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Too busy fighting to fix soft targets together?

soft tar·get noun: soft target; plural noun: soft targets a person or thing that is relatively unprotected or vulnerable, especially to military or terrorist attack.

U.S. Border Patrol agents have arrested a record 38 people on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database during the first three months of fiscal 2023, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

Why were they here? Who sent them? What were they planning to do once they arrived? What was their final destinations?

All pretty legit questions. One thing I know is that these guys were not heading to the airport to steal a plane in order to fly it into an iconic building in New York. I think that terrorists are done with that. It is too much work and only seems to rally Americans into a frenzy of patriotism. The large-scale single attacks are counter-productive.

We should be concerned about the soft targets.

The term “soft target” hails from the defense intelligence community. It can be applied structurally to buildings such as your home or office. It can be applied to vehicles such as your car, and it can be applied to people like you and your family.

Here I go again with the history thing:

It is the morning of December 2, 2015. Tashfeen Malik and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook left their six-month-old daughter with Farook's mother at their Redlands California home, telling her that they were going to a doctor's appointment.

Farook, a food inspector for the San Bernardino County Department of Public then attended a departmental event at the banquet room of the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. The event began as a semi-annual all-staff meeting and training event, and was in the process of transitioning into a department holiday party/luncheon when the shooting began.

Farook arrived at the departmental event at about 8:30 am and left midway through it at around 10:30 am, leaving a backpack containing explosives atop a table. Coworkers reported that Farook had been quiet for the duration of the event.

At 10:59 am Farook and Malik armed themselves and opened fire on those in attendance. During the attack, they wore ski masks and black tactical gear. The entire shooting took less than four minutes, and Farook and Malik fired between 65 and 75 bullets. The couple departed the scene before police arrived. The explosive devices placed by Farook were later detonated by the bomb squad.

I know this has brought back memories for a lot of you. Few people that began watching the events in San Bernardino, California changed the channel once it began. The horror of this tragedy almost demanded that you not look away, and of course, there was one question on everyone’s mind… are they here? Are we about to go through it again?

While the event commandeered our televisions for several days, the story of Farook and Malik soon faded to the back pages of newspapers and then faded away altogether.

It’s an American thing. We watch tragedies around the world through a flat screen that turns everything in real life into a two dimensional event which assists us in compartmentalizing the events and allowing us to categorize it as “somewhat real” but not “relevant”.

December 2nd changed things. All of a sudden, millions of Americans were watching victims being removed, watching buildings being evacuated, watching a black SUV chased down an American street and we watched as two “of them” were shot in the street.

Before you get ready to send your hate mail, I am not making a blanket statement about Muslims or the Muslim community, I am merely pointing out that millions of us were already guessing as to the ethnic origin of the shooters long before the names were announced. We expected it because we have been inundated with news and social media that taught us how to think. Even seasoned journalists experienced in reporting the “facts” made statements that it was terrorism due to loose reports as to the ethnic origin of the dead shooters.

The problem here is that this event happened right here in the United States and we watched in frustration as authorities would not tell us if this was all part of an idealistic Jihad or just a disgruntled employee that talked his wife into joining him in an act of revenge.

The REAL problem is that the language used by politicians and investigators really does not matter. The focus of Americans needs to be immediately refocused on two things and two things only:

What are we going to do about soft targets? and

When are we going to realize that anyone can be a terrorist?

This is not the first attack in an office building and it will not be the last. What determines the future of these attacks is whether or not we are willing to admit that we perpetuate the soft target atmosphere in this country.

Before I continue, I should share a story I have shared on many stages over the years.

Several years ago I was on an eight state tour speaking on the importance of disaster resilience. The tour took me through northern Illinois where I was able to visit my sister and her family as one of my stops. I had looked forward to the trip for a long time and upon arrival at her home, I quickly grabbed our luggage and ran to her door to begin my visit. As we entered my sister’s home, my wife asked if I had locked the truck and trailer.

“Not yet, but I will do it later” I replied.

In retrospect, I don’t think I ever intended on locking the trailer. My sister lives in an affluent neighborhood, heavily patrolled and full of wonderful families living out the American dream.

Waking early the next morning, while pouring my first cup of coffee, I felt a memory stab… I had never locked the truck and trailer.

It was still another hour before I ventured out. As you might have guessed, the truck doors and trailer doors were all open. Everything was gone.

The humor (and lesson) in this story lies in the conversation with the police officer that responded to my sister’s home.

“Was it locked?” he asked.

“No” was my ashamed reply.

“What was in it?”

“Everything for my tour from response equipment to computers, a projector, screen and displays.”

“What is the tour for?”

