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The Improvised Explosive Device Threat To The Homeland: Americans Are Not Prepared
Robert C. Hodges
It is a beautiful day at a Gulf Coast city in Florida. The early spring temperatures are a perfect 75 degrees. The sun is setting and downtown, the night parades are beginning. Main Street is packed with thousands of party goers, parade crowds, and the pirates on the floats as they move through the narrow streets. Suddenly, there is a loud and sharp report that surprises the people on the streets. Before, anyone can understand what has happened a second explosion occurs right in the middle of the parade, then a third bomb hidden in a trashcan two blocks away detonates. There are bodies and screaming wounded victims near all of the detonations and the carnage is spread over almost a half mile. While emergency services respond and civilians on the scenes try to react and recover, the news channels in the area report they have received a message from a well-known violent extremist organization (VEO) claiming responsibility for the attack! Thankfully, this is just a scenario of events that has not occurred. However, this coordinated attack is a terrorist’s tactic, technique, procedure (TTP) and it is not out of the realm of capabilities of some extremists, terrorists, or lone-wolfs attackers in the U.S. The U.S. needs to be prepared for this type of explosive attack and the resulting carnage.
Around the globe, violent attacks conducted by extremists are at the top of news reports. These VEOs have many tools at their disposal to use during these deadly combined attacks including knives, pistols, assault rifles, and explosives. The explosives used to make homemade bombs or Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) is not a new method of attack. However, the use of social media, improved technology, and the low cost to build an IED are all key factors in the rise of IEDs being used as an effective method of operation (Hoffman, 2014, p66). On the homeland, Americans as a whole, do not fully understand the current IED attack capabilities and the threat posed to the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made great strides in protecting the U.S. homeland and the population (GAO, 2006). The DHS and all of its departments and the FBI must take actions working with other governmental agencies to train and improve the capabilities of first responders and improve the understanding of the IED threat to the U.S. The goal is to ensure the U.S. and Americans are informed, well prepared, and ready for the dangers presented by the global IED threat.
The state of readiness, or preparedness, of the American population and the capabilities of the DHS are key factors in reducing casualties and the effectiveness of IED attacks conducted in the U.S. Attacks by extremists, no matter if they are transnational terrorists or homegrown violent extremists, are recognized as a threat to the U.S. homeland. It is essential that government organizations, first responders, and the general population all understand the threat of the IED and know their roles in limiting the effectiveness of these attacks.
The DHS has a strong foundation focused on training and preparing for the IED threat however, local first responders’ capabilities and the U.S. population’s knowledge of the IED hazard has not reached the levels needed to assure readiness. A synergistic effort by the DHS, FBI, local authorities, and first responders focused on IED education and awareness has improved first responders’ capabilities. The President has placed the responsibility for terrorism and Counter IEDs on the FBI and the DHS (PPD-17, 2013, p4). The DHS has the ability to develop training programs. Can the DHS and the FBI, through training and awareness programs, improve the capabilities of first responders and public safety specialists, while providing a better understanding of the IED threat to the American population?
With collaboration by the Intelligence Community (IC), the U.S. military, defense community, and government protective offices, there is quite a bit of information and many articles written on IEDs and the predicted threats that they present. Also, there are web-sites created by offices like the DHS’s Office of Bombing Prevention (OBP) and the FBI’s National Security Branch that have information on IEDs, terrorism, and the training programs to counter the threats. Many of these agency programs and efforts are a result of Presidential Policy Directive 17 (PPD-17) titled Countering Improvised Explosive Devices.
PPD-17 is a strategic-level document that looks at the IED threat and the efforts needed to counter this threat. It has a great flow from explaining the threat, the need to strengthen the U.S. policy, and the necessity to put the policy into action. The focus of this policy directive does hit on most of the essential elements needed for a successful C-IED program. The U.S. must improve the collection of information on IEDs and the people and organizations who use them as a weapon. This includes advancing intelligence collection and analysis. Then the U.S. must have a trained security force capable of understanding the IED threat and C-IED operations. This trained force must be ready to respond. This policy document gives a great coverage on all of these topics. The area that was overlooked is how this information, training, and the awareness levels will be relayed to the U.S. population. While a “whole-of-government approach” is needed before the threat is immediate (PPD-17, p4), Americans need to be made aware of the government programs and what is expected of the people on the street. The threat, as presented in PPD17, is well documented in many articles and news reports.
