Terrorists Targeting High-Profile Events

In an AP story on increased security at major football (the American variety) events, this sentence struck me:

"High-profile events are something that terrorist groups would love to interrupt somehow," said Anthony Mangione, chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Miami office.

This is certainly the conventional wisdom, but is there any actual evidence that it's true? The 9/11 terrorists could have easily chosen a different date and a major event -- sporting or other -- to target, but they didn't. The London and Madrid train bombers could have just as easily chosen more high-profile events to bomb, but they didn't. The Mumbai terrorists chose an ordinary day and ordinary targets. Aum Shinrikyo chose an ordinary day and ordinary train lines. Timothy McVeigh chose the ordinary Oklahoma City Federal Building. Irish terrorists chose, and Palestinian terrorists continue to choose, ordinary targets. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that ordinary targets are easier targets, but not a lot of it.

The only examples that come to mind of terrorists choosing high-profile events or targets are the idiot wannabe terrorists who would have been incapable of doing anything unless egged on by a government informant. Hardly convincing evidence.

Yes, I've seen the movie Black Sunday. But is there any reason to believe that terrorists want to target these sorts of events other than us projecting our own fears and prejudices onto the terrorists' motives?

I wrote about protecting the World Series some years ago.

Posted on December 7, 2009 at 7:53 AM • 78 Comments

Comments

MattDecember 7, 2009 8:00 AM

We worry about terrorists targeting large scale events, because it makes use feel more important. It justifies the security that is really to protect participants from themselves as much as anything. It is much more acceptable to protect ourselves from a terrorist event, than from ourselves.

ShaileshDecember 7, 2009 8:25 AM

Even the most brainless brand of terrorists would know that any high profile event is bound to have a reasonable security cordon. So rather than focussing their attention on causing disruption and damage, why would they focus their energies on breaching our security cordon.

hwKeitelDecember 7, 2009 8:28 AM

@SteveL: true, but the target was not the Olympics but the israeli athletes.
or am I mistaken?

uk visaDecember 7, 2009 8:33 AM

There was the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in April this year, which targeted the players rather than the event directly.

JuergenDecember 7, 2009 8:40 AM

The real terrorists don't target major events BECAUSE of the security. It's a simple calculation for them - go for an easy everyday target and kill only dozens, or try and bomb the Superbowl but risk getting caught... as long as people still are shocked enough by "small" attacks (i.e., always), there's no reason to go after the big events with large security.

However, if you'd take the security away because terrorists don't attack those events anyway, the maths will change, and the terrorists will strike.

In short, the terrorists will weigh the risk of detection against the chance of maximizing effect - but the professional terrorists will prefer a lower risk than the stupid wannabees.

hwkDecember 7, 2009 8:42 AM

i think in Germany it is more likely that someone burns your car down (in Hamburg or Berlin), or beats you up, than becoming a victim of a terroristic attack (event or ordinary target).

tailorDecember 7, 2009 8:57 AM

A high-profile event would provide immediate media coverage, but doesn't help increase fear in the public. We're much more likely to be terrorized if we can be attacked anywhere at any time in our daily lives.

Thinking that sporting events make a good target allows security services and the public to reduce our perceived risk. For security providers guarding a stadium is easier than securing a city, and as individuals we can choose to avoid events but can't easily avoid daily routine.

AppSecDecember 7, 2009 9:01 AM

A couple of thoughts on this..

Attacking a specific event in which their is action requires a specific day (or a very limited time frame - even the world serues is only in one city for a few days). Sporting events tend to move a bit (teams are home, then away, then home.. And they don't necessarily play at the same time or have the same number of people).

Attacking the Olympcis usually gives a two week buffer and everyone is in the same place.

Attacking an office building, mall, airport, etc. Is pretty consistent with numbers of people and availability.

Combine that with security increases to protect the patrons from themselves at sporting events.

That really doesnlt seem like good odds. I wouldn't say impossible, though.

TreeDecember 7, 2009 9:01 AM

Why would they want to target an exceptional event?

To create terror, real terror, they want people to *constantly* be in fear. They can't do that if they give their supposed victims an easy choice to avoid the risk.

If people are afraid of bombs at football games, they just won't go to a football game. If they're afraid of bombs anywhere, at any time, they'll pay attention to a lot more, and look for ways to reduce that risk. The terrorists have an engaged, scared audience.

CGomezDecember 7, 2009 9:15 AM

Agreed with "Tree". I think it is unlikely terrorists would attack a special event, because you can't really abort the attack and try again some other day.

Could it happen? Sure... but so what. Lots of things could happen.

I think we should put to use good measures to prevent terrorism, but this is simply the result of anyone who is overseeing the area when an event takes place being part of a witch hunt and having their lives ruined forever.

Better to be zealously overcautious than to be the subject of "what could you have done" questioning by Congress. The problem is the treatment of these officials after the fact.

Unix RoninDecember 7, 2009 9:16 AM

I tend to file things like this under 'over-inflated sense of self-importance'.

"We're hosting a sports event that's so important it's watched on TV by ..." uh ... no, our Nielsen numbers have been tanking for years.
OK, let's try this: "So important it's being covered by worldwide news media." ... What do you mean, they've never heard of the NFL in Germany?
Wait! I've got it! "So important it's a target for international terrorists!" Yeah, that's it!

