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The Asymmetric Threat of Self Initiated Violent Actors

The Asymmetric Threat of Self Initiated Violent Actors

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Published by IAHN Negotiator
The Asymmetric Threat of Self Initiated Violent Actors
By: Jonathan D. Greenstein
The Asymmetric Threat of Self Initiated Violent Actors
By: Jonathan D. Greenstein

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Published by: IAHN Negotiator on Jul 19, 2011
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12/28/2012

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The Asymmetric Threat of Self Initiated Violent Actors
By:
Jonathan D. GreensteinIn a previous article I proffered the term: Self Initiated Violent Actors (SIVA
1
) and my rationalefor its inclusion into the lexicon applied to typing of individuals who seek to or engage in violent actsunder the auspices of terrorism. This article is a continuation of and possibly part of a longer series of articles that will speak to the asymmetric threat posed by SIVAs.
Background:
SIVAs are defined as individuals who engage in acts of violence under the umbrella of terrorist causes without specific tasking by a higher authority. While they may undertake target specificattacks as proffered by the group to which they follow; their actions are not directed. They likelymaintain a high degree of support; commitment; and possibly their intent to pursue martyrdom(shahada
2
). Their backgrounds can be quite varied; educational, socioeconomic and religious adherencecan span the scale as can their ethnicity, race, age and gender. Granted this wide inclusion of potentialSIVA candidates may seem overly broad, but by reviewing historical data the reader will quicklyappreciate the fact that violent actors can come from any background.While the primary focus of attention and discussion tends to be on those individuals who alignthemselves with Al Qaida (
AQ 
), one of its associated groups such as Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula(
AQAP
), Al-Shabaab or similar groups such as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (
TTP
), a SIVA can self associatewith any group, with any cause. Their affiliation or alignment can be with racist, separatist or politicalgroups that use criminal violence.What differentiates SIVAs from direct affiliates or supporters of a terrorist group is their self initiation of violent acts. This includes individuals who collaborate in attack planning, logistical or financial supportprovided their activity is initiated of their own volition.A SIVA
does not 
include individuals who are mission tasked by a higher authority. While this is asomewhat complex construct to articulate; for the purposes of this article I will rely on the generalframework of a tasked individual being someone who is selected and steered towards action. Thus, anindividual who is selected and indoctrinated with the specific intent to utilize them in act of terrorismwould not be a classified a SIVA.The asymmetric threat posed by SIVAs is not a new concept. The threat is that they will engage in an actof violence; the asymmetry is that they act alone and as such remove some of the traditional detectiontools. ___________________________________
1-
The term “Self Initiated Violent Actor” and ac
ronym SIVA was first coined by the author in the course of professional research and development in 2011.2- The word shahada is derived from the Arabic verbal root shahada, which means to 'see', to 'witness', to 'testify', to 'become a model and paradigm'. Shahadatherefore literally means to 'see', to 'witness', and to 'become a model'. A shahid is the person who sees and witnesses, and he is therefore the witness, as if themartyr witnesses and sees the truth physically and thus stands by it firmly, so much so that not only does he testify it verbally, but he is prepared to struggle andfight and give up his life for the truth, and thus to become a martyr. In this way, and by his struggle and sacrifice for the sake of the truth, he become a model, aparadigm, and an example for others, worthy of being copied, and worthy of being followed.
 