As published in the Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 2011 Bergen, Hoffman, and Tiedemann (Bergin, et al) presented information on the threat to America in their article “Assessing the Jihadist Terrorist Threat to America and American Interests”. Bergen and his coworkers shared information that ensures the reader understands the threat from Jihadists to America. They present information on the threat from Al Qaeda, the associated Al Qaeda off-shoots, and the organizations who support the Al Qaeda extremist agenda.
The groups inspired by Al Qaeda cross the Middle East and northern Africa. They include organizations like Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) based in Yemen. The AQAP specifically “has been looking to expand its terrorist attacks beyond Yemen and Saudi Arabia…” This includes the “underwear bomber” on Christmas Day 2009 (Bergen, et al, 2011, p71). There are also groups like al-Shabab in the Somalia region of Africa and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant organization.
After an introduction to the Al Qaeda threat and its reach around the globe, the Bergen team go on to explain the changing threat environment. Along with this, it is pointed out that the “American ‘melting pot’” is not resistant to the recruitment and radicalization of its residents (Bergen, et al, 2011, p78). Diversification is part of the plan for success for Al Qaeda. Reaching Americans and recruiting them is a key goal for Al Qaeda. After well-explained details for future Al Qaeda attacks, the paper goes on to describe future targets.
This paper, written in 2011, doesn’t have any reference to the Islamic State (IS), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Daesh, or its other names. This may be seen as a flaw with the research. The information provided by Bergen and the team proved to be spot on. Some of the warnings of suicide operations, attacks on American and western interests globally, and military forces was right on target. This, along with the questions presented as tied to preparedness of the U.S., provides a view of the future threat and the concerns for readiness.
A description of actions taken by the U.S. government to counter terrorism in the U.S. provided in a Congressional Research Service report written by Jerome Bjelopera, provides information on the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) and intelligence reforms put into place with the goal of countering the growing terrorist threat toward the U.S. The title of the report is “The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Terrorism Investigations” and the reader will understand this report focuses on the terrorism threat. The IED threat is not specifically mentioned, but terrorist attacks are expected. While the FBI has the lead on terrorist events, intelligence reforms and collaboration with DHS and other local law enforcement elements are seen as the route to success (Bjelopera, 2013, p25). Other supporting research documents did not focus on the IED, but they present information key to the questions about the readiness of the U.S. population as related to IED attacks.
The IED threat is very real and it can be very simple. As highlighted in The National Interest, IEDs are made of commercially available, easily accessible materials around the house. These IEDs count for the largest part of the insurgents’ attacks (Hoffman, 2014, p66,7). Hoffman goes on to explain that not only are IEDs inexpensive, if used properly they can cause millions of dollars in damages and needed repairs. That does not even consider the loss of lives and limbs as a result of the attacks.
The information provided in Hoffman’s article “Low-Tech Terrorism” puts a lot of attention in the possible use of chemical, biological, and nuclear materials in these IED attacks. The technological challenges and cost to employ a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) like described may be preventing its use. As long as IEDs are so accessible and cheap they will continue to be a weapon of choice.
A look at the Boston Bombings of 2013 provided in Perspectives on Terrorism, written by Rohan Gunaratna and Cleo Haynal, gives detailed information on the recruiting and radicalization of the Tsarnaev brothers. The information in this paper covers many of the details of how the brothers were radicalized, what the signs of radicalization were, and how this may be prevented, is key information on the counter terrorism front. It does not directly support the concerns focused by this paper. However, there are several key points that can be taken from Gunaratna and Haynal. The fact that a 2012 survey showed a reduced concern for terrorism by the American public supports the reasoning of why Americans may not be trained and ready to respond to an IED threat. Americans, in general, just do not see a realistic IED threat.
