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Counter-Terrorism Tactics for the Average Civilian

by Chris Horne

August 20, 2002 -- Since the recent terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon, many Americans have understandably become concerned about personal security and the likelihood of becoming a victim.

In that light, I have decided to pass on some of the information that was provided to me during my tour in the US Navy Reserves. The Military has a vested interest in keeping their personnel safe and able to fight, and as such, has provided us with excellent training in anti- and counter-terrorism tactics ranging from preventive measures to firearms handling and marksmanship training.

What I have to share is by no means all encompassing, but I believe that the following information will allow you to protect yourself, without sinking into the level of paranoia of a rogue intelligence agent. I myself use much of what I have learned every day, on my way to and from work, at work, and at home, and have yet to have a friend or family member deride me for excessive caution.


Preventive Measures

The first part of what I have to share falls under the heading of “Preventive Measures.” The definition of preventive measures is, “actions taken to minimize or prevent an undesired event, action, or effect.” For instance, a flu shot minimizes your risk of getting influenza, changing your oil prevents engine damage, cleaning your rifle prevents it from jamming or blowing up in your face, et cetera. 

The first preventive measure I would like to discuss is simple awareness. There are two points to discuss here: awareness that there is a general threat, and awareness of your environment. I think it is safe to say that you probably have the first point covered; otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this article, would you?

The second point is a little more difficult to put into practice. General alertness is a skill that must be learned and maintained through practice and determination. Think back: how many times has a co-worker (or your boss) startled you by saying something when your attention was focused elsewhere? When in familiar surroundings and situations, we feel safe and secure, and so we let our guard down. We are all guilty of this, even former Navy SeAL Dick Marchenko, the Rogue Warrior himself (if you are unfamiliar with the exploits of thee Rogue Warrior, I suggest you read the book by the same name, or look him up on the internet.) The trick is to learn not to slip into this condition. 

To this end, Colonel Jeff Cooper, columnist for Guns & Ammo Magazine, has developed an “awareness continuum” based on colors:

Condition White is the afore-mentioned instance of letting your guard down when at work or home, when you’re really into a book or movie, or when you’re asleep.

Condition Green is a relaxed state of alertness, where you are not afraid or under any stress, but you are alert and aware of your surroundings, like a Security Guard on watch: there is no imminent threat, but you are still looking for anything out of the ordinary. Studies show that reasonably well-adjusted people can remain in this condition for months with no adverse physiological or psychological affects.

Condition Yellow is the state of alertness you enter when “something isn’t right,” such as when you are walking to your car in a dark parking lot. This is the level of alertness where you begin to become nervous, scanning your surroundings for anything dangerous, or when you look out the store window to see a group of local teenage toughs leaning on your car looking menacing. This is the state of alertness where your “fight-or-flight” response kicks in, and the adrenaline begins to surge.

Condition Orange is when a threat or attack is imminent, but has yet to become immediate. The group of thugs has followed you as you crossed and re-crossed the street, and it is obvious they don’t have your best interests in mind, but they are still only following you and have yet to close the distance.

Condition Red is when the threat has become immediate and urgent, meaning the thugs have now closed the distance and are spreading out to surround you, or when a large man steps out from an alley to block your progress, while grabbing you or drawing a knife or gun.

The simplest, most effective preventive measure to take is to train your mind to remain in Condition Green at all times when outside your home. It would be better to retain this level of alertness at every waking moment, but the odds against being attacked while in your home during the day are nearly astronomical. Simply paying attention to your surroundings when driving to work or to pick up the kids from soccer practice can give you several minutes advance warning when something bad is about to go down, such as the fact that the same blue Ford has been following you for twenty minutes, making the same turns you have. This also applies to getting the mail: simple awareness can alert you to a suspicious white powder in your mailbox or to wires or grease stains on a package, which are all signs that your mail has been tampered with.


