The Role of CCTV in Terrorist TTPs: Camera System Avoidance and Targeting
The object of this article is to develop a conceptual framework, to critically evaluate the role of closed circuit television (CCTV) in terrorist TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures), focusing on camera system avoidance and targeting. This will be examined in terms of the interplay of tactics and technology, between surveillance (provided by CCTV) and its avoidance, or destruction, as these serve as a precondition to successfully committing an act of terrorism, from an operational and tactical perspective.
The pervasive presence of CCTV in cities underpins much of contemporary security, policing and defence, against anti-social behaviour, crime and terrorism. The dominate debate as to its effectiveness is not the object of this article; instead the question addressed here – is does the presence of CCTV factor in terrorism TTPs? The argument made here is that CCTV coverage is regularly used in post-incident analysis of acts of terrorism. This has been a factor previously in terrorism planning, either avoiding it for greater operational security, or using it to document jihad resolve.
The question remains, do trends in crime and activism to actively destroy CCTV suggest any alternative terrorist TTPs? This article will examine this shift in terrorist TTPs specifically addressing the perception (admittedly an assumption), that a terrorist actor in the future will see CCTV systems as a potential operational and tactical threat; and that predicatively given current trends to destroy CCTV assets in cities, as a means to aid criminal or activist activity. Therefore, one future indicator of a pending major terrorism attack is likely to be the ‘downing’ of local CCTV.
The role of TTPs in terrorism analysis is that this concept is used to identify individual patterns of behaviour of a particular terrorist activity, or a particular terrorist organisation (Sullivan, Bauer, 2008). The concept of TTPs helps examine and categorize more general tactics, and weapons used by a particular terrorist activity, or a particular terrorist organisation. The current approach to terrorism analysis involves an examination of the behaviour of an individual terrorist, or that of a terrorist organisations, in particular their use of specific weapons, used in specific ways; and which may included different tactics and strategies being exhibited. Normally, the ‘technology’ aspects of tactics, techniques and procedures are treated as indiscreet elements within TTPs. However a specific focus on CCTV as an ‘opponent’, so to speak, raises an interesting focus on the specifics of a technology that encourages a counter-tactic/operation to be created. In this case the specific need to destroy, or render useless the capacity of police, security or defence to surveil an area, collect information, and digital images of people’s activities. As stated, the dominate debate to do with CCTV is its effectiveness in crime prevention; however, viewed alternatively, that a terrorist actor likely sees CCTV systems as a potential operational and tactical threat, an analogy can be made with known criminal and activist perceptions (which will be explored further in this article), who do target CCTV specifically. It is argued that a likely outcome based on the need to achieve operational security, is the ‘downing of CCTV’ as a precondition for a successful attack. This latter point will be examined next, in two sections: actual instances of attacks on CCTV equipment; and, a recent example of CCTV avoidance strategy in a case of terrorism.
Attacks on CCTV Equipment
Actual instances of attacks on CCTV equipment are regularly reported, and these cover a spectrum from drunken attacks on a single unit, such as the 2015 Australian case of a terrorist sympathiser (who had posted a series of tweets that supported the Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis), who was fined for a CCTV attack (Flower, 2015). In that case, the defendant, “who defended himself, had no explanation for his violent outburst ... allegedly told police he was drunk when he attacked the camera in broad daylight.” (Flower, 2015) Another instance, involving actual criminal intent, was a recent UK case, where two criminals smashed a camera during an armed-raid (Wheatstone, 2015). The ‘Camover 2013’ campaign, is an instance of actual systematic attacks on CCTV. This particular campaign was started by German dissidents who turned their attacks into a game, and their deliberate vandalism of CCTV equipment was to protest the rise of surveillance technology in the country (Blagdon, 2013). This was reported as “a competition unfolding across the country, in which teams attempt to destroy as many CCTV cameras as possible.” (Blagdon, 2013) According to a Guardian report the activist’s objective, was to: “see all surveillance cameras removed from public spaces, ... taking matters into their own hands, by taking down as many cameras as possible ahead of February's European Police Congress” (Stallwood, 2013). In the Camover 2013 campaign:
“bonus scores are given to the teams that display the most creativity in destruction. In ... video invitation ... you can see ski-masked "players" (self-described shoplifters, graffiti sprayers, homeless, and squatters) tearing the cameras down with ropes, smashing them out with hammers, and blacking them out with billowing clouds of spray paint. Teams are encouraged to upload their conquests to the Camover website.” (Blagdon, 2013)
According to one activist online magazine, the Camover 2013 campaign: “game ended in February 2013, at least 60 cameras had been smashed in Germany, Finland, Greece and the USA.” (Disabling Surveillance, 2014) In the U.S., a Camover group in Washington State released a statement ... saying that they destroyed 17 surveillance cameras (Kane, 2013).
