Ending Mass Killings in the U.S.- A radical approach.

There is a small group of law enforcement professionals in the United States who look at mass shootings and say, “We could have stopped this.” Such a phrase is not hyperbole or a sign of hubris rather it is a reflection of type of work we engage in each day. Our job is not sexy, it does not lend itself to war stories or dramatic conflicts and in most circles it is regarded with nothing more than a shrug of indifference. When the word “assessment” enters the conversation it is almost immediately set alongside crime analysis and elven magic. The world of threat assessments is seldom understood and appreciated even less, however when looking at the current state of mass murders in the United States, threat assessments may be the only answer.

In almost every mass shooting over the last decade, the suspects announced their intentions in one form or another. It is true that in a few cases, the suspects’ capability of waging asymmetric warfare on humanity caught everyone by surprise. However, in most cases during a post incident review, trained professionals saw pre-indicators of the attack and had they been in the right positions, could have intervened. It is time now that these professionals move from post incident commentary to pre-incident actions. To do this, some changes need to be made.

The first is in the law enforcement culture. Agencies need to focus on moving from a reactive force to a pro-active, intelligence led entity. Intelligence led policing (ILP) is the foundation upon which true threat assessments are built. Agencies with an established intelligence cycle will find assessments a force multiplier. The concepts of ILP have been hijacked in recent years by command staffs bent on adapting their procedures to the newest technology. In doing so, the emphasis has been removed from human analysis and placed on sophisticated algorithms promising everything from temporal to predictive analysis. The unfortunate proof of their monumental failures is found in Arizona, Connecticut, and California. At the end of the day, ILP is about the intelligence cycle not artificial intelligence.

The second change is in the mental health system. A true assessment of a person’s capacity for murder will only be complete with the opinions and analysis of mental health professionals. Law enforcement threat analysts have expressed major frustration with the chasm between them and the medical community. The medical industry must realize that HIPAA has been turned from a protective oversight to an impenetrable brick wall used more as a liability shield than a patient’s right. Threat analysts working with psychologists would offer a powerhouse team of professionals dedicated to preventing mass killings while at the same time respecting the sacred nature of patient privacy. Furthermore, only mental health professionals know the enigmatic system and how to leverage it to get people the help they need before bullets are fired.

Finally, the public has to change the conversation about mass killings. This has never been about political affiliations or allegiances. It has always been about man’s inhumanity to man. Each time a human being is rundown, stabbed, or shot in a mass killing the nation loses a little of its’ soul. As pundits and fear mongers race to the closest microphones, men and women across the country beg the heavens to make it “not their baby” or sink in thankful prayer they have been spared. The conversation needs to focus on making this stop. Making it stop means getting to the root of the problem which in many cases is mental health, indifference to suffering, and yes even terrorism. Some of these things can be countered in the home, for the others there are resources available. People need to know there is a way to counter this problem and it has little to do with slogans and focus groups.

The power to stop mass killings exists. Through competent cooperative assessments based on true intelligence led concepts, threat analysts can and will stem the tide of mass murder. As stated earlier, it will require some changes, but the changes are not so radical when compared to the suffering each incident brings the public.

New Threats Require New Defense Strategies

As we enter a new phase of terrorism old counterterrorism measures need to be reviewed and updated. Since 9/11 the law enforcement community has been building counter terrorism strategies on the theory that each terrorist event requires significant pre-planning and that this pre-planning is done in a manner detectable by the public and law enforcement. Much of the counterterrorism industry is accustomed to the “Eight Signs” or pre-indicators; Surveillance, Information Gathering, Security Testing, Finance, Logisitics, Strange Behavior, Dry Runs, and Deployment. This strategy worked for several years because it was assumed major attacks would require significant time spent performing each pre-indicator. Today many of these pre-indicators have been compressed or eliminated which reduces the possibility of detection. Two types of attacks illustrate this, and the need for updated strategies; active shooters and cyber attacks.

Active shooter cases appear to be on the rise in the United States. In post-attack analysis certain patterns have emerged, but there is a lack of pre-incident “unifying behaviors” explicit enough around which to craft countering strategies. For example, in all active shooter cases the suspect required access to a firearm. Since the purchase of weapons is not prohibited, nor successfully monitored, there is no way to build a countering strategy around acquisition. Surveillance and Dry Runs are still possible gateways of prevention, but rely more on luck than science to be successful. To effectively combat active shooter attacks we need to look at core prevention strategies with an understanding that the risk of an active shooter attack will always be present. This assumption in place, prevention strategies need to focus on reducing the risk posed to potential targets. Re-writing emergency plans, identifying shelter-in-place locations, and proactive security measures are all proven methods for reducing the risk of active shooter attacks. These strategies are most successful when complimented by real-life training scenarios exposing participants to the sights and sounds of the real incident.

The complexities of cyber warfare are vast and numerous, and because the warfare is conducted in “cyber space” traditional pre-indicators are not valid. Whereas state secrets were once the currency of the realm now cyber collectives attack everyone from corporations to police agencies meaning it is virtually impossible to identify which specific data is at risk and which is not. The old adage of the best offense being a robust defense is very prescient in cyber warfare. By examining threats and trends, and being proactive with system security, the risk of a successful cyber attack is significantly mitigated. It is also vital to examine nontraditional security measures in data management and access controls. Finally, the use of preventative intelligence will add the final touch to a robust security posture. Preventative intelligence leveraged against cyber attacks will be addressed in another entry, however it is vital to understand how important it is in defending your networks.

As the world moves from one iteration of terror to another, counterterrorism strategies need to evolve. Counterterrorism strategies built around significant pre-planning operations needs to give way to current methods of protection, detection, and deterrence. While there is always an inherent risk of attacks regardless of time or place, using intelligence and building strong and flexible defense networks will mitigate risk and save lives.