The next wave of terrorist attacks against the US may be decidedly low-impact … by design. ABC News reports that the FBI has warned law-enforcement agencies about a potential wave of “suspicious bag” attacks, where the bag itself contains nothing dangerous. This may be a sign that more threatening plots simply won’t work any longer for the Taliban and/or al-Qaeda, or perhaps a way to profile American law-enforcement response:
A recent internal FBI report warns federal, state and local authorities to be alert for a potential new tool in the jihadi terror arsenal – the placing of suspicious, but harmless, bags in public places to inspire fear, disrupt public transportation and tie up police and bomb squads.
The so called “battle of suspicious bags” was encouraged by an unknown poster to a known jihadi website. On May 12th, the poster suggested an “invasions suspicious bags (sic)” in “the heart of Washington and New York,” as the FBI’s Washington Field Office Intelligence Division noted in its May 27th “Situational Information Report.” The bags would contain not bombs, but innocuous items, a tactic that has been used by other political extremists in the U.S. in the recent past.
“The stated goal of the campaign,” said the report, “was to exploit desensitization of first responders caused by response fatigue to suspicious, but harmless items.”
The FBI report did not include the full text of the jihadi forum post, but said “the poster suggested packing bags with innocuous items and placing them in public areas has the capability to occupy response assets and disrupt public infrastructure and transportation.” The poster’s credibility was not known, according to the FBI, but the site where the information was posted was listed as a “known jihadi web site.”
The information had also been shared among numerous law enforcement agencies in advance of the bulletin’s circulation. The jihadi posting came within two weeks after an attempted car bombing in Times Square. The man charged in the case, Faisal Shahzad, has alleged link to Islamic fundamentalists overseas.
There may be a risk of desensitization, but that risk comes at the expense of the terrorists. After all, the point of terrorism is to terrorize, and that only happens when people get jolted out of a false sense of security. Repeatedly offering “attacks,” especially duds, will have the opposite effect of making heightened security awareness the norm rather than the exception. People will adjust and continue living their lives, as we have seen in Israel, where the citizenry had adjusted to actual bombings until their government built the wall and kept the terrorists out of the country.
As Andy McCarthy noted in his interview last week with me, the Christmas Day and Times Square attacks were successful, in that sense. They frightened people and had them questioning their choices. Why not just continue to push these attacks and not worry about whether the bombs actually explode, if they think that a “suspicious bag” strategy is desirable? After all, the law of averages will eventually work in their favor. Thus, the suggestion to use duds might mean that it’s become to difficult to plant actual bombs, but in the end it may not matter so much as to give up on it entirely.
That’s why the larger concern should be both the idea of fatigue and the intelligence-gathering from the law-enforcement response. They may have already found holes in it that allowed the most recent attacks to succeed to the activation phase, but they may be looking for ways to get around the dismantling phase. That would be extraordinarily dangerous for law enforcement, as it might be a way to plant secondary bombs along with decoys in a manner that targets the police. Eric Rudolph did that when he bombed the abortion clinic, targeting both the clinic and the initial response.