as often as is the case, end the encounter by taking their own lives.

    Therefore, it isn’t common for shooters to make demands that will keep people alive. Typically, they are there for a set purpose of inflicting causalities. For that reason, in the event of an active shooter, it is extremely unlikely that giving into the shooter by following any of their demands will ensure survival. In the Umpqua Community College Shooting, this is what students did. The shooter began by first executing the teacher of the room before making demands that all Christians in the room make themselves known by standing. The classroom full of students did as they were instructed and several who stood, were then executed.

  • Posture – Posture is creating the appearance of threat without actually being a threat. Imagine boxers before a fight, trying to look intimidating to psyche out the other opponent. This is an attempt to psychologically dominate an opponent during a fight, in the hopes that it makes them easier to deal with.

    I can’t imagine a worse idea in a terror situation. Shooters are obviously unbalanced people, so attempting to intimidate someone who, because of their weapons, is in an obviously tactical advantage seems, to me, to be suicidal. Furthermore, I can only imagine it further enraging an active shooter, so that, once they are done with whoever tried to appear intimidating is dead, the rest will receive an even more relentless assault.

What is currently being taught, in these danger close circumstances, where escape is not a timely or possible solution, is to fight, some would say attack, the attacker.

The idea here isn’t to combat an attacker one-on-one armed with only a book or stapler against a gunman. It has been shown, however, that working as a group, a number of victims can overcome an attacker and, if nothing else, minimize the harm which he could inflict.

In the instance of a single attacker against a room full of individuals, the presence of massive amounts of common items being thrown to assault, en masse, is the key defensive element. This means that a person doesn’t need to be a martial arts expert, or spend countless hours in training and exercise to prepare for the event. It also doesn’t require that any one individual has the physical and mental capability to disable the shooter. The act only requires coordination of many people moving very quickly. This doesn’t end the threat, but is intended to stun the attacker long enough for the students, once again en masse, to swarm the attacker, ground him, and hold him until others are able to evacuate or hold the attacker until police are able to intervene. Through swarm tactics, which is how they are literally termed in some ALICE training, the groups of potential victims are able to maximize their collective survival by overwhelming attackers.

During this time, students are encouraged to use “weapons of opportunity” or “improvised weapons” in their own defense. “Weapon of opportunity” is a term used from the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and other self-defense programs, which basically means any common place item which can be used a weapon. The Marines train to fight, in the last resort, with sticks, rocks, and anything else which may be available to them. For a classroom or office setting, this translates to books, staplers, tape depressors, and even chairs being used as throwing objects or even blunt force items. It is also advised to keep on hand pepper spray and a very good improvised weapon is also the fire extinguisher. The cloud is both stunning and disorienting, and the canister itself is an extremely blunt object which can be both deadly and easily used as a club. The fact that any good classroom or office should have fire extinguishers available anyway, makes this one of the best self-defense tools for this question.

There is practical rationale to this tactic that is, as well, based on military combat psychology. The term is violence of action.

[The following is an excerpt from SEAL SURVIVAL GUIDE: A Navy SEAL’s Secrets to Surviving Any Disaster, written by Former Navy SEAL and preeminent American survivalist Cade Courtley.]

Violence of action means the unrestricted use of speed, strength, surprise, and aggression to achieve total dominance against your enemy. I’m repeating this to drive home the concept that any fighting technique is useless unless you first totally commit to violence of action. Don’t be afraid to hit first, and when you do, hit hard. Remember, you are fighting because this is the best and only option. Pull the trigger — because you are in a battle for your life! Your instincts, assessment, and situational awareness have told you that you are in mortal danger. You don’t know the other person’s intentions fully, and you never can. What you can do is survive — it is your right to not be killed or harmed by another person. As with most things survival-related, fighting has its own set of priorities that need to be addressed at lightning speed.

Stories of violence of action successes are well documented in the military, showcasing how lone soldiers or Marines pushed back or dominated enemy forces when they were very much outnumbered. In an active shooter scenario, however, a single person will almost never be able to dominate an aggressor because of the presence of their gun. Working in conjunction with an entire classroom, all working to stun, disorient, and then hold down an enemy until help arrives, would have the effect of violence of action. As a seasoned shooter myself, I don’t know how I could manage to carry on an attack while simultaneously dodging a barrage of non-lethal items. As a teacher, I was extremely pleased with this approach because it addresses the danger involved in Lockdown only training, in which a static defender is always the victim to violent attackers.

If you feel this is a terrible idea, I agree with you. It does put those attacked in momentary extreme danger. It is very, very hard for me to say this, because, to me, these children aren’t statistical, but faces with names and it terrifies me to think of them being in harm. Yet, I know that for this to even be considered, they were already in extreme danger. It’s just very hard for us to imagine it that way. I also know that statistically, though some may come to harm if more organizations implement ALICE type group defense, more of these rampages will have ended before a shooter has a full 14 minutes to blow away anyone who he sees. The long term reality of this is fewer children and innocent people will die. This is particularly true of the children in the room, those who have had the choice to hide and wait taken from them. If history is our guide, these children have faced the cruelest and most unforgivable odds of all, being trapped face to face with an active shooter. Grimly speaking, they are most benefited by fighting back for their own lives.

We see this example too, demonstrated recently by actions of military veterans who took part in ending shootings or aiding others in their escape. The first of these examples is Chris Mintz.

Image courtesy of Chris Mintz – UCC Shooting Survivor.

Chris Mintz is the current man of the hour. Mintz is a 10 year veteran of the United States Army, but became national news when he protected classmates in a shooting rampage at the local community college he was attending. According to eyewitnesses, Mintz ran at the attacker and blocked a door to a classroom in the attempt to protect fellow classmates.

According to a student witness Chris

“ran to the library and pulled all the alarms. He was telling people to run. … He actually ran back towards the building where the shooting was. And he ran back into the building.”