Put yourself mentally in the shoes of an international terrorist for the moment. You have a large bomb and you want to attack something. You could attack a Federal building and strike at the infidels' government; but, heck, that's already been done, *by Americans*. Who'd care? Or you could attack a sports stadium ... massive concrete construction, hell for strong, quite a bit of security, a jillion escape routes for the punters ... not an easy target. Or ... you could blow up the hospital, show the infidels that in Allah's infinite mercy nowhere is safe, and leave them with NOWHERE TO TREAT THEIR WOUNDED. And no significant security. Hah! Win!

hwKeitelDecember 7, 2009 9:16 AM

@tailor: What you wrote is one big point.
attacking e.g. the superbowl is like attacking the WTC. it's impossible to exclude this threat, but most of the targets are daily life tagets and not unique national symbols.
attacking a national symbol offers only a small benefit, but causes a much greater risk, an unsuccessful attack. the victims would feel much safer because the security system worked.

willDecember 7, 2009 9:19 AM

What you say makes sense, but the Atlanta Olympics comes to mind as a counter example. I'm surprised no one has mentioned it.

Angel OneDecember 7, 2009 9:25 AM

@hwKeitel - yes the victims were athletes, but the victims of terrorist attacks are always the people. It is clear that the attack was intended as an attack against a specific set of high profile people at a high profile event.

Angel OneDecember 7, 2009 9:30 AM

It occurs to me that targeting normal days and targets actually has an advantage. If your goal is to sow fear and terror in a population, then you want them to be afraid to do normal things. If you only target big events, then people still live their lives as normal, and people only get worked up about big events. It is far more destructive in the long term, both psychologically and economically, to disrupt the basic fabric of everyday life.

Ori FolgerDecember 7, 2009 9:30 AM

There were also a few years where terrorist attacks took place specifically on Purim. Purim especially is supposed to be a fun holiday, so this was a direct attack on Israeli morale.

See this about the attacks in 1996: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaffa_Road_bus_bombings

Another attack in Tel Aviv took place on Match 21 1997, on the weekend preceding Purim.

Again, a few days before Purm, on March 4th 2001.

hwKeitelDecember 7, 2009 9:37 AM

there is a lot of stuff to think about. are we talking about terrorism in general or about suicide bomber? are we talking about the general security of (sport) events or securing a special event (sport, religious, ...)? about any kind of attacker or about a special motivation or a special group? who is responsible for what kind of security (NSA, CIA, private security staff)?
and a lot more questions.

@Ori Folger: the difficult line between an "ordinary" terror attack and an assassination.

DierdreMDecember 7, 2009 9:37 AM

There is a lot of received wisdom on security that isn't actually true. For example, that long complex passwords are more secure than short ones. Peter Tippet (VerizonBusiness) has the evidence that they aren't.

RichardDecember 7, 2009 9:40 AM

Actually accidents (usually stampedes) have killed many more people at major events than terrorists ever will.


Let me list a few

Farnborough Airshow 1949 28 dead
Le Mans 1953 83 dead
Glasgow (Ibrox) football disaster 1971 66 dead
Bradford football ground fire 1985 56 dead
Heysel Stadium disaster 1985 39 dead
Ramstein Airshow Disaster 1988 70 dead
Hillborough Disaster 1989 96 dead

Henning MakholmDecember 7, 2009 9:41 AM

Targets known to be heavily defended become more valuable to terrorists simply by virtue of being heavily defended. That, is a successful attack on them will be more effective at causing terror, because it will more effectively erode people's faith in the autorities' ability to protect against attacks.

Usually this advantage will be offset by the fact that the target is, indeed, heavily defended, but the "heavy defense" is all ineffective security theater, then it stands to reason that the s.t. makes an attack more likely, not less.

A similar effect would happen for targets that are not actually heavily defended but, according to the inscrutable logic of public opinion, should be.

Therefore it may be rational to continue a heightened defense of targets that it was not rational to heighten the defense of in the first place (the Channel Tunnel trains come to mind).

hwKeitelDecember 7, 2009 9:53 AM

@Angel One: i don't know the definition of Terror. but i thing if you have a particular target (like 10 people) it is an assassination. a vague term like "all athlets", or "as much people as possible" is a terror attack with the ambition to spread fear.
attacking the israeli athlets was a combination of assassination and terror.

how you call it, it is a shame that it took place.

RichardDecember 7, 2009 9:54 AM

Re my earlier comment it is worth noting that so called "security measures" were actually at least partly responsible for many deaths at the Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough tragedies.

Leo PetrDecember 7, 2009 10:08 AM

My impression is that terrorists target symbols, not people. After all, you can't kill a significant fraction of the population through terrorism, but you can wound it symbolically. People are just collateral damage.

hwKeitelDecember 7, 2009 10:10 AM

@Angle One: motivation and target are important. who is the physical and psychological target (visiors of an event, ethnic group, ..)? and how far is the attacker willing to go?

@Richard: you are right, and the most accidents occur at home. we are not talking about accidents, but about terror and (useless) security.

