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Back to Archives | Back to February 2011 Contents 

Preventing the Next Terror Attack

By Michael Wagers, PhD, Director, State and Provincial Police Directorate, IACP; and Tim Bryan, Program Manager, Information Sharing Initiatives, IACP

Click to view the digital edition.

he threat of terrorism remains real, and the evolving nature of the threat has made the chances of a successful attack more likely. An analysis by two top terrorism experts, Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman, finds that the threat “is more complex and more diverse” than at anytime since 9/11.1The shift, as we have come to recognize from the spate of recent arrests, is from homegrown terrorists: extremists who are citizens or residents of the United States.

What is especially troubling is that many homegrown terrorists act as lone wolves. While they may be inspired by the ideology of a group, such as al Qaeda, they act outside of the command and control structure. An examination by the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions of terrorist plots against targets in the United States found that acts by lone wolves reached “execution nearly twice as often as plots by groups.”2

As we have seen, homegrown terrorists have had success: Major Nadal Hassan, who was born in Virginia, is the most prominent example. As he shouted “Allahu Akbar [Allah/God is great],” he gunned down thirteen American service members at Fort Hood, Texas. Carlos Bledsoe, a convert to radical Islam, using an assault rifle murdered one soldier and critically injured another outside an Arkansas recruiting station. He told police that he had intended to shoot many more.

These are the types of attacks that Inspire magazine, a glossy online publication of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, reported that it intends to inflict upon Americans. It is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s “death by a thousand cuts” strategy. The magazine, incidentally, is the work of two American citizens now operating from Yemen: Samir Khan, who lived in North Carolina and New York before fleeing the country, and radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki. Awlaki, the inspiration behind Hassan’s attack, is the only American citizen on the U.S. government’s so-called “kill or capture” list.

Thanks to good law enforcement and citizen involvement, however, we have seen many homegrown plots thwarted. Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to bomb Times Square, and Mohamed Osam Mohamud, who allegedly attempted to detonate a van full of explosives at a Portland Christmas tree lighting ceremony, are but two examples. There are many reasons why law enforcement has been successful and jihadists like Shahzad, Mohmud, and others have not. This edition of the Police Chief highlights some of the efforts that our members are making to help keep America safe.

An article by Ron Brooks, cochair of the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Committee and Director of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, describes how and why intelligence sharing has improved since 9/11. Department of Homeland Security Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis Bart Johnson addresses in his article how fusion centers have evolved—these centers, as Undersecretary Johnson and Director Brooks both point out, have become key in our domestic security architecture.

Of course, at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, we continue to develop and promote homeland security programs to assist our membership in protecting their communities. We know, as President Mark A. Marshall has said many times, that homeland security begins with hometown security. This is one of the principles outlined in the IACP’s 2005 report calling for a locally designed and nationally coordinated homeland security strategy.3

In support of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI) Program Management Office, the IACP assisted the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the creation of a line-level officer educational video and training kit. The 15-minute “roll-call” video conveys the importance of suspicious activity collection, reporting, and analysis.4 You will find an article in this edition of Police Chief magazine describing the evolution of the SAR initiative and its integration into the fusion center process, highlighting the value SAR provides to the Virginia Fusion Center and New York State Intelligence Center. The article is bylined by Doug Keyer, director of the New York State Intelligence Center, and Lieutenant Lehew W. Miller III, director of the Virginia Fusion Center.