While attempting to stop the shooter Mintz was shot an incredible seven times. He was rushed to surgery, and is now on the road to recovery and a normal life, but will require a great deal of recuperative care. To repay his heroism, a gofundme was set up for $10,000 to go toward his medical expenses. That fund is currently just over $800,000. What Chris’ heroic acts showed was how a dedicated person can slow down and prevent a shooter, making it possible for others to survive and, just as importantly, that this act itself is not a death sentence.

A better example comes from the recent attack aboard a train between France and Belgium. There, a terrorist opened fire on a train wounding a few of the passengers. Onboard the train were National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos, a recent Afghanistan veteran, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, along with a civilian friend Anthony Sadler. They earned international praise for stopping nothing less than a full on terrorist gunman in the middle of what amounted to a holiday vacation.

“My friend Alek (Skarlatos) yells, ‘Get him,’ so my friend Spencer (Stone) immediately gets up to charge the guy, followed by Alek, then myself,” Anthony Sadler said in an interview with CNN.

Stone received injuries during the fight between the Moroccan born gunman, armed with an AK-47 rifle, a pistol, several clips of ammunition and a knife. The Americans wrestled him to the ground after he opened fire. In the end, he was hog tied and, though one of the heroes received superficial injuries, no one, not even the shooter, was killed. No better example currently exists for the argument that active defense is necessary in ending the threat posed by an active shooter or terrorist.

While both of these events center around veterans who placed themselves in harm’s way while in civilian roles, what they did isn’t something that requires one to be a military person to do. In these specific cases, it was just people who believed they could control the situation, who knew how to react to danger, and who were, at least instinctively aware that the collective’s survival was most ensured by the group fighting back.


I know that it is hard for many people to accept this idea. ALICE training is highly controversial because, when it is implemented in schools, it asks teachers to encourage kids to work together to take on lethal and murderous shooters in certain, very limited, situations. No one feels this as much as I do. This has been one of the hardest articles I have ever written in the last six years of writing online. As a teacher, it’s painful for me to accept that this is even something we need to prepare for. I had to stop and gather myself several times when the thought passed through my mind of my kids (students) being put in this scenario. As a Marine, however, I know that our actions are often determined by those who want to do us harm. Sometimes, a terrible idea, such as leading a group of children to assault a deadly attacker, is the only option left to you.

I know that if this information becomes commonplace enough, many innocent people are going to make it out all right, who otherwise wouldn’t. Furthermore, when those people who are thinking about attacking schools and workplaces, or committing acts of terror see similar actions foiled in the first few minutes by groups of individuals before they turn into massacres, they wouldn’t see the sinister glory in it. They wouldn’t be able to dream of suicide after committing massacre or death by cop. Instead, they might even face prison. Their goals would be worthless.

Furthermore, ALICE initiatives take away the helplessness of the victim, and let’s them know that they have options and responsibility in their own survival, as well as the survival of others. This knowledge is empowering in that it lets them know that the power doesn’t just revolve around the attacker, but that they have agency in the matter, as well. I know in my heart that if the people who attack others like this were to become more afraid of the victims, than the victims are of them – school shootings, gun massacres, and vile acts of terror would disappear.


In Summary, two brief lists to remember:

ALICE

  • Alert – notify people around you and authorities of the problem.
  • Lockdown – secure yourself in a location so it’s hard for a terrorist to get to you and those nearby.
  • Inform – continue to keep authorities apprised of the situation and know your surroundings.
  • Counter – if you have no other options, confront or interrupt the attacker.
  • Escape/Evade/Evacuate – if you can escape the situation safely, then do so.

And the other:

  • Stay positive – A calm and collected attitude of optimism avoids panic, maintains clear thinking, and the preserves belief of survival.
  • Know the source of danger – Where is the threat? Know where the danger is coming from and stay away.
  • Find the exits – Attempt to get away from the immediate danger. Find the nearest avenue to an escape as possible.
  • Arm yourself – Anything can be used as a weapon. Make yourself as dangerous as possible in the event you are forced to defend yourself.
  • Move quickly – Never plan on staying still. Always be prepared to move and quickly get to where ever it is you need to go.
  • Use cover – when on the move, move from one strong point to the next, never staying in open longer than is needed.
  • Avoid traveling along walls – Bullets travel along walls. Try to stay at least six or so inches from the wall if you can.

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Why has ISIS still not been defeated even after a year?

You ever notice kids burning ants?

America, the whole Western world really, is kind of like that kid. And the ant, well I think you are smart enough to know that is one of those jihadist terrorist murdermongers. Like the kid with his glass, we send over our multimillion dollar planes on their many thousands of dollar sorties, to drop a few $80,000 missiles to kill a few bad guys armed with AK-47s hiding in a hole. It is a massive, massive difference in force being brought to the table. That’s awesome, right? I mean, realistically, what could that ant really do to the kid?

Well, it doesn’t take a genius to realize where the strategic problem here lies. We won’t win the war on the “ants” by killing a few of them individually with our multimillion dollar “magnifying glasses”. Honestly, once the kid realizes that everywhere he looks, there is going to be a few more ants, he’s going to get bored, and eventually, he’s going to get bit by one of those little suckers he never saw coming in for a cheapshot. Mom will probably go into a panic and make the kid come back into the house. “I killed 10 ants.” The little boy proclaims to an ambivalent family. A doting Mom might even say, “Oh, good job son. You can do no wrong.” never thinking of the ants in her yard again.

The truth is that Mom, the family, and the little boy don’t get what has become obvious to everyone else. There is an infestation going on which is going to have to be handled by taking out the mounds.

Now we run into enough problems that I am going to drop the analogy momentarily. After all, killing an ant mound would involve something like dousing the mound in some lethal poison or putting out traps to poison the queen, which I am pretty sure the human comparison is laying down a cloud of chemical weapons gas or poisoning the water supply. I think that is a bad idea, genocide you know… just to be clear.

It does need to be said that there is a mound that does exist. What makes it so difficult to defeat, in this case, is the fact that this isn’t a physical mound that we could even just wipe off the map. This is a “anthill of ideas” or to paraphrase Sam Harris, “The Motherlode of Bad Ideas“.

