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January 12, 2017 8:00 pm

Security Expert: Threats Against US Jewish Institutions Part of ‘Unfortunate Growing Trend’

avatar by Barney Breen-Portnoy

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The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. Photo: Team Boerum via Wikimedia Commons.

The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. Photo: Team Boerum via Wikimedia Commons.

The bomb threats received by more than a dozen Jewish community centers across the US on Monday — leading to evacuations at some of them — were part of an “unfortunate growing trend,” an international security consultant and political risk analyst told The Algemeiner.

“There has been an increase in non-profit organizations — both Jewish and not — receiving these types of bomb threats, whether through robocalls or other telephonic means,” Dr. Joshua Gleis, president of Gleis Security Consulting, said.

One reason for this, according to Gleis, is technology.

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“It’s very easy today to anonymously make phone calls,” he noted. “Law enforcement cannot always find out where they are coming from.”

The perpetrators, Gleis said, might “just be looking to sow fear in the community.”

“But another concern, which is more sinister, is that it is not just to create panic and fear, but really, God forbid, to see how different organizations respond and then potentially attack them while they’re responding — for example attack them while they are evacuating, where they could be potentially more vulnerable because now there are hundreds of people outside,” he added.

Evacuating a threatened building, Gleis pointed out, might not always be the best move.

“You have to start to think like a bad guy,” he said. “Why are they calling in a bomb threat and should you in fact evacuate as a knee-jerk reaction? Often times the case is no. By not evacuating, you’re not exposing yourself to other potential threats — such as an active shooter or vehicular ramming outside. It doesn’t mean that you never evacuate, it just means there are specific times when you would evacuate, but much of the time — like on Monday when the threats were non-specific — you should not. Terrorists today who are looking to target Jews tend not to give them a heads-up beforehand.”

Another concern, Gleis said, is that the threats could be a diversionary tactic.

“All these times these things are making the news and nothing is happening,” he said. “They might do it again and draw all the law enforcement response to one place and hit another location, or just get people so attuned to assuming that it’s nothing that eventually they just ignore the threats and eventually there ends up being one that is serious and it is ignored.”

In general, in Gleis’ view, Jewish institutions “do not have proper security measures in place yet — be it a combination of proper training for staff, well-trained security guards and different target-hardening measures. Many are against doing so — not necessarily JCCs, but Jewish non-profits in general.”

“Unfortunately, we live in a time when we do need security and we have to be thinking about these things,” Gleis said. “And I actually think that by doing these things and being pro-active, instead of creating fear and panic, it actually does the opposite. To me, knowledge is power. So the more you can train yourself and understand how to better protect yourself, the safer you’re going to feel ultimately.”

Michael Feinstein — the president and CEO of the Bender JCC of Greater Washington, which was among the JCCs that received threats on Monday — told The Algemeiner that a review of security procedures was underway in the wake of the incident.

“I don’t know if it will lead to changes,” he said. “JCCs balance being open and welcoming with providing for the safety and security of our members and participants. We feel that currently we have the right procedures in place. We are always learning and seeking to improve what we do. External forces may require us to change what we do.”

Feinstein said he believed Monday was the first time ever that the Bender JCC — which opened in 1969 — had received a bomb threat.

“The possibility of a serious security incident is one of the things I lose sleep over,” he said. “There seems to be a recent uptick in hate speech and hate crimes. In our local area, there have been a number of instances involving antisemitic symbols. All of these actions seem to be intended to cause fear and disruption. We need to be vigilant in adhering to our security procedures and emergency response plans.”

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