Protecting Soft Targets against Terrorist Attacks | A Multi-Regional Project

In May - June of 2022, a group of 7 participants representing various countries in Europe, Central Asia, and North Africa visited the U.S. for an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) focused on "Protecting Soft Targets against Terrorist Attacks". Throughout the three week program, the participants examined international cooperation in combating terrorism and interagency efforts to identify and protect soft targets, which are persons or locations that are easily accessible to the general public and relatively unprotected, making them vulnerable to terrorist attack. The experience began in Washington, DC followed by visits to New York City, San Diego, and Chicago.

The program in DC set the usual stage for things to come, with a heavy focus on the federal government's approach to counterterrorism from a maco-level perspective that complemented visits to later cities. An exemplary federalism briefing from Akram Elias provided perspective on the decentralized nature of the U.S. government and law enforcement systems. A visit to the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) was crucial for many of the participants who work directly in this field. They described their Antiterrorism Assistance Program (ATA) and Special Program for Embassy Augmentation Response (SPEAR) with great emphasis on cooperation, coordination, and information exchange to confront the common enemy of terrorism.

A meeting with the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) emphasized the counterterrorism framework of the federal government, which was crucial for the participant from Georgia where they are undergoing changes in their own structures. They plan to connect in the future for collaboration on how to organize this crucial element of security. Overall, the visit to DC gave the participants an introduction to the U.S. system and counterterrorism efforts from a historic point of view.

The time spent in New York City allowed the group to begin getting a firsthand perspective of counterterrorism efforts of certain agencies. The program began with a visit to the 9/11 museum and memorial, which provided a lens for the rest of the schedule being the great symbol of soft target protection. The group was constantly reminded that the 9/11 attacks were a result of lack of coordination and information exchange between different agencies.

The program continued with an informative and interactive discussion at the Port of Elizabeth Maher Terminal followed by a comprehensive tour to observe actual integrated operations of the major seaport in a security context. A visit to the Statue of Liberty was important, not only for shear symbolism, but also the engagement of the staff and park police who established an immediate relationship with the group.

After New York City, the group traveled to the West Coast for a visit to San Diego, California. As the largest land border crossing in the U.S., the city offered many challenges with trafficking. A meeting with the Law Enforcement Coordination Center focused on the theoretical and practical experience of protection of critical infrastructure elements. The group learned how they help locations such as The Shell, a local amphitheater on the bay, identify gaps in security protections.

San Diego State University's Graduate Program in Homeland Security addressed how the University implements a master’s degree program in criminal forensics for police officers in Baja California as one of numerous examples of regional cooperation and partnership in crime prevention between the U.S. and Mexico. Finally, an emergency management workshop with the Office of Emergency Services taught the group how emergency planning and response are implemented on a local level with coordination and partnership with other agencies. One participant emphasized how he is planning to set up a crisis management center in his country, and hopes to follow up with contacts there to consult on this project.

The program concluded with a visit to Chicago, Illinois for meetings focused on protecting civil liberties and an important engagement with the local police department. A briefing with the ACLU of Chicago provided an essential perspective to understand the balance of freedom and safety. The group understood it was crucial to see the situation from both sides of law enforcement and human rights. A meeting with retired FBI agent, Dan Williams, was a helpful overview of how the agency works, coordinates, and collaborates. One participant emphasized how it was useful to see how they conduct risk assessment and deal with insider threats.

The final engagement with the Chicago Police Department provided a perfect culmination to the program. The department went the extra mile to provide details of their mission and operations and, above all, demonstrate their SWAT response vehicle and how it is equipped for emergency response operations. Participants commented that the configuration and operations of their Fusion Center, named the Crime Prevention Information Center (CPIC), is something they would like to implement in their countries.

Participants meet with the Chicago Police Department

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Project summary

Protecting Soft Targets against Terrorist Attacks | A Multi-Regional Project | June 2022
Number of Visitors: 7
Regions: Near East and North Africa, Europe and Eurasia, South and Central Asia
Countries: Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Morocco, Tunisia
Impact Areas: Security and Defense
Program Areas: Global Leadership