A 2014 online magazine article on the Camover 2013 campaign (still available online at the time of writing this article - as the Camover 2013 website was itself removed from several servers, during policing action against the group in 2013-2014) shows several diagrams illustrating how activists can destroy cameras in various locations, and ways (effectively providing an online TTPs manual on CCTV destruction). The methods listed: “1. Beat It; 2. Snare It; 3. Tape it Over; 4. Bag It, Blind It; 5. Cut the Power; 6. Spray the Lens; 7. Laser Dazzling; and, 8. Block Drop” (Disabling Surveillance, 2014). As well, this magazine edition encourages its readers: “Take a quasi-revolutionary name like Berlin’s Black Rabbit of Death Commando, or the Sternburg Export Fraktion (named after a German beer), then mask up, wreck cameras, video the vandalism and post the footage online.” (Disabling Surveillance, 2014) It is interesting to note, that in relation to item ‘4. Bag It, Blind It’. The actual origin of this method was an observation made by activists, how: “Camover recommends gluing a plastic bag over a camera. In 2010, police in Birmingham, UK, were forced to do the same (without the glue) to 218 of their own cameras, after local activists revealed police cameras were disproportionately concentrated in relatively low-crime, predominantly Muslim areas.” (Disabling Surveillance, 2014) This last example, illustrates that TTPs are an evolving mythology, where in this case the actions of Birmingham police are observed, copied and then extended.
The examples illustrated in this article, from 2013 and 2015, demonstrate that actual attacks on CCTV equipment commonly occurs. The reasons range from acts of lone rage, part of a criminal plan to deny policing CCTV evidence of a crime, to systematic campaigns by activists. In the next part of this article the focus will be to look at CCTV avoidance altogether as a strategy.
CCTV Avoidance Strategy
In recent news reporting on the case involving a Sydney teenager Raban Alou, charged with several offences under Australian anti-terrorism law in 2015, in relation to procuring a weapon said to have been used in the shooting murder of police accountant Curtis Cheng at the Parramatta police headquarters, earlier in 2015. Part of the reporting referred to a police alleged incident, where the accused “handed a revolver to Parramatta gunman Farhad Jabar in the female section of the Parramatta Mosque where there was no CCTV coverage” (Rubinsztein-Dunlop, 2015).
This set of circumstances emphasises how the presence of CCTV can be a factor in terrorist TTPs. In particular, the choice of a specific location for the arming of an assailant, where there is no CCTV. While, it may seem an obvious choice, to find a location where an illicit transaction can take place, looked at from a tactical and operational perspective, two fundamental operational objectives are in fact achieved:
- The initial avoidance of detection and intervention by security, which has the potential to disrupt the terrorist operation from going ahead, to start with.
- The latent-advantage that without CCTV coverage a key element in policing is denied, with the lack of real-time physical evidence being available post-the-terrorism event, during investigations, leading to prosecutions – which again, which has the potential to disrupt future terrorist operation from going ahead.
In the UK context, for example, these two elements disrupt the 1999 strategy, usually called the ‘four ‘P’s of security/policing counterterrorism strategies: Prevent, Pursue, Protect, and Prepare’ (UK Home Office, 2011). In the first case, the adoption of an avoidance strategy using CCTV blind-spots denies the ‘Prevent’ portion of the basic security strategy. The lack of evidence also denies the ‘Pursue’ portion of the basic security strategy. This later point, namely, the longstanding function of CCTV has been to permit post-incident analysis in the investigation of crime, and facilitate the prosecution and detection of crime. In the case of terrorism, this is a significant operational problem. Namely, it is a significant factor that major, even minor attacks have all led to the subsequent rolling-up of the terrorist group involved, and its network of supporters, leading to a significant degrading in any future capacity to wage further attacks.
