You may or may not know/care, but ISIS has recently released another “kill list.” (The last one really worked out well for them, I might add.) However, as a result of this new list, several cities have been put at a higher state of readiness.
That got me thinking. First of all, publishing a list of any sort is IO/PSYOP 101 (i.e. remedial). Not following through with that list retrogrades any possible psychological ground that may have been gained through that information operation, and forgoes any time that might have been bought. Beyond that, the perpetrator puts at risk any “street cred” that may have been gained through their previous “kinetic” operations. As in, you start listing off targets—installations, personnel, etc.—and then not follow through on a single one of them, and you look pretty inept.
All that stuff aside (as important as it may be in any overall analysis of the danger of Daesh outside their normal sphere of influence), I started thinking about this from a planning point of view. If I was going to make a list like this—or plan against one—what would the most likely targets be? What cities would I view, on either side of this planning process, as the biggest gems to go for? Where would my primary protection plans be focused?
Although I’d normally run this kind of thing through a nice CARVER matrix, I screened these through three basic gut checks:
- Targets of gravity
- Targets of opportunity
- Targets of iconography
Targets of gravity represent those that would get the absolute most bang for the buck: hitting critical infrastructure and key resources, and fomenting cascading effects across multiple CIKR sectors. Although this is all balanced out by the security level and accessibility of these targets, this country has quite a bit of vulnerability when it comes to this category. As a good guy, I’d want to mitigate as many of those vulnerabilities as possible.
Those vulnerabilities come through mostly in the targets of opportunity category. This is basically shit that might not be a great target, but has far fewer obstacles with regards to security, and is therefore more accessible. Targets of opportunity are essentially low risk by definition, and end up being more of a “why not?” in the decision-making process. So, targets of opportunity become more of a low risk, low reward target. Or, they are targets that present themselves. These are also somewhat harder to mitigate on the protection end.
The last category, targets of iconography, are those targets that don’t hold much weight with regards to economic analogies like “buck” or “reward.” These are the things that get targeted because they represent something larger than they are. Cultural resources or treasures. Historical monuments or arts. That kind of thing.
So, after pouring things through this poor man’s CARVER funnel, I came up with a nice round top 10 list. Every city on this list falls nicely into each of the above-defined categories, and I will list the top reasons.
(I should also note that I don’t think Daesh has really worked up a very sophisticated targeting capability with regards to really hitting the U S of A. Let’s hope they’re bleeding out of exit wounds before they ever do.)
- New York City. What’s better than hitting NYC with a terrorist attack? What could possibly piss off, rile up, and break down the U.S. citizenry? Hitting NYC with *another* terrorist attack. With that much stuff crammed into one comparatively tiny space, that many possible bystanders in one place at one time, and with the horrific thumb-to-the-nose that another attack would bring, NYC represents an obvious crown jewel spot on this list. But first responders and decision-makers at all levels of government in NYC, due to the city’s past, are on the ball.
- Las Vegas. Money, fun, lights, electricity, hookers, strippers, gambling, and the desert. The only thing in that sequence that your average jihadi wouldn’t like to ruin would be the desert. Any desert city suffers from one potentially fatal flaw: water (well, lack thereof). Hitting a casino or other secure spot would be stupid is as stupid does. Crowded spots that are not secure, though, are soft targets. Vegas has some of those. On the major attack side, we get back to water. Vegas, as I said, is a pretty damn secure place. That much money breeds a security consciousness in its locals and decision-makers. But Vegas certainly represents—almost perfectly, to some—the freedom that is America.
- Detroit. I imagine that most jihadis aren’t into Motown. And it’s clear to me that they prefer Toyotas. Detroit has got so much going for it…at least with regards to shit falling apart and entire swaths of town just being completely swept under some sort of municipal rug. Detroit also has iconographic cred. Even if the root of that cred is long dead. Anyone perpetuating death and destruction in that town would probably be brushed off as criminal at first, which would buy them time. Of course, they’d also be dealing with the criminals that they had been mistaken for, if they didn’t use any contacts in the local populace to get some geospatials and demographics down first. I’d also throw Detroit in the mix for places that may have established underground structure for follow-on activity. And, with that previously mentioned “local populace,” I would be surprised if that was not already happening. As a good guy, I’d have as many eyes that way as possible if I were concerned about actual terrorist attacks.
