THE MAGAZINE

Trends in Terrorism Targets

By Matthew Harwood

“The unprecedented unanimity of focus and cooperation among the intelligence services and law enforcement organizations worldwide...has made the terrorist operating environment way more hostile,” he says.

Still, the numbers around the world show that intelligence has its limits. To see what else can be done, Jenkins and his coauthors looked for lessons from the data gathered about incidents that have occurred and those that have failed. In April, Jenkins and coauthors published a report called Carnage Interrupted, which analyzed 16 failed plots to attack surface transportation targets around the world. The report empirically shows that terrorists concentrate on attacking surface transportation targets during rush hours.

Other lessons Jenkins and his coauthors drew from their analysis is how terrorists choose their targets and what measures can be put in place to harden a surface transportation target. According to the cases, CCTV has some deterrent value, although not for suicide bombers.

“It is, of course, more difficult to deter suicide bombers, but they are harder to recruit than individuals who plan to escape alive,” the report explains. “CCTV thus contributes to security indirectly, by raising the threshold for recruiting attackers.” CCTV also helps authorities nab the attackers when they’re not suicide bombers, which occurred in a 2006 attack against two trains in Germany, when the terrorists’ suitcase bombs failed to explode.

Jenkins and his coauthors concluded that none of the security measures in use beyond CCTV lead terrorists to terminate their plans. “Where awareness of security does appear in the plots, it is a cause for caution, perhaps a reason to modify a date or location, not a reason to call off the attack,” they write.

DHS transit security grants have plummeted from $253 million in fiscal year 2010 to $87.5 million in fiscal year 2012, a 65 percent decrease in funding for owners and operators of transit systems. “The reason for the decrease is simply the budget cuts across the federal government,” said a federal security official who was not authorized to speak to the media. The official noted that “basically, the amount that Congress has appropriated each year for the program has decreased.”

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