As everyone focuses their attention on the anniversary of 9/11 and reflects on the tragedies that unfolded that fateful day, I am reflecting on a recent conversation I had with Deputy Chief Michael Downing, the Commanding Officer of the LAPD’s Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau, who mentioned that the greatest threat might not be the one we are most actively seeking--that of the large terrorist action on the magnitude of 9/11--but rather the smaller events committed by lone wolf terrorists.
He explains terrorist operatives have evolved and decentralized, and they now encourage small numbers of people to carry out terrorist acts in order to more readily avoid detection. Not only does this make it easier for them to get away with it, it’s far cheaper for these operatives to carry out a small attack the size of the Boston Marathon massacre or the Fort Hood incident, than it is for them to execute a large-scale attack the size of 9/11.
What does this mean to airports? It means that as airports keep an ever-watchful eye for the big terrorist threat, they must also be ever-vigilant about seeking out the smaller threats, the ones being planned and carried out by a few. According to Downing, it’s important to continually conduct vulnerability assessments of critical infrastructure. This predictive analysis should occur regularly and examine security in critical infrastructure, assess threats and vulnerability, and determine the best ways to reduce risk. He emphasizes it's also important to stay connected with local law enforcement officials who may have individuals on their watch list that could pose a threat at the local airport.
Security officials on both sides of the Atlantic are expressing concern about the growth of lone wolf or small cell terror plots, which involve single individuals or tight-knit units of individuals who demonstrate no direction from either Al-Qaida or one of its affiliates. That concern is growing among security and law enforcement officials as Syria’s descent into chaos unfolds. As the threat from these leaderless resisters takes greater hold, it’s more important than ever that airport security continually ready itself for any threat, from the very, very small to the extremely large. Because as the incidents named above point out, a significant amount of tragedy can arise from the actions of a select few.