- Minneapolis. Minneapolis has a massive population that could foment—or be coerced to foment—cover for undercurrent activity. It also has the largest mall in the U.S. Malls have already been proven a viable and soft (easy) target. This is the top of the targets of opportunity list, its other target qualities notwithstanding. The decision-makers there have no doubt figured this one out by now.
- Chicago. Chi-town has very strict gun laws. That’s reason enough to make it a target of opportunity. Critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR)? Tons. Lots of peeps and breakable stuff crammed into a small space? Yup. Boats in the lake. The L. Massive, not-exactly-secure populated areas—Michigan Avenue not the least of these. The southside ain’t exactly law enforcement friendly. Plenty of sports events. But Chicago’s boys in blue outnumber many small countries’ entire standing military.
- New Orleans. Any city built below sea level is going to have its problems. Plenty of precedent there. Any city that just got 10,000 refugees dropped on it is going to have even more problems. Any city still not completely rebuilt from the last time it had problems being built below sea level…you get it. NOLA’s a pretty ripe hit for a number of reasons. Cultural jewel. Western decadence. Target of opportunity. In terms of CIKR vulnerabilities, this is a damn good choice. Apathy is exploitable. Football season brings the numbers. But I’d hold off ’til Mardi Gras. Any of these things would be places and events to bump up your security posture anyway, particularly in light of possible terrorist activity.
- Philadelphia. Liberty Bell. Founding of America stuff. Per capita, Philly has more first-gen American history than any other large city in the union. Museums are not generally thought of as being places that need protecting—unless there is stuff to be stolen. Cultural resource protection is only a partially developed field when it comes to violence. Philly’s got a lot of culture with regards to Americana and how a foreigner would perceive it. It’s also a large metro area like all of these cities are, and so maintains the same urban CIKR, which means there’s a lot to protect.
- Kansas City. KC has a lot of things going for it. Breweries. BBQ. World Series champs. It’s also deep inside our borders, and isn’t usually mentioned in connection with targets inside the continental United States. For me, KC would represent a kind of “if they can get us here, they can get us anywhere”-type target. Given the stated mil-centric tone to Daesh’s list, it’s worth noting that KC has a couple of military installations nearby.
- San Diego. Mil stuff comin’ outta the woodwork, from vast military complexes, to regularly visited mil-bars, to typical movement routes used by mil personnel. Like Chicago, boats. Infrastructure is a little more down to earth; no need to aim at protecting electrical grids and waterways when you’ve got defense personnel and dependents everywhere. And these are not only important in and of themselves, but personnel are the stated primary targets on Daash’s kill list.
- Seattle/Tacoma. SeaTac is home to significant energy infrastructure, shipping, transportation, military, government, financial, telecom, and IT assets and personnel. The area is not exactly a stranger to potential terroristic danger. Also, being a port and being close to an international boundary makes SeaTac seem like an easier target. But that also means that the security personnel (and infrastructure) typically maintain an elevated posture.
No overt military installations were mentioned. Those are too hard for the shit Daesh (or ISIS) can throw at anything on this side of the Azores. Support towns? Sure. I also left out small town USA (which is where I’d be hitting, if this were me). Those clowns don’t have the collection wherewithal nor the cultural analytics to be able to navigate popping a little league baseball game or high school prom. Instead, they’re pouring over outdated copies of some encyclopedia set and debriefing the odd loser that’s made it there from here to roll with them. Not to mention, I’m not sure their planning process could in any way include the citizenry’s response to any attack they’d even attempt in a place like Dallas, Tulsa, or Atlanta.
Part of my thought process behind this piece is that Daesh’s gains in their own backyard so far seem to be almost negligible. Their strategy is essentially moot. Rolling all your Hiluxes into the nearest village and conducting medieval tactics with basically modern weaponry does not make you a global player. Infiltrating your dudes into a country that you can—for the most part—walk into doesn’t make you a global player, either. Nor, might I add, does pursuing kineticized shenanigans on U.S. soil. That will, if anything, open Daesh up to a level of play for which it is completely unprepared and unaccustomed to.
Their ability to engage in anything even remotely resembling critical infrastructure stops at their oil business. And that’s basic economics. Not having secured certain obvious non-oil CIKR objectives in their own “native” AOR belies that hitting or holding this kind of ground is probably nowhere on their radar. And their lack of either willingness or ability to make moves on those objectives also reinforces that notion. Preparing any other operational environment outside their current tiny little slice of the gaming grid for activity is, at this point, some pretty rookie shit. But I’ll bite. And give you this.