CCTV Evidence Used in Previous Post-Terrorism Investigations
According to research on al Qaeda: “Allegedly, a number of minor operatives have been arrested after being spotted on CCTV uploading al Qaeda communications at Internet cafes.” (Atwan, 2006) The instance of CCTV evidence being used in previous post-terrorism investigations, for the purposes of this article, are best demonstrated by the 2005 attacks in London on the Underground. Famously, in that case CCTV was available showing the bombers entering the London Underground, and having identified the individuals involved, their prior movements were back-tracked, allowing police to find not only their car parked in Luton, but their flat in Leeds, where the bombs had been made. Two weeks later, the same set of circumstances was replayed, when police used CCTV footage to start a manhunt for Yassin Omar and his co-conspirators (in the failed second attempted terrorist attack on the London Underground).
From an operational perspective, one of the core concepts is ‘operational security’, where the object is to deny an opponent any capacity to view, or know of an impending attack. Instances, when this general adage of warfighting is subverted, can be where the attacker wants an opponent to know what he or she is doing. In the case of the London Underground attacks in 2005, it was clearly the case that the terrorists involved wanted everyone to see their actions – in this case they appear to consciously want themselves to be captured on CCTV. In fact, the historical footage seems to show them ‘playing to the camera’ especially in the case of the now famous footage of Mohammad Sidique Khan, and this group, in the lead-up to the attack, where they appeared unconcerned that their actions were being filmed. The rational for this, is that the attackers wanted their actions filmed in order to prove their jihad; as much as it was irrelevant that they were being filmed in the first place, as their actions were innocuous –enough not to draw any attention to them (this can be compared to the case of Sydney teenager Raban Alou discussed above, where he needed a CCTV blind-spot to exchange a gun).
The argument that can be made, is that the ‘desire to be filmed’ is purely an expression of the operational concept viz to be ‘proved to be the jihadist who make the attack’. This can be argued to be a vital part of the whole attack methodology: which was to demonstrate ‘jihadist resolve’. If however, there was a fundamental shift in the operational paradigm, namely an embedded strategy – such as the PIRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army) campaigns in the 1970s and 80s where the perpetrators deliberately sought anonymity in order to preserve the terrorist structure. This was cleanly the case, when the 1977 PIRA’s ‘restructuring strategy’ memo, known as the Staff Report was found, and this instructed:
“This old system with which the Brits and the [Special] Branch are familiar has to be changed. We recommend reorganization and remotivation…We emphasize a return to secrecy and strict discipline. Army men must be in total command of all sections of the movement…Anti-interrogation lectures must be given in conjunction with indoctrination lectures…Cells of four volunteers with be controlled militarily by the Brigade’s/Command Operations Officer…Cells should operate as often as possible outside of their own areas: both the confuse Brit intelligence (which would increase our security) and to expand out operational areas.” (Coogan, 1996)
The interplay with CCTV, between PIRA tactics evolved much later, with the development of the City of London’s ring of steel in the 1990s. In this particular example, CCTV cameras were deployed in deliberated narrowed street lanes, forcing traffic to slow to allow drivers, vehicles and number plates to be more easily recorded. It has been argued, that the presence of this system, compelled the republicans to shift focus onto targets outside central London, such as the 1996 Docklands attack.
The 1996 Docklands attack illustrates that CCTV has been factored into terrorist operational concepts, to the extent that its presence arguably led the PIRA to avoid central London, and attack a target where there was less-likelihood of interdiction by security authorities. It is also the case of later London attacks that terrorist groups like al Qaeda, the attack mythology changed to be less depended on vehicle-borne attacks (which central London security is designed to interdict), to smaller people-borne attacks, which in the 2005 cases of the Underground attacks, were somewhat depended on CCTV being present to document their jihad. This suggests two competing sets of terrorist TTPs, as to potential the use of CCTV:
- Rely on its presence as form of historical recording. In which case, the CCTV system has become a defacto-tool of terrorists to promote their actions after the attack.
- Avoid CCTV as part of the operational security methodology.
The adoption of an avoidance strategy in regards to CCTV may also signal a much broader operational shift by terrorist groups towards conservation of assets, than have been seen in the past. Where the rolling-up-arrests of people involved in terrorism following an attack has been the norm, to a posture based on maintaining secrecy and anonymity where the same group (operating more like a conventional insurgency) can continue with their attacks on an ongoing basis.