Defensive Driving

Those of us who drive have received the lecture on defensive driving at least once in our lives, but how many of us were actually given examples? For the purpose of this discussion, “defensive driving” refers to driving in such a manner as to minimize the risk of accident or attack. There is no mystery to defensive driving, just a few simple principles. First, maintain sufficient spacing between your own car and the one in front of you to allow yourself sufficient time to stop in case the guy in front of you brakes suddenly to avoid a dog in the road, for instance. Same for the car behind you: give yourself time to dodge if his brakes fail. This also applies to stoplights. Carjackers may take advantage of the line of cars at a light to drag you out of your vehicle and take off with it. Ten to fifteen feet of spacing will allow you to accelerate enough to bulldoze the car in front of you out of the way if you have to leave in a hurry. It may not seem like enough, but your car has a mass of over 1,000 pounds, and 10 miles per hour is the equivalent of approximately 15 feet per second. If you crunch the numbers, this amounts to 225,000 foot-pounds, which is enough oomph to give yourself some getaway space, without posing a serious danger to yourself or the other driver. Remember also that your car is an effective, if rather clumsy, anti-personnel weapon. If someone steps out in front of you with a gun aimed at your car, duck behind the wheel and floor it. Your attacker will be severely injured at the very least, and you will still be breathing in the end. 

If you think you have reason to believe you are being followed, throw a couple of random turns into the mix. If you are being followed, it will quickly become apparent, as the vehicle behind you will mimic your turns. If it becomes necessary to lose a tail, making a series of sudden turns can get your car around a corner and out of sight, but be wary of getting lost in unfamiliar territory. While obviously extremely dangerous (and very illegal), driving against the flow of traffic can often discourage a tail from following you, but should be held in reserve as a last resort, as it will almost certainly result in a reckless driving ticket at the absolute least. 

When on the freeway, stay in the center lane as long as possible, and maintain at least twenty to thirty yards between yourself and the vehicle in front of and behind you. Remember also to leave yourself a space in the lane to at least one side to dodge into if it becomes necessary.

Remember to check your car for evidence of tampering, such as flat tires, rust on the ground underneath, or scratches in the paint around the fuel cap, locks, and door handles. Also, if you refrain from washing your car, the dirt will show handprints if someone has tampered with your vehicle.


On Foot

If you think you are being followed while walking, cross the street several times. If you are being followed, your tail will again mimic your actions, thereby cluing you in to his or her intentions. Dodge into a public building such as a fast-food restaurant. It is vital that you choose a building with multiple exits to avoid becoming trapped inside. Once you are inside, calmly explain the situation to the proprietor, and ask them to call the police. If they cannot or will not call, head out a different exit than the one through which you entered. Resist the temptation to duck behind the building, as your pursuer may be waiting to ambush you. A shopping mall is an ideal place to lose a tail, as there are many stores, multiple, widely spaced exits, large crowds to blend in with, and ever-present security guards to ask for help.

Avoid bumping into people on the street. This is a common tactic of pickpockets, who often use a bump as a distraction. If someone seems to be trying to get close to you, take an abrupt step to the side. A pickpocket cannot steal your wallet if he cannot reach it.


When Traveling

When traveling, always research your destination, including the surrounding area. A road map can be a lifesaver, especially when coupled with an inexpensive compass, which can be purchased in the sporting goods department at Wal-Mart or K-Mart for less than five dollars. Researching the area can clue you in to any special hazards, such as seismic or volcanic activity in the area, local crime rates, excessive construction, theft, muggings, and the like.

In the airport, always keep your luggage under your control or the control of someone traveling with you, whether you are at the gate or in the bathroom. Especially keep tight control of your carry-on when in a bar or restaurant where there are numerous people, who could easily slip something into one of your bags. 

When purchasing plane or train tickets, always try to get a window seat. It is usually passengers in the aisle seats, who are more accessible, whom terrorists choose as targets or hostages. If the plane or train is hijacked, cooperate with the hijackers, unless it becomes apparent that they are on a suicide mission. If that is the case, cooperation and inaction dooms everyone on the plane/train, and likely people on the ground as well. 

If traveling abroad, always learn as much of the local dialect as possible before you leave, as it can be nearly impossible to summon help if you do not speak the language. At the very least, learn how to hail a taxi and how to ask for help. It is recommended, however, that you purchase a phrasebook, which will contain useful phrases from, “Where is the bathroom,” to “How much is that doggie in the window.” 

Also, when traveling abroad, find out beforehand what style of clothing the locals prefer. Wearing shorts and a “Big Johnson’s” T-shirt just screams “American!” and makes you an inviting target for kidnapping and the like. While you will not be able to completely blend in with the local population, as your mannerisms will be quite different, at least dressing like them will allow you to disappear in a crowd. 

