The retail industry is the lifeblood of the U.S. consumer-driven economy. It is the foundation of our financial livelihood, our recreation, our way of life. A successful attack in a retail store or mall could strike fear in the hearts of Americans and stall the economy. In addition to the symbolic victory of such an attack, it is also highly feasible from a logistical standpoint. Retail environments are open and welcoming by their very nature — and therefore tempting targets for highly-motivated terrorists.
Failed plots such as the attempted bombing at the tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore.; the car bomb left to explode in Times Square; and just recently a second Ft. Hood shooter’s interrupted plans, all point to increased activity. Adam Gadahn, the American-born rising leader in Al Qaeda, has released statements calling for smaller, lone-wolf attacks on soft targets, which could point to retail.
Unfortunately, the threat is real. Yet many retailers — even those most motivated to take action — do not feel sufficiently knowledgeable about how to take initial steps towards a counter-terrorism program within their organization. Often, the biggest challenge is knowing where to start. The development of a partnership with the public sector — law enforcement, federal agencies and emergency responders — is a powerful first step that retailers can take to initiate their counter-terrorism programs.
Completing the Puzzle
The field of Homeland Security is still under construction. In many ways, it involves a process of constantly responding to the environment, new threats, new intelligence and learning from each plot and attack. There are many different agencies — each holding distinct pieces of information and possessing different strengths and capabilities. With so many sources, it can be challenging for them to seamlessly work together, much less fold in collaboration with private-sector institutions.
Ironically, the best chance of success in acting against terrorism is to increase consistency of information-sharing, analysis and response. These agencies and law enforcement organizations are making great strides with programs such as “Operation Blackbird,” a highly successful effort involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and retailers to stop a massive organized theft of baby formula to fund terrorist activities. The Department of Homeland Security’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign is another great program.
With improved collaboration, retailers have an opportunity to learn a great deal from these organizations and to pass them meaningful information to support their cause of thwarting terrorist attacks. By combining different types of information to which each has access, the public and private sectors can better complete the “puzzle.”
Whereas federal agencies have a great degree of high-level intelligence, an understanding of “red flags,” and a high-level outline of groups and the threats they present, much of their information is unfortunately compiled after an attack has been carried out or, thankfully, unsuccessful. On the other hand, the private sector has invaluable information from the field. They are potentially witnessing the perpetrators when they are actually committing or preparing to commit these acts.
The public sector has names. Retailers have video of terrorists in the store. The public sector has stated intent of action. Retailers have preparations and purchases being made in their stores. The public sector has the hunch and the chatter that something is about to occur. Retailers have the proof that action is being taken.
Together, retailers and the public sector can go a long way toward finishing the intelligence puzzle and preventing attacks.
The Ideal Partnership
Understanding the power of information sharing and collaboration by retailers and the public sector, it is helpful to envision what a good partnership looks like and how it works. The following are some of the foundations of a strong working relationship: