First Responders Still on the Forefront
By Keith Harper
Who is more likely to hit the next “tripwire” on a clandestine domestic terror cell? Is it a member of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force actively hunting for Islamic Extremist terror cells; or could it be a firefighter responding to a call of a suspicious odor or a hazardous material spill armed with sufficient training to understand the implications of what he or she is seeing?
As a former FBI Task Force Officer and Federal Agent involved in the War on Terror domestically and internationally, I believe that Firefighters and EMTs are much more likely to discover potential terror indicators when properly equiped to recognize the behaviors that should raise their suspicions. Law enforcement should not repeat the mistakes they made during the rapid prolifieration of Meth labs! Lets not go through that exercise again… Education and teaming with our partners in the Fire Service and Emergency Medical Services will triple our capabilities to identify and disrupt terror cells. Case in point; the July 7th London Subway Bombing. This case could have been disrupted by educated firefighters had they possessed the proper training.
Cops say “We don’t catch the smart ones”…“we catch the ones that make a mistake”. If that’s true, then we should train more personnel to observe and identify when the bad-guys make a mistake! When the terrorists Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, Germaine Lindsay, and Hasib Hussain were most vulnerable, they were cooking-down the hydrogen peroxide explosive components for the bombs that these extremists used in the London Underground and on a double-decker bus to wreak havoc on Great Britain. Had adequately trained firefighters been called to investigate the strange odors coming from that hell’s kitchen, they might have noticed the discolored, chemically burned shrubbery immediately outside the windows of the safe-house or “Musallah”. This effect caused when the hydrogen peroxide waste-product was “tossed” out the windows as these terrorists cooked down their explosives, was an open invitation to inquiry. The terrorists failed to realize they had left a distinct “tell” by killing the backside of the hedges. Anyone educated on the facts of this case would be able to spot this tell the next time, as long as we take the time to share the salient details.
America needs to belly-up to the bar and recognize the force that EMT’s and Firefighters present as potential early warning sensors and front line soldiers in the prevention of the next major terror strike by extremists, instead of the outdated view of them solely as responders after the fact. Let’s get the interoperability and coordination pieces discussed on September 12, 2001, on-line now!Next month let’s talk about the likely terrorist cell operational indicators which EMT’s and Firefighters can and will use to identify and report suspicious activities to Firefighter Terrorism Liaison Officers supporting the Intelligence Fusion Centers throughout the United States and Canada.
Trained public safety personnel, steeped in the knowledge of CBRNE and Hazardous Materials might have been the perfect observers to notice this anomaly; Fire fighters and EMTs are the ideal “early warning system” to prevent terror attacks. And, afterall, who is more likely to encounter a person involved in the dangerous business of building bombs or cooking WMDs like Ricin or Sarin? Is it an EMT or Fire Personnel, or a member of the FBI JTTF? Perhaps we might ask those EMTs who respondeded to the Extended Stay America Hotel in Las Vegas on February 26th 2008, that were summoned by Roger Von Bergendorff, who was ultimately charged by the Unites States Department of Justice for possession of the WMD Ricin which he inadvertently exposed himself to.
Keith Harper BIO
Mr. Harper is the President & CEO of the Counter Threat Institute, Interrnational LLC (CTI) in San Carlos, California and is Director of Military Affairs of Henley-Putnam University in San Jose, California. CTI is the premiere Terrorism Liaison Officer training provider to each of the California Regional Terrorism Threat Assessement Centers (RTTAC), Cal P.O.S.T. and hundreds of US and Canadian Agencies engaged in counterterrorism initiatives. Mr. Harper is a retired California peace officer, a US DoD Special Agent in Charge, and a former Terrorism Task Force Officer and Deputy US Marshall assigned to the Federal Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Francisco. He has extensive domestic and international operational counterterrorism experience.