This week is the 53rd annual NCMS training seminar. The week provides attendees – including security officers, government representatives and vendors – the opportunity to take a deep dive into the state of security clearance policy and process. Two morning keynotes drove home the focus on people in the security process.
Listing a number of recent security incidents, from the OPM hack to the terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert, retired Admiral Michael LeFever noted they all shared one thing in common – every incident involved “human error or a lack of human attention.”
Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst and vice president at New America gave a deep dive into the state of terrorist ideology today. He listed four emerging trends in terrorism.
1. Terrorist groups now have access to armed drones.
The United States was at the forefront of this technology, but now Iran, Pakistan and a number of hostile terror groups hold the same (if sometimes slightly inferior) technology.
2. Insider threats at airports outside of the United States.
There are more than 100 cities with direct flight access into the United States. Even in the U.S., we haven’t been able to keep terrorists from infiltrating our airport security. Individuals with terrorist ties have been found at work in LAX and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
3. What happens to the ISIS foreign fighters who leave Syria and Iraq?
Assuming the U.S. is able to push those foreign fighters out, the issue still exists as to where they go next. “Luckily, a lot of them are being killed before they have a chance to make that decision,” noted Bergen.
4. Terrorists have merged with the media.
From streaming a terrorist attack through Facebook Live to posting on-the-scene pictures at terrorist events, terrorists are widely using media to push their mission and advance their cause. This is nothing new, but the proliferation of real-time media capabilities and an increasingly digital and connected world means terrorist ideology is spreading faster than ever.
When it comes to creating the profile of a terrorist, Bergen noted President Trump was right on one assessment that marks the majority of terrorists we’ve seen in the U.S. – they’re ‘losers.’ From Nidal Hasan, who fatally shot 13 in Fort Hood, Texas, to Syed Farook of the 2015 San Bardino attack, the perpetrators were alike in their underachievement, as much as they were alike in their ideology, Bergen said.
When it comes to spotting the next insider threat or terrorist attack, it’s people that again hold the key. Bergen noted engaging the Muslim community is one of the key steps to combat the current terrorist threat. “Strangers are most likely to produce information, but it’s least useful.” He said peers and family members are the most likely to have information, but they’re also the least likely to report it.