LandruBekDecember 7, 2009 10:21 AM

(@Will) Yes, the Atlanta Olympics bombing qualifies here. It certainly was political terrorism. Interestingly, the event itself was the primary target -- Rudolph wanted the games to be canceled. I don't believe that ordinary sporting events attract that kind of animosity. The Olympics is special, though, because I suppose it has shades of "one world government" that drives unbalanced John-Birchers up the wall.

gritDecember 7, 2009 10:36 AM

Not placing bombs in stadiums canbe due to scheduling problems: in case you want to bomb a specific event you have to have your plannings restricted to this exact date. In case of a morning train or a plane or some roadside bomb you are more free to take your time and hone your plans.
On the other hand it should be not a big problem to place a bomb in a stadium. most of the times this kind of infrastructure is not as heavily guarded like an airport.

BF SkinnerDecember 7, 2009 10:39 AM

My first thought was wouldn't positioning response assets at the venue make the target _more_ appealing? I'd think you'd only want your prevantative controls in place and your response contols positioned away from the attack crater.

@Juergen "bomb the Superbowl but risk getting caught"
This assumes the terrorist intends to survive the attack.

@LandruBek " I don't believe that ordinary sporting events attract that kind of animosity. "
So you're not a sports fan?

Brandioch ConnerDecember 7, 2009 11:08 AM

Wouldn't this depend upon the motivation for the terrorist group planning the attack?

Saying something like:
"High-profile events are something that terrorist groups would love to interrupt somehow," said Anthony Mangione, chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Miami office.

That rests upon the UNSTATED assumption that there is a terrorist (or terrorist group) that sees such events as viable for his/their agenda.

So the logic is somewhat circular. The Super Bowl is a target of terrorists who would target the Super Bowl.

But terrorists vary in agendas and motivations and just about every other factor EXCEPT the use of terrorism.

Clive RobinsonDecember 7, 2009 11:10 AM

@ Tailor, Tree,

I think that you have a point about "any time any place".

After all how heavily defended are shopping malls and amusment parks. But they rarely get attacked.

In the UK the Prov IRA attacked heavily defended security outposts during the "troubles" as well as off duty personel without any problem. They also attacked infrastructure.

Likewise the Tamil Tigers.

The Japanese death cult was well resoursed both financialy and technicaly and carried out a number of minor attacks with Chemical and Biological weapons which although had some success where failures because they went unrecognised as attacks.

Likewise fire appears to be more successfull than bombs. It you think of the death rate in night club fires and compare it to bomb attacks on similar establishments in the same parts of the world (with the exception of double bombings).

If you then look at infrastructure targets natural events and poor maintanence etc has killed considerably more people than many terrorist attacks.

@ Henning Makholm

"Therefore it may be rational to continue a heightened defense of targets that it was not rational to heighten the defense of in the first place (the Channel Tunnel trains come to mind)."

The fires in various tunnels including the Chunnel have had significant effects and in some cases high death rates than terrorist attacks.

You start to get the idea that "bombs" realy are not that effective as a weapon (unless deliberatly agumented) and that other terorist attack vectors are likewise not as effective as events caused by poor maintanence or adverse weather.

keesDecember 7, 2009 11:14 AM

> Some of this can be attributed to
> the fact that ordinary targets are
> easier targets, but not a lot of it.

Why not?

It's the only valid reason I can think of. Could you elaborate why you seem to think it is just a small factor?

The way I see it, a regular non-high-profile time and place has a huge "terror" impact as well, in case of an attack.
A high profile event might get more victims and more media-impact. But apparently not enough to justify risking failure due to increased security measures.

(and even if it's just CYA or theatre, that might still discourage some terrorists, suspecting that if there's so much theatre, there might be more "invisible" security in place as well?)

Babylon_n_tingDecember 7, 2009 11:15 AM

Interesting that your refer to "Palestinian terrorists".

How about US-Israeli terrorists?

HJohnDecember 7, 2009 11:22 AM

I think Conner and Clive make good points. The Super Bowl is high profile and a plane could have been crashed into it instead of the WTC if the only goal was death and panic with a large audience, and malls and other places are sitting ducks.

The reason this aren't targets by organized terrorism is that, while the terrorists very much enjoy death and panic and attention, they also have an agenda that goes beyond the reaction. The WTC, Pentagon, and the Capitol and/or White House (if one would have been successful) line up with that agenda.

The sitting ducks are more targets of copycats, wannabes, or kook jobs that don't really have a strategic purpose.

I read years back where 9/11 was scaled back a bit because the more they try to do, the greater the chance of getting caught. I believe that is true. Those with an organized agenda are a little more patient, and will seek out and execute something rare yet destructive. They aren't going to risk being disrupted by tying themselves to a mall shooting that really doesn't fall in line with their larger plan.

With 9/11, we went so long without a hijacking that we became a bit complacent about it. No one worried about it. Sure, there were warnings about possible hijackings, but that was nothing new--in fact, it could be argued that all the warnings over years that never materialized caused the warnings to be downplayed.