What you have is a system that has adopted forced coercion over the local population, which essentially means that you can’t trust the locals, because they are more afraid of being murdered by the terrorists than they feel safe knowing that you are around. The Islamic State also runs its social circles in a way that is more or less, and I am not exaggerating, like evil Kremlin spies mixed with the Nazi secret police all headed by Fundamentalists Islamic Preachers. It’s seriously sick and a forceful means of taking over communities in a way that looks peaceful to outsiders, assuming we didn’t notice the beheadings of apostates, stoning of wives, or the throwing of homosexuals off of buildings. Compound this with the fact that Islamic terrorists have also adapted terrorism into their tactics since at least the 1950’s in their fight against the French in Algeria where the killing of moderate leaders and those influential opposed to them is commonplace. As I said, this compounds the problem because it kills off those Muslim leaders who would advocate for the removal of the Islamic State, while silencing opposition within the community.Over time, all of this combines to have an extremely negative effect of literally transforming a population of 1.5 billion people.

To put some data to that statement, here is a graph of a poll done in the Middle East of mostly Arab Muslims. While the world should still delight that most the graph is red, it still showed that as many as 11% of Muslims in that region actually support what the IS is doing.

If you were to say that these percentages held true for the entire Muslim population that would be around 140 million people. So that you know, that couldn’t be said thirty years ago, so something is going on terrible in that part of the world.

Ok, now we have a broader understanding of the problem. We aren’t just dealing with the terrorists who are dressed up like, well, terrorists.

We are actually dealing with fanaticized populations who are either all being systematically converted, or, more than likely, are too terrified ( i.e. terrorism) to speak out against the ruling regime. That means, getting back to that, “You can’t trust the locals” idea, that everyone in the region is complicit with the Islamic State, like I said, either because they are fundamentalists or because they are simply trying to buy their security through favors to the madmen who have proven over and over that they would kill them if they didn’t.

Circling back to happy metaphors, that means that 90% of these ants you see below, are actually good people; terrified people, but good people nonetheless. 2% are no holds barred murderous terrorists. The 8% or so remaining are just wrong headed and given maybe a few more generations, might see that throwing homosexuals from three story buildings is socially unacceptable. That said, all 100% of them, in some capacity, are furthering the aims of the Islamic State, whether through willful alliance or forced submission. With that in mind can you spot the terrorists?

No, but because of the 90% of the people who haven’t yet been purged through annihilation or forced refugee status, we can’t exactly go the way of the Amdro option. In case you don’t realize, Amdro is a powerful fire ant killer that wipes out whole mounds dead with a chemical cocktail of 10,000 kinds of unnatural unpleasantries. If you’re slow, I’m making an allusion to the nuclear option, or as some people have said in dumber parts of the internet, “Glassing That Desert”. Speaking of depraved acts of callousness, by the way, a recent Amnesty International report currently showed that something like 1 in 120 people alive today are living in refugee status, and no one seems to care unless I write a post with cute ant cartoons.

Having said all this, I understand that it is a difficult problem. What I don’t understand, is how with the best minds in the world supposedly working to solve this problem, President Barack Obama made it clear after speaking with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during the Group of Seven (G7) nations summit in Germany less than a month ago, that he still doesn’t have a plan to deal with it. Whatever your personal view on whether the United States and the West going to Iraq should have happened, we are now and for many years to come, tied to the fate of that region. We, like so many others, have major responsibilities there. 

That’s why so many people like me are so very disappointed with the overall work done by the White House and the State Department over the last six years to quell these exponentially growing international disturbances.

While there have been many victories for the Obama legacy, it can’t be understated enough that Iraq will stand as one of the greatest black marks on his record going right back to his original speeches saying that the United States should pull out as quickly as possible before he even reached the presidency. Given the mess with the IS, it is pretty obvious now that it was a mistake to just uproot and leave. I’ve made the point before that the United States didn’t leave as much as the Iraqis offered terms of their stay that were unacceptable, and the administration did little to prevent it. The problem that myself and many political analysts have had, was that there was very little done to attempt to negotiate out of that situation. This leads many to assume that the situation was just a convenient out to fulfill campaign promises to leave Iraq by the 2012 election, while also having the political insurance for later that it wasn’t “technically” the fault of the Obama State Department if anything bad happens later, headed at the time by Hillary Clinton. It’s an issue of bad faith. The administration left Iraq, knowing that they couldn’t handle their own security at the time.

Look, it was made obvious to me growing up since sex ed class, pulling out is never an adequate form of protection. As an Iraq vet, now watching the region I served in overrun by terrorists, I can’t help but ask why it was allowed that after years of bringing that country into a state of order, it was allowed to descend back into utter chaos though negligence of the highest order. Yes, it was in a state of order when we left, which is proven most ironically by the very site dedicated to showing how much we failed there.

Now, the website iraqbodycount.com is publishing data showing that some areas of Iraq are facing worse carnage than they ever experienced during the Bush era.

17,049 civilians have been recorded killed in Iraq during 2014 (up to Dec 30). This is roughly double the number recorded in 2013 (9,743), which in turn was roughly double the number in 2012 (4,622). These numbers do not include combatant deaths, which even by the most cautious tallies have also seen a sharp rise in 2014.

Yet, we still have no plan. What’s worse, is that the movement being carried on by the Islamic State is one which is easily spreading outside of Iraq and Syria. Now, IS militants are attacking and pushing out major population groups in Libya more than two thousand miles away from Iraq and separated by at least three countries. I honestly don’t know why people aren’t talking about this more.

While the President’s team has surrounded himself with a lot of very good press recently, it just seems like there isn’t time to deal with what is, realistically, the most vital issue threatening world security today. In the words of his current Secretary of State, John Kerry, made in one of the most outlandishly uncalled for attacks on the single group of Americans doing the most to prevent the spread of fundamentalist terrorism, the United States military:

“You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Well, the administration hasn’t done their homework and they haven’t made an effort to be smart, so now, as Kerry predicted in 2006, they’re stuck in Iraq.


