97622. Terrorism Expert Sounds Battle Cry
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Terrorists in the years ahead will
become less politically motivated and more attuned to religious,
fanatical zealotry. Less concerned than ever about international
repercussions, they will seek ways to reap mass casualties on an
unprepared public. The United States will most often be their
Peter Probst, a specialist on international terrorism with
DoD's special operations and low-intensity conflict office, made
these predictions during the 1997 DoD anti-terrorism conference
here. Probst said the nature of terrorism is changing
fundamentally, and DoD's approach to countering terrorists must
undergo similar changes.
Because it's effective and cheap -- and sponsorship can be
easily disguised or denied -- terrorism increasingly will be the
weapon of choice for extremists, Probst said. Political terrorism
is declining, he said, supplanted by religiously motivated
terrorist acts -- and the change spells trouble.
"In contrast to their politically motivated counterparts,
terrorist groups or cults motivated by religious ideology exhibit
few self-imposed restraints," Probst said. "They actively seek to
maximize the carnage, believing that only by annihilating their
enemy they may fulfill the dictates of their guru or god."
This difference of perspective affects terrorists' choice of
targets and weapons. "Religious zealotry creates the will to
carry out mass casualty attacks, and proliferation provides the
means," Probst said. "This marriage of will and means has forever
changed the face of terrorism."
Whereas truck bombs have been the weapon of choice in
several major terrorist incidents, Probst sees that changing. He
said he fears DoD won't change correspondingly.
"We have not been very good at anticipating change," he
said, "and once we have identified change, we have not proved
very adept at developing an effective response." The time will
come, he said, when U.S. countermeasures will make truck bomb
attacks too difficult or too costly. But terrorists are adaptable
and will soon find a new approach, he said.
While anti-terrorist analysts look at this eventuality, they
tend to focus "beyond the perimeter fence, on some sort of stand-
off attack using exotic weaponry," Probst said. Instead, he said,
planners should focus on an inside-the-fence threat that could
come from the very people DoD employs to make up rooms, serve
food, groom lawns and perform other such services at overseas
"Such workers may be recruited from the local population or
provided by large contract firms," Probst said. The latter
category often is made up of third-country nationals whom "we
know little or nothing about," he said. "At best, the contracting
firm may have done cursory [background] checks."
It's possible terrorists could infiltrate installations
through such contracts, Probst said. A single terrorist could
conceal a toxic agent such as anthrax in as small an object as a
cigarette, then, when nobody's looking, poison the iced tea or
Kool-Aid that sits at the end of the counter in the cafeteria.
Biological and chemical agents could become terrorists' new
weapons of choice, Probst said, because they are easy to conceal
and would cause mass casualties. And the terrorist would be long
gone by the time symptoms begin to appear, he said.
Such tactical use of biological weapons could easily gain
strategic value for terrorists, Probst said. "If 50 or 100 of our
[people] at some remote installation in some Third World country
came down with this unknown condition, we would air-evac them as
quickly as possible. But what would happen if simultaneously our
terrorist group alerted the major wire services that they'd
carried out an attack against 'the Great Satan' ... and would
similarly strike against any country that permitted our aircraft
to land or offered us any form of assistance? What started out as
a tactical attack very quickly might develop strategic overtones
Terrorists will try to have a major impact on U.S. policy
because they've enjoyed past success, Probst said. "We should all
remember that one driver in one suicide attack against our
Marines in Beirut turned American policy 180 degrees and drove
the greatest world power out of Lebanon," he said.
Probst said he doesn't think the United States can defeat
terrorism by relying on old thinking and methodology. "To rely
predominantly on a group's historical record as a predictor of
future behavior is to court disaster," he said. "If the
demonstrated capabilities of terrorist organizations remain the
primary criteria for anti-terrorism planning, we will continue to
be reactive in our thinking. We will be much less likely to
anticipate change and much more likely to be blindsided."
Instead, DoD should take several new approaches to
countering terrorism, Probst said. First, the military should
send mock terrorist "red teams" against its own installations to
identify and pinpoint vulnerabilities, he said. "To assume that
terrorists are aware of vulnerabilities and won't exploit them is
dangerously unrealistic," he said. "It's far better that the red
team [identifies weaknesses] and perhaps [causes] some
embarrassment than to leave that task for the terrorists."
Next, he suggested formation of an anti-terrorism institute.
To effectively fight fanatical terrorists and better anticipate
changes in tactics and targets, Probst said, it's necessary to
understand "what makes your adversary tick. What does he fear?
What does he value? What are the demons that drive him? And most
important, how can we best exploit that knowledge?
"To provide such insights, we need to be able to draw on the
knowledge of social psychologists, cultural anthropologists,
linguists and historians, as well as experts in crosscultural
communication." Gathered in an institute dedicated to
understanding terrorism, such individuals would identify trends
and potential threats and develop new tactics, strategies and
policy initiatives to combat terrorism, he said.
Finally, he suggested formation of operational teams,
tailored to meet a specific terrorist challenge. Such teams would
include the FBI, CIA and DoD, he said. "But depending on the
nature of the problem, [a team] could also include experts in
exotic languages, covert actions, applied psychology, information
warfare and whatever other specific skills might be needed to
neutralize the threat. After resolving the threat, the team would
"Such teams would operate transnationally, just as the
terrorists do," Probst said. "They would not be bound by
bureaucratic considerations or turf issues."
Probst said such approaches to terrorism "must increasingly
become the norm, if we are to maximize the effective use of our
resources and hunt the terrorists to ground."