Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment
Posted by Lori Price, www.legitgov.org 08 April 2009
Virginia's network of colleges and universities also represent a potential avenue of entry for terrorist operatives and a possible forum for recruitment of sympathizers.
In addition to reviewing information directly reported to the VFC, surveys were sent to all Virginia local law enforcement agencies to determine the extent of terrorism activities throughout the state. Information of interest included not only event-specific data, but also suspicious traffic stops or activities consistent with pre-operational attack planning. Assessments of the overall threat posed by specific terror and extremist groups or movements were completed utilizing the Project SLEIPNIR: Revised Long Matrix for Criminal Extremism utilized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
OF TERRORIST AND EXTREMIST DATA IN VIRGINIA
As with previous years, the threat from terrorist and extremist groups can be categorized as international or domestic threats. Each of these groups holds particular values and political goals and thus represents a different type of threat to Virginia and the U.S. The international terrorism threat to Virginia and the nation as a whole stems from several radical Islamic militant groups. The domestic terrorist threat is comprised of a wide variety of groups, to include special interest groups, anarchists, race-based groups, including black separatists and white supremacists, militias and sovereign citizens, and homegrown extremists.
In Virginia, identified activities have been limited primarily to non-violent acts and crimes committed to raise funds to finance group activities. Some activities also relate to criminal endeavors generally used by extremists to further operational planning. The Virginia Fusion Center monitors international, national, and regional trends relating to terrorism and criminal extremism for indicators of emerging activity in the Commonwealth. Terrorism trends of greatest concern in 2009 include terrorism tradecraft, recruitment, and radicalization, terrorist use of technology, and terrorism financing.
As terrorists adapt and evolve to offset existing counterterrorism measures, they have successfully exploited available technology and modified their tactics to ensure successful operations. While several of the trends noted are applicable to all terrorist and extremist groups, increasing linkages are noted to specific critical infrastructure and key resources. As such, this product highlights, where possible, connections noted between groups, their behaviors, and potentially targeted infrastructure.
Based on the information gathered, the Commonwealth of Virginia could be potentially targeted for terrorist attack due to its location and proximity to Washington, D.C., its concentration of critical infrastructure, and the amount of extremist activity documented in Virginia. In order to detect and deter terrorist attacks, it is essential that information regarding suspected terrorists and suspicious activity in Virginia be closely monitored and reported in a timely manner. Additionally, it remains important to determine the extent of existing trends and to collect, analyze, and disseminate this information to law enforcement partners in Virginia.
In addressing the terrorism threat to Virginia, it is important to define terrorism and the scope of activities included. Terrorism can be defined as politically motivated violence or threat of violence designed to coerce others into actions they would not otherwise undertake or to refrain from actions they desired to take. Terrorism is generally directed against civilian targets and is intended to produce effects beyond immediate physical damage, to produce long-term psychological repercussions, especially fear, on a particular target audience. For the purposes of this Threat Assessment, terrorism is divided into two categories: international and domestic terrorism. International terrorism involves threats emanating primarily from the international jihad movement, foreign terrorist organizations, and state sponsors of terrorism. Domestic terrorism includes threats from special interest groups, white supremacists, black separatists, and anti-government groups. Terrorism trends included in this assessment are activities, such as recruitment, financing, training, and planning, conducted in furtherance of terrorism.
Terrorism remains a threat to Virginia, not only because of its proximity to the nation's capitol, but also due to the volume of significant infrastructure. Such infrastructure includes military installations such as the Pentagon; two nuclear power plants; and a major East Coast seaport. Virginia is also home to a wide range of transportation sector targets of interest, including interstate highways with high-traffic bridges and tunnels; railways and subways; and aviation and port facilities. While other infrastructure sectors, such as water, energy, and information technology could be targeted, it is also possible that terrorist attention could be directed toward law enforcement at the local, state, and federal levels.
Spanning 39,598 square miles, Virginia has a population of almost 7.5 million residents. Roughly half of these residents are concentrated in the northern Virginia, central Virginia, and Hampton Roads regions. All three of these regions feature ethnically diverse populations with cultural ties to the Middle East, the horn of Africa, Southeast Asia, and other areas heavily impacted by terrorist activities. While the vast majority of these individuals are law-abiding, this ethnic diversity also affords terrorist operatives the opportunity to assimilate easily into society, without arousing suspicion. Virginia's network of colleges and universities also represent a potential avenue of entry for terrorist operatives and a possible forum for recruitment of sympathizers. Additionally, Virginia’s correctional system remains an attractive venue for recruitment and radicalization relating to terror organizations and hate groups.
The VFC has compiled information from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as open sources to create this Threat Assessment. In addition to reviewing information directly reported to the VFC, surveys were sent to all Virginia local law enforcement agencies to determine the extent of terrorism activities throughout the state. Information of interest included not only event-specific data, but also suspicious traffic stops or activities consistent with pre-operational attack planning. Assessments of the overall threat posed by specific terror and extremist groups or movements were completed utilizing the Project Sleipnir: Revised Long Matrix for Criminal Extremism utilized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Although the primary objective of this report is to share valuable terrorism intelligence with public safety agencies in Virginia, a secondary goal is to highlight the types of data needed from local, state, and federal partners of the VFC. While every effort was made to ensure accurate, thorough reporting of the terrorist threat, it is expected that not every incident of possible terrorist activity will be reported or forwarded to the VFC.
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