by Frank Borelli, Borelli Consulting
frank at borelliconsulting.com
with thanks to John Giduck
Not long ago I read through the book, Terror At Beslan: A Russian Tragedy with Lessons for America’s Schools by John Giduck (review of the book here). The book so convinced me that we in law enforcement are training for the wrong threat (Active Shooter) that I doubted my own thought process. So, to double check my understanding, this past week I attended a presentation by John Giduck given at a conference in Washington, DC. What I found was that not only did I understand the book correctly, but the situation is worse than I actually perceived it. Understand that all of the following is provided thanks to Mr. John Giduck and his insights into the Beslan incident. I am merely reiterating his material and hope I got it all right out of my notes.
Through his presentation, Mr. Giduck explains the terrorist thought process and how the attacks / sieges they’ve committed have been motivated, planned and performed. Yes, I said "sieges". As Mr. Giduck explained:…
There are two types of prevalent terrorist attacks:
1) The Decimation Assault – such as suicide bombings, drive by shootings, etc.
2) The Siege – otherwise known as a Mass Hostage Siege.
Recent history shows us two that were reported in the popular media: The taking of over 800 hostages at the NordOst Theater in Moscow, and the taking of over 1,200 students, teachers and parents at the school in Beslan.
As Mr. Giduck pointed out: the Beslan siege had a larger number of hostages than that of the NordOst theater. Every time the terrorists attack they have to do something bigger and better. Follow that to the logical conclusion and that means that IF or WHEN they take over a target in America, the number of hostages will HAVE to be in excess of 1,200.
Now let’s take a look at the popular targets, preferred method of attack and the resultant bad news for the United States:
1) Transportation: public transit systems can be attacked to cause interuption in service. The preferred method of attack is a Decimation Assault – suicide (although I prefer the term HOMICIDE) bomber. Poison has been used in other attacks, but the end affect is still roughly the same – there are a limited number of victims and a relatively short burst of media attention.
2) Malls: although we have these in abundance in the United States, the number of terrorists required to actually take over, secure and hold a mall would be difficult to mount. Therefore, the preferred method of attack would likely be the Decimation Assault. Not that the numbers of victims would be small. Virtually any urban mall on a Saturday night is packed with potential casualties.
3) Places of Worship: bearing in mind that a number of Imams have specifically stated that places of worship are viable targets. Skip Saturday night at the mall and you can hit Sunday morning in the churches all around our country. It is not coincidental that our "heartland" is largely populated by conservative devout citizens. Again, the method of attack would most likely be a Decimation Assault simply because there are very few churches where any terrorist would have a hope of taking more than 1,200 hostages.
4) Schools: Here is the bad news. We have schools in abundance. A great many high schools, and even plenty of our junior high / middle schools have student counts in excess of 1,200. I went to a private high school and even it had a student count near 1,000. Add in teachers and staff and how quick can you reach 1,200 or more? Now let’s make it even scarier. We all know how the country reacted to two students killing thirteen people at Columbine. Those were high school students and a teacher. All of them were at least fourteen years old. Look at what the reaction was. Now imagine what it would have been had that been an elementary school and that those thirteen dead had been children under the age of ten. At Beslan, the terrorists had, as their hostages, babies still in diapers and children of all ages.
Now consider this: Al Queda trains to hit four targets at once. Why? As Mr. Giduck explains, because even terrorists understand Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong will. If they plan and attempt to execute four simultaneous attacks, they expect at least two to move forward. If only ONE does and they get the kind of media attention they crave, then they’ve succeeded in part of their goal.
Now, before I attended Mr. Giduck’s presentation, I would have assumed that there was simply no way that 49 or 50 terrorists could infiltrate the United States, secure weapons, plan the attack(s) and execute them. If you look at the recent news reports you can find – on any given day – reports on how many illegal immigrants are flowing into our country. How many of them could be terrorists? Potentially worse yet, how many terrorists are applying for political asylum from any country and getting temporary or permanent visas? We already know that they know how to get student and visitor visas. Still, how realistic is it to expect that 49 terrorists (the number that took Beslan school) will attack a single American school?
Let’s take a look at a relatively small number: 15. Even using as an example only fifteen terrorists taking over a school, the challenges we face are immediate and daunting.
First, let’s consider this: who is responsible for responding? Who will negotiate? Who will assault? Do any of our current tactical protocols effectively address the situation? I will answer these in that order.
1) Terrorism is a crime in the United States. Since it is a crime, law enforcement personnel will have to deal with it. Posse Comitatus explicitely prohibits the use of soldiers to affect an arrest, and even though arrest may not be on anyone’s mind, all politicians will have to maintain a civil facade. Any terrorist that wants to surrender will have to be arrested and not executed. Let’s just hope they aren’t wrapped in explosives as they come out with their hands up, chanting to Allah before blowing themselves and anyone nearby into smithereens. So, it will be law enforcement that responds. Eventually the FBI will get on scene and take over. How long will that take? And how much longer will it be before a sufficient number of FBI HRT members are on hand to mount an assault? LONGER THAN WE CAN AFFORD.
