The anonymous telephone call to the Homeland Security Operations Center on Nebraska Avenue in Washington, D.C. indicated a threat to the rail transport system on the east coast sometime during the next month. In Pennsylvania, a policeman investigating reports of a series of explosions in an abandoned rail yard reveals entire sections of rail cut from the expert emplacement of plastique explosives. A CIA source in Bagram, Afghanistan reports that a sleeper cell in Newark, New Jersey has been activated by Al Qaida’s leadership to carry out an attack at a large sporting event during the next “several weeks.”
Informed of the CIA report, but equipped with very limited information, CTC officials work with the FBI field office in New Jersey to identify the identities of the sleeper cell members. A DHS review of major east coast sporting events reveals no less than forty-eight professional sporting events on the east coast, from Florida to Maine, scheduled during the next four weeks. State Department and Customs investigators conduct a search of all valid visas for temporary residents of New Jersey and find 134 student and work visas originating from Afghanistan and Pakistan—nearly half are men.
A hardware store owner just outside Newark calls the police, reporting the cash purchase of five sets of large, heavy duty bolt cutters by a man with a heavy foreign accent, olive skin and a dark, thick mustache, wearing sunglasses. The department store surveillance camera shows grainy images of the man. A survey of credit cards from the 134 Afghani and Pakistani men and women issued entry visa reveals the rental of an oversize van by Mohammed I. Khan during the last day.
Armed with scant information about the possibility of a major sporting event being targeted by terrorists, the Homeland Security Council convenes a twenty-four hour CSG to monitor information and coordinate the combined interagency response to the threat. One night, when a senior homeland security incident manager shows up for a late night secure telephone call in the Homeland Security Operations Center, a Coast Guard communicator overhears his conversation about threats to east coast rail transportation and a major sporting event and points to the national playoffs scheduled in two days at Camden Yards, in Baltimore. Pulling out a map of Baltimore, the communicator shows the incident manager the close proximity to the railway running through the city, past Camden Yards. The incident manager looks at the map and then back at the communicator, clearly alarmed. The communicator concludes by saying, “You see, I’m from Baltimore, Sir.”
Further investigation at DHS that night reveals a shipment of industrial chemicals to include chlorine, sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Apex, North Carolina scheduled to depart in two days, passing through Baltimore during the seventh inning of the first playoff game at Camden Yards.
Without knowing the whereabouts of the sleeper cell members, the Playoff game is quickly moved to Chicago. The Homeland Security Advisory System protection level is elevated to Severe (Red) for the East Coast cities and for the rail cargo transport system. Surveillance is placed in airports at all international ticket counters. Five men in their 20s and 30s are apprehended at the check-in counter in Newark. After an professional nanny recognizes the remaining Al Qaida cell members from published photos on CNN, five men are arrested by the Maine State Police, as they cross the Canadian Border at Houlton, Maine into Belleville, New Brunswick. The hardware store owner who reported the information regarding the suspicious purchases from his store was publicly awarded a $100,000 reward for the tip that helped lead to the arrests of the terrorist cell.
Scenarios like this illustrate how public warning can assist in preempting a terrorist network. If used creatively and deliberately, public warning can work in concert with intelligence and law enforcement efforts by providing needed “connective tissue” between seemingly disparate pieces of information to answer stated information requirements (unknowns). Once established, information linkages can be crucial in interdicting a planned terrorist attack. In some cases, public warning can actually be used to induce terrorists to take desired actions that may lead to their arrest. Blogger, J.P. Campbell, advocates a counter-network that uses public warning strategically, employed fully in the offense:
Any counter or proactive network must somehow predict or lead terrorists to where you want them. Further, it has to do this more than once, virally, or it too will face extinction through their adaptation.
Steve Delonga, CEO of Ste-Del Services in Alexandria, Virginia points to the value of offering rewards to citizens who report information that prevents a terrorist attack from occurring.
Public warning shouldn’t just be about spreading awareness. It’s much more than that. When it comes to defeating terrorists, the public needs to be the eyes and ears of law enforcement. What’s wrong with offering rewards? Ultimately, dollars and cents matter to people…if the public perceives a monetary reward for reporting suspicious activity, they’ll be more likely to do so, regardless of risk because they’ll also be looking. The video store clerk responsible for reporting the information that led to disruption of the terrorist cell [planning to attack Fort Dix] should receive a very public reward to encourage others to do the same when they see something that’s not quite right. Why isn’t his photo on the front page of every newspaper around the country, giving him full credit?
Steve Delonga’s opinion is representative of many corporate CEOs I interviewed, who see the government’s efforts to manage public perceptions in the war on terrorism as severely flawed.