Thursday, July 29, 2004

Stratfor: The Art of Disguise

Terrorist Tactics: The Art of Disguise  Jul 29, 2004 1550 GMT

Security sources in southern California have told Stratfor about incidents involving "vehicle-spoofing" -- or the use of falsely marked utility vehicles. The markings -- said to be fairly professionally done -- were identified by investigators looking into drug-smuggling cases.
That said, the potential for vehicle-spoofing and other types of disguises as terrorist tactics is a cause for concern.

The use of vehicles disguised as official or corporate cars, vans or trucks is an old tactic among criminals and militants that still bears review. It has cropped up everywhere -- from Iraq and Saudi Arabia to Maryland and San Diego -- and is even used by U.S. law enforcement agencies during surveillance operations. Such vehicles arouse little suspicion among the public -- and from a mental awareness standpoint, the mind has a tendency to discount the obvious, such as a delivery truck parked in a fire lane.

Stratfor has long argued that observance and vigilance among citizens are the best defenses against terrorism; the difficulty -- particularly during periods of heightened alert -- is knowing what to be on watch for.

Spoofed vehicles are only one example: Sources have told Stratfor that those identified in southern California were reasonable facsimiles of company vehicles -- utility trucks, delivery vehicles or even fleet sedans with corporate markings -- that would not attract notice from casual observers (emphasis on "casual"). In the past, militants also have used taxis as cover for surveillance; this has occurred in New York City and New Orleans, where investigators disrupted a Sikh militant assassination plot against Indian diplomats.
Other tactics include:

Official uniforms that are copied or stolen: This tactic has been used in terrorist attacks in the past, including the May assaults against Westerners at the Oasis housing compound in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. In the United States, theft of official uniforms -- such as those for police, firemen or security guards -- can be difficult to prevent; the most effective countermeasure usually is speedily reporting the theft to authorities.

Theft or copying of identification cards and badges: Requiring employees to display identification badges in order to enter the workplace is an effective security measure for many government agencies and companies, but it also renders the workplace vulnerable: Employees often wear their badges outside the building -- where they inadvertently could reveal important information or be lost or stolen. That said, employers can protect themselves through measures such as proxy card/badge readers, which allow specific numeric identifiers on lost or stolen cards to be deleted in real-time from computer memory banks, keeping any impostors from accessing the facility.

Stolen utility vehicles: These could be used in car- or truck-bombing plots, a tactic al Qaeda has discussed in the past. In 1993, militants in New York City considered using stolen delivery vans to gain access to target venues in several scenarios, such as blowing up the Waldorf-Astoria or U.N. Plaza Hotel. Countermeasures that can help to prevent against such attacks include the use of global positioning systems or similar technology that allows companies to trace lost or stolen vehicles quickly. GPS systems routinely are installed in commercial tractor-trailers, where federal officials say they have been extremely effective in preventing theft of cargo-loads traveling U.S. interstates.

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