I don't know if or when another terrorists attack will hit our soil. But I'm pretty confident that if they manage to pull one off, it will be something we aren't expecting. A high profile event will not likely be the target.

phred14December 7, 2009 11:25 AM

This reminds me of an incident during the 2004 US Presidential campaign. There was some small town out in the midwest that was going to be hosting both G.W. Bush and John Kerry on the same day, at roughly the same time.

The bank robbers had a field day. I don't remember the specifics, but I believe that there were multiple bank robberies that day, knowing the the police were heavily tied up in the campaign security.

The lesson is obvious.

HJohnDecember 7, 2009 11:27 AM

@I don't know if or when another terrorists attack will hit our soil. But I'm pretty confident that if they manage to pull one off, it will be something we aren't expecting.
_______________

Also, I seriously doubt it will involved airline travel, but I would wager that smart terrorists fly often...what better way to know if the government is on to you than to see if you are on the no-fly list?

hwKeitelDecember 7, 2009 11:35 AM

@Clive Robinso
"Likewise fire appears to be more successfull than bombs. It you think of the death rate in night club fires and compare it to bomb attacks on similar establishments in the same parts of the world (with the exception of double bombings)."

yes, fire would be a good "weapon", but you have to find a building without a working fire-fighting system etc. it's a compromise about your knowledge, talent, target, etc etc.
a high death rate in night club fires is a result of a not working evacuation and emergency system. the most fires are accidents, carelessness, or something like insurance fraud.

EricDecember 7, 2009 11:37 AM

Events pose a number a problems for terrorists - most notably, heightened security and a narrow window with which to pull the attack off.

The do, however, like to attack high profile symbols, at least when it comes to attacking the US. They went after the world trade center not once, but twice.

Terrorizing is so easy to do one has to wonder why they don't do it more often. All it takes to get the country into a panic is firing a sniper rifle at random targets in the DC area over the course of a couple of weeks. Or walk into a school with guns ablazing. Or send a couple of pipe bombs through the USPS. Or kidnap a few kids at random. Or heck, if you really wanted to cripple the economy, set off a few pipe bombs in a few shopping malls this time of year.

The only reasonable conclusion one can reach is that terrorists, at least of the radical Muslim variety, simply aren't all that interested in terrorizing.

clvrmnkyDecember 7, 2009 11:41 AM

@Matthew Carrick, that's because the terrorists are targeting the Saskatchewan coaching team.

It's a Canadian joke. Laugh!

hwKeitelDecember 7, 2009 11:45 AM

@Clive Robinson
additionally one more problem about fire is: no one knows it was a terror attack until you send some letter. with an explosion everyone thinks about terror first.

what about terrorist attacks in Egypt, AfPak, etc.? this is a total different motivation.

periDecember 7, 2009 12:11 PM

Brilliant observation!

I apparently made the same mistake as others and judged the terrorists motives based on the results of their actions: dead people, and inferred from that am implicit assumption that their utility function was simply to maximize the casualties.

But if your goal is to terrorize someone then the way to do it is to say the next target could be anywhere. With this realization I was worried for the first they could even target somewhere in my small city.

I think the 9/11 attacks can be viewed as terrorists trying to bring the "can reach anywhere" message home to heads of companies and armies and it certainly worked. The resulting loss of liberty was probably just icing.

GeorgeDecember 7, 2009 1:07 PM

One distressingly obvious target is a line at a TSA checkpoint in a major airport. Send a suicide bomber to detonate in the middle of the mass of shoeless humanity. In addition to inflicting damage perhaps comparable to an airplane hijacking (but at a much lower cost), there's the exquisite irony of exploiting a serious vulnerability our own government created in a system meant to provide the illusion of protection against terrorists!

This scenario is something I indeed worry about whenever I'm waiting at a TSA checkpoint. It's obvious to me, but apparently not to the TSA. Presumably we can depend on the BDOs to spot the suicide bomber long before he detonates, assuming they're not too occupied with looking for the smugglers of drugs and illicit liquids they need to make this month's productivity metrics. If it actually happens, I wonder how the TSA will react.

John CampbellDecember 7, 2009 1:20 PM

"Ordinary" has deeper penetration than "special events"... people can choose to avoid crowded events if they want to but it is a little difficult to avoid "ordinary" day-to-day" life.

The spectacle of a "Black Sunday" doesn't impact *everyone* in their "normal course of business" or even _life_.

The twin towers were a special case simply because the attack on "life as usual" was exacerbated by all of the cameras catching the 2nd act... but that was a potentially unexpected windfall for both Al Qaeda and CNN.

mooDecember 7, 2009 1:29 PM

I think its also a mistake to assume that terrorists targeting the U.S. would care about attacking "every-day" targets like shopping malls.

The simple fact is, terrorists don't think like everyday Americans do. Their values and judgements are way different from yours. They are each part of some radical organization, probably one with political aims of some sort (to reduce western Imperialist influence in their own nation, for example). And even that might just be a front for their real purpose--to attract and recruit loyal supporters within their home nation, by using the U.S. as "the enemy" for them to rally against. There are supposedly lots of terrorist groups around the world, with many terrorist members among them, but actual attacks seem to be few and far between. (Yes, the U.S. and their allies have killed some of the terrorists, and probably foiled some planned attacks before they could be carried out. But still, all indications are that terrorism is far less of a problem than the fear-mongers *in our own nations* would have us believe).