The paper also provides supporting information on the efforts of online radicalization and information sharing through the media. The information on how to build the pressure cooker IEDs was taken from Inspire magazine in an article called “How to Make a Bomb in Your Mother’s Kitchen” (Gunaratna, Hayan, 2013, p52). The information on IEDs, how to make them, and how to employ them is available and easily accessible. First responders must be ready when extremists decide to use them.
In addition to the DHS and the FBI, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) takes part in the education of emergency first responders. As seen during the response to the Boston Bombings, first responders are not always prepared and ready for such a violent attack. Anthony Kimery points out the value of post-attack actions and how the information gathered can supplement investigation and intelligence efforts. He also highlights the new information system and forms developed after evaluating the lessons learned from the Boston Bombings.
This same article in Homeland Security Magazine, December 2013/January 2014, touches on the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). JIEDDO was formed as a need from the war against IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq. JIEDDO analysts predicted that IEDs as seen in Afghanistan would be used off the battlefield and predicted the attack like the Boston Marathon Bombing (Kimery, 2014). JIEDDO is now called the Joint Improvised Device Agency (JIDA).
Another professional paper that referenced JIEDDO was published in the January/February 2013 issue of The Officer. The article “The Weapon for Choice” presented strong points of argument that IEDs present new challenges for the military, international safety, and the security of the U.S. Homeland. Eric Minton opens with some statistics and facts that brings the reader into the focus of the paper. Lieutenant General (LTG) Barbero is introduced as the Director of JIEDDO. The key points explained how IEDs are a threat being realized around the globe. JIEDDO’s mission is three fold: train the force, defeat the device, and attack the network.
JIEDDO’s last mission is the strategic goal, an enduring effect to reduce the IED threat. Currently the IED threat is a network and it can only be defeated by another network. This article, like some others, covers how homemade explosives (HME) are used in many IEDs. Some of the information is slightly outdated having been written three years ago during IED and C-IED combat operations. This article seems to revolve around quotations from LTG Barbero. These quotes are on point, but with so many quotes someone may believe this article was written to support JIEDDO and LTG Barbero’s programs. Minton’s paper also presented C-IED information and efforts. The emphasis was on a whole-of-government approach. Mr. Minton highlights the need for intelligence, collaboration and security for the future to defeat the IED network.
Predictions into the future are challenging, but are required by analysts and the IC. One method of predicting future attacks is to look at successful attacks from the past. As presented in “Countering the Coordinated Attack” written by A. Richman, Dov Zwerling, Avichai Persi, Nissan Ratzlav-Katz, Nati Aron, IEDs are usually an element of a coordinated attack. This article provides a definition for a coordinated attack and looks at three such events/attacks. IEDs and Vehicle Borne IEDs (VBIEDs) were used in these attacks (Richman, et al, 2010, p24). Attacks like these have been seen is several countries, but have not yet been seen in the U.S. This may be only due to the dud firing of an IED built and employed during the San Bernardino terrorist attack. If the San Bernardino 2015 attack would have been conducted on separate fronts at the same time it may have met the definition of a coordinated attack. It is only a matter of time until coordinated attacks like those seen against western targets in France and the United Kingdom will be seen on U.S. soil. As a whole, the U.S. Homeland can be seen as a soft target.
The Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC) web-site provides some detailed information on the threats faced by soft targets. Examples are tourism areas, hotels, sporting events, and other areas where thousands of people gather with limited security filters. TRAC has information on the terrorists, their expected mode of attack, their motives, and how they expect to benefit from these attacks. In remarks on how to counter the threat from terrorists’ attacks, there are points on how to educate key people in the industry. The program operated jointly by the DHS and the TSA called the “First Observer”. This program “attempts to train parking attendants with skills to identify a potential threat” (TRAC, 2016). This will bring awareness levels closer to the American population and provide another line of defense.