Extrapolated into a future-paradigm, it can be argued that in order to allow future attacks to take place then a completely different strategy must come into play, namely the downing of local CCTV as a prelude to attack. This operational concept will be discussed next. This analysis will then be recast as an example of an interposing tactics problem.
Downing of Local CCTV as a Prelude to Attack
The argument, is that CCTV coverage is regularly used in post-incident analysis of terrorism acts, and this factor leads to the suggestion, that predicatively given current criminal and activist trends to destroy CCTV assets in cities as a means to aid their activities, one likely indicator of a major terrorism attack is likely to be ‘downing’ of local CCTV. This may even extend to the systematic targeting of the CCTV system, its power as well as data storage centres. The argument is that ‘destruction of the CCTV system’ across a city will by necessity form an important part of the overall operational concept in a future act of terrorism. The question arises how will this be accomplished, without tipping local security or policing that a major act of terrorism is about to be launched?
One potential set of events, could be the employment (as a mode of operation) utilising radicalised street-people, or people acting as street-people, operating as the irregular force to disrupt and degrade on a substantial scale the very means that conventional security for city centres is dependent (much the same as Camover 2013). This sort of attack can be viewed as an example of “skid row terrorist TTPs” (Flaherty, 2013), where the attackers – such as in Camover 2013 – are camouflaged into the urban landscape as homeless and vagrants. For instance, people talking on these roles, may in fact only be a few, who rapidly move along the street and building landscape, at all hours ripping down cameras and cutting cabling; even deploying small easy to construct IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), such as gunpowder pipe-bombs to attack offices where CCTV watching and recording takes place, and well as destroy digital assets; “the use of the homeless beggar on the streets sitting on the ground covered by dirty blankets and bedding outside transport hubs and alongside roads presents the perfect mechanism for smuggling in and deploying IEDs” (Flaherty, 2014). This inconspicuous element could also just as easily occupy pedestrian, shopping, and entertainment thoroughfares. Such a mechanism (the beggar) can move silently into the city infrastructure of underground tunnel systems, simply vandalising cabling, etc.
The significance of attacks such as these is that damage to the civil infrastructure equally affects security. For instance, in the U.S., domestic access to civil power grids by U.S. military bases can be severely affected by simple blackouts:
“In the first six months of 2011, the U.S. civilian power grid suffered 155 blackouts affecting an average of 83,000 people with 36 blackouts affecting over 100,000 people. Despite these staggering numbers, U.S. military bases rely solely on the civilian grid to power 99% of their war fighting capabilities, homeland security missions, and rescue and relief operations.” (Sater 2011)
While the above example is given in relation to the effect of power blackouts on the operation of U.S. domestic bases, much the same impact is largely seen in civil security systems as well.
The role of CCTV in terrorist TTPs, cast in terms of interposing tactics argument (Flaherty, 2009) has relevance to constructing how future major terrorist operations may develop. Typically, in an interposing tactics problem, both the enemy and friendly elements move through the same space and time, each operating on the same road network, etc., and usually in the same direction. This situation illustrates two opposing force elements that are both using interposing tactics and shows that thinking about the ‘theater of operation’, traditionally set within the Jomini-defined square field (Jomini, Baron de. 1862), had become defunct in the sense that forces are not coming from a base of operations and moving to supply a force (which the insurgents attack), rather, there is space over which both enemy and friendly continue to move through and around each other. This model combined with the basic premise: the sharing of the logistic base, by friend and foe alike; leads to a situation of the embedding of the terrorism element organising the attack into to the local power, and information infrastructure – the same system(s) that the defending security are themselves dependent. In short, both friend and foe alike actually share the same logistics infrastructure, a direct consequence of the regional and global connectivity of information and power systems.
Conceptually, this merging of the friend-and-foe’s logistic base, into one-and-the-same, has fundamental implications for the use of CCTV systems. For instance, if we seen the modern urban battlespace as a completely saturated 5D-operational space where competing force elements exist in a state of operations, and tactically speaking more akin to a fluid suspension medium; then within this fluid suspension medium of operations competing force elements constantly interpose or interject each other. The basic idea(s), underpinning interposing tactics:
- Drawing a parallel with the game of chess, an interposing move would be one in which a player moves a piece between his or her king and the opponent’s piece which has placed the king in check.
- A tactical situation describing the action or activity that interrupts a particular process.