Before delving into some potential indicators it is important to remind the reader that these arepotential indicators only. While in a law enforcement context the observation of one or more of thesepotential indicators may the initiator to engage a person in a consensual contact, they fall short of probable cause. Ensure you follow established policies and procedures before applying anything borneout of this information.
Behavioral Indicators
Some of these behavioral indicators cover both SIVAs and tasked actors. Given that a SIVA actson their own accord and without the benefit of some traditional sources of threat reporting, theawareness of these potential indicators is critical in assessing and mitigating their unique threat.
New or increased violent rhetoric. Particularly following a significant event; such as a victory by theirgroup. Just as important is a drastic change following a loss suffered by their group. Victories can includesuccessfully attacks, high profile media coverage or measured capitulation by their perceived enemies.Losses can include disrupted plots, deaths of leadership, notable sways in public opinion and bad press.It should be noted that these are subjective and what is viewed in one light by us can be viewed from acompletely different perspective by a SIVA.
Obsession with violent Jihad depictions. This is where a SIVA shares some common elements withother violent actors; they seek out videos and first-hand accounts that portray the glorious aspects of battle. Like a drug, they use it to sustain themselves.
Shunning of non-violent ideals. Both SIVAs and those tasked by higher authorities are likely to alignthemselves with postulators of violence; be it religious or other justification. Where a SIVA may bear aunique indicator is that they may never seek formal council. While they subscribe to a particular group
mission statement
they may never actually communicate directly with the group; opting to act ontheir own.
Pre-Operational Indicators
As with other criminals, a SIVA will usually engage in pre-operational activities. This is a criticalstage for frontline law enforcement, security and the first responder. While we may never be able toquantify the number of attacks that were deterred or prevented, failing to recognize potential indicatorsof pre-operational activity will surely provide us with the evidence of a plot; after it comes to fruition.
Interest in high profile locations. These can be previous attack locations or those that hold significanceto the SIVA and/or their affiliated group. As evidence by recent online postings
3
; target lists areconstantly being updated. ___________________________________
3-In early June 2011, Al Qaeda Central (AQC) and several jihadist forums provided in-depth discussion and postulated targeting of individuals.
 
Engaging in surveillance activity. As demonstrated by evidence uncovered following the Times SquareVBIED
4
Plot; the ability to conduct remote target selection and initial surveillance through publicallyaccessible platforms remains a viable tool for actors. Even with remote capabilities, it is very likely that aSIVA will conduct in-person target site assessments. This is the period when most acts can be eitherdeferred or detected.
Seeking employment at, with, or access to potential targets. Like any other criminal, a SIVA will likelyseek out opportunities to gain insight to a target location. If the SIVA is planning an
inside job
, themost probable route will be through employment at the target location or in a position that will provideaccess. Despite the austere job market, when other potential indicators are coupled with a drasticdivergence from one type of work to one that provides access to a facility of interest
5
, you may havecause for concern and increased interest.
Possession of unusual documents, maps, photos and related materials. This can be indicative of operational planning or an aspiration. A SIVA who poses an insider threat concern could be an individualwho seeks out or is found to have these materials or information outside the scope of their role withinan organization. This, coupled with potential behavioral indicators would likely be cause for furtherinquiry.Of obvious note would be maps that indicate attack routes, critical points, have time notations and thelike. Further, photos of targets taken from a distance or which focus on critical points would be cause forconcern.
Acquisition or attempts to acquire precursor chemicals, excessive ammunition and weapons. This isanother critical point in pre-operational activities when plots are detected and disrupted. Frequently, itis during the process of assembling the tools needed to execute their mission that SIVAs and missiontasked actors are identified and subsequently apprehended. Unfortunately, the ability to detect actionsat this stage has been highlighted by the simplicity of recent attacks, the use of readily available andseemingly innocuous implements.
Increased secrecy about activities and associates. While a SIVA may closely associate with a particulargroup prior to their self initiated action; openly posting on public forums, attending meetings, hostinggroup members or otherwise maintaining a visible affiliation, it is probable that such contacts will showa marked decrease as they reach a point just prior to acting. A caveat is that the decision to act can bepredicated by any number of factors and is largely driven by the individual and their mindset at the time.Though the act may appear spontaneous, it was likely well thought out beforehand. A marked change intheir public profile may be indicative of action in the near-term. ___________________________________
4-Open source reporting notes that the suspect used publically accessible web-cam feeds and Google Earth © during his pre-operational target selection and toidentify the best time at which to place and detonate the VBIED.5-A drastic change would include seeking/accepting menial labor or other behind-the-scenes positions that fall below the SIVAs capabilities
and
available positionsat or near the potential target.

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