The FBI’s official web site, www.fbi.gov, provides many links and a plethora of information tied to the efforts of the FBI and their offices. One of these offices is the Terrorist Explosive Devices Analytical Center (TEDAC). TEDAC is a “single interagency organization to receive, fully analyze, and exploit all terrorist IEDs of interest to the United States” (FBI, TEDAC, 2016). The information available at the web-site will support with facts and figures of the events the FBI was involved with. This site links many core and interrelated web pages that are instrumental in understanding the current counter terrorism and C-IED operations.
The American public has seen the attacks around the world and on the U.S. Homeland where IEDs were used to kill and maim fellow Americans. They are aware of the threat of the IED however, most of the U.S. population is not concerned with the IED threat. There are several governmental agencies that are directed by PPD17 to lead the C-IED efforts. The DHS has the lead and this office works collaboratively with the FBI, TSA, FEMA and others to train, equip, and prepare for terrorist attacks. These attacks include IED attacks.
The Homeland Security Presidential Directive-19, Combating Terrorist Use of Explosives in the United States (HSPD-19) calls for a nation strategy to prevent, protect against, and prepare to respond to the terrorist use of explosives in the U.S. There are several different definitions for and IED. Because this paper is focused on the needed actions by organizations linked to the DHS, the working definition for IED as related to this paper is provided in HSPD-19. “’IED’ means an explosive device that is fabricated in an improvised manner incorporating explosives or other destructive, lethal, pyrotechnic, or incendiary chemicals” (HSPD-19, p127). This directive recognizes the threat IEDs present to the U.S. and directs agencies to develop and implement plans and policy to counter the threat. This includes funding and implementation plans (p130). The goal is for federal agencies to team with local agencies and personnel to deter, protect, and prevent explosive attacks in the U.S.
This research will reinforce the understanding of the IED threat on the U.S. Homeland. It will also explain the current readiness levels of these key organizations and the programs used to train and prepare for IED/explosive terrorist attacks. The response capabilities of these organizations and first responders can be seen as competent and improving. The key is getting the American population to understand the importance they play in national readiness and security. The people must have a heightened awareness level and understand the actions that may save lives should an IED attack occur. This paper will the link PPD-17 to HSPD-19 and the agencies involved with setting the way ahead to improved population awareness and national readiness.
The recent complex attacks in Europe claimed in the name of VEOs and the lack of knowledge possessed by the American population related to IEDs brings to attention the need for improved readiness. In an effort to address this lack of preparedness a qualitative instrumental approach was taken, with the goal being to provide insight into the realistic IED threat, the lack of IED knowledge by Americans, and the need for training to improve readiness. The variables evaluated and the questions researched were all focused on the main hypothesis. Can the DHS’s OBP and the FBI, working with other key government agencies, through training and awareness programs, improve the capabilities of first responders and provide a better understanding of the IED threat to the U.S. general population?
Information gathered during research supports the hypothesis of this paper. There is a realistic threat of IED attacks in the U.S. homeland. Also, Americans lack the general knowledge tied to this threat. To improve security and safety there is a need for C-IED training programs. The evolving IED threat is a direct variable that is easily supported and researched along with the capabilities of the organizations that are key to the C-IED programs. Articles from news agencies online reveal the ongoing death and destruction resulting from IED attacks. Almost daily IED attacks are included in news reports. Intelligence analysis reports will be the vital link between recorded history of IED attacks and predicting the future threats. This future threat needs to be shared with Americans.
Understanding the U.S. population’s current knowledge of IEDs is an indirect variable that is very difficult to answer from a qualitative research study. It is important to understand the knowledge and opinions of the American population. Does the general population believe the IED threat is real? A study conducted in 2012 showed that most Americans were not concerned about a terrorist attack on the homeland (Gunaratna & Haynal, 2013,p44). Another variable that can only be answered at some point in the future deals with how well Americans respond to the training efforts of the DHS, OBP, FBI, and local first responders.