2) Initially a local representative will negotiate. When the FBI arrives arrives and assumes command, an FBI agent will negotiate. Here in the United States we have a general rule of thumb: the longer we negotiate the better our chances are for a peaceful conclusion. We have time on our side. With "normal" criminals that’s true. With terrorists, negotiation only provides time for more media to arrive while the terrorists fortify their positions inside the structure.
3) It’s easy to think that the FBI HRT members will make any necessary assault. I’m not sure there are enough of them though. A standard rule of infantry is that it takes personnel numbering 3-to-1 (good guys to bad guys / assaulters to terrorists) to overwhelm a NON-entrenched enemy. If you give the enemy time to fortify their position, it takes closer to 9 or 10-to-1. Okay: so using that 15 terrorist scenario, we need about 150 FBI HRT guys on ready stand by to do the assault. Let’s not forget: we also need 150 FBI HRT agents planning and training for the assault. Oh, and we have another 150 FBI HRT agents getting some down time – they have to sleep too. So that’s a total of 450 FBI HRT agents. Are there that many? That’s just assault troops, too. What about inner and outer perimeter? What about crowd control? What about counter-snipers?
4) Do any of our current tactical protocols effectively address the situation? No that I’m familiar with in law enforcement training. Right now we deliver, on a fairly regular basis, training that DOES adequately address the two-student-shooters model of Columbine High School. I don’t believe our current training is even adequate to have responded to the five-shooter model that was stopped just last week in Kentucky. A four- or five-man diamond (so standard now) is decent against two students who have had no training and who may be quickly overcome. That same four- or five-man diamond would have faced a challenge with five student shooters. OK: so I here some of you mentally arguing, "But more teams form up and come in on a constant basis." Yep, you’re right. And they move to the sound of shots aggressively – using that diamond formation with carefully trained tactics for checking doors, bypassing IEDs, etc.
"No plan survives first contact with the enemy." Remember that? The diamond is going to fall apart as soon as the team finds itself under any more than one shot or two at the most. Seeking cover will become a primary concern. How many agencies today train their officers to move under fire? Is Fire and Maneuver taught in any police academy? It took Russia’s BEST troops in excess of nine hours to take back the Beslan school. What will our reaction be?
Well, here’s how it’s usually been presented in training for Active Shooter / Immediate Response:
"When you first arrive on the scene, listen for the sounds of shots. If there is an Active Shooter, advise communications and maintain a good position of observation until enough units arrive to form a team. Leave one officer in charge of communications while the team moves in under command of the first officer who arrived on the team. Move to the sound of shots and neutralize the threat."
What’s going to happen when the 911 call comes in but when the officer arrives at the school he hears no shots? In the event of a terrorist takeover at any school, what our law enforcement personnel should be looking for is:
- a couple of large trucks with their motors running in the immediate vicinity.
- no children in any windows.
- no children evacuating (an emergency where no one is leaving?)
- no sounds of gunfire (because the terrorists KNOW how we train – they aren’t stupid)
If that’s what we find when we roll up, we had better get our act together hard and fast. Every second that passes guarantees two things: dead hostages and a more securely entrenched enemy.
Yes, we’re going to lose cops. I disagree with the basic labelling of "terrorism" in this country. I don’t think it should be considered a crime. I think it should be considered an act of war. That way we could at least get the military to assist. Speaking of that, if the governor declares a state of emergency fast enough, you MIGHT get National Guard troops to help with crowd control. You might get some equipment made available from them.
So, understanding that these terrorists are there getting their position hardened, the best thing we can do is attack as fast as we can plan and mount an assault. Yes, cops are going to die. Yes, hostages may die. What is guaranteed is that hostages WILL die if we SIT WAIT AND TALK.
For this very reason it is imperative that a new doctrine for response to Active Shooters be developed. "Active Shooter / Immediate Response" tactics and training must evolve into a training methodology that prepares our front line police officers to have some reasonable expectation of effectiveness if they assault into a school being held by terrorists armed with AK74s and explosives. The four- and five-man diamond will not work. In fact, every formation I can think of will fall apart pretty fast. Small unit tactics, applied to fire-team size (four) or even assault pairs (two), have to be developed, put into policy and then trained. What will be even more difficult is the following: cops have to be hardened both mentally and emotionally to face true battle.
Let’s be honest: some cops today aren’t warriors. They are civil servants who are dedicated to their jobs and do them well. But we all know a few that would be perfectly happy to man the radio while we go into the building where an Active Shooter is hunting innocent prey. We can’t afford that. The harsh reality of life behind a badge is that we are the front line defense against anyone and anything that threatens to harm the innocents of our community. If we take the oath to Protect and Serve, we’d damned well better be as good as our word.
As the Russian Special Forces say, "If not me, who?" When the terrorists come to threaten and harm our children, I ask you: If not me, who? If not YOU, who?
I’d like to thank John Giduck for the work he’s doing spreading much needed information to the law enforcement community in our country. It’s information many don’t want to hear because they are too busy hiding their heads in the sand. They’ll fall where they stand when the time comes. Thank you, John, for your information and motivation.
Mr. John Giduck is an honorably discharged American soldier, survivor of eight wars / conflicts. He is also president of the Archangel Group, a nonprofit organization that provides consulting and training at all levels of public safety and military operations.