So if or when these terrorists get around to attacking a target in a western nation, what kind of target is it likely to be? Something that fits their political objectives. They believe themselves to be justified in what they do, but the surviving leaders of terrorist organizations are (presumably) well-educated and think of themselves and their actions as moral and correct (perhaps even as the will of God). The idea of attacking a school full of children, or a shopping mall--even one full of hated Imperialist soccer moms--is probably repugnant to them, or to at least some of their supporters. They want to strike a blow they can be proud of, which means attacking the government or the military, or the rich elite... something along those lines. For example... If they have a problem with the foreign influence of the U.S. in their country, they would probably want an attack that would make it unpalatable for the U.S. to consider exercising that influence. They would want something that would demoralize their enemies and fill their supporters with feverish glee. Blowing up women and children doesn't usually have that effect.

Inducing fear in U.S. citizens is not really a good tactic for them, because the U.S. government would just exploit that to get the citizens to support the government while it meddled even more ruthlessly in the home nations of these terrorists. Something to make the U.S. government appear weak and ineffectual (such as crashing planes into the Pentagon or Capitol Hill) would make more sense, if they could pull it off.

Anyway, I guess the point is, we can't protect every bus station and school and shopping mall from would-be terrorists, nor should we even try. They will always be able to find undefended or lightly-defended targets that they can attack; but regular citizens probably don't have much to worry about anyway. Terrorists may hate our governments (or at least pretend to hate them), but a lot of westerners don't think much of their own governments anyway. If the terrorists were to press their attacks on ordinary citizens of western nations, the most likely effect would be to unite those citizens against them and give the western governments the kind of approval/support against terrorism that they have not enjoyed for decades. It would probably backfire spectacularly for the terrorists. Look at Osama Bin Laden, for example: his attack on 9/11 was a great success, but as a result he'll probably be on the run and hiding out, for the rest of his life. I doubt any other terrorist leader aspires to have that much "success" anymore. They want to have power within their little groups, but not actually provoke the U.S. enough to get them on the kill-on-sight list.

HJohnDecember 7, 2009 1:45 PM

@George: "One distressingly obvious target is a line at a TSA checkpoint in a major airport. Send a suicide bomber to detonate in the middle of the mass of shoeless humanity. In addition to inflicting damage perhaps comparable to an airplane hijacking (but at a much lower cost), there's the exquisite irony of exploiting a serious vulnerability our own government created in a system meant to provide the illusion of protection against terrorists!"
_____________

In fairness to our (often inept) government, they didn't create any kind of vulnerability that didn't already exist elswhere. People are no more a sitting duck in line at an airport than they are at a mall, concert, etc.

The attraction of using the airlines on 9/11 wasn't the people, although the death and fear and panic caused was a bonus for them, the attraction was the planes could be used as missiles to attack any target, and the targets were in line with their broader agenda.

HJohnDecember 7, 2009 1:48 PM

@moo: "The idea of attacking a school full of children, or a shopping mall--even one full of hated Imperialist soccer moms--is probably repugnant to them, or to at least some of their supporters."
_____________

The only time I can recall terrorists attacking a school was in Russia, but even that attack was part of a broader plan to leverage the government. (I.e., do this or else.)

I honestly don't recall if they were part of organized terrorism or were just supporters of it trying to do a favor, but the point remains the same. As much as they love death and panic, their actions, when part of organized terrorism, have a larger purpose.

Ms. PilotDecember 7, 2009 4:47 PM

Before 9/11: Aviation was restricted within 3 miles of the President up to 3000 feet. That was enough to ward off the commies.

After 9/11: Aviation is restricted within 3 miles of Disneyland up to 3000 feet. Aviation is restricted around the President within 30 miles up to 18000 feet. The Superbowl and World Series get the same protections as the President.

AndrewDecember 7, 2009 5:03 PM

>> Terrorizing is so easy to do one has to wonder why they don't do it more often.

It is a constant and annoying pain in both the security and intelligence communities that members are not allowed to brag about their successes until they enter the "historical interest" section of the local bookstore.

If the counter-terrorism community has enjoyed any notable successes since September 11th, 2001, we should be hearing about them in a little over a year (10 year rule), but the good ones are still 16 years out.

Brandioch ConnerDecember 7, 2009 5:13 PM

@Andrew
"If the counter-terrorism community has enjoyed any notable successes since September 11th, 2001, we should be hearing about them in a little over a year (10 year rule), but the good ones are still 16 years out."

I'd believe that if there hadn't been a history of the government trotting out every idiot as "evidence" of the "threat" against us.

If the government had more than the pizza delivery "jihad" I'm sure they'd be yelling about it from the rooftops.

HimselfDecember 7, 2009 5:24 PM

"Irish terrorists chose..." Wrong tense, Bruce, unfortunately.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/22/northern-ireland-army-base-attack

And @clive: I can't find the reference, but one of the IRA's most effective early campaigns involved an explosive on one side of a container, a clothes hanger on the top, filling it with petrol, and hanging it from the grating across windows of restaurants and suchlike. Bomb blew, shattered the glass, and filled the room with burning fuel. VERY nasty.

