Raising Public Awareness in the Fight Against Extremism by Hakim Hazim

It has become customary to fault intelligence and law enforcement agencies regarding security lapses after high profile incidents occur. The next steps after such lapses in security are predictable: Congressional hearings follow, and politicians posture before the public with staged indignation and finger pointing. Frankly, we are seeing a strategic smoke and mirrors approach by the Obama administration used to both divert and assign blame. Lives are in the balance, and now more than ever, Americans need to take responsibility for their safety and their neighbors’. Staying safe requires watchfulness. And it is important to learn what to look for and how to arrive at actionable intelligence without creating paranoia and scapegoats.

Actionable intelligence is real time information that allows security professionals to intervene. It is intelligence that is on hand and available to people who are in a position to do something. Such information is used to prevent incidents like the failed Christmas Day bombing by 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Christmas day terrorist act was the reality that information was available via Umar’s father, but nothing was done with it. Now and far into the foreseeable future, Americans will need circumspectness from both public servants and private citizens. People will need tools beyond reactionary intelligence.

Reactionary intelligence is in the moment decision-making based on observation. It is important. After all, it’s the brave people of Northwest Flight 253 that took matters into their own hands, averting catastrophe in the process. Citizen defense aboard planes was highlighted during the September 11 attacks when the people aboard United Airlines Flight 93 overcame the hijackers and sacrificed their lives in the process. The resilient passengers of American Airline Flight 63 restrained Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and saved their lives in the process. Reactionary intelligence was used appropriately in all situations, and lives were saved. But there is a better way.

Discovering actionable intelligence (through techniques that couple statement analysis with various open interview methods) is not as difficult as it may seem. Actionable intelligence is something members of the public can gather on their own with some training. This should be encouraged in a self-directed learning format. If citizens become more skilled in this, they will be able to report things in an unbiased way.

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