In counter-terrorism, “surveillance correlations” refers to several seemingly unrelated events actually being related, and showing evidence that you are either under surveillance or about to be attacked. Few areas of concern are showing more evidence of surveillance correlations than our water, electrical and nuclear facilities. Very simply, surveillance correlations presuppose that, if you see something once, it means nothing. If you see something twice, it is merely a coincidence. However, if you see something three times, you are under surveillance or someone is about to do you harm.
One year ago this month- on April 13th, two days before the Boston Marathon bombing – someone snuck into an underground vault near San Jose, California and cut out a number of telephone cables. Within 30 minutes, unidentified gunmen opened fire on the nearby PG&E electric transmission substation. This coordinated assault just before 1 a.m. lasted less than an hour, but totaled some 100 shots fired and caused the destruction of 17 transformers.
By the time the police arrived, the perpetrators were gone, and they remain at large.
Repairs to the substation were so extensive that it had to be closed down for a month.
Just a few days later -on April 21st, at 2 o’clock in the morning – an unidentified person traveled by boat to the perimeter of the TVA Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tennessee, then trespassed onto the facility. The intruder exchanged gunfire with security guards, then sped away in his boat.
The identity of the person is still unknown.
The very next day, a Muslim from Canada named Ahmed Abass was arrested in New York allegedly planning to kill as many as 100,000 people by contaminating air and water supplies with bacteria in a major U.S. city. Abass – who studied chemical engineering at Laval University in Quebec – was also accused of illegally applying for a visa to stay in the U.S. and “fraudulently commit an act of international terrorism.”
Barely three weeks later, seven people from Pakistan, Singapore and Saudi Arabia were caught trespassing just after midnight on the grounds of the Quabbin Reservoir – one of the country’s largest man-made public sector reservoirs, supplying water to some 2 million people in the Boston area. The five men and two women claimed to be international students and chemical engineers interested in water supplies for “their education and career interests.”
Massachusetts state police said, “there was no evidence that the seven were committing any crime beyond the trespassing,” so they were released.
Lastly, just this past January, another Muslim – 26-year-old, Asaf Mohammad – was arrested after being found trapped inside a 20-inch pipe outside a storage tank at a water-treatment plant in Manalapan, N.J. Authorities say he was discovered by morning work-crews and had been trapped for hours overnight.
Why have these instances received only scant coverage – and virtually no follow-up – in the media?
I believe it is because both the media and intelligence analysts are unwilling – or unable – to acknowledge the correlations among these events.
(Recall that both entities ignored warnings about 9/11; warnings about the Tsarnaev brothers,; warnings about Benghazi; failed to foresee the Arab Spring; or even that Russia would show mass aggression towards Ukraine).
The small attacks and infiltrations of the last 12 months could actually be part of a well-orchestrated series of “dry runs” to test the vulnerabilities of our critical infrastructure, including the reactions of infrastructure security personnel.
The fact that these eerily similar instances occurred within a single, 12-month period is absolutely unprecedented.
The fact that they all occurred in the last 12 months may signal that an attack is well into its advanced stages of planning.
If these instances of suspicious activity don’t show correlations, I don’t know what does!
In keeping with our concept of “correlations,” when investigating any suspected terrorist activity on the homeland, it is important to correlate that activity with what might be going on overseas.
So let’s do that!
In May 2011, members of al Qaeda and the terrorist group Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) attacked the Mehran Naval Base in Karachi – headquarters of Pakistan’s naval air force, believed to house many of Pakistan’s 100 nuclear warheads.
During the 2 a.m. attack – launched from a wooded area and river running alongside the base – the attackers used wire cutters to get through fencing and ladders to negotiate the compound walls. The 15 attackers engaged in an 18-hour well-coordinated gunfight with security forces using RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and assault rifles, destroying a helicopter and at least two American surveillance planes, killing 18 soldiers and wounding some 20 others.
Before dawn on Aug. 16, 2012, nine members of TTP – this time donned in air force uniforms and suicide vests – conducted a daring raid on the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra – one of Pakistan’s most heavily protected nuclear air bases.
Believed to be under the direction of al Qaeda and attacking from two different ends of the compound simultaneously, the attackers engaged in a 2-hour battle using RPGs, rifles and at least one suicide bomber who blew himself up at the compound’s perimeter.
This was actually the third attack on the installation since 2007, with both previous attacks also including suicide bombers.
Of course, coordinated attacks by al Qaeda and the Taliban on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are believed to have four possible intents;
- To acquire radioactive material to construct a “dirty bomb”
- To create a meltdown
- To acquire nuclear weapons components to create their own weapon, or
- To actually acquire a nuclear weapon themselves.
Gregory S. Jones, a senior defense policy adviser at the RAND corporation, argues that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are designed to ward off large-scale attacks from India or the U.S., not small-unit terrorist attacks from al Qaeda and the Taliban.
In addition, while Pakistan strategically chose to construct most of its nuclear facilities far away from its border with Indian, the geography placed them in areas now haunted by al Qaeda and the Taliban.
In correlation (there’s that word again!), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommends that U.S. facilities be manned to protect against an assault from 5-6 attackers possessing small arms.
With those recommendations, many reports show that is the extent of the security at our nuclear facilities, as utility companies typically proclaim that it is the government’s responsibility to provide further protection.
This is particularly alarming when we consider that the typical M.O. for even “soft target” attacks overseas have included 10-40 attackers, using assault rifles, hand grenades, RPGs and vehicle-borne IEDs.
Let’s remember that for the U.S. nuclear program alone, we are talking about defending some 62 plants and approximately 5,000 active and inactive warheads at 21 locations in 13 states and five different countries – not to mention the world’s most powerful nuclear-powered navy and its toys and power plants.
Unfortunately, many intelligence analysts and security professionals currently believe that our nuclear facilities are beyond reproach. This is a dangerous, dangerous position.
In summation, I am absolutely a boots-on-the-ground guy, and believe that for any emergency preparedness consideration or scenario, the most important element should be individual and family preparedness.
In keeping with that boots-on-the-ground mentality, we should not simply trust in what protections the federal government and large utilities have in place, but rather demand our local community planners to have a serious discussion about planning for the vulnerabilities of our water, electrical and nuclear infrastructure.
Keith Pounds is a former hospital corpsman (medic) having served in the U.S. Navy and with the Marines. He holds an MBA with a concentration in organizational psychology and is the president and CEO of Countercon, a Columbia, S.C.-based counter terrorism consulting company. In 2012, he was designated as an Honorary Green Beret by the S.C. Chapter of the Special Forces Association.