In September, the Department of Homeland Security issued its latest National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) bulletin, notifying state and local organizations and the public that the U.S. continues “to face one of the most challenging threat environments since 9/11.”
That sounds pretty newsworthy, yet you probably didn’t hear much around this latest warning from DHS. Very few publications covered the bulletin, because it was very similar to the last two NTAS bulletins, in May and last November. But the bulletin should not be dismissed. In fact, it reiterates the troubling, long-term shift in the threat landscape since the NTAS system was rolled out in 2011. Rather than assign their own members to conduct carefully-planned, 9/11-style attacks on hardened facilities such as airports and government buildings, foreign terrorist organizations such as ISIS are using the Internet to “inspire, enable, or direct individuals already here in the homeland to commit terrorist acts,” the bulletin reads.
DHS’s concern isn’t only about the ability of groups like ISIS to radicalize Americans to do their bidding. It’s also about how and where those attacks will be made. Recent bulletins have all warned of attacks on “public places and events” using “easy-to-use tools.” As we have seen all too often in places like Nice, London and the U.S., attacks are on the rise at lightly-defended targets such as office buildings, entertainment venues and marketplaces, often with handguns, knives and rented trucks.
This long-term shift requires a substantial rethink of the security technology needed to protect visitors to these softer targets. Traditional metal detectors can find the tiniest pen-knife if given the time, but they will also find every last key and piece of spare change. That means long lines of frustrated people, just trying to get on with their everyday lives. For our companies, schools, businesses and entertainment venues to actually invest in weapons detection infrastructure, they will need higher throughput, smarter screening systems that are optimized to find weapons and explosives capable of inflicting mass casualties.
The need is especially pressing for low-hassle systems that can reliably spot major threats. There have been more than 20,000 shootings this year alone, many by lone wolf killers such as troubled teens attacking classmates to a shooting at concert goers from a hotel window. But the NTAS bulletin is an important reminder that ISIS and its ilk are also still out there. Indeed, DHS expects that the more ground ISIS loses in the Middle East militaries of the US and other nations, the more it will focus on fomenting soft target attacks on U.S. soil.