San Bernardino shooting exposes gaps in U.S. terror defenses

Dec. 9, 2015
Current methodologies for identifying potential terrorists are unreliable

Now, days following their horrific attack in San Bernardino, we learn about methodical planning and preparation by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik in the days and weeks leading up to the shooting at the Inland Regional Center that left 14 people dead and more than 20 others wounded. And I continue to hear the question: "Why weren’t we able to identify these terrorists before their violent act?" The answer is when we consider the programs that we have in place, none are reliable. Let’s review each of them and I encourage your professional comments and assessments.

TSA’s SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observations Techniques) Program

TSA’s SPOT program is considered our government’s ultimate method of identifying a terrorist, yet, according to two scathing Government Accountability Office reports, SPOT has failed to identify a single terrorist, even though we know that in 2010 alone, 17 known terrorist traversed our airports. 

Even though TSA has spent over $900,000,000 on the SPOT program, they have never been able to scientifically-validate their methods. Why? Because the SPOT program is looking for the wrong person! This may be our government’s most scandalous program.  It was put in place to protect American citizens and, once again, terrorists (Farook and Malik) passed through TSA’s SPOT program without being identified. 

The image above (click right on the image carousel), taken as the couple passes through customs at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on July 27, 2014, shows Malik clad in all black looking directly into the camera with a blank expression as the taller Farook stands behind her, black bearded and with a blank expression. It is the most recent photograph of the two to be made public, and how very revealing. 

The Critical Aggression Prevention System (CAPS) has learned over the past 21 years that when any human being, regardless of their culture, gender, etc., is prepared to give up their life for a cause (there is no intention greater than this), their bodies respond to this intention by losing animation.  In essence, their bodies express this intention by saying, “I’m dead.” We witness what the military calls the “thousand yard stare” or “dead eyes,” but it is more than this.  Their whole body language and behavior reflect this intention. The Israelis call this full body look the “walking dead” as we see with Farook and Malik.  

The Critical Aggression Prevention System (CAPS) is a scientifically-validated method that can identify these individuals as 9th Stage Cognitive Aggressors, perpetrators of murder/suicide or terrorists.  When you learn what a 7th or 8th Stage Cognitive Aggressor’s body language and behavior looks like, you will now see the precursors of violence/terrorism and you have the opportunity to reliably prevent the next terrorist attack from happening. Let us not forget there are six more sequential precursors prior to the 7th Stage Cognitive Aggressor, and each offers increasing opportunities to prevent the next terrorist attack. The government currently uses Primal (adrenaline-driven) Aggression indicators, which will aid in identifying a smuggler but will not identify a terrorist. 

TSA Terror Watch List

When asked recently on CNN’s State of the Union about a bill to restrict gun sales to people on the federal government’s terrorist watch list, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) stated: “The majority of the people on the no-fly list are oftentimes people that just basically have the same name as somebody else, who don’t belong on the no-fly list. Former Senator Ted Kennedy once said he was on a no-fly list.”

Before 9/11, the no-fly list, which names people who are banned from boarding flights in or out of the U.S., contained 16 people. A leak revealed that that number had grown to 47,000 as of 2013. One official stated that 50 percent of these individual should not be on this list. The broader terrorist watch list maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center has an even more expansive scope; the estimated number of people on the list has ranged from 700,000 to more than 1.5 million, figures which include both Americans and foreigners.

The following information was published in Think Progress:

"Rahinah Ibrahim, a Stanford doctoral candidate and mother of four, was barred from the U.S. for nearly a decade when she left Stanford for a visit home to Malaysia, not realizing her name was on the no-fly list. She was taken away in handcuffs and interrogated before she was cleared to fly to Malaysia in 2005. But when she tried to go back to California, she discovered her visa had been revoked because of suspected terrorist ties. For years, she fought the federal government simply to find out why she had been put on the no-fly list in the first place.

The government argued they had to keep the reason secret because it was sensitive to national security. That reason turned out to be that an FBI official accidentally ‘checked the wrong boxes, filling out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions on the form,’ a federal judge found.

Since Ibrahim’s hard-won legal victory, other lawsuits have attempted to chip away at the secrecy surrounding the terrorist watch list. People don’t know they’re on the watch list until they try to get on a plane, and have no way other than a legal battle to correct errors. Countless people, including American citizens, have been abruptly stranded in foreign countries as they fight for their right to return to the U.S. According to classified documents obtained by the Intercept, the broader terrorist watch list includes 280,000 people — more than 40 percent of the list — who the government says have no recognized terrorist affiliation."

This is a stern rebuke against a “secret” Government system that arbitrarily places unsuspecting U.S. citizens and others on a list and, who have little recourse to remove themselves.

The Visa Waiver Program

Did you know that the United States allows 38 countries the ability to send their citizens to our country without even a passport or any real scrutiny?  Europe is being overrun by refugee-immigrants leaving countries under siege by ISIS. Once they establish themselves in one of these 38 countries, they will have easy access to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program.  This happens over 20,000,000 times a year. The Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Mike McCaul, just announced that our government already knows of ongoing plans by ISIS to infiltrate our refugee initiative with terrorists bound for the United States.

The Use of Mental Illness as a Terrorist Determinant

Mental health assessments are notoriously poor indicators of who the next terrorist will be.  The “Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy,” clearly states: “Most people who are violent do not have a mental illness, and most people who have mental illness are not violent.”  Yes, a shooter may have had a disorder, but having a disorder does not help us identify the next shooter, period.  

  • Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, was evaluated on three separate occasions and on each occasion he was deemed to be, “depressed and anxious but not at risk of hurting himself or others.”  
  • Jared Lee Loughner, who pleaded guilty to 19 charges of murder and attempted murder in connection with the shooting in Tucson, Ariz. clearly had a thought disorder and was possibly schizophrenic, but less than 1 percent of those with schizophrenia have ever murdered others. How do you get from “less than 1 percent” to “this is your next shooter?” You can’t!

The Critical Aggression Prevention System (CAPS) uses no mental health assessments, and therefore do not contravene any HIPAA regulations.

Threat Assessment Teams

Often perceived as a “prevention tool,” threat assessment, by its very name, assesses an existing threat. Its user is attempting to identify an initial “lesser” threat to thereby prevent a subsequent “greater” threat, but there is no assurance that the initial “lesser” threat will not be a threat to life or limb. This happens regularly but a prime example is the Washington Navy Yard shooter. When did the Navy learn that Aaron Alexis was a threat? When he was killing people (13 people died before security and law enforcement arrived).  

Stated simply: There is no “reaction” faster than an “action.”  We know that crisis management, active shooter training, and threat assessment programs only react to a terrorist attack.

The most thorough study addressing the problem of threat assessment was a collaboration between the U.S. Secret Service, National Institute of Justice and U.S. Department of Education called the “Safe School Initiative,” which declared that, “The ultimate question to answer…  is whether a student is on a path to a violent attack.”  If we are to be reliably predictive as to who will be the next shooter, we must focus on “emerging aggression” (someone on a path to a violent attack) of someone planning or preparing for an attack. 

The Center for Aggression Management developed the Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua twenty-one years ago, and has now developed the scientifically-validated Critical Aggression Prevention System (CAPS) that “identifies someone on the path to violence.”  Would you like to know more about how to actually identify and prevent the next terrorist from acting?  Would you like to know why and how the Critical Aggression Prevention System (CAPS) works? Invest and watch the following video at:

About the Author: John Byrnes is the founder and CEO of the Center for Aggression Management. Those with questions or comments for Mr. Byrnes can reach him at 407-718-5637 or via email at [email protected].