Getting line officers to recognize and report potential terrorism-related activity is important. Having citizens do so is important as well: An alert Circuit City employee in New Jersey, for instance, notified law enforcement of suspicious behavior contained on a video cassette that the employee was asked to transfer to a DVD. Six men, part of a homegrown cell, were filmed shooting assault weapons and calling for jihad. The subsequent investigation revealed that the would-be terrorists intended to attack military personnel at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

In partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Preparedness Directorate, the IACP’s Strategy for Improving the Public’s Awareness of and Response to Suspicious Activity project is an effort to better understand and improve citizen reporting of suspicious activity. This project recently completed a nationwide telephone survey and a series of focus groups with community leaders. The IACP is working with its partners on how these findings can inform hometown security strategies.5

Moreover, just as we learned with community policing and the crime control strategies that have helped reduce crime to historic lows in the United States, we know that we must involve community partners in homeland security in meaningful ways. Nowhere is this clearer than the case of the young men of Somali descent from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area who have been tied to the terrorist organization, Al-Shabab. Hennepin County, Minnesota, Sheriff Richard Stanek, in one of the many insights in his article in this issue of the Police Chief, points to tangible ways that agencies can build trust with communities where youth, like those in his jurisdiction, could become targets for radicalization.

Finding ways for law enforcement to quickly search for information about potential terrorists (and criminals) is important as well. The IACP is involved with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in training awareness and outreach for the Law Enforcement National Data Exchange (N-DEx), an incident- and offense-sharing system. The latest version of N-DEx was recently released; the system now includes corrections, probation, and parole data, in addition to more than 100 million records from state, local, tribal, and federal contributors. This is a no-cost investigative solution for law enforcement. To facilitate ease of use, N-DEx features a Google-like graphical user interface and search function.6

We recognize that there is an array of homeland security programs, activities, and resources. The State, Local, and Tribal Domestic Security project, SLT 101, is an initiative under way at the IACP designed to inform chief executives about the information and intelligence sharing resources available to them. One of the goals of SLT 101 is to promote the implementation of the National Strategy for Information Sharing and the Information Sharing Environment and to encourage the use of the fusion center network. The release of the curriculum and 10 regional trainings are set to occur in the coming year.

We know the threat picture can change. As such, law enforcement must be prepared to deal with not only the current threat, but all possible contingencies. Also in this issue of the Police Chief, is an article by Lieutenant Tom Monahan of the Las Vegas, Nevada, Metropolitan Police Department; and Lieutenant Mark Stainbrook of the Los Angeles, California, Police Department, about what lessons U.S. law enforcement can learn from the coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India.

As described in the IACP’s From Homeland Security to Hometown Security report, prevention is paramount. The programs described in this issue of the Police Chief and the projects that are under way at the IACP to support its members underscore this fundamental point. It also harkens back to the first principle of British statesman and police reformer Sir Robert Peel: The basic mission for which police exist is the prevention of crime and disorder. We can now expand that key principle, as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, to include the prevention of terrorism. ■

Michael Wagers, PhD, is the director the IACP’s State and Provincial Police Directorate. He is staff liaison to the Committee on Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee.
Tim Bryan, former chief in Maize, Kansas, and Valley, Alabama, is the program manager of the IACP’s Information Sharing Initiatives.


1Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman, Assessing the Terrorist Threat: A Report of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group (Bipartisan Policy Center, September 10, 2010), (accessed December 15, 2010).
2Kevin Strom et al., Building on Clues: Examining Successes and Failures in Detecting U.S. Terrorist Plots, 1999–2009 (Institute for Homeland Security Solutions, October 2010), (accessed December 15, 2010).
3From Hometown Security to Homeland Security: IACP’s Principles for a Locally Designed and Nationally Coordinated Homeland Security Strategy (International Association of Chiefs of Police, May 17, 2005), (accessed December 15, 2010).
4For more information on the NSI and the SAR line-officer video, contact the IACP Director of State and Provincial Police, Michael Wagers, at
5For more information on the Strategy for Improving the Public’s Awareness of and Response to Suspicious Activity project, contact the IACP Project Manager, Volunteers in Police Service Project, Rosemary DeMenno, at
6For more information on the N-DEx program, contact the IACP Information Sharing Initiatives Program Manager, Tim Bryan, at

Please cite as:

Michael Wagers and Tim Bryan, "Preventing the Next Terror Attack" The Police Chief 78 (February 2011): 20–22.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 2, February 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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