Terrorism is a “tactic” that is here to stay for the foreseeable future, PFI panelists agreed, adding that communities and individuals can lessen the threat of being victimized by vigilance and cooperative effort.
In combating terrorism, Alan Beckley, immediate past president of PFI and a consultant in the United Kingdom, advised: “Think long and hard before taking military action, as deaths in countries you attack create martyrs.” Based on his 20 years experience in policing and courses he has taught in counterterrorism, Beckley added: “Don’t be frightened to involve citizens in homeland security programs—you might be surprised how energetic they are.”
PFIer Bernard “Bud” Levin spoke of overreaction to the terrorist threat: “We demolish relationships, waste resources, demoralize ourselves, and distort our economy, all in the name of protection.” Levin, commander of Policy and Planning
in the Waynesboro, VA, Police Department and head of Social Studies at nearby
Blue Ridge Community College, added: “In doing so, we give the terrorists a free win—out of mindless fear, we damage ourselves far more than they can damage us.”
The terror threat comes from domestic (e.g., racists, anti-government, separatists, anti-abortion, animal liberation) as well as foreign groups, warned PFIer Carl Jensen, supervisory special agent in the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, adding the formula for terrorism is the same as the one used in crime prevention: motivated offender + suitable targets + lack of capable guardianship = terrorism (and crime).
“Terrorism is a tactic used by the weak against the strong,” said Jensen, who teaches Terrorism Investigation at the FBI Academy. “Once we realize that our chances of becoming a victim are remote, we have taken away a significant benefit for the terrorists. If they don’t achieve the terror they seek, then they lose their advantage.” Emphasizing that terrorism is a tactic that can be used by any participant in a dispute—”One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”—PFIer Gene Stephens showed a “Homeland Security” visual of four armed Native Americans “Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.”
Acknowledging that trains, planes, rapid transit, and buses will continue to be targets, Stephens, a retired university professor and continuing futures presenter in police executive development programs, warned an almost certain future target will be the worldwide internet and cyber data and an almost certain new method will be biotech-created pathogens to create lethal air, water, and environment.
All participants agreed that collective vigilance and action at the community level to proactively root out terror plots can positively impact the threat level. At the same time, all suggested citizens should get on with their lives and refuse to live in fear—thus thwarting the goals of terrorists’ groups.
[In-depth reports of conference contents can be found in the Fall 2005 issue of the PFI Newsletter, Police Futurist.