Trending Topics

How sharing intelligence could preempt active-shooter attacks

In light of the weekend shooting at the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Hill, Wisconsin, and on the heels of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, we thought it would be a good time to address the need for law enforcement entities to share intelligence in an effort to identify potential shooters before violence occurs. Local authorities should also emphasize the importance of tactical response plans that will neutralize threats as quickly as possible.

Having investigated several attacks as a counterterrorism agent and at Stratfor, I can tell you that it’s very easy for analysts, law enforcement and the media to connect the dots after an attack occurs and understand how quickly incidents could have been prevented. However, identifying suspects who are pre-disposed to carrying out violent attacks before they act is the real challenge. In most cases, these individuals signal their attentions ahead of time, though the warnings are often missed.

The U.S. Secret Service and the State Department DSS have dedicated protective intelligence units to investigate persons who fit this profile, but most state and local police departments do not have such robust training and resources.

In the Colorado theater shooting, the suspect messaged his intent to his psychiatrist. He also made large mail-order purchases of ammunition and bought weapons, placed strange telephone calls to the local gun range and exhibited abnormal behavior by dying his hair orange and dropping out of college. In the Gurdwara shooting, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the shooter was the leader of a white supremacist Nazi band, and thus should have been known to and databased by the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service and the ATF. The question that needs to be asked is this: Was that intelligence information shared with the local police? If such information is shared, local authorities are able to conduct routine surveillance and interviews while also monitoring for additional data points that may allow officers to intercept an attacker before he becomes violent.

A “Be on the Lookout” Alert — known as a BOLO — to raise the officers’ awareness of the threat, while also watching for tips from the public.

Even with the best efforts, it’s impossible to prevent every attack, which makes it critical to prepare a response to active shooter scenarios.

The April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School changed the way U.S. law enforcement responds to active shooter situations. Today, the first law enforcement officer that arrives on the scene will immediately seek out the shooter, rather than waiting for the SWAT team and other tactical reinforcements to arrive. Local police should ensure their active shooter response plans are current, especially utilizing training and practice based on the soft targets that are located within their jurisdiction to be prepared to contain an attack and neutralize the threat in these locations.

What’s the above the tearline aspect of this video? Information sharing between federal, state and local authorities, in addition to public participation, gives authorities the best chance to stop a violent actor before these attacks occur. Local and state police agencies need to be aware of the soft targets in their communities and have a tactical plan to respond and immediately neutralize the threat.

Fred Burton is one of the world’s foremost authorities on security, terrorists and terrorist organizations. In his capacity as Vice President for Counterterrorism and Corporate Security, Mr. Burton oversees Stratfor’s terrorism intelligence service and consults with clients on security-related issues affecting their organizations or personal safety. He leads a team of terrorism experts and a global network of human intelligence sources to analyze and forecast the most significant events and trends related to terrorism and counterterrorism.