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Will Terrorists ever use Drones?

Absolutely.

I was doing research for a book I am writing on the future of war, and I explored this topic. Since using drones to commit terrorist actions hasn’t really been a thing yet, (Criminals yes. Terrorists, not quite) I decided my best place to research would be to drive down to a local remote controlled hobby shop near where I used to live and just ask a few questions. I had to introduce myself as an old Marine and Sci-Fiction writer before asking any of my other questions, because leading off with, “I’m interested in knowing how I could make a flying bomb.” would have probably not gone over so well. What the guy said amazed and terrified me, more so, his assistant who quickly developed a new respect for his nerdy boss.

What the conversation left me with was a firm understanding that terror drones will be a part of the future of warfare that the military is, unfortunately, going to have just as many problems with as we give to the bad guys. Here are a few of the key take aways that I have developed from the conversation with my friend at the hobby shop and my own experiences in Iraq fighting a counter-insurgency war.

We are taking about VBIEDs – Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices which, during my day, meant car bombs that were either parked or driven to places where they were used. In the future, we might start seeing these things in the air. A few things need to be kept in mind though when thinking about VBIEDs or IEDs of any kind.

1) Payload

The most important element for a terrorist weapon is the devastation it can inflict. During the Iraq War, that devastation was massive. That’s because the terrorists had access for much of the war to unused artillery rounds taken from Saddam’s Iraqi Army after the fall of his regime.

I’ve seen more Humvees leveled by these things than I care to remember. They are seriously massive communicators of destruction, but also, serious limiters of capabilities if we are talking about drones.  Those things weigh around 40 to 80 lbs. Yes, it would be terrifying if one of those dropped from the sky (they are artillery shells after all), but there is no practical way for most drones available today that are terrorists (I’ll get to that in a minute) to carry something like that. Take Amazon’s plan to start droning things all over major cities. They are limited by weight because those adorable little propellers are not going to be able to carry something as massive as an IKEA bookshelf (between 40 to 80 lbs).

That means that the weapons are going to have to evolve, or at least become more potent. They aren’t going to be able to carry massive bombs capable of doling out huge earth shattering explosions. They are going to need to carry smaller explosives. That doesn’t mean they will be less deadly. No, in the future it might be possible to load up pipe bombs, smaller IEDs, loaded with shrapnel in the form of screws, bolts, nails. This weapon doesn’t level buildings or destroy armored vehicles like the above option did, but it has the ability to brutally maim people who are close enough to the blast, making them visual advocates and symbols for the depravity of the terrorists for years to come. Drones carrying these could fly it directly into a crowded restaurant, through the window of a politician’s office, or even over the stands of a crowd at a sports stadium.

2) Cost

Cost is king for weapons manufacturing, as with anything. Terrorists aren’t going to have the multimillion funds that first world nations do to produce highly sophisticated weapons like the Reaper or Global Hawk drones used by the Americans, nor will they have their $80,000 Hellfire missile. Terrorists run on shoestring budgets and they’ve done quite well at it.

Part of my conversation with the hobby shop guy dealt with cost. I had a design for a terror drone and he made me realize just how bad an idea it might be. For example, for the situation above that required a pipe bomb in a stadium, you would need at least a few thousand dollars to make such a weapon. That sounds like nothing compared to the costs of creating the F-35 Strike Fighter, but when you think about the volume that terrorists need to create the terror effect they desire, those costs are extremely prohibitive. Take the below for example. These are estimates on the number of rocket attacks which were delivered from the Hamas terrorist organization.

It can be a lot. Below is Iraq. Terrorists are featured in red.

As I said, when you deal with high volume operations, unit costs can be prohibitive. In the Hamas/Israel example, one of the most used rocket designs, the Qassam, can be built for as little as $800 American. Considering what that can do with it’s 9 pound warhead over a 17 mile range, that’s a pretty good deal.

But to produce a drone, like what we think of as drones that can carry the kinds of warheads we are talking about will be much more. Some tech analysts have stated that the Prime Air drone (Amazon) could run as much as $50,000 a piece to deliver a 5 lbs “package” to anywhere within 10 miles (in under 30 minutes though!). That is way too much for a sensible terrorist to ever consider paying, especially when you consider that if those things are near enough to the ground, they are getting shot down by everything from surface to air missiles to slingshots.

What my colleague instead suggested would be something akin to balsa wood gliders. Balsa wood is an incredibly light and cheap material used for toy planes and RC hobbyists. Taken from the hands of children and old men, though, these tools could be used to some devastating effect. They are made of cheap materials which are widely available. You can even buy them in kits. Once they reach altitude, they don’t have to use the engine for guidance and can glide silently to their terminal destination. And lastly, they are small, made of light materials, and slow moving. I am not an expert on radar, but that scary. It sort of sounds like a large bird.

I’ll provide this as a proof of concept. Note that the vast majority of the cost of this plane goes into its aesthetics and ensuring it can be recovered, both unnecessary for a suicide drone. It’s also important to know that the RC – Remote Controlled – element isn’t necessary. All flight paths can be programmed into modern systems.

3) Complexity

One of the things that has prevented more people from suffering the threat of terrorism is the complexity involved in various systems. Bombs are pretty complicated to build and not just anyone can make one. Since, historically, terrorists have had two main pools of recruiting to choose from, fanatics and the unemployed, rocket scientists have not been easy for the average terrorist leader to come by. Most of the time, a few key bomb masters, such as an Algerian chemistry student who joined against the French forces in the Algerian War, are the leaders of the munitions manufacturing process. When they are killed, they take with them large amounts of the enemy’s capability to do harm. If they don’t leave quality apprentices, then the movement may have been ended with the death of only one man. Usually, those individuals who carry on in the master’s footsteps are less capable in most regards.

Take colloquially, the example of Jesse Pinkman.

In the show Breaking Bad, a brilliant chemist, Walter White teams up with scumbag degenerate methhead Jessie Pinkman in a scheme to cook meth. In the early part of the show, it is comical to see how inept Jessie actually is at the science of cooking. Walter bestows his knowledge and by the time that the series ends, Jessie is an expert of cooking meth as good as Walter’s.

