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Teaching, Tots & Terror

The FBI recently sent an “informational bulletin” to state and local police alerting them to the potential threat of "foreign extremists" trying to obtain school bus drivers licenses. No plots were revealed and no immediate threat was noted, which of course caused a frenzy of speculation and concern among both the recipients of the bulletin and the family members of any potential victims of a school-related attack.

The FBI was right to act out of “an abundance of caution” but wrong to suggest that there was nothing to worry about. Setting aside for a moment the Bureau’s substandard performance when it comes to domestic intelligence, consider that just yesterday Islamist insurgents set fire to a school in Thailand as a way to draw out and then attack local police forces, and it was only two years ago that Muslim terrorists took control of a school in Beslan, Russia that resulted in nearly 200 dead children. Domestically, the aberration that was supposed to be the Columbine Massacre has become all too common with similar attacks occurring recently in Colorado, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

A terrorist attack on a school in the US is a very strategic move due to the importance we place on the lives of our children. As events yesterday in Iraq demonstrate our enemies do not hold children in the same high regard. The reported lack of knowledge of a specific plot asks us to ignore both our inability to assess the domestic terrorist threat and a growing body of evidence that shows schools as viable if not preferred targets.


It is interesting, even odd, that since 9-11, there has not been another attack in the US. You would like to credit security and surveillance procedures, but even those operations could not interdict every attempt----one would certainly get through. So there must be another reason and it might be the fear of retaliation. You say, well, that doesn't stop the Palestinians militants, but that different----that's a resistance/insurrection effort. That model can't be applied to the US homeland. On the other hand could it be that Bush's Afghan and Iraq ventures have somehow forestalled terrorist actions in the US?

You would think that if you were hell-bent on terrorizing your way to the top then striking at more than lifeless symbols or intangibles (markets, systems) would be the way to go, but as you say, retaliation is most often the cold water that is thrown on that argument. Muslim terrorists blowing up school buses here like they blow up commuter buses in Israel would bring us to the brink of turning everything East of Istanbul and West of Mumbai into a large piece of radioactive glass. That might get you 72 virgins, but it won’t bring about the return of the Caliphate.

One could also argue that such a strategy would push an already fragile counterterrorism strategy over the edge. All this investment, all these security measures, DHS, DNI, TSA, domestic surveillance, the PATRIOT Act, etc., etc. and we still can’t keep our people – our children – safe. The political flail would make the fight over eight fired US Attorneys look like a school yard scuffle, and political change is a major part of the overall goal.

At least one strategist argues that big (or perhaps fantastic) bangs eventually bring diminishing returns, so real success is gained in smaller, more focused pin-pricks (my terms, not his). I have yet to have the discussion about whether an attack on a school or bus is “big” or “focused.”

This really falls into the “mystery” category for me, and as an analyst, that’s saying something.