Peter E RetepDecember 7, 2009 6:15 PM

It resolves to simple cultural demographics:

Do more people attend high profile events with the rich and guilty,
or pursue ordinary activities everyday?

A message of fear and vulnerability, if directed at the majority population,
best chooses their representative samples as examples.

Why forget that a 911 target housed a counter-terrorist task force office?

Peter E RetepDecember 7, 2009 6:34 PM

re: Sarah K:
I think you meant to reference:
List of terrorist incidents, 1975
Palestine Liberation Organization gunmen from Lebanon take dozens of ...
and his rebels attack OPEC headquarters in Vienna and take over 60 ...

Peter E RetepDecember 7, 2009 7:29 PM

How to Avoid High Profile Attacks:
Well I won't go to the [HPE2009].

How to avoid low profile events:
I won't go shopping/buy gas, etc.

911 was an odd mix,
because it was
centered on an identifiable high profile landmark,
and the target was [publicly] common culture,
using common behavior [business travel].

Measured in those terms,
it had major results:
airline travel fell,
and high profile distant city landmark trade conventions
practically ended for ordinary businesses in Target Cities.


Now, were these the primary targets?
Likely not, in retrospect.
The primary targets responded
with hostile counter-acts,
and the terrorist community
has not regained a comfort zone since.


Steve KellerDecember 7, 2009 11:33 PM

The intent of terrorism is that it make ordinary people feel unsafe all the time. A bomb in a subway or one at the mall does more to spread terror than anything involving an adult. And an attack on a school bus would do more to cause terror than anything at all. We are not helpless to avoid attacks while at sporting events unless we work there. We have the option to avoid them. But we don't have the option not to commute to work, do Christmas shopping or send the kids off to school. If return on investment is the terrorist's goal, the DC sniper or a garden variety shopping mall bomber should really impress their peers. Terror AND economic collapse.

foobarDecember 8, 2009 3:02 AM

@hwk

I don't recall the details anymore and am too lazy to search, but here goes :


In Canada you are more likely to be beheaded, and eaten, by a homosexual cannibal with a samurai sword while riding a greyhound bus than to fall victim to a terrorist attack.


Ok. So I dont live in Canada, but who knows, maybe the sword-wielding bus-cannibals will travel to my country? Should I be worried?
What about my kids?

jayceeDecember 8, 2009 3:27 AM

The problem with targeting an event is that you don't get a chance to practice and observe the security that will be in place on the day.

hwkDecember 8, 2009 3:32 AM

@foobar
I agree. there are other dangerous threats. but it depends on the responsibility. if you are a private person, you have to think about specific threats and responsibilities (neighbourhood, kids, job, traveling, health, money, accidents, etc.). as company, or state you have to care about other threats (accidents, crime, spying, terrorism, money, etc.), you have more power, more resources, different responsibilities.

the topic is "Terrorists Targeting High-Profile Events", so we should talk about this threat and the probability.

Clive RobinsonDecember 8, 2009 6:56 AM

As @ HJohn notes,

"The attraction of using the airlines on 9/11 wasn't the people, although the death and fear and panic caused was a bonus for them, the attraction was the planes could be used as missiles to attack any target, and the targets were in line with their broader agenda."

It had a more subtal side for the terrorists that people often fail to take it on board.

Two points to consider,

1, The US use stand off weapons on the presumption it minimises "home bound body bags" on TV and gives an air of superiority.

2, The use of US and other "hi-tec" against the infidel.

The US doctrin on air war and cruise missiles through stealth technology and precision weapons is just about "Public Image" at home.

That is using "hi-tec" to make war safer for "our boys n girls" and to reduce "civilian casualties" alows the idea that you are the "lone ranger" riding into town and arresting the bad guys for the good of the town.

The use of the "US hi-tec" against the US in the "lone rangers" home town has a degree of "two can play at that game" thumb to the nose.

The other part is the number of "jewish owned/asociated targets".

It is no secret that the "jewish lobby" is a strong influence on US policy both at home and abroad.

To many Israel "get away" with what they do due to the use of the US Veto at the UN and the financial and technical aid.

This point was re-iterated by the out going GWB pulling the rug out from a deal worked out by his representative.

The world saw Condi Rice pushing an agenda just to have the US diplomat negate it on instructions from the White House...

A stratigic own goal that is going to be hard to beat as from now on the US peace envoys are going to be disregarded as the equivalent of emasculated donkeys.

Especialy as Hezbola gave the Israelies a "bloody nose" just a few days before.

Which brings me around to another point that might be worth thinking about.

Just after WWII was the time of fewest wars world wide. Since then they have risen year on year.

International terrorisum came with international travel in the 1970's and likewise grew year on year.

9/11 showed the world that 2nd and 3rd world countries were not powerless to take the fight to the 1st world.

The result the 1st world has had to put troops on the ground where they are vulnerable just like the Russians where in Afganistan...

That is the terrorists have switched to more conventional warfare as it is less costly for them.

The fact that the US call them "insurgents" and not "iregulars" is just a name.

