Editor’s Note: WTOP’s National Security Correspondent JJ Green will be taking your questions, Thursday, Jan. 12 from 10 to 11 am on WTOP’s Facebook Page about 2012 national security threats and the newly emerging concept of “blended attacks.” Join us for the conversation.
WASHINGTON – The quantity, quality and variety of terror attacks grow with each passing year and that’s led to growing angst among intelligence officials around the world.
2012 is expected to be no different. In fact, intelligence experts are bracing for a new phenomenon — the “blended terror attack.”
“Blended attacks are very sophisticated, coordinated attacks combining a physical attack against a target along with a cyber attack against the same or different targets,” says John Kiriakou, managing partner of Rhodes Global Consulting.
That’s exactly what British authorities are preparing for as the 2012 Olympics approach.
“For example, a blended attack could be a bombing against a government ministry, along with a cyber attack against the same ministry or against power grids that supply that ministry in order to hamper rescue and restructuring,” Kiriakou says. “The Brits ought to be worried about Feb. 6, which is Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary of her ascension to the throne. The festivities will be public, crowds will be huge and MI-5 and MI-6 will see this as a dry run for the Olympics.”
The Olympics is just one of several global events that could face security nightmares.
Another is the World Expo in Yeo Su, South Korea, May 12 through Aug. 12.
“The South Koreans expect eight million visitors from 100 countries and international organizations,” Kiriakou says. “It could be an opportunity for North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong Un to establish his own bona fides, especially if relations with South Korean are not going well at that point.”
Experts like Kiriakou agree other threats at the top of the list in 2012 include organizations like al-Qaida, and its franchises al-Qaida in the Land of the Magreb (AQIM), and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and emerging terror group Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Phil Mudd, a senior global advisor for Oxford Analytica, says an attack on the U.S. homeland from al-Qaida Central, which is based in Pakistan, is not out of the question.
He believes “the organization is in trouble and if we see an attempt, it will not be a sign of an organization showing its strength, but about trying to remain relevant.”
However, Kiriakou says al-Qaida likely does not have the capability to launch “blended” attacks. Hezbollah, however, is more sophisticated and may be able to launch at least a rudimentary “blended” attack. But Kiriakou says the most troubling “blended” threat is “an attack from a state actor, such as North Korea, which has proven capabilities to launch both physical and cyber attacks.”
U.S. intelligence officials have been preparing for new and unique threats for decades, but among the biggest challenges facing the intelligence community is “the pace of change”, says Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, Jr., director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
“We are going to see an accelerated pace continue from what we saw in our first 50 years of our (DIA) history to what we’re going to see in the future, and that’s going to continue worldwide in terms of how things go. So we, as an organization and intelligence community, are going to need to adapt to that increasing pace of change,” Burgess says.
Embedded in this rapid pace of change is the resurgence of the “lone wolf” and the sophistication that cyber skills give them. Top U.S. homeland and national security officials have expressed great concern about their prominence in the last year — particularly because of al-Qaida’s influence on them. In fact, the FBI and DHS issued a joint bulletin during the 2011 holidays offering specific instructions for with recognizing and neutralizing them.