Terrorist Threat Blog

by Antiterrorism Consulting

 10 / 14 / 2014


Terrorist attack ... can you prevent?  



The possibility that a terrorist attack takes place against a critical infrastructure or industrial activity, toda always arouses in society apprehension and fear. But the question that burns in each of us is: is it possible or not prevent, and thus avoid, a terrorist attack?

In order to respond to this question, you have to understand:

  • the process necessaries for a terrorist group to plan and carry out an attack;
  • how prevention and protection of a terrorist attack is structured


First, it is important to understand that a terrorist attack (whatever type - CBRNE) is planned and studied very carefully, it does NOT born spontaneously

A terrorist attack, to happen successfully, needs of 6 passages of time. If one of these steps fails, even the attempt could fail, and then the terrorist groups are exposed to intelligence. 

These 6 basic steps are listed below:

  • surveillance
  • elicitation
  • test of security
  • acquiring of funding and supplies
  • rehearsals
  • execution

Surveillance is the first step to planning a terrorist attack. The terrorist group need of this step to study the behavior, use, and routine of target, and also on how the goods, people and public move inside the facility.  The Surveillance can be done internally or externally to the target. 

Elicitation is done through questions, direct or indirect, to the personnel that work in the facility. These questions regard, in general, internal procedures, security systems, working time, and location of offices and utilities.

Test of security is the part that is normally be overlooked by everyone, but it is of extreme importance to terrorist groups. It consists in testing the effectiveness of structure's security in the most natural way possible, through actions that can be classified as everyday accidents. 

Acquiring of funding and supplies is demand to money and weapons by terrorist group. The request for funding and supplies is made according to the needs that a terrorist group faces to attack the objective.

Rehearsals is the final part, and it is necessary to evaluate the whole environment how it behaves in an event out of the ordinary. For examples, we can imagine a bag abandoned in a station. The time that elapses from the abandonment and early reporting, and the beginning of security procedures, is the responsiveness of the environment to an event out of the ordinary.

Execution is the part in which takes place the terrorist attack 


After analyzed the process required to plan a terrorist attack, you should understand how the prevention of a terrorist attack, against a target, is structured. To better understand this concept you may think that the prevention of a terrorist attack has a pyramidal shape. (see figure below)

This pyramid is divided into three parts, not equal to each other. The base of the pyramid is occupied by Intelligence, Police and law enforcement. The central part is occupied by ATMS, and the top of the pyramid is occupied by police elite unit, "Counter-Terrorism Unit", units specialized to fight the terrorists in the first person.

This pyramid is not divided into equal parts, because every actor plays a role. The "Counter-Terrorism Units" usually account 1% of the pyramid, because they are used only when all the remaining 99% fails. if a facility does not adopt the ATMS the remaining 99% of prevention must be done by the police (see Figure a). If the structure adopts ATMS, prevention is carried out by two actors who cooperate and collaborate together, law enforcement and the structure itself (see Figure b).

 Pyramid A


Pyramid B


Now we analyze the Case A. In this case, the temporal process is negatively affect on the following points: 

  1. Surveillance: through constant and continuous vigilance of a sensitive target, law enforcement may make difficult and arduous the surveillance by terrorist group.
  2. Elicitation: This point is usually contrasted with the normal techniques of investigation, but the facility staff is not trained to don't reveal sensitive information about the structure. 
  3. Acquiring of funding and supplies: task performed exclusively by the police through a investigation. 
  4. Rehearsals: also in this case a constant presence and continuous vigilance  can prevent this phase, making it almost impossible to perform.
  5. Execution: an increased presence of law enforcement and vicinity of "Counter-Terrorism Unit" to a sensitive facility, ensures less or almost no chance of an attack, or at least, makes it much more difficult to implement it.


We analyze the Case B. As we know, the facility adopts the ATMS. In this case the structure is protect by ATMS and Law enforcement that cooperate, and then all 6 steps are negatively affected. 

  1. Surveillance: the structure is protected 24/7 by active and passive perimeter defence. The presence of law enforcement, if any, further increases the defense.  
  2. Elicitation: the personnel is trained to don't disclose sensitive information, and it is constantly updated on any threats to the structure. In this way suspicious people or suspicious questions, made outside of the work environment, will be promptly reported to the police who will start the appropriate investigations.
  3. Test of security: In a structure with ATMS, any behavior that normally is classified like a daily error, it is treated as a "security incident", and then analyzed and investigated to control if it is a real error or it is a voluntary act.
  4. Acquiring of funding and supplies: task performed exclusively by the police through a investigation.
  5. Rehearsals: This phase can be prevented, because any behavior or suspicious object is promptly reported to police and internal security, and at the same time are activated the required procedures. 
  6. Execution: there are a constant exchange of information between the facility and law enforcement. In this way the law enforcement have the full knowledge of the entire structure, thereby facilitating a possible intervention. The structure, that adopt the ATMS, became dynamic and reactive to a terrorist attack from the first moments, whatever the type of terrorist attack - CBRN.


Let's see the pros and versus of the various pyramid structures.

Structure A

  • Pro:
    1. structure very protected by the law enforcement and is therefore difficult to attack by terrorist groups and common criminals;
    2. rigid frame and ready to react in case of an attack;
    3. time of implementation - immediate.
  • Versus:
    1. high cost of personnel and equipment for the state;
    2. not possible for all sensitive targets and industrial activity;
    3. rigid structure against organizational change, because these changes have to be agreed with the law enforcement;
    4. if law enforcement are NOT present, the structure is exposed to the terrorist threat, and then to the probability of suffering an attack.


Structure B

  • Pro: 
    1. lean and flexible, adapts quickly and with very low cost to any threats; 
    2. Resistant and Resilient, at the same time, to terrorist threat; 
    3. costs by the structure is very low, or almost zero; 
    4. high benefits in terms of insurance and finance; 
    5. if the base of the pyramid (Intelligence) should fail, the ATMS is able to give protection to the structure without exposing the structure to terrorist threat and then the probability of an attack.
  •  Versus: 
    1. if ATMS is not already adopted, the time of implementation is not immediate;


In light of all these considerations, we can answer the original question: is it possible to prevent a terrorist attack against a sensitive target? The answer is YES, it is an chemical, biological, radiological and conventional attack (ie, explosive) - CBRNE.



by - Antiterrorism Consulting ®