Thus currently the "terrorists" have no need to be international they have brought the US et al to their home ground and so the "body bags" have started to "go home" again.

Will we see a re-run of Vietnam? I don't know but I'm sure that the US and other nations will get sick of the sight of body bags from "a distant war" faster than those who's "homeland" it is give up.

HJohnDecember 8, 2009 9:49 AM

@Clive Robinson at December 8, 2009 6:56 AM

I'm not going to response point by point, as it can derail this thread and easily turn nasty.

All I will say is that the US, although not without flaw and fault, is not the world's biggest problem. There are many decent people who think it is, which makes me wonder if such people know what the real problems in the world are.

Clive RobinsonDecember 8, 2009 10:34 AM

@ HJohn,

"There are many decent people who think it is, which makes me wonder if such people know what the real problems in the world are."

Yes the US is mainly populated by decent people, as are most other parts of the world.

The problem as always is "vested intrests" and a lack of acurate information and real (as opposed to representational) democracy.

After all what chance do people have when compared to well funded vested interests...

JimFiveDecember 8, 2009 10:42 AM

> All I will say is that the US, although not without flaw and fault,
> is not the world's biggest problem.
> There are many decent people who think it is,
> which makes me wonder if such people know
> what the real problems in the world are.

I don't think that Clive was saying that the US is the world's biggest problem. But I think it could be argued that the US (that is, US Policy) is the US's biggest problem.
--
JimFive

saDecember 8, 2009 12:18 PM

Mr. Schneier wrote:
"The Mumbai terrorists chose an ordinary day and ordinary targets."

A five star hotel or a busy railway terminal is not an ordinary target. anyway that sentence there is confusing.

MoofDecember 8, 2009 12:30 PM

I'm not sure that the Madrid bombings should exist on that list.

They happened 3 days before a general election, on the 11th March. On the 12th there was a huge march in protest against terrorism all over spain that was equally supported by all political parties.

The official PP government line was that it could equally well be ETA or Al'Quaeda. All the independent media were reporting it as "the official government line" and most international media had by then discarded the ETA theory, as it had none of the usual pattern of ETA attacks.

On the 13th, which by law was a "day of reflection" on which no political campaigining should happen, there were massive spontaneous marches against the PP offices and the Parliament buildings as the government's "it *could* be ETA" line wore thinner and thinner. It culminated in the minister ofr the interior coming on television and telling the spanish populace to go home as they weere taking part in an illegal march.

The following day, on the 14th, the ballots closed and the government lost the popular vote. This was against all expectations, given that before the 11th the incumbent governement was going to win by a reasonable margin according to all polls by both sides of the fence. A swing this huge to the other side was unprecedented.

One of the reasons many people I knew cited as a reason not to vote for the PP was that they had supported Bush in the war against Iraq and sent troops in, and that this bombing was the backlash by the islamic nations for this injustice.

I don't think this is a place to debate the rights and wrongs of people's votes for the PP or the current government (PSOE), but I do feel it is wise to point out that a well-planned terror attack on a date near a high-profile event can change its outcome or influence it unduly. It doesn't have to be *on* the day in question. But the Madrid bombers certainly chose a high-profile event.

derfDecember 8, 2009 2:26 PM

The security procedures at sporting events are as much of a sham as those at the airport. Have you ever seen the line just outside the football game and completely outside the security procedures that are really only used to keep people from smuggling their own cheap consumables into the stadiums? There are literally thousands of people jammed together.

HJohnDecember 8, 2009 2:40 PM

@derf: "The security procedures at sporting events are as much of a sham as those at the airport. Have you ever seen the line just outside the football game and completely outside the security procedures that are really only used to keep people from smuggling their own cheap consumables into the stadiums? There are literally thousands of people jammed together. "
___________

It's probably more than protecting food and beverage profits. I can imagine some drunken die hard Red Sox fan packing a pistol when they are playing the Yankees--may not bode well for opposing fans or Johnny Damon. Or for the ninconpoop behind the plate when he makes a bad call at Wrigley that keep the Cubs out of the world series for the 70th year in a row.

HJohnDecember 8, 2009 3:06 PM

@HJohn at December 8, 2009 2:40 PM

As a Cub fan, I'm shamed I didn't think of this before. I'm sure Steve Bartman is grateful for ballpark security at Wrigley. :)

Seriously, it is unlikely a terrorist will target a baseball game, and preserving a monopoly on concessions is part of it, but allowing a weapon into a ball part could get ugly with drunken emotional fans. It does have a point.

RvnPhnxDecember 8, 2009 3:48 PM

If I were in the terrorism business I'd want to target mundane everyday events, places, and people over "important" events.

WHY?

Because I'd want people to FEEL TERROR IN THEIR DAILY LIVES.

This is not rocket science (despite the fact that rockets may be involved).

Run of the mill terror attacks need to be separated from "high value target" attacks in the media coverage before this simple reality is going to set in. Alas, this isn't likely to happen--as this is one case where the mainstream media managers for the most part don't get it.

PhocksDecember 8, 2009 6:05 PM

>>Just after WWII was the time of fewest wars world wide. Since then they have risen year on year.