“I speak on resilience…”

I guess it is funny now that I look back on it, but in light of this month’s events, the story of my trailer rings true. To admit that we have created soft targets is hard to do. To change how we live, to inconvenience ourselves even for the sake of safety is sometimes even harder.

I don’t want to run out in the rain to lock my trailer. I do not want to show up 3 hours before a flight. I do not want to spend my trip to the mall watching other people. I do not want to call the police and get involved just because I suspect something… maybe that’s it… I just don’t want to get involved…

During that December week in 2015, out of all the interviews I watched on National news, the one that stood out was the woman that lived next to the shooters. She stated that she had seen events and questionable activity for weeks in and around the residence of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. She went as far as to say she thought about calling the police, but her involvement ended after the thought and before any action.

Syed Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, were responsible for an attack that killed at least 14 people and injured 17 and one thing is clear and that is the fact that Farook and Malik might have put a lot of effort into the planning, but the attack was easy.

This was not a small cell group of 9 radicalized men having clandestine meetings in a warehouse stockpiling weapons and learning how to fly planes. These folks were NEIGHBORS. They were local shoppers. They were community members. They were just the people that lived next door.

The truth is that the couple merely entered the Inland Regional Center and opened fire. They needed very little to do so. It was just an office building and nobody in the meeting room was armed. It was as soft as a target can get.

It is here that I will point out that local law enforcement in San Bernardino was amazing and had a 4 minute response time to the incident. Unfortunately, bullets fly faster than cops can drive. There was no employee in that room that morning carrying a firearm. It was room full of defenseless people.

Once the couple was recognized as having participated in a terrorist attack, the politics took over and debates about gun control rose while the real issues fell by the wayside.

As my regular readers know, there is always a lesson in history and I am always gonna dig it up for you. I think we need to remember that morning in December of 2015 and we need to start paying more attention. If you remember, the investigation into the 2015 attack brought up some very concerning facts:

It was determined that Farook and Malik lived amongst “normal” Americans.

It was determined that Farook and Malik had made plans to attack many more soft targets including schools.

It was determined that Farook and Malik planned on a two-wave attack in order to kill a large number of responders.

It was determined that Farook and Malik may have been connected to many sleeper cells just like themselves…

In the early hours of July 20, 2012, a gunman entered a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and opened fire on the audience that had gathered to watch the premiere of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. The gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 others.

On October 13 (“Friday the 13th”), 2015 , gunmen entered a café and a concert hall in Paris and killed dozens as they drank cappuccino and listened to a band.

Easy, soft targets.

The opposite of a soft target is a hard target. If a burglar sees locks, alarms, cameras and bright lights protecting a home, then he might consider the house three doors down that is poorly lit, with no alarms, no cameras and with the front door wide open at 2 am to be a more viable target.

In the 1960s, the American world began to change. Terrorism was replacing the old “watch out for Russians” mentality and we began to enter into a new time and space in history; the age of real terrorism.

Of course, in a longer discourse, I would argue that our country has undergone such times before as in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, but for the sake of not writing a novel, I will not go further into how much our country has FORGOTTEN about its history and survival thus far.

In the 1970s, we saw successful bombing attacks against the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and the State Department buildings — the very heart of the U.S. government. At the same time commercial airliners were easy targets.

Nongovernmental organizations were also seen as soft targets. The Black September Organization operation at the 1972 Olympic Games might ring a bell with some of my readers.

Of course, Embassies also became a target. At the end of the decade, we watched the U.S. Embassy in Tehran come under siege as well as the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

What has happened to our short term memory?

Day after day I have watched televised coverage of people acting shocked and surprised that an attack has occurred yet from Benghazi to Texas, from Connecticut to San Bernardino, we are seeing the SAME attacks we have seen for 4 decades and yet we all act surprised every time an event occurs.

We need to start addressing soft targets, what we can do to harden them, and the difficult decisions our country must make when it comes to our OWN ideaology.

I believe that we are battling enemies with unshakeable ideologies or consuming anger and that we are attempting to succeed by only relying on technologies and innovations. While innovation has placed us on the winning side of many skirmishes in history, it is not military might or techno-savvy that will win against our present foes as long as we remain a country of soft targets with no ideology of our own whatsoever.

I am not ignorant to the fact that our nation hosts MANY ideologies, but there is no unified “banner”. There is no one belief, one doctrine that holds this country together any longer. “In God We Trust” is emblazoned on our currency and SOUNDS like this could be that rallying slogan, but let’s not kid ourselves… this is not that banner under which we operate. Our splintered society has become so distracting that we are not paying attention to soft targets! We are so busy pushing every day to make others see things our way and to defend our own way and nobody is locking the trailer!

We need to find that banner, that flag, that belief, that doctrine under which we can all gather or we will never stamp out any enemy and if we do not start learning from history, we will surely have a bleak future.

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