Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Ten Thousand Times Worse Than Attacking Government Buildings"""

The State Department has offered its deepest sympathies to the families of the victims of yesterday's attack in Norway.

I'd like to see us do a bit more, and fly the Norwegian flag at half-mast from the Department's headquarters building as a gesture of solidarity, just as we flew the UK flag after the London subway bombings of July 2005. So far as I can find out, we haven't done that yet. If anyone knows differently, I'll be happy to be corrected.

A few thoughts about the attack and the attacker.

The immediate assumption on the part of many commentators that the attack had Islamist origins was, it now appears, completely unwarranted. However, there was some justification for that knee-jerk reaction. Last year, Norwegian police arrested three men of Uighur, Uzbek and Iraqi-Kurdish descent on charges of making explosives and planning to conduct bombings. So there is a real threat from that sector.

The Norwegian authorities seem to have underestimated the threat from domestic extremists. According to their threat assessment for 2011:

As in previous years, the far-right and far-left extremist communities will not represent a serious threat to Norwegian society in 2011. There was an increase in the activity of far-right extremist groups in 2010, and this activity is expected to continue in 2011. An increased level of activity among some anti-Islamic groups could lead to increased polarisation and unease, especially during, and in connection with, commemorations and demonstrations.

The suspect under arrest, Anders Behring Breivik, is being described as "far-right" by most news media today, but I'm not sure that's accurate. Norwegian news reports say he had been an active member of the Progress Party as far back as 1999. That is the second-most popular party in Norway, holding 41 seats in Parliament, so it isn't out of the political mainstream. Also, it seems to be more what we would call libertarian than right-wing (see this clip).

Assuming Breivik is guilty as charged - and there are plenty of surviving eyewitnesses who can identify him, as well as what appears to be a photo of him walking among the victims on Utøya Island - there is a big reason why he was able to carry out two devastating attacks without being detected and intercepted. Unlike those three plotters who were arrested last year, Breivik acted alone.

Our experience with domestic terrorism in the United States, which probably holds true for other nations as well, has shown that "lone wolf" actors are about twice as likely as others to execute their plots:

More than 40% (35 cases) of terrorist plots from 1999 to 2009 were planned or carried out by single individuals, or “lone wolves” (individuals not directly under the command structure of a group or movement but who sympathize with a particular cause). “Lone wolves” have also been more successful in executing attacks; nearly 30% of plots by single actors reached execution, compared to a 16% average execution rate by small and large groups.

Why are individual terrorists so much more successful than those who work in groups? There are lots of reasons. They have no meaningful associations with suspects known to the police, they neither seek out nor respond to solicitation by undercover agents, they don't go to 'how-to' websites nor make phone calls to Pakistan for help with building bombs, and they don't engage in precursor criminal activity such as stealing explosives. Regarding that last point, Brievik owned a farm and could buy a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer without attracting any attention. In short, they don't do any of the things that foiled the would-be bomber from Denver, and the one from Portland, and the one from the DC Metro area, and all of their hapless jihobyist cohort.

Above all else, the most striking thing about the attack was the choice of a Labor Party youth camp as the main target. Most of the victims were between 14 and 19 years old. It was a choice calculated to cause the greatest possible shock, and one that even terrorist groups almost never commit. It was up there on a par with the Beslan and Maalot school massacres, almost off the scale.

As a witness quoted in the WaPo's story this morning said:

“Attacking the government is one thing, but attacking innocent youth at a political camp, that’s beyond horrible and ten thousand times worse than attacking government buildings, attacking defenseless children.”

"Beyond horrible" indeed.


Anonymous said...

You and Juan Cole both have great posts on this today. Bravo!... From the nose up this guy looks like a younger Julian Assange! gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB! He wrote a 1500 page manifesto! No need to question him now..gwb

Originally published Saturday, July 23, 2011 at 3:58 AM

Comments (152) E-mail article Print
Norway police arrive 90 minutes after firing began
Police arrived at an island massacre about an hour and a half after a gunman first opened fire, slowed because they didn't have quick access to a helicopter and then couldn't find a boat to make their way to the scene just several hundred yards (meters) offshore. The assailant surrendered when police finally reached him, but 82 people died before that.

TSB said...

It's a sad business. The slow police response is hard to understand, but so is the passivity of the victims. There is initial shock, I know, but after 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 minutes or more, why wasn't there a United Airlines Flight 93-type rush of the shooter?

'Active shooter' scenarios go on until either the guy runs out of ammo or kills himself, or until other armed people arrive. Norway does not have the gun-phobic culture of most other European nations, so it might just be that one effect of this disaster will be that self-defense comes into fashion there.

Anonymous said...

Remember at Ft. Hood a number of soldiers had loaded weapons in their car trunks (My boss had 5 loaded pistols) because they regularly went to the gun range after work. But no one had the imagination to think we needed armed security inside the building despite frequent threats from soldiers. That would cost money and be really inconvenient to administer.
My boss did almost get arrested for a bottle of wine though! It will be interesting to see how this changes Norway. gwb

Anonymous said...

Al-Qaeda's Christian mirror
By Pepe Escobar 7/25/11

TSB: Pepe weighs in on Norway. Compared to the US, Europe has a REAL immigration problem as it dissolves economically and culturally. Islamophobia has been very useful to the politicians like Merkel but now it is making them targets of their own extremists. gwb

TSB said...

This guy is going to redefine the term "extremist." He is incredibly methodical and calculating, patient enough to take years to prepare his attack, and so anti-histrionic that he deliberately toned down his online postings and personal communications to avoid causing any suspicion.

Extremists, much less terrorists, don't usually delay gratification and discipline themselves so strictly. He makes Bin Laden look impulsive by comparison.

He was mentally obsessive, maybe unbalanced, but perfectly rational in his manifesto. I mean, he's the type that Umberto Eco called a moron, because he has all his facts right but his reasoning wrong:

Anonymous said...

How is that different from the Unabomber with advances in weapons and tactics? The manifesto is from unabomber, the tactics from al quaeda
and Major Hasan. OKC explosives. I think the difference was that this guy wasn't schizophrenic.. everyone thought he was a regular guy who sees himself as a European cultural nationalist. Evidently the Norwegian police need permission to go get their weapons=bureaucratic delay? gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: Did you see the US Mexico embassy cable sent when they first realized massive US weapons were showing up in Mexico last year? Issa is using it to try to force cooperation from Justice. Good work by the Ambassador! gwv (Washington Times)

TSB said...

Issa and his staff are on a roll. The acting head of the ATF met with them with his private attorney (in other words, not in his official capacity but as, basically, a whistle-blower) and the word is he said there is written documentation of how high in DOJ the knowledge of this program went. And some ATF agents in Tampa want to testify that this program was not confined to the southwest. This would be a huge scandal if the news media wasn't looking the other way.

Anonymous said...

Thanks TSB! I noticed last night that
Chris Matthews had a really pained look on his face re: the duelling banjo speeches.. and he is really SHOUTING A LOT at anyone with a different opinion. I'm looking forward to seeing that ATF hearing tonite. gwb