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December 26, 2011 10:15 am

Happy Holidays: Time to Increase Our Operational Security

avatar by Joshua Gleis

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As anyone in the security field will tell you, with holiday cheer comes a higher risk of terrorist attack. Holidays in general are always a cause for concern for law enforcement and government agencies, as alert levels are raised, and calls for the public to remain vigilant are increased. Yet little direction is given to the public on what to be on the lookout for, even though they could play one of the most important roles of assisting law enforcement in preventing or mitigating all types of crimes — including acts of terrorism.

Beginning with Thanksgiving, the winter holiday season is traditionally the one with the highest risk amongst all periods that Americans celebrate, and for good reason: Around the country, tens of millions of people flock to houses of worship, shopping malls, and city centers to celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, and the New Year. The Department of Homeland Security recognizes that law enforcement cannot be everywhere at once and that it needs the public’s help. This is why, for example, it has pushed the “If You See Something, Say Something” program across the country.

Operational security at the community level is a critical element that needs to be better addressed by both government entities and religious groups alike. While there are millions of worshipers filing into churches and synagogues over the holiday season, security is few and far between at these locations. Nobody knows their communities as well as the worshipers themselves, and even the largest police forces cannot protect every house of worship all of the time. It it critical for religious groups to partner with law enforcement in order to better monitor their communities, and work as trained eyes and ears for the police. Rather than leave it to vigilantism, government agencies should work to nurture responsible organizations.

To date, there are only two professional, operationally-focused security groups operating within religious groups that come to mind. The first is the Church Security Department of the Mormon Church (LDS). This group is filled by many former government officials, and is responsible for the security of Mormon missionaries and the church’s leadership. Yet on a more local level, the Church Security Department is less operational than it should be, and many of its churches remain not secure.

The second community-based, operational security group is the Community Security Service (CSS). Although it is a relatively small and inconspicuous non-profit organization in comparison to better known, wealthier Jewish organizations, it is the only non-profit that trains members of the community to work with law enforcement in order to detect threats and support the police. Founded a few years ago by Jewish professionals in the security field, it has trained members throughout the New York tri-state area in counter-surveillance, behavioral detection, and other operational security techniques. It’s the type of model that should be supported by other community organizations, emulated by other religions, and further trained by law enforcement.

As the Jewish community continuously remains the most targeted religious group in the United States, the CSS is going against the more traditional grain in training the community to operate “on the ground,” instead of just monitor from afar.

Unfortunately, our adversaries seek to harm us in whatever way that they can, and “soft targets” such as crowded houses of worship are ideal locations to attack. So rather than simply relying on law enforcement and ignoring the intermittent government efforts to raise awareness, a closer look should be given to community-based training programs. They can act as a bridge between minority communities and police forces in an effort to ensure that everyone can enjoy our respective holidays, whatever our beliefs may be.

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  • Shuky

    Baseless fear mongering? I find it interesting that when someone calls for increasing awareness and vigilance, it’s seen as an extreme view. Some of you people are burying your head in the sand and attacking the author for stating the obvious and suggesting a good idea that has worked elsewhere. There are numerous plots (and successes) to attack Jewish institutions before and after 9/11. Here are a few all post-911…

    1- A 2005 plot to attack a synagogue in Century City was characterized as “the one that operationally was closest to actually occurring” since 9/11, according to FBI Assistant Director of Public Affairs John Miller.

    2- Plot to blow up two synagogues in Riverdale: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1900151,00.html

    3- Seattle Jewish Federation Shooting:

    4- 2011 plot to blow up a Manhattan synagogue:

    5- Chicago Synagogues targeted by Al Qaeda:

    And those are just the better known cases in recent history, ignoring the hundreds of hate crimes, including two in NJ in the past few weeks:

    As for churches, in case you don’t read the news, you may want to check out the Southern Poverty Law Center, or just Google “Church burnings”.

    • salvage

      >A 2005 plot to attack

      Wow plots that killed no one, be afraid!

      >Seattle Jewish Federation Shooting:

      A nutcase on a shooting spree, spending millions would stop those from happening.

      Messages of hate! Vandals! You’re right! Everyone quick, quake in fear, demand checkpoints on every block and never, ever leave your house. The terrorists have clearly won!

      Once again, eating fatty foods and heavy drinking kills more Americans than terrorism ever will.

      Heck Americans kill more Americans than any terrorist organization could ever hope to or will.

      Ah but if you don’t keep people afraid how can you get them to hate Muslims and what would folks like Dr. Joshua Gleis do for a living?

  • wurzel

    I agree with salvage. The opening of this article seems like baseless fear-mongering at its worst.

    Mr. Gleis, any chance you could respond with some hard data on how many injuries or deaths there are per year in places of worship due to terrorist events in the US?

  • salvage

    Yes, keep wallowing in your fear.

    Here is a fact: you have a better chance of dying from a bee sting than a terrorists attack in America. Odds are all of the unnatural violent deaths Americans suffer will come either from a car accident or an enraged and armed spouse.

    Al Qeada couldn’t even begin to hope to top the tobacco industry’s butcher’s bill.

    Yet America spends billions and accept a curtailing in their rights out the fear of terrorism.

    Say, the writer of this piece, what does he do for a living?

    Dr. Joshua Gleis is an international security consultant and political risk analyst.