- In basic terms, interposing tactics is the deployment of forces to block and cover friendly from hostile.
An extension of this idea involves opposing forces dispelling or scattering much more freely within an operational area to achieve the effect of blocking and covering all friendlies from hostiles. These moves and counter-moves in the urban landscape directly bring onto play the relationship with CCTV, this network of surveillance assets need to be controlled or denied in order for one force to achieve dominance over the other.
The interposing tactics model was developed to illustrate a phase in security operations where the combatants are reduced to individuals, and individual pieces of technology, and are completely mixed together operating within the same space and time, particularly in an urban environment, where there is also present a population, who are divided in support for the combatants, or neutral and are equally intermixed. Combined with factors such as the merging of the logistics base for friend and foe, and in the case of CCTV the ‘battle’ would be to both to destroy and/or utilise. For instance, the destruction of individual CCTV units to deny security, policing and defence ‘eyes on the ground’, and/or the co-opting/reconfiguring of these systems. Any of these methods would give a terrorist element embedded in the urban landscape far greater situational awareness.
Illicit Use of CCTV
The question of illicit use is a significant likely extension of terrorist usage of CCTV. Based on copying the actions of criminals as well as the cartels, either hacking into existing CCTV, which is technically possible (Zetter, 2012), or setting up illicit CCTV cameras in order to give greater intelligence coverage of potential targets. This is part of a strategy to remotely surveil potential targets, rather than take more risky surveillance operations in-person, which have become a well known part of terrorist planning, and which are watched-for by local security. In regards to this later point, a scenario involving terrorists or activists potentially co-opting/reconfiguring of CCTV systems, there is a parallel case of the cartel use of CCTV for its own intelligence benefit. In 2015, there was a report of the ‘Tamaulipas state authorities in northeastern Mexico, who recently dismantled an internet-operated video surveillance network used by a criminal group to monitor both government security forces and civilian life’ (Anderson, 2015). This reported illicit CCTV network comprised 39 cameras, with each camera capable of being controlled wirelessly via modem, video card and data encoder, and power feeder. These cameras were scattered across Reynosa, a border town and coveted entry point into the U.S. for crime syndicates trafficking in narcotics and humans. Using an example of the ‘merging of the logistics base for friend and foe’ (discussed in this article), the “bulk of the cameras had been installed on telephone poles serviced by the Federal Electricity Commission, a public utility, and Telmex, the largest privately-held telco in Mexico. ... the camera network drew power from electric lines strung above Reynosa’s streets, and connected to the internet via phone cables tethered to those same poles” (Anderson, 2015).
The problem illustrated by interposing tactics is how does one or the other combatants effectively control or direct forces when they are fragmented throughout each other, in order to achieve a tactical/operational outcome? The original literature on interposing tactics argues that this scenario illustrates how each combatant’s organisational character has progressed to the point of a complete devolution, only operating in single entities, and in new forms of autonomous actions. Cohesion is achieved through each element possessing superior situational awareness, and thereby knowing when, and where to interdict an opponent, or reach a friendly and assist in the task. Viewed from this perspective, the control of CCTV system(s) locally and city-wide has fundamental implications.
Instances of vandalism of the CCTV system(s) as a criminal enterprise are a common occurrence in cities, and the extension of this into a formal campaign, as a prelude to a major terrorist attack, represents a natural extension of these actions into the realm of terrorist TTPs. The new modes of operation, is likely to be radicalised street-people, or terrorists acting in this role as the irregular force seeking to disrupt and degrade on a substantial scale the very means that conventional security for city centres is dependent. Systematic targeting of the CCTV system, its power as well as data storage centres will by necessity form an important part of the overall operational concept in a future act of terrorism. In closing, given that TTPs are universally applicable, the techniques for destroying CCTV have been established, documented and promulgated in how-to-do-it manuals, as well as tried and tested during the Camover 2013 campaign, it is anticipated that any operational concept in a future act of terrorism, will used the exact same approach. As a final note, it is also a likely extension of terrorist usage of CCTV, to copy the actions of criminals as well as the cartels, and either hack into existing CCTV, or set up illicit CCTV cameras in order to give greater intelligence coverage of potential targets, remotely surveilling these rather than the more risky in-person surveillance operations that have become a well known part of terrorist planning, and which are watched-for by local security.
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