Make hotel reservations over the phone ahead of time, and try to stay at well-known hotels. While large hotels make more inviting targets than mom and pop establishments, they are also more likely to be watched/patrolled by local law enforcement, and will likely be nearer to your actual destination or place of business, thus minimizing your exposure to a threat.

If at all possible, have a point of contact in country, in case you are stranded outside the airport, can’t get a cab, get lost while shopping, and the like. This person can also assist you if you are mugged or robbed, or require medical attention.

Whenever possible, contact the US Embassy in the destination country for a traveler’s alert, which will warn you of dangers to Americans traveling in the country in question. This will include the local population’s reaction to Americans, any criminal activity, and terrorist threats. Knowing ahead of time allows you to take steps to minimize the risk.


Active Measures

The first part of this article deals with things you can do to increase your alertness of a threat, and to stay out of harm’s way. The second part deals with active measures you can take to “harden” yourself as a target—that is, to make yourself a harder and less inviting target for both terrorists and common thugs.

One of the first things that criminals and terrorists look for is predictability. All human beings have a tendency to follow set routines, doing things the same way every time. This is helpful in everyday life, as it allows us to accomplish our everyday tasks efficiently. Unfortunately, this also makes things easier for criminals and terrorists, as it allows them to predict your movements with a certain degree of accuracy.

Unfortunately, a certain degree of routine is unavoidable; many of us start work at the same time every day, or have children who attend school from 8:00 to 2:30 every day. This is an area of vulnerability to attack. While we cannot change our start time, we can change our route to and from work and school, following a different route to work each day. Remember to decide randomly which route you will take each morning. For example, if there are two main routes you can drive to work each morning, flip a coin every day to determine which route you will use. If you simply alternate routes, you again fall into a predictable routine, and thereby become vulnerable.

Another area where we are creatures of habit is mealtime. Of course, rules may dictate that your lunch hour starts at 11:30 each day. That’s unavoidable, but you can eat at a different restaurant each day, or, better yet, bring a lunch to work with you, as this reduces the need to travel during the day. If your company has a cafeteria, utilize it frequently, as this will mix up your routine, thereby reducing your exposure to risk of attack.

A third area where we become habitual is our bedtime. Unfortunately, sleep is a requirement for good health and effective functioning, and is unavoidable. The worst part about it is, as soon as you fall asleep, you are in Condition White, and unable to deal with a threat. One possible solution is to buy a watchdog. Not only can he scare off burglars and the like, he will alert you to their presence, not to mention become a faithful and loyal friend. Make sure you select a breed that makes a good watchdog, as many breeds of dog are useless in this regard (Chihuahuas or Dachshunds, for example). Another possible solution is to invest in a good burglar/fire alarm. They can be a rather large investment, but aren’t your own life and the lives of your family members worth $3,000? To be honest, I would recommend both the dog and the alarm. Redundant systems are the best.

As far as home security goes, if your lifestyle and your family situation allow for it, a 12 or 20 gauge shotgun may be a worthwhile investment, as long as you spend time learning how to load, fire, and safely unload it (personally, I keep a Mossberg 500 hanging over my bed, with the magazine tube loaded). I recommend a shotgun over a pistol for several reasons: first, in the dark, a shotgun makes it a whole lot easier to hit a target that you can only vaguely see, as the spread afforded by a shotshell covers a larger area than the single bullet of a pistol; second, a shotgun delivers several bullets to the target simultaneously, thereby increasing the likelihood of an incapacitating hit (not to mention knocking the target flat); third, with proper ammunition choice, a shotgun is unlikely to overpenetrate interior walls, thereby reducing the likelihood that a stray round will injure or kill a family member or a neighbor.

Another worthwhile investment is a so-called panic room. It is a rather simple matter to turn a bedroom into a safe room, requiring only cordless drill/screwdriver, a hammer, three double-headed nails, a fire door, and a bolt lock. First, remove the existing door, which is likely a hollow-panel model, including the hinges. Replace it with the fire door, leaving the middle screw out of each hinge plate, both on the doorjamb and on the door itself. Next, drill out the remaining hole on the doorjamb, leaving a hollow socket under the screw hole. Hammer the double-headed nails into the holes in the hinge plates on the door, making sure they will swing into the holes in the doorjamb. Last, mount the bolt locks with the keyway facing the hallway. When the door is closed and