There is a point to be made here, though. Even at the end of the show, Jessie isn’t as good at cooking than his teacher Walter. Even after a year of intensive training, he is only an expert of cooking Walter’s way. He will forever lack Walter’s exercise in the science of chemistry which would allow Walter to produce many, many other kinds of recipes, if he chose. Jessie may know the way he was taught, but could never produce alternative products or where he wasn’t allowed to use quality materials and processes similar to his teacher’s. He can’t improvise like Walter could.

Wow, that was tangential example, but it serves the point that complexity in operations is an extremely limiting factor. You take the few evil geniuses out, then their apprentices are left without the ability to improvise on parts, resources, implementation, or usage because they came into the act of making bombs as a terrorist who only cares about killing and not as a lifelong scientist who then joined a terrorist operation.

Now let’s take that bomb and stick it in a drone. The first obvious problem is that you are going to need people who can build and service drones, something very few people know how to do yet. The information is out there and growing in the RC communities, but it still isn’t a respected art form in the terrorist world. So let’s say we take out a few of the engineers who know how to make the birds fly. That will be a setback for them. Let’s say instead, we take out the guy who knows how to program them on their automated missions. That’s a major setback. Let’s say we take out the guy who knows how to build the warheads. That’s a huge setback because now the other two are demoted down to nerdy RC enthusiasts. Now, let’s say that they have all these geniuses rolled up into one. How replaceable is that guy? How long before he can pass off what he knows? How hard would it be to disrupt the communication networks he possesses? How devastating would killing that one guy  be? Would his people be able to adapt?

Depending on the complexity, not often, but in some cases, yeah. In the case of the Amazon Death Drone, no. What happens if the terrorists are cut off from making the engines that powers the propellers? What happens if the application they use to pilot the drone is brought down? What if the chemical they use to either fuel the thing or build the bombs gets internationally outlawed or embargoed? As I said, will they be able to adapt, or a better question, how many compromises will these people be able to make before the weapon is no longer lethal?

The fact is, terrorists have to keep weapons system as simple as possible or they can’t replicate their processes. For a terrorist organization to work, it can’t revolve around the genius of a few masterminds. It needs to be weapons that can be produced by many people, even those with very little education. Pinkman could keep a drone program up for a while, but eventually, he wouldn’t be able to adapt to circumstances and changes in the environment in the way that Walter White would.

Sorry, I spent way too long making that point. There are, however, alternatives that are simpler than what we normally think of as drones. These methods already have abundant supplies and designs in existence for the would be terrorist to experiment with and provide the flexibility he needs to do terrible things. The hobby shop guy I talked to was really adamant about the balsa wood, enough I realized he’s thought of this before.

What do I see happening?

I hypothesize for my story that weapons like the one pictured above, (yep) may be loaded with apps created with the purpose of using GPS enabled phones to autonomously steer planes like this. Being that DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is actually funding efforts to make software programming something that is super simple for everyone, this feat might actually not be as complex as think. Thanks DARPA. Once in flight these planes, perhaps a few hundred dollars a piece up to the point, might be capable of being loaded with small pipe bombs or, more practically, napalm. Napalm is any chemical that has two qualities, it is very sticky and it will burn a long time. Napalm is also extremely cheap, made from readily available materials anywhere, and easy to use. There are even recipes all over the internet that will make you sad about humanity. Being that the plane itself becomes part of the warhead using napalm, it will literally be a weapon raining fire from the sky. En masse, that can be a weapon that is devastating, cheap, and easy to use.

Oh, and if you were keeping track, the military definition for this a cruise missile, but thanks to the advances in modern military technology, available to just about anyone for only $500. Enjoy the future.


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Do cheap, readily available civilian drones potentially pose a new and unique threat in terms of terrorism?

ISIS attacks Muhammad Themed Art Show in Texas – Then They Died.

A recent news event from yesterday centers around a few jihadists’ hapless attack in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. So far, there are reports that at least one of the attackers were on the FBI terror watch list and that he wanted to join jihadist forces, Al-Shabaab in Somalia. The second man is reported as his roommate.

The attack took place on a political protest on Islamic fundamentalism and art show awarding prizes for the best depiction of Muhammad. The show was put together by Pamela Geller. Geller and other organizers are stating the intended purpose of the event is to bring attention to the Islam’s growth in the United States and Europe as well as and the violent nature within large segments of its population. The organizers also have considered the event one demonstrating their rights afforded to them to do so by First Amendment protections and Free Speech privileges. Geller and others also reported that the contest was a response to the Charlie Hebdo attack in which numerous employees of the often offensive magazine were murdered for similar works.

While I would like to agree that this sort of display is religionist by nature, it would take a strong will to not call it embarrassingly prophetic for the religion of peace. Quite honestly, there was nothing stopping the Islamists from mounting a counter-protest at the door with signs instead of guns. It would have done a lot more good. That hasn’t stopped sites like Vox from blaming Geller and the other participants of the protest for provoking their attempted murder. I’m pretty sure that women’s rights activists call that “blaming the victim”… something about short skirts. So, while I will agree that the show was without some degree of taste, it proved a lot more points than the jihadists did. Then again, so was Charlie Hebdo, but that magazine has been heralded for its dedication to free speech and spreading the truth, at least by their standards. Throw an American face on it though and you have a racist. Ironic. Food for thought, the picture above, that’s the first place winner.

Oh well, oddly enough for once, American racism isn’t the main story here. The main story is the attack itself. There are reports that precipitating the attack, one of the shooters announced his intentions on Twitter, which was retweeted by various ISIS accounts, in effect, taking responsibility for it and showing some degree of foreknowledge. During that assault, one police officer was shot in the ankle. He has since been released from the hospital with no further injuries. The two shooters though, both armed with rifles and explosives, were shot and killed by police not long after the attack began. In a powerful show of force, the Garland, TX art show proved to be one of the first times when a premeditated terror attack on a civilian center was prevented with no loss of life (for the good guys anyway) and the terrorists involved (everywhere) thoroughly humiliated in their worthless martyrdom.