International terrorisum came with international travel in the 1970's and likewise grew year on year.

I don't know where you got your history, but by my count in September of 1945, there were are least 4 major civil wars/anti-colonial revolutions occurring, as well as minor conflicts in at least 10 other countries (i.e., British forces alone were actively fighting in, just from memory, Palestine, NW Frontier Province, Burma, and French Indochina). Depending on your definition of 'war' there is currently only one occurring in the entire world - in Afghanistan, and even that is questionable. In no other instance is an armed conflict (according to the Geneva conventions) occurring. While of course it would be facile to not credit Somalia, Sudan and Iraq as wars, the fact remains, Somalia has had low-level violence taking place since 1945- it's just gotten worse. Iraq has had, IIRC, 3 major revolts since 1945, and Sudan has, AFAIK, never been at peace internally this century.

This is not to say there aren't a lot of conflicts going on right now. There are. There just aren't a lot more than 'usual'. Look at the record of 'nasty little wars' in the 60s and 70s mainly fought far from the media - there were a LOT, not even counting the big ones like Biafra, Rhodesia, Algeria, Vietnam, etc.

TheophylactDecember 9, 2009 11:40 AM

The Brighton hotel bombing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brighton_hotel_bombing) by the IRA in 1984. It was intended to kill Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was attending the Conservative Party conference. Missed her, but killed five people and wounded 34.

And remember, remember, the Fifth of November 1605.

Clive RobinsonDecember 9, 2009 4:11 PM

@ Theophylact,

"And remember, remember, the Fifth of November 1605."

Ah the Popish Plot, it was a good time for such things...

(@ B.F. Skinner no I don't remember it personaly ;)

When a man with a plan and his cohort nearly rearanged the politics of England, possibly for the better (arguably it could not be worse ;)

Sadly one of the number Mr Guido Fawks paid with his life, for it is said "he was the last person to enter parliment with honest intentions".

More recently people have been asking if we hung the wrong people.

I think we will not see a man with the same honarable intentions these days. Which is sad which is why I'm tempted to say,

"Guido, come back all is forgiven, your country needs you now!"

Gunpowder, gunpowder who will give me 100 barrels of Gunpowder...

davidbfpoDecember 10, 2009 3:57 PM

Amidst the debate here I would add that the main AQ threat, or conventional wisdom, as cited by the UK government and I assume the USA's are mass casualty attacks.

That does not mean high profile events and as I recall Richard Clarke, the former CT "Tsar" wrote a speculative article on a series of attacks using conventional methods on shopping malls, trains etc.

Some AQ linked plots in the UK have not been aimed at mass casualties, e.g. Operation Gamble in 2006-2007, which was a plot to kidnap and behead a UK Muslim soldier. Whereas Operation Overt, the trans-Atlantic airliners plot was and if successful with planes crashing into the sea little or no forensic evidence (note the Pan-Am flight fell on Lockerbie, Scotland only as the flight was delayed in departure).

What is curious that AQ then continued to plan an attack on a known hardened target - passenger aircraft. Yes, if successful fear would have been caused, dislocation of flights and many dead - to name three effects.

My own view is that AQ in the UK appear to only consider attacking targets where two if not three factors are present:

1) people with cameras / mobilephones
2) CCTV - state or public owned
3) ability for their partners to film

I accept the imagery may not be of destruction e.g. plane blown up, but of grieving relatives etc. Their aim is to create fear and influence our decisions by reducing our perceptions of public security.

Why have we seen so little evidence of AQ attacks on critical infrastructure in the West?

Just a few thoughts.


Clive RobinsonDecember 10, 2009 5:30 PM

@ davidbfpo,

"Why have we seen so little evidence of AQ attacks on critical infrastructure in the West?"

I gave the answer up above, but to save you the effort of scrolling back,

AQ or whatever else they actualy are have taken a leaf out of Tz Sun's bamboos about "when fighting a greater force pick your ground to fight on".

Basically 9/11 brought the UK Bulldog out of his kennal and into the land of their choice, where stand off weapons and superior numeracal forces andtechnology count for little.

And so the US see the thing they dread most "home bound body bags" from a war that "cannot be won by conventional means".

To win requires "hearts and minds" something the US have been traditionaly bad at because they train their troops to "only fight" not "fight and police".

It's a lesson they need to learn along with "stand off" and "air war" doctrin only works against conventional forces.

Irregular forces on their home ground have the advantage. So what need do they have to "tweak the dogs nose in his kennel"?

pkoDecember 17, 2009 9:08 AM

I live in Madrid and, like moof, think that the Madrid bobings DID chose a high profile event, as big as it could be in the nation's politics.

In my opinion, you should rethink the whole article with that in mind. Except 9/11, Madrid's bombings are the terrorist action with more "return of investment" for the terrorists, and it is so BECAUSE they actually DID CHOSE a high profile event.

If there has not been more terrorists' actions like those may be because they lack the opportunity for now, or because they were not capable to do so (limited resources, time or logistics) or simply because the terrorists had not been capable of identifying the "correct" events for the time being to better serve their nefarious purposes. Although I doubt that a sporting event qualifies for that, instead the moment and place of a heated political decision about anything seems much more likely.

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