By Casey Lucius
As we absorb the shock from the Orlando tragedy, we begin to analyze what went wrong and what could we have been done to stop it. Our political leaders and media pundits fall into a predictable pattern that neither diagnoses the real problem nor points us to effective solutions.
The first focal point for comment will be the weapon: what was Omar Seddique Mateen doing with an AR-15? This question cues up the gun control debate, which is important, but doesn’t address the core of the Orlando phenomenon. Israel is seeing a plethora of knife attacks, and home-made bomb recipes like the bomb in the Boston Marathon attack are commonplace. Focusing on the weapon will not stop terror attacks.
The next discussion will be a deep dive into the identity of the perpetrator, Omar Seddique Mateen. Yes, Mateen was on law enforcement radar. The Tsarnaev brothers (Boston Marathon bombers) were also interviewed by the FBI and cleared before their attack. The San Bernardino shooters travelled freely, invisible to counterterrorism authorities. There is no algorithm or even investigative protocol that reliably finds and stops this kind of attacker before they strike.
Next, we will look at the target itself. LGBT events, bars, synagogues, American Legion posts, as well as sports arenas, schools, churches, restaurants, and theaters are all soft targets and vulnerable to attack. It is of no value to draw a ring around one particular category. Instead, we need to recognize the vulnerability of these places where a multitude of people gather and there is little security.
Over the past two decades, we have seen al Qaeda and their large-scale, centrally directed plots. We have seen the Mumbai style attack, which was a heavily planned, military-style operation. The Paris and Brussels attacks are examples of cells constructing their own soft target attacks. Israel has experienced what I call the one-minute terrorists. One minute they are completely normal people and the next, they wield a knife and commit a terrorist act. This is what I believe is the next stage of terrorism. It can best be understood as a sociological phenomenon, not an investigative target. It is unclear at this time whether the Orlando attack was part of a larger ISIS plan, but either way, the same preventive measures must apply.
We know that ISIS and other terror influencers recruit online and provide how-to materials that anyone can access and follow. We, and they, cannot predict which individual will be motivated to act. There may be nobody or there may be hundreds of Omar Seddique Mateens around the world who are activated by online stimuli, with or without help from an organization or cell.
So how do we stop them? As a society. We start by investing less on hardening targets, investigating people and muscling up our counterterrorism arsenal. We should invest more on local policing, public safety and their ability to engage with the micro-communities within their home territory. We need to ensure that the information tools are in place to connect law enforcement, civilian knowledge centers, and federal agencies across the country. We must use every step of the terror cycle as an opportunity to break it, rather than solely focus on day-of measures, or after-the-fact responses.
Working from the family level right up to our large national agencies, we can frustrate each small step that transforms a susceptible person into one who might attack us. If we all put in one-minute of prevention in our roles as parents, friends, employers, shop-keepers, facility operators, event participants, law enforcement, and counterterrorism officials, we can stop the transformation of the next vulnerable person who one minute is our colleague and the next, our killer.
Casey Lucius, who served as a former Professor of National Security at the Naval War College and ran an intelligence unit on The USS Stennis in the Persian Gulf during her seven years on active duty in the Navy, is a candidate for Congress in California District 20.