Well, Texas police had a response of their own. It sounded something like “Come at me, Bro.”

Whatever your stance on the protest, or whatever your stance on the attack, yesterday was a massive victory against jihadist forces worldwide. They offered a humiliating first strike by ISIS in America, while giving American defense and intelligence agencies much to research in preparation for future attacks. Even more so than this, it showcased the true incompetence of ISIS outside the Middle East while showing the world a humiliating display of terrorist nincompoopery, the jackasses. It also did a great job proving all of us who predicted this sort of thing right, only I could not have hoped for a first blood nearly this good.  Basically, we all need to say to ourselves that it is a good day, for whatever the reason, when 10,000 jihadists simultaneously face palm for the terror attack they were too stupid not to claim as their own.

That said, results stand as followed: Garland Police – 2, Terrorist – 0.

For that, all of Texas earns an eagle.

Will ISIS attack the United States?

I’ll be straight to the point. Yes, but not in the way you’re probably thinking.

The group we call ISIS will never have a force capable of achieving some sort of international campaign to conquer the United States. Some World War II pitched battle, land exchange style of warfare isn’t going to happen. They way they have been fighting in the Middle East won’t do anything for them abroad. They were barely able to achieve significant gains in Syria and Iraq, owing those victories more to the filling of a vacuum caused by incompetence in the Iraqi military and governance and the Syrians engaged in a state of civil war than to their own military competence. To expect them to expand a great deal beyond their current borders militarily is far reaching, at best.

What is more likely is something like what we saw in France with Charlie Hebdo. Individuals who have fanatical ties and may have been radicalized by direct intervention overseas (such as with the three shooters in France) are also a major threat. Individuals who have actually made a presence in those theaters are a different sort of monster when they return. This is why when people leave the United States presumably to join the Islamic State, they are watched extremely closely by the various intelligence agencies.

The threat of a second 9/11 event is also a legitimate concern. It’s important to remember that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are much, much more advanced and well organized an organization than was the Mujaheddin of Afghanistan in the 1980’s. From that came Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda was able to complete the 9/11 operation with only a total annual budget of $30 million for all international operations. To put that to scale, according to Al Araby Al Jadeed, ISIL’s budget now stands at $2bn with a surplus of $250m. I’m not technically saying that another 9/11 is on its way. Islamic law actually does have rules about this which even ISIL must obey to maintain legitimacy with their followers. While terrorist attacks are obviously allowable by such groups, there does need to be an official declaration of war for it to be legal, such as what occurred in Bin Laden’s Fatwa and subsequent declaration in 1996. That I know of, no such official declaration has been made by the Islamic State. To do so would bring about the immediate retaliatory strike which would be nothing less than an existential threat to the Islamic State’s ability to survive as a land empire. That said, right now, it really doesn’t behoove them to declare war on the United States and it would be an even worse strategy to dedicate a massive force to an operation such as a second 9/11, invoking the historical wrath of the US. That also isn’t to say such a thing is impossible. There is a legal loophole that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s declaration of war may still be legally valid as, by many interpretations, ISIL is an offshoot of the Al Qaeda that existed in 1996.

What is much more likely, though are attacks like what we saw at the Sydney Lindt Chocolate shooting in Australia late last year where a single gunman attacked the store and took hostages and to pull it even closer to home, the Oklahoma beheading in September of last year. Charlie Hebdo in January and the more recent shooting in Denmark also fall into this category. These events were carried out by individual Islamic fundamentalists, inspired by Islamist fundamentalist principles. They are often dismissed as “Lone Gunmen” or simply “Random Fanatics” by media at large, with their ties to fundamentalist Islamic factions and ideology underplayed. Often they are dismissed by the general public as being the work of the mentally unstable and no real connection to Islam, or sometimes rather, no connection to “real Islam”. Symanantics not withstanding, this is a pernicious viewpoint to take, as it is not always the case and rarely the whole truth. Events like these are praised by the Islamic State who has often directly asked sympathizers to conduct such terrorist attacks everywhere. A new poll recently showed that as many as 11% of Muslims in the areas of the Middle East may be sympathetic to Islamic State views. Knowing this, we have to be concerned if the idea that “only a few deranged fanatics” aren’t actually an indicator of a much larger problem.

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, based in Doha, Qatar, surveyed the opinions in the Arab world in relation to IS and the international coalition against it. Their findings were published on November 11.

Findings from telephone interviews with 5,100 respondents in seven Arab countries (Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and “Palestine”) and in Syrian refugee camps located in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey show that 85 percent of Arabs hold negative views of IS, to varying degrees. This compares to only 11 percent of the Arab public whose views towards the group were either “Positive” or “Positive to some extent.”

The Islamic diaspora is estimated to consist of more than 1.3 billion souls. While I don’t want to raise flags, 10%, or even 1% of such a massive population that is sympathetic to the cause of the Islamic State is alarming. Though potential fanatics are possible in any community, they are not evenly distributed. Some Mosques may be places of concern and may even function to funnel support toward IS or spread their ideas, but the majority are still benign in nature in regard to this question. As always, we must not underscore the majority of Muslims who do not support violent interpretations of the doctrine, for they are also victims in this. They will face the suspicion and fear of those who are legitimately concerned by these trends in the years to come until they have purged support for IS from their own communities.

Having said all this, the “Lone Gunman” style of attack, as displayed in Oklahoma, Sydney, Paris, and now Denmark will likely become not just more likely, but the norm in not just the United States, but across Europe and everywhere else where Islamic fighters feel conflict, as well.


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A Look at the Tactics of Charlie Hebdo by a Military Veteran

We’ve had very well planned assaults happening for a very long time now. People just haven’t been paying attention.

