In the past, we’ve discussed
the rise of Antifa and regional terror risks from Jihadist actors and extremist groups. However in the past few weeks, we’ve seen a rise in decentralized attacks that mimic many of the hallmarks used by terrorist groups in the past. The concern with these attacks is that they are domestic threats that are increasing in both frequency and distribution — which are now returning to bioterror.
In the U.S., we’ve seen a return to the type of decentralized attacks that mimic mail attacks of the 1990s — only in this case the attacks are broad-based focused on the president and a number of senior officials, including General Mattis. Parallel path to this, we’ve seen the escalation of protests moving to directed attacks on Senator Cruz and a number of GOP leaders.
ABC confirmed yesterday that the Secret Service was cooperating with investigators on confirmed Ricin sent to President Trump’s office by mail. Meanwhile NBC confirmed that Senator Ted Cruz and Secretary of Defense Mattis and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson’s offices also received packages containing Ricin.
The NCBI notes that U.S. preparedness for bioterror attacks has room for improvement and this week's attacks that have been potentially linked to an Ex-Navy, potentially lone-wolf actor underscore the need to do more.
Ricin and other biological agents are not as effectively tracked and traced as radiological and other high risk terror agents (for example — the FBI keeps watch for the purchase of ingredients to make Fertilizer bombs or TATP [a common explosive used by ISIS]).
These attacks are additionally concerning, as they come on the anniversary of the 2001 Anthrax attacks and underscore the risk that there are more attacks to come.
Dr. Amesh Adalja noted in The Hill that:
“Because of the ubiquity of castor beans and the ease of basic weaponization —which is significantly easier than developing other environmental agents such as anthrax, tularemia, plague, or botulism into a bioweapon — additional ricin attacks should be expected. In 2013, for instance, ricin was mailed to then-President Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Mississippi Judge Sadie Holland and resulted in a multi-decade jail-term for the perpetrator.”
While America faces a new biological threat that we must contend with, Europe is facing a less severe but equally menacing challenge.
In Europe, London experienced another knife attack in a continuation of what is now a seven year high in the UK.
UK knife attacks have become a mixture of gang, lone wolf, and lone jihadist risk scenarios — that the UK government is ill prepared to tackle.
To add to this, Germany experienced an attack by a white nationalists, who performed a Nazi salute after stabbing a journalist.
Addressing the Risks and Remediation
These attacks, driven by individuals loosely connected to terrorist, gang, or extremist causes is a shift from the cell-based or organized domestic terror that we saw through the 00’s.
The rise of extremist groups from jihadists, to white nationalists, to Antifa and now a return to bioterror underscore a change in the threats that we need to be concerned with.
Social Media organization in private groups and channels on known platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have given way to decentralized and individual actor opportunities on new social platforms and international forums. Facebook itself was hacked and as of yesterday, it’s more than likely that your profile is for sale on the dark web.
Tracking and stopping these decentralized actors will require a new approach that involves cooperation between state and local agencies — as well as data sharing with international organizations, such as Interpol.
We caught a break with the current Ricin attack, as the suspected sender was reportedly simplistic enough to put his return information on the envelopes — however future forward, we’ll need to start looking at these domestic risk factors with equal seriousness to the challenges international terror organizations bring.
Oz Sultan is a leading Big Data and counterterrorism expert who focuses on anti-recruiting and ISIS counterterror (CT) research within crypto and social media. He also advises a number of Blockchain companies and is a Board Member of the Homeland Security Foundation of America. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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