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Merle D. Anderson, Published January 22 2011

Effective personal security requires focused awareness

There is much discussion on how rhetoric and firearms are the proximal cause of the attack in Arizona, but there has been little helpful information on how to deal with threats of this kind. Some perspective is in order.

Attacks on members of Congress are rare, with only five attempts against members of the House of Representatives, including the attack on Gabrielle Giffords. Two of the attacks resulted from disputes between the members themselves; one resulted in a duel in 1838.

Anyone analyzing Giffords’ security would find serious threats present but not properly assessed. Jared Loughner was known to the congresswoman’s staff, having attended a previous “Congress on Your Corner” event where he asked a question about semantics.

Loughner’s presence would have made him vulnerable to identification by anyone practicing protective intelligence. Trained personnel can recognize suspicious behavior that may become a direct and immediate threat.

Discussion about Loughner’s childhood and background as presented by the press may be interesting, but it isn’t relevant. Loughner, as far as I know, was not acting illegally, only suspiciously. What is relevant is which profile he fits. Was he part of a terrorist organization or does he fit the profile of “lone wolf” attacker, i.e., a person who acts on his own without orders or connection to an organization?

Lone wolves provide their own resources and training. Skill acquisition is difficult for them, and they are vulnerable to surveillance. This is the reason suicide bombers are rarely lone wolves; there just is too much involved in preparing for an attack. Therefore, lone-wolf attacks are characterized as having more intent to cause mayhem than actual capability.

Almost every criminal act involves some degree of surveillance, and criminals are vulnerable to detection during this time. Criminals are often sloppy when casing targets because people simply do not look for them. Many attackers behave like “ambush predators,” lurking around, waiting for a victim. Because their attack cycle is condensed, it is important to watch for demeanor. Here, I mean a person is acting unnaturally, wearing unseasonable clothing, displaying odd bulges, sweating, mumbling, fidgeting, and engaging in intense staring or avoiding security personnel.

In our case studies, we have found that the presence of security personnel or other armed citizens have caused the attacker to “move on.”

Staying at home in the basement is safe but unrealistic, so focused awareness is a key to safety.

This doesn’t have to be hard. We do focused awareness all the time when there is ice on the road. It takes the form of defensive driving, keeping our eyes on the road, looking ahead for hazards, watching the behavior of other drivers. We are not distracted by our cell phone.

Just as difficult or hazardous weather conditions do not keep us from driving, so can focused awareness and minimal police presence make these rare attackers nervous, more identifiable and deterred from causing mayhem.

Anderson, Fargo, is inactive from the U.S. Army, where he served as infantry officer, intelligence officer and operations officer.