 


Historical Context

Consider all the way back to 9/11. You had 19 men who were all deep agents of Al Qaeda. That means that many served as troops with the Islamic Mujahideen of Afghanistan against the Soviets and were elite warfighters of that force. They were all extremely vetted, meaning that they either served directly with the core of Al Qaeda’s founders or were family. Furthermore, these were not just poor and ignorant farmers. They were all highly literate, highly educated men of connected backgrounds. For example, Mohamed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the operation, was an architect trained in Cairo and Hamburg. Others also held professional degrees. Logistics were an important factor, as well. For the operation to be a success, the 19 had to all be brought into the United States and housed for several months. They had to be trained, each in their various roles for the operations. They were organized into cells. There was no way they would be left in one 19 man house for fear of detection. So they had to be split up. That would also mean that there needed to be an overwatch for them to make sure that they didn’t back out or blow the operation. This meant communication lines had to be created and a bureaucracy of agents supporting the would be suicide bombers. All this, the planning, the coordination, the admin, logistics, and the leadership, required a vast network of handlers and overseers for the operation. It went far beyond 19 men, themselves qualifying easily as special forces, operating for months, implementing a plan years in the making.

This had the masterful effect of pulling the Americans into a prolonged war in the Middle East, unsettling the US, but more importantly, throwing the entire region into turmoil and disarray. By bringing in Western intervention, through the manipulation of American sentimentality and reactionary mentality, they destabilized longstanding semi-secular governments of the Middle East, making way for the caliphate that was always their real primary goal.

Skip to a while later and you see Madrid. In 2004 Spain was in active support of the American presence in Iraq. On the morning of 11 March 2004 – three days before the general elections in Spain, a series of nearly simultaneous, coordinated bombings against the Cercanías commuter train system of Madrid took place. The explosions killed 191 people and wounded 1,800. This also involved a massive and sophisticated planning method where Madrid’s security system had to have been compromised completely for months. The result was the nation’s complete turnaround in the elections, pulling favor away from the Iraq War and isolating the United States from European support.

Al Qaeda is not, in the least, unsophisticated in their attacks. Every major operation they make is implemented by the best and most vetted troops able to be recruited from among various jihadi forces. Their attacks are planned and coordinated with the intent to manipulate Western sentiments to their favor toward destabilizing the Middle East. They further increase their leverage by using this propaganda to build a death cult of fanatics willing to sacrifice themselves in the realization of a grand dream of the new Caliphate, as the “heroes” of 9/11 did.


The Raid on Charlie Hebdo

One eye witness account, that of Corinne Rey, a designer known as Coco, has told L’Humanité said that she was forced to let the attackers into the Charlie Hebdo building. She said:

I had gone to pick up my daughter from daycare. Arriving at the door of the newspaper building, two hooded and armed men brutally threatened us.

They wanted to enter, go up. I typed the code. They shot Wolinski, Cabu … it lasted five minutes … I had taken refuge under a desk …
They spoke French perfectly … claiming to be Al-Qaida.

Other reports have stated that the men knew the individuals whom they were targeting precisely. In one account I’ve seen, attackers called for the editors and cartoonists by name, recognized them and shot them on the spot while ignoring many others. The fact that they did this doesn’t mean it was an inside job by any means, but means that they most likely had very large intelligence profiles on these men. These files were no doubt collected and groomed prior to the operation and delivered to the two. This also indicates a larger network of administrators and intelligence gatherers, perhaps even utilizing known connections with intelligence services of many Islamic nations, a practice seen in the past. I say it wasn’t inside because of a few mistakes made, namely the two first went into the wrong building, two buildings down from Charlie Hebdo. They demanded from a local delivery person direction to the right building, where they encountered Corinne Rey, who they needed to open the door.

In a video of the incident taken by an onlooker in the wrong place at the right time, shared by the Guardian, two gunmen are seen exiting a car presumably near the Charlie Hebdo building. This can be speculated because a news van is seen near where the shooters brutally gunned down a police officer, himself a fellow Muslim.

From what we can see plainly, the two shooters are well armed, both carrying what appear to be AK-47’s, as well as well armored with additional gear. He is wearing what appears to be either some form of load bearing vest, which the military uses to carry additional ammunition, or a bullet proof vest of desert coloring. The truth is, probably both. At the very least, he has lots of ammunition easily available.

More concerning than his equipment, which could be bought and given to any suicidal maniac, is his tactical carry and use of the weapon. The shooter nearest the camera concerns me. As a former US Marine Corps marksmanship instructor I see many things that speak of advanced military style tactical discipline. Both shooters seem to wield the Russian made AK-47 adeptly. These weapons are readily available by many avenues, and abundant in the Middle Eastern conflict, but the ability to fire it well is in less supply. The weapon is capable of automatic fire and fires a larger round than the US made M-16. This means that the weapon has extremely deadly potential, but also requires greater skill to use well in delivering accurate fire. The two assassins demonstrate a knowledge of the weapon’s use, obvious by the casualty count, but also displayed in their carry. Note how the nearer shooter holds his weapon with elbows inward pressed against his body. He also has his body firmly behind the weapon to absorb recoil and raises the weapon to eye level as he is sighted-in while searching around corners for his victim. This shows some degree of military style training and discipline in weapons use.

In reading a profile of the two suspects put together by CNN, this is exactly the type of attack they would have been prepared for.

 

Both brothers [Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi] were in the U.S. database of known or suspected international terrorists, known as TIDE, and also had been on the no-fly list for years, a U.S. law enforcement official said.  BFMTV reported that like his brother [Cherif], Said Kouachi was born in Paris and was known to police.

The younger of the two brothers [Said] has spent time in jail for links to terrorism. He was arrested in January 2005, at age 22, when he and another man were about to set off for Syria en route to Iraq. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 2008 for being part of a jihadist recruitment ring in Paris that sent fighters to join the conflict in Iraq. Kouachi didn’t actually go to prison after the trial because half his three-year sentence was suspended and he had already spent enough time in pretrial detention, Bloomberg reported. He was released from custody before the trial. In 2010, Kouachi was charged in connection with a foiled plot to aid the escape of Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, an Algerian Islamist imprisoned for bombing a Paris commuter rail station in 1995. But public prosecutors later dropped the charges, according to Le Monde.

