National Security

How Do Terror Cells Operate? Will You Know If One is Around You?

By Drew Berquist

First off, do you watch the show ‘The Americans’? You should, it’s fantastic and the FX channel is not asking us to say that, I promise.  I bring up the show for a reason.  The plot takes place in America during the height of the Cold War and follows a family, whose parents are ‘illegals’, covert KGB agents.  Their day to day life is as common as the next person.  They look, sound and act like Americans.  They operate a travel agency in Washington, D.C, are raising two kids, routinely talk to their neighbors and would never raise someone’s alarm.

…individuals with dark motivations have blended into our society…

This all matters because such operations continue to go on throughout America.  Whether Russians, Chinese or extremists, individuals with dark motivations have blended into our society, attend play dates at the park with other families and run local shops in your community.  In the case of extremists, their end goal is far different and outright horrifying.  While the other aforementioned examples wish to do harm to our nation and disrupt our way of life, most of their efforts revolve around intelligence collection, as opposed to violence.  Extremists wish to inflict maximum harm to all Westerners, whether they are adults or children.  Furthermore, they have determined clever smuggling routes and methods into our country over the years and have perfected blending in just as the Russians and Chinese have done.  While many citizens’ suspicions over individuals of Middle Eastern descent have risen, in many cases inappropriately, the general sentiment in the U.S. is to trust until given reason not to.  Again, there are certainly exceptions, but the point remains, it is not hard to blend in if that is your desired outcome.

The timing mechanism regarding when individual extremists, or cells, are activated and utilized to wreak havoc varies greatly.  More and more, individuals are acting on inspiration from extremists who have garnered a following online, whether on social media or the dark web.  These in fact, are not sleeper agents or apart of cells, but still, as proven, are very dangerous.  When terror groups are able to insert a group of individuals into a location, i.e. Turkey, they may or may not have a specific goal in mind.  Rather their instructions may to be to lay low and integrate into society until someone directs otherwise.  From there, individual members of the cell may have different roles.  For example, not all members will participate in a planned attack.  Some members’ only role may be to provide housing for the transiting fighters, store equipment for the attack or provide funds.  Depending on the level of sophistication of the cell, these members may or may not all be in contact prior to the event, and in some instances members may never know one another, instead having one similar primary contact.  All these variables add to the difficulty of determining who is involved in an attack, what the plans are, timing, and so forth.

…Obama has admitted thirty percent more Syrian refugees than his original target goal of ten thousand…

What concerns me in America is not just the growing threat of radicalized individuals acting out the desires of their online mentors, but the ease by which extremists can now establish cells in America to strike anywhere, anytime.  With the surge in immigration, Obama has admitted thirty percent more Syrian refugees than his original target goal of ten thousand, our ability to track individuals and their intent is essentially non-existent.  Subsequently, as many are experiencing across the country, neighborhoods and communities are becoming more diverse, contributing many positive aspects to American society, and yet makes one wonder, who is your neighbor really and what are his or her intentions?

Drew Berquist is the founder and a Senior Contributor for OpsLens.  Drew served as a counterterrorism officer for the United States Intelligence Community, where he performed more than thirty deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan to conduct intelligence operations.  Drew has commented on national security matters on Lou Dobbs, Dennis Miller and a number of other shows throughout the country. Follow Drew and his staff of contributors on Twitter at @OpsLens



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