Term Paper: Domestic U.S. Soft Targets the Identification and Vulnerabilities

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Terrorism and Domestic "Soft Targets" in the United States

One of the central factors influencing the determination and identification of terrorist "soft targets' in the United States, is the perceived change in terrorist tactics. This has been the focus of many recent studies and refers to the change in focus to more accessible or "softer" targets by terrorists. As Morgan (2004) states, "Most recent scholarship, however, has taken the perspective that contemporary terrorism represents a significant departure from the past" (Morgan, 2004, p.29).

Among the many new aspects that characterize contemporary terrorism is the increase in the indiscriminateness of many terrorist attacks. This has been ascribed to, among others, the influence of the media. "...the saturation of the media with images of terrorist atrocity has raised the bar on the level of destruction that will attract headline attention" (Morgan, 2004, p.29). More importantly in terms of the subject of this paper is the fact that terrorists have realized that civilian soft targets involve lower risks to themselves. This is also coupled with a perceived move from purely political objectives to an increase in hard-line fanaticism. (Morgan, 2004)

All of the above facets should be unpacked and taken into account before an assessment of the nature and the type of domestic "soft target" in the United States can be made. One of the most important changes mentioned in the literature in terms of terrorist activities that influence any assessment of potential targets, are the move from a focus on rational political objectives to a more emotional and radical approach among many terrorist groups. This aspect impacts on the vulnerability of the types of target that may be singled out for possible attack by the terrorist or terrorist group.

Another fact that should be taken into account is the impact of globalization. Globalization has a direct impact on the type of targets that the terrorist may attack in that, "In today's globalizing world, terrorists can reach their targets more easily, their targets are exposed in more places, and news and ideas that inflame people to resort to terrorism spread more widely and rapidly than in the past." (Pillar, 2001, p. 34) related issue that pertains directly to the determination of vulnerabilities is that new technological advances have offered the modern terrorist new targets and provided them with new capabilities. This has resulted in the view that;

Future incidents could be much more costly in terms of human life and property. The advances of scientific logic are slowly turning the entire modern society into a potential victim of terrorism with no immunity to the noncombatant segment of the world population or for those nations and people who have no direct connection to particular conflicts or to specific grievances which motivate acts of violence.

(Kirkpatrick, 1983, p. 84)

The growing lethality of modern terrorism is a facet that has been noted in many studies. For example, Chalk (2000) states that in the past terrorism was "limited" to a certain degree in that many of the actions were more symbolic than deadly in their results. However this has changed and today "...many terrorists are no longer prepared to draw the line at limited, restricted acts of violence. Instead, their actions have become progressively more extreme and bloody, with indiscriminate killing being more the rule now than the exception. (Chalk, 2000, p. 13) This of course impacts on the assessment of the types of target that the modern terrorist might choose in the United States.

Another facet of this complex issue that should not be forgotten is that there has been an increase in homegrown terrorism that emanates from within the country. These include groups and factions such as the Christian Identity movement, survivalists, xenophobics, isolationists, anti-Semites and various other radical groups that should be considered in ascertaining vulnerable "soft targets." (Chalk, 2000)

Possible domestic vulnerabilities

There are many possible areas of vulnerability in the United States. Taking into account the increasing sophistication of terrorist methods and the growing political turmoil in the Middle East, the number of vulnerable domestic targets continues to grow. The following sections will focus on some of the most prominent of these vulnerabilities.

Schools and public spaces useful work that should be noted and which provides an overview of contemporary vulnerabilities is Homeland security; protecting America's targets; edited by James J.F. Forest (2006). The second volume of this work discusses the various vulnerabilities of public places as well as the view that high schools are seen as particularly susceptible to terrorist attacks. Other public areas that may be potential targets include monuments and other national icons that have a symbolic value.

There have been a number of examples of terrorists targeting vulnerable public places and schools in the past. For instance studies refer to the attack by left-wing radicals on Army Math Research Center at the University of Wisconsin in 1970, as a protest against the Vietnam War. (Maier, 2002). As Ken Trump, president and CEO of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland, warns there are various types of educational facilities and institutions that may be "soft targets" for terrorists.

Trump notes that in the last three years "...there have been 79 students killed in elementary, middle and high schools, according to media reports, and that number could pale in comparison if terrorists strike U.S. schools as they have in Israel" (Maier, 2002). An attack on a school by terrorists would have a potentially devastating effect on the morale of the country and would serve one of the main objectives of terrorism - namely, to sow panic and fear. Trump states that; "The purpose of terrorism is to inflict mass fear and change the way we live," and "Terrorists may want to hit soft targets which lack security. Al-Qaeda has said it will hit us where we least expect it. Schools are soft targets" (Maier, 2002. p.18).

The shock value that the terrorist is aiming for is increased when young children are involved in the attack. As discussed in the introduction, in terms of the noted change in recent terrorist tactics and the more aggressive stance taken by hard-line terrorists, schools and colleges have become very real potential target for attack. In his light the threat that al-Qaeda has made to "... kill 4 million Americans, including 1 million children..." should be taken into consideration. (Maier, 2002, p.18) it is alarming to note that many experts believe that the country would not be fully prepared for an attack of this nature. "We are absolutely not prepared for a widespread attack should terrorists hit our schools..." (Maier, 2002, p.18).

Dams and power plants.

Another more obvious vulnerability and potential terrorist target are power sources, power plants and dams. An attack on a major power plant or source of energy would have a crippling effect on the infrastructure and running of the country, as well as have negative repercussions for the economy. The denial of energy by a terrorist attack would also have the effect of disrupting military operations. (Bayles, 2001) Furthermore the morale and will of the people might also be compromised by a major attack of this nature.

It should be noted that the various aspects of the countries power supply system falls into four central categories. These are:

Generation equipment, which is centralized, capital intensive, and difficult to repair.

Control systems, which are less centralized, but which are computerized and thus theoretically vulnerable to a computer network attack.

Transmission systems, which are distributed and present obvious, but linear, sparse targets.

Distribution systems, serving localities or specific industrial plants, which are highly distributed. (Bayles, 2001, p. 44)

The most vulnerable of these areas would be the control system, which would impact on the entire energy system. This could have widespread consequences for hospitals and other essential services. The ramifications of such an attack on the power system of the country are succinctly described in a study by Bayles (2001).

The widespread effects of electrical grid attacks are so devastating to a modern society that they are neither humane nor proportional to the military effect achieved. Iraq's experience after the Gulf War is an example. Neither water treatment plants nor sewage treatment plants were operational due to the longterm electricity outages. These combined to produce a major health crisis.

(Bayles, 2001, p. 44)

Other studies on this issue also point out that technological developments offer wider scope for such an attack than in the past. "As commerce, industry, transportation, and communication become more complex, they also become more susceptible to unpredictable and highly technological schemes by bands of determined and sophisticated terrorists" (Kirkpatrick, 1983, p. 84).

Kirkpatrick (1983) points out that, while other past terrorist activity has been largely characterized small scale and less dramatic targets, there is a general consensus among experts that in future there will be greater focus as energy and power resources, such as oil, gas and nuclear plants. (Kirkpatrick, 1983)

Business targets

One of the ways that terrorist attacks can create panic and disrupt the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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