The last few weeks saw the activation of the Brazilian Army’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense Battalion and its bomb squads. Many of these activities were clearly tests to check out the response capabilities of the security structure set up for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
In order to expand the capillarity of vectors to allow identifying possible attacks, training was provided to security professionals and workers in other relevant areas, such as the hospitality industry. This action allowed more people to begin to participate more actively in preventing attacks.
This is important, because the level of sophistication with which these terrorist attacks were carried out in the last two decades has surprised experts. Their detailed planning is no longer concerned with just causing the highest number of casualties, but also with how these actions can contribute to increasing their own visibility and the public opinion’s feeling of insecurity. This way, terrorist organizations succeed in transforming tactical actions from the operational and strategic levels to directly reach the political level.
The methodology to plan an attack follows a primer where seven stages are recommended, regardless of the techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP) that are chosen to carry out a terrorist attack.
The first stage of an attack consists of finding information about potential targets that have more visibility in the public domain information sources. Priority is given to targets which may cause the highest possible impact on the international media, keeping in line with the organization’s strategic objectives.
The second stage consists of intelligence surveillance and surveying of the targets selected in the preceding stage. A stronger effort is dedicated to the targets with higher vulnerability potential. During surveillance, priority is given to the observations conducted on individuals, facilities, practices, procedures, routines, transportation, trip itineraries, travel, and security measures already in place.
If all goes well over the first two, the third stage will finalize the choice of a specific target, which will then be the object of actual planning to carry out the action. But before making the final decision, they must answer the following questions:
- Will the operation succeed in affecting a large public, regardless of the number of immediate casualties?
- Will the target in question be covered as high profile by the media?
- Does the success of the action impart the right message to the public selected as a priority?
- Is the effect produced consistent with the organization’s strategic objectives?
- Does the target bring about a substantial advantage to the organization, by giving it the opportunity to demonstrate its operational capability?
- Do the results of a cost-benefit analysis support going ahead with the operation?
The fourth stage includes the type of surveillance that precedes the attack, in order to fine-tune the final planning. In this stage, more detailed information is needed to decide critical aspects such as the logistics and operational procedures. This phase can take days, weeks, months, and even years for everything to be consolidated. It all depends on the target’s complexity. Here, the priority is checking out existing security measures; detailing preparation operations, especially regarding the concentration on personnel and material means; recruiting the most qualified individuals, accordingto the requirements; establishing one or more operational bases in the area of interest that contains the objective; defining, assessing, and testing escape and evasion routes; and defining in detail the means which will be employed aggressively in attacking the target.
The fifth stage is the one the alleged terrorists of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games presently find themselves in. As in any other military operation, particularly special operations, drills are conducted to correct any failures that may not have been detected before and during planning. This increases the chances of a successful attack. These practices are essential because they allow them to confirm data used in planning the operation, and develop tactical alternatives to decisions on how to act. In principle, the following need to be taken into account: devices in the objective area; actions taken to accomplish the objective; escape and evasion routes; and performance of the equipment, weapons, ammunition, and explosives. This stage is the last chance that security managers have to use the established intelligence system to identify terrorist cells, lone wolves, or the chosen target, and thus, to thwart the terrorist attack before it happens.
The sixth stage consists of taking action at the objective site. In fact, we notice that various simultaneous attacks can occur over different targets. This characteristic of the most recent terrorist campaigns hampers the prevention and response capabilities of the intelligence agencies and security forces, which will then be at a great disadvantage for not having identified the attack while it was being prepared. It is clear that the response teams arrived at the attack locations only after these attacks have been launched with the best use of the surprise factor. Terrorists have the advantages of choosing the location, tactical surprise, distraction actions, blocking positions to slow down response teams, and finally, the choice of time and way of executing the attack (especially in the case of suicide attacks).
The seventh and last stage covers three basic procedures: escape, evasion, and exploration. Normally, the techniques, tactics, and procedures used for escape and evasion are subject to extensive drill and rehearsal. When they succeed, they contribute as a multiplying factor to the overall terror effect. Even if suicide bombers die while carrying out the attacks, there will always be the escape and evasion of those involved in the support operations which, because of their training, are considered more difficult to replace than the suicide bombers themselves. In order to better understand this dynamic situation, these operational support elements are frequently responsible for delivering the suicide bomber to the most adequate location for the attack, or to indicate the ideal moment to trigger an explosive, for example.
The post-attack exploration is the very reason of every terrorist action, which attempts to use all available means to publicize the event. A process of preparation takes place in order to be most agile in disseminating and taking the most advantage possible of the moment. Planning the use of media, previously prepared manifestos, use of the Internet, radio, edited videos, TV, podcasts, and other means contribute decisively to all of this.
The ramifications of well-planned and successful terrorist actions have significant impact over different target audiences, including effects on personnel recruitment and raising financial support. On the other hand, frustrated or failed attacks have the opposite effect. They destroy the image of the organization, showing it as vulnerable and ineffective.
The current scenario clearly shows the high degree of sophistication in the planning, organization, creativity, and technical training of the terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda. Many of the operations have features that are similar to those conducted by special operations forces. Therefore, countries that are the main targets for terrorist attacks have realized that it is practically impossible to prevent this new form of terrorist attack from occurring even by expanding the range of their intelligence operations.
To offset this, a decision has been made to invest in preparing the forces dealing with the response and damage control. In general terms, these are the features under which the security for Rio 2016 has been structured in order to fight the terrorism challenge. Since the country has no history of recent terrorist attacks, many residents of Rio de Janeiro have been repeating the very popular saying that “God is Brazilian.” We sure hope that is the case, because, unfortunately, the Olympic Games have a sad history of being the target of terrorist actions.
*Brazilian Army Colonel (R) Fernando Montenegro of the Special Forces is a former Officer of Operations of the Anti-Terrorism Detachment, as well as Professor of the Graduate Program on Security Management, and Control at the Autonomous University of Lisbon, Portugal.