Posted on November 2, 2017

The Rise of Soft-Target Terror Attacks Is a Symptom of Police Success

Frank Figliuzzi, NBC News, November 2, 2017

Is this our new normal?

During my FBI career as a Special Agent and ultimately Assistant Director, the FBI, police, and domestic security agencies viewed terrorist incidents through a black and white, binary lens. If we “allowed” an attack to happen, we had failed. If we prevented an attack, we had succeeded. Yet, the increase in lone wolf, soft-target attacks — particularly attacks where trucks and cars are driven into large, vulnerable crowds — can actually be viewed as a symptom of our success.


Some context is required here. The global war on terrorism, with its methodically strategic excision of terrorist leaders around the world, succeeded in virtually eliminating the capacity of ISIS, Al Qaeda and their affiliates to execute large-scale attacks in the U.S. Our military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies have impressively shortened the life expectancy of terrorist leaders and forced massive turnover at the top of these types of organizations.

These successes on a global and structural level, however, have not and likely cannot prevent online radicalization. {snip}


The good news is that counterterrorism professionals are quietly, albeit gradually, changing their own strategies. To be clear, any loss of life is a tragedy and law enforcement will always work tirelessly to avoid it. But there is inevitable evolution happening as the old pass/fail view of counterterrorism pivots towards a containment and mitigation strategy.

But just as officials are adjusting their perspective, it may be time for the public to adjust as well. {snip} If we cling to the old view that any successful attack represents a counterterrorism failure, we must also be ready to accept a new way of life. Do we want to view anyone from a different country, with a different set of beliefs, as no longer welcome here?

I would argue we do not. Today, the White House is already calling for even more stringent constraints on immigration policy. Taken to its illogical extreme, this approach to counterterrorism will preclude anyone from anywhere from entering the U.S. if any of their fellow nationals has ever committed a terror act. That’s not who we are.