Understanding the training capabilities of the DHS-OBP and the FBI were key parts of this research. Looking into these organization’s web pages for the training provided and goals of the programs provided a strong comprehension of their efforts and capabilities. As research focused on the threat and the need for training, the official web-sites of the DHS-OBP (http://www.dhs.gov/obp) and the FBI (https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/terrorism) provided information on authority, current programs, and leads on related materials. An example of resources from the FBI web-site include information on the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC). Current events and information from the news media were also included in the IED threat research efforts.
Linking the threat of the IED directly to loss of life and limb by Americans and the need to be prepared is essential. To this end, news reports of IED attacks on the U.S. Homeland and the devastation caused were retrieved from online articles. Examples include the Boston Marathon Bombing as reported by CBS News (CBSNEWS, 2016). Reports of these actual IED attacks on the Homeland bring to attention a shortfall in readiness and the need for actions.
In efforts to provide a well-rounded argument for the need of improved IED threat awareness and C-IED training, research was conducted seeking materials countering the ideas presented in this paper. In conversations with peers, questions were asked about the availability of IED or bomb-making materials and the knowledge to assemble a functional IED. During this research, no reference supporting a counter argument could be discovered. There is a plethora of information available on how to build IEDs. Unfortunately this information includes details on how to make Homemade Explosives (HME) from items in your kitchen if needed (Hoffman, 2014, p67). I also found no reports that pointed to the wasted efforts or funds by the DHS’s OBP or the FBI in their C-IED training efforts. All methods used to find supporting information for this research were used to find a counter argument. No counter arguments were discovered. Efforts to find a counter argument only revealed more supporting information.
Without argument, there is a realistic IED threat in the U.S. There is also a recognized lack of IED knowledge and understanding of the IED threat by Americans. These facts demonstrate the need for improved IED awareness training and increased IED readiness.
Analysis and Findings
"Our capabilities to counter IEDs have evolved and grown. We must not become complacent, but must continue to challenge ourselves and each other to be more effective against these threats as we work together to reach our shared national interests of safety, security, and prosperity."
-- Barack Obama, President of the United States, Presidential Policy Directive - 17 Countering Improvised Explosive Devices
In recent years, the general population of the United States (U.S.) has become more aware of the threat from explosives used to make home-made bombs. This education has developed so that the acronym used by military specialists and public safety professionals for these types of bombs has become easily recognized. The Improvised Explosive Device or “IED” became a part of the daily news reports from Iraq and Afghanistan during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. What was once called a booby trap, or road-side bomb became understood as types of IEDs and were a well-used part of the American vocabulary. There are many definitions for the IED. For the purposes of this research the definition from the HSPD-19 was used. An IED “means an explosive device that is fabricated in an improvised manner incorporating explosives or other destructive, lethal, pyrotechnic, or incendiary chemicals” (HSPD-19, p127). The IED is used during an “explosive attack” defined by the same reference as “an act of terrorism in the United States using an explosive.”
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued, Americans started to understand that an IED was an explosive attack that could kill or maim people and destroy property. However, the threat they posed to Americans and the U.S. homeland was not recognized. The population as a whole did not feel threatened by terrorists or that these IEDs were going to be used on the streets of the U.S. (Gunaratna & Haynal, 2013, p 44). Many local leaders and public safety officials reflected this lack of concern with inaction. After all, these were tools of war being seen by combat forces on foreign soil. Even if these extremists and insurgents had the ability to make IEDs, how or why would they use them in the U.S.?
The U.S. has been attacked with IEDs several times in recent history: The first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing on the Murrah Federal building in 1995, the attempted car bomb discovered in New York’s Time Square in 2010, and the well-known attack at the Boston Marathon in 2013 (FBI Reports and Publications, 2016). After these attacks and several other events, the U.S. still does not recognize IED attacks as a realistic terrorist threat to the Homeland. Research conducted by Steven Becker, PhD, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, reflects this lack of understanding. His study showed that there is a concern by Americans related to terrorism. However, these same Americans when asked, the majority do not think the attacks will happen where they live (2010, p19). Americans must accept that an explosive terrorist attack can happen to them. The U.S. and Americas have been and will continue to be a target of IED attacks from many origins.
