Dodging Bullets: Homeland Security Lessons from Mumbai and Fort Dix

Awareness, alertness, and vigilance by businessmen and women who meet and deal with people all day can make all the difference between a successful terrorist attack and a thwarted one. Read about how one small business employee’s watchful eye helped spoil a would-be terrorist attack.

Speaking before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs earlier this month, Under Secretary Charles Allen noted that the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the FBI, routinely analyzes and provides information on overseas terrorist threats and attacks with other government agencies and the private sector in an effort to assist them in protecting the nation, its vital assets and citizens.

Allen testified before the Senate Committee on the analysis done on the horrific terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. The well-trained and well-armed terrorists came ashore to the coastal city and then fanned out and attacked multiple locations, including commercial, transportation and religious sites.

Mumbai was a “low-tech” attack, Allen explained, were the terrorists fended off Indian responders with automatic rifles and grenades — the weapons of a basic infantryman. However, the terrorists were also aided by technology enablers, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, and satellite and cell phones, which helped them coordinate their lethal actions.

“The assailants apparently were familiar with target layouts and security postures, indicating pre-operational planning and surveillance,” Allen told the senators.

“Terrorists are always seeking to identify weaknesses in our security and exploit them. Vulnerability assessments used to develop security and protective protocols must look closely at our nation’s assets from the perspective of the terrorist, vigorously seek the weaknesses that they can exploit, and work tirelessly to minimize if not eliminate those weaknesses.”

Target knowledge was paramount to the effectiveness of the attack, and the terrorists were able to collect sufficient information on all targets to execute a successful attack.

“Surveillance by terrorist operatives or support personnel represents an opportunity to identify and interdict terrorist operatives,” Allen said.

And that’s where business people and citizens can make all the difference between a successful attack on a city’s business center and a thwarted attack, as was the case with the planned terrorist action at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

Thankfully, store clerk Brian Morgenstern was alert and security-conscious when he viewed the content of a video he was asked to transfer to DVD. The video offered images of men firing guns and shouting for jihad, so Morgenstern called the police. That call prompted an FBI probe of the men, which in turn prevented them from attacking their target, the army base at Fort Dix.

The five would-be terrorists were convicted of conspiring to kill soldiers at Fort Dix, but had their plan been successful, many civilians, including children and contractors, would have also been killed or injured.

“Today, we dodged a bullet,” said Jody Weis, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division in May of 2007, when the five men were arrested. “In fact, when you look at the type of weapons this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets.”

After the five men were convicted on December 22, 2008, the current FBI special agent in charge of the Philadelphia Division, Janice K. Fedarcyk, praised Morgenstern.

“Vigilance was the key to disrupting the dangerous terrorists convicted today and we are glad they are off the street,” Fedarcyk said. “We appreciate the tip from an alert citizen who reported this suspicious activity to law enforcement. Without tips from concerned citizens or cooperation from our law enforcement partners, it is much more difficult to safeguard our nation and protect the United States from terrorist attack.”

Awareness, alertness, and vigilance by businessmen and women who meet and deal with people all day can make all the difference between a successful terrorist attack and a thwarted one. If you see suspicious persons or suspicious activity, simply call the police. You don’t need proof of a crime to call. You need simply to use your common sense and instincts to tell you that something does not seem right, such as a person taking photographs of an electrical power station. And if you’re suspicions are unwarranted, no one will be harmed by your actions.

Most local police officers have received anti-terrorist training, as they are the first responders, so the small business community should partner with the police to keep your businesses, homes and families safe from terrorists and criminals.

If we are to dodge bullets – and bombs and other terrorist weapons — the police will need the eyes and ears of the small business community.

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