Of the older brother, Cherif, little is known. He kept a much lower profile than his younger brother.

A U.S. official says the United States was given information from the French intelligence agency that Said Kouachi traveled to Yemen as late as 2011 on behalf of the al Qaeda affiliate there. Once in Yemen, the older brother received a variety of weapons training from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — the affiliate in Yemen — the official said, including on how to fire weapons.

Mohammed Benali, who runs the mosque in Gennevilliers, the suburb where Cherif Kouachi’s apartment is, said the two brothers used to come to Friday prayers there “not assiduously but regularly.” He told Le Figaro that he knew Said Kouachi better, but that he hadn’t seen either of the brothers at the mosque in at least two years.

Charlie Hebdo shooting: Who are the suspects? – CNN.com

The question remains, though now seems obvious, about the location of the two during the last two years. Various reports differ on speculating between one or both of the brothers recently visited Yemen. A French source close to the French security services told CNN that investigators have evidence to suggest one of the brothers — it is unclear which — traveled to Syria sometime in the past year. USA Today reported that they both returned from Syria in the summer. I say obvious, because wherever these two men were, they were very close to terrorist networks which provided them with ample ability to transform from none-to-special ordinary Parisians to fantasized jihadists.

Other images also showcase the extent of their capabilities.

In shooting circles a “tight group” refers to a shooter’s ability to place a collection of rounds near to the same central aiming point. As shown by the damage to this police vehicle, the shooter was able to deliver two very good groups with only a few strays. This is impressive shooting for shoulder fired, automatic weapons with such large calibers.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, their plan was so complete, they have yet to be caught. The fact that so much time has gone by, probably means that the men are already safe and sound in the Middle East. The gunmen were seen escaping into a black vehicle and going to the Paris suburbs where they abandoned their car and jumped into another. Tactically speaking, the whole event exists to spell out a very clear message to many: Islamic terrorists have the power to create an extremely complex and sophisticated raid and assassination against any Western soft targets, in any cities they want and they could do it again without suffering harm.

 


The Raid on Charlie Hebdo

The big question, at least the big question to me, is “Why?” I understand the obvious answer, they wanted to avenge the blasphemous portrayal of their prophet. Having two homegrown Parisian jihadists just arrive on the scene may have simply been too good of an opportunity to let go. Perhaps, all they really did want was to send a message to the West, as well as their own people. Disrespect of their prophet or their organization won’t be tolerated, and retribution will be too grand not to be showcased. Perhaps they wanted to raise tensions in France, the nation with the largest Islamic population in Europe. France has a full 10% Muslim population which, if properly motivated by revenge and retribution attacks by overzealous Frenchmen, could produce many new converts for jihad. Observe what was done with two. Imagine twenty.

Al Qaeda, though, doesn’t ever just do something for the “obvious” reason. They are very nuanced and their planning is many layers deep. As with 9/11 being used to generate rage in Americans to destabilize the entire Middle East, and Madrid being used to encourage Spain to vote against a government which would support the Iraq war, Al Qaeda has shown that they have mastered the art of manipulating Western mentalities to greater, yet less obvious purposes. What I wonder is, what are these purposes?

I’m free to speculate, as it is asked by the OP. Charles Stuart Forstall also brings to the table a theory that is very valid so I will start there.

You have to keep in mind that the primary audience for the terrorists is on their home turf and they are seeking whatever advantage they can gain with those whom they might woo either to their cause or to their support. I am of the mind, though I know this is a somewhat contentious idea, that the attack was meant to provide the terrorists with western provided media items, memes, that they can use to grow their support base.

Westerners outside of France seem to have a hard enough time grasping the proper context of the cartoons and I think that this is also part of the strategy. The images will circulate in places where people don’t have access to the internet or to “fact checking” methods like we do. In the end all that matters will be the image and not the unintelligible speech bubbles.

Another theory, lending itself to Charles’, is that the attacks may have been used to encourage additional funding and support from Arab patrons, the long time financiers of global Islamic terrorism. In recent months we have seen drastic changes in the Arabian Peninsula in two forms; one the reduction of the price of oil has upset many of the economies in the oil dependent region and frozen expendable funds for terrorist donations, and two being that these donations have finally been outlawed by the Saudi Arabian monarch. I haven’t done the research to see how successful that initiative has been, but the fact of the matter is that the two mean dangerous times for jihadists abroad if they don’t adapt soon.

Lastly, there is one more motive I would like to pose. From its inception the group known in the West as ISIS has been a force for great destruction and havoc in the region of Iraq and Syria. It was actually born of Al Qaeda in Iraq before breaking off to take part in the Syrian Civil War where it evolved. During that time they reinvented themselves as the “Islamic States” a modern day Caliphate. Al Qaeda, Arabic for “the base” disagreed with this. They felt that the creation of a true Islamic State was premature and should be held off. At that point, the two were at odds with one another. Recently, however, there has been news that the two groups have reconciled. In another answer I said that it should be noted that the attack took place seemingly in response to the unexpected boldness of French bombing offensives in Syria and Iraq over the last few months. There, the allied bombing campaign has had tremendous effect in breaking key points of the battlespace and opening the way for advances by Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army. For the French to decide to back off, would very much relieve front line fighters in Syria and Iraq. All I’m saying is that we haven’t heard a great deal from Al Qaeda in quite a while, so why such a bold move? Why now? Why France?

As I have said, everything is speculation at this point. What Western readers need to understand, though, is that this raid on Charlie Hebdo was not just some rogue terrorists who got lucky. It was not the act of some “lone gunmen”. It was an advanced and well planned, well supported military raid. Not only this, but it isn’t the first. It is the continuation of a very long history of these raids. What might be scary though, as many have feared, insurgents trained and blooded in combat in Syria and Iraq are returning home to Europe and the West. This probably won’t be the last time we see a story like this. This time though, they are good enough to get away, rather than just blowing themselves to pieces.


unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.