Transnational terrorists are the first threat that many think of. This is a result of the activities in the last decade from Islamic extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islam State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Islamic State (IS), and the Daesh. Attacks from these VEOs are not the only threat to the U.S. homeland. There are also threats from homegrown violent extremists (HVE) and lone wolf attackers that originate on the homeland. All of these are realistic threats to the U.S. and they all have the ability to design, build, and detonate IEDs capable of killing and maiming people and destroying property (Bergen, P., Hoffman, B., and Tiedemann, K., 2011, p67-69). The IED threat to Americans was solidified most recently by the terrible attacks at the Boston Marathon Bombing in April, 2013 (CBSNEWS, 2016). The IED will continue to be used during violent attacks by terrorists.
There is no disagreement from security experts that the IED has become and will continue to be the “weapon of choice” by VEOs (Minton, 2013). As long as the components to make an IED can be easily accessed or made with little concern of being discovered, they will continue to be employed in violent attacks. Another reason for IEDs to continue as main weapons of terrorists is the fact that they are incredibly effective and very inexpensive. An example of this is the 1993 bomb attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The IED placed in the van and parked in the garage under the World Trade Center cost less than $400. This bomb killed six people, wounded around a thousand, and caused $550 million in damages (Hoffman, 2014, p68). IED attacks in the U.S. will continue and are expected to increase. Actions must be taken to inform and educate the American population on how to prepare for an explosive attack, what is suspicious and should be reported, and what they should do if they become the target of an IED attack.
Many government offices and programs have been created to facilitate the improved readiness at the federal and local government levels. While these agencies have improved the response capabilities of first responders and C-IED professionals, the preparedness of the general population has not been improved. An example of this lack of preparedness consider this, if the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) or the DHS released an IED threat advisory, what actions by Americans should change?
It was proven in New York that if someone parks an SUV on Times Square, then walks away as smoke is coming out of it, and the SUV has large gas tanks visible inside then someone will recognize the threat and call 911. On the opposite end of the attack spectrum, as experienced during the 1996 Olympics Bombing in Atlanta and the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings, no one pays attention to someone leaving a back pack in or near a garbage can and then walking away from it. Many Americans have heard the DHS’s tag line, “If you see something, say something.” It is trademarked slogan (DHS.GOV). This tag line successfully highlights the fact that safety and security are everyone’s concern. However, it makes no attempt to teach the audience how to identify an IED. Overall, there is still a lack of knowledge by the general population on what is suspicious as related to the terrorist threat, VEOs, lone-wolf attacks, or IEDs.
With the exception of trained responders, C-IED professionals, and military members with deployment training; the average American doesn’t know what an IED may look like or what they should be looking for. As part of this education there are many questions that need to be addressed. What may an IED look like? If someone thought they saw an IED, who do they report it to? How do they report it? Should they take any other immediate actions? These answers can only be provided through dedicated IED awareness and training programs. The DHS and the FBI recognize the need for this training. These agencies have developed IED training and information programs available on line. Most of the information available on the FBI.GOV web site is focused on C-IED operations by the Public Safety Bomb Squads (PSBS) and emergency responders. The FBI operates the Hazardous Devices School (HDS) at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama (FBI, 2016). This is the national school where all bomb technicians are trained and certified. The HDS ensures that all PSBS meet a minimum standard and have minimum equipment so they may respond to IED and suspect IED attacks. The DHS-OBP has recognized the need for training designed for the community.
The best example of information and training provided by the DHS and the OBP is available at the “Counter-IED Awareness Products” page on the DHS.GOV web site (https://www.dhs.gov/counter-ied-awareness-products). Here the DHS has developed and posted excellent information related to bomb threat guidance and checklists. The DHS and the OBP offer C-IED training courses designed not only for first responders, but for the community and private sector. Examples of this training include “Bomb-Making Materials Awareness Program Training” and “IED Search Procedures Workshop” (DHS, 2016). This is a great effort on the right path to success. One short fall in this effort is informing Americans that this information is right at their fingertips. Until there is a concentrated effort by the DHS to reach out to Americans and offer IED threat awareness training, the U.S. general population will not know what the terrorist explosive attack is or how they can prepare before an IED attack and respond after the explosive attack.
Events like the Boston Marathon bombing demonstrate the realistic IED threat on the U.S. homeland as well as the American population’s lack of preparedness and knowledge of IEDs. As seen by the explosive attacks in the United Kingdom, Spain, France, and recently Turkey; the IED is a weapon that continues to be used very successfully by terrorists and violent extremists. All around the globe explosive attacks are in news reports. Terrorists have made the IED the leading part in their complex attacks. Attacks by transnational terrorists, lone wolfs, or homegrown violent extremists are recognized as a mounting threat to the U.S. homeland. Improved technology and information sharing through social media are factors that have facilitated the rise in IED attacks. Information provided by the FBI, DHS, and counter terrorism professionals establishes that the IED threat on U.S. soil is an issue that must be addressed. Currently, Americans do not understand the perils faced as related to the IED threat.
The American general population knows that an IED is a homemade bomb and they are aware that these bombs have been used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most Americans understand that IEDs are being used by VEOs like the Islamic State. However, they do not fully understand the IED threat in the U.S. The White House and the current administration recognize the threat that IEDs present to the U.S. As a result there is a Presidential Policy Directive on Countering IEDs. This document and the Homeland Security Presidential Directive on Combating Terrorist use of Explosives aligns the responsibility for C-IED efforts under the DHS.
The DHS through its OBP has the lead on C-IED efforts in the U.S. The DHS and the OBP have taken very proactive efforts to create training programs. These training efforts are focused on the first responders and security professionals whose job it is to protect the American people and property from the explosive effects of IEDs.
The DHS, working with the FBI, has made great gains working with local agencies and first responders. PSBS assigned to police and sheriff’s offices throughout the U.S. and security personnel have an improved understanding of the IED threat and C-IED capabilities. The Government Accountability Office has recognized these efforts and the successes of the DHS (GAO, 2006). These agencies and personnel are better prepared. The readiness of the general population is still several steps behind.
The future and way forward is in the wheelhouse of the DHS. The solution may be a series of public service announcements (PSA) similar to the “Duck and Cover” message used by the Civil Defense in the height of the Cold War (Military.com, 2016). The Civil Defense used these messages to teach people to keep their “eyes on the sky” and trained civilians to prepare and respond after a nuclear attack. After the wall in Berlin fell, the Civil Defense disappeared. The DHS has filled this role as it was created after the attacks of 9/11.
The DHS has a strong foundation focused on training and preparing for the IED threat. As highlighted by LTG Barbero when he commanded JIEDDO, there are three focuses in defeating the IED network: defeat the device, attack the network, and train the force (Minton, 2013, p 75). JIEDDO’s focus was C-IED in combat and looked for military solutions. All military members had to receive IED training before going into the combat theater. Now the combat theater is coming to the U.S. While the DHS, the FBI, and other agencies have prepared to defeat the device and attack the network, little has been done on the third element of success; train the force. The civilian equivalent to the force is the general population.
There should be an effort to provide basic IED information to the American population. One method to address this training need may be short PSA messages, like “Duck and Cover” to present information on what an IED may look like or how it may be used by an attacker. These PSA announcements developed by the DHS will need to inform Americans on what makes an item, a person, or an activity suspicious.
There is little doubt that a synergistic information and training campaign led by the DHS and including the FBI and local authorities can successfully improve the U.S. population’s IED threat awareness and readiness. These training efforts must begin before a series of bombs detonate in an American city, subway system, or large public gathering. Any continued delay in these training efforts will only enhance the success of the IED attacks.
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