Protecting our nation’s critical infrastructure is never far from Brian Banning’s mind. President of the InfraGard Sacramento Chapter, Banning has taken his years of experience as a police hostage negotiator and used that insight to great effect in his work at the State Threat Assessment Center (STAC), California’s statewide fusion center supporting the Homeland Security Advisor and the rest of the state’s fusion centers. Among his worthy contributions to the field from which security professionals everywhere can benefit is his team’s recent analysis of jihadist-produced e-zines and how their findings impact those working to protect our nation’s critical infrastructure.
“Throughout history, as the e-zines come out from the terrorist groups, the foreign terrorist organizations that are trying to inspire homegrown violent extremist behaviors, there’s always some kind of an analytical look at that one magazine,” Banning explains. “What I did was look at all of them to cross-compare and keep notes on what they were saying to attack, from a critical infrastructure perspective.”
The graphic prepared by Banning and his staff, “Extremist E-Zine Attack Suggestions” (opposite), is a condensed graphic representation of approximately 3,000 pages of data. “A lot of it is just flat inspiration,” Banning says. “’All praise due to Allah,’ ‘You have to fight for us’ — that kind of stuff. But they actually do have some targeting and some attack methodology suggestions in them.”
While it’s clear, looking at the graphic, that you can compare the publications and their relative threat factors, what Banning hopes that other InfraGard members will take away from it is a certain pattern of suggestion. “By and large, homegrown violent extremists are going to follow targeting and tactic methodologies that are provided to them by the foreign terrorist organizations,” he says. “It’s just a distillation of all the stuff that they’ve said in e-zines.”
And what about social media? Does the graphic take into account that aspect of communication between extremists and their intended audiences? “It doesn’t look at social media at all. Virtually all of the social media is purely aspirational,” he explains, pinpointing the e-zines as the real source of danger. “Those magazines actually contain ‘Here’s how you do this.’ For instance, you’re probably aware that the Boston bomber made their bomb patterned on a recipe that is in Inspire magazine. All of the truck rammings of crowds, and all of that type of stuff? … The very first Inspire had the article called “The Ultimate Lawnmower,” on how to do that. In a subsequent print production called The Mujahideen’s Pocketbook, which is a compilation of all of the Inspire magazines’ attack methodologies, [leaving] all of the aspirational stuff out. Those two attack methods are also in that product.”
It took seven to eight months of study to compile the data in the “Extremist E-Zine” graphic, but Banning wanted to bring the threat into focus in a clear and concise manner for InfraGard members and other security professionals to read. “I come from a world of assessments, but I am a threat specialist,” he says. “It’s our assessment that the most dangerous thing is the San Bernardino shooter. That’s the most likely thing that’s going to happen. But the most impactful thing is the big attacks on infrastructure that Inspire keeps trying to urge. You see that it’s predominantly transportation? That’s predominantly talking about blowing up airplanes in flight. That’s the gold ring for al-Qaeda. It always has been — the in-flight incident of some type, be it 9/11 or the Underwear Bomber. So transportation is a little bit skewed, because it’s such a broad category. Most of what they’re talking about is the airlines. Luckily, the airports are the most secure piece of infrastructure that we have in our country. And it’s because that’s where the threat is. … And you’ve seen, as we do different types of security measures, the bullseye on that aircraft moves. It went from the pilot’s seat to the passenger’s seat; now it’s in the cargo hold — the latest attempt with the printer bombs.”
The “Extremist E-Zine Attack Suggestions” graphic represents a brilliant and effective effort to profile the intent of jihadist extremists, and InfraGard would like to express its gratitude to Banning and his team for their hard work in bringing this resource to bear.