Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tip of the Day: Why US Citizens Are Often Targeted?

Why the emphasis on the ease of picking an American out of a crowd? Criminals usually know (or believe, which is just as dangerous) that Americans invariably carry more money, credit cards, and electronics than do travelers of most other nationalities. 

For terrorists and extremists, Americans are the most desirable targets, followed by Israelis and citizens of nations with aggressive counter-terrorism policies. The following case study highlights this point:

On December 27, 1985, terrorists belonging to the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), a Palestinian group connected to the Fatah Revolutionary Council, simultaneously walked into the international airports in Rome and Vienna and took positions near passengers gathered at the El Al and TWA ticket counters. 

The ANO operatives then pulled AK-47s from their gym bags and fired at anyone appearing to be Jewish or American. They killed 18 and injured 140.

COMMENT: The reality is that US citizens can be targeted abroad for just about any reason? The explanations can stem from racial diversity, jealousy, being so rich, having too much luck or for reasons we may never fully understand. The short answer can be for almost any reason to even a "score."

The following are more examples of targeting individuals based upon citizenship:

√ A gunman in downtown Dar es Salaam accosted two British tourists by pointing his gun at them and demanding to know whether they were Americans? The gunman left the scene only after the tourists showed their British passports to the men, only to ultimately find US targets. 

√ A US citizen was hiking alone on the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia, when two Bolivian men approached her and asked her nationality. They then demanded money, threatened her with a knife and gun and sexually assaulted her. Both assailants told the victim they attacked her because of what the "United States has done to Bolivia," which was to suppress coca production.

A potential risk for Americans today is still at airports, even after the high cost of the US' buildup of current passenger screening by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

In most airports—in the United States as well as abroad—ticket counters, luggage check-in, stores, concessions, restaurants, and newsstands are in the public-access part of the terminal. 

Passengers do not encounter the TSA screening process (x-ray units, magnetometers, screeners, etc.) until they are well into the terminal. Ironically, despite the billions spent on airport security, the attacks in Rome and Vienna could happen just as easily at any airport US airport today.

Terrorists using small arms, wearing explosive belts, or carrying explosive backpacks could easily kill hundreds of outbound passengers with little opposition from the occasional patrolling police officer. Although the risk of such an attack is remote, it still exists. To counter this threat, I offer the following:

√  Get to the airport two and a half hours before departure so that you can check in quickly;

√  Proceed to the security screening area and the passengers-only area of the terminal as soon as possible; and

√  If you observe anything unusual or suspicious, report it to security airport personnel.

For that matter, no matter what your nationality is, it is always strongly suggested that all air passengers enter the "passengers only" section of the airport, where they are well-protected by armed police. 

Borrowing a line from Clint Eastwood, in one of his "Dirty Harry" movies, "How lucky do you feel?"

What is the likelihood that al-Qaeda operatives in the US  will pull out a nearly 30-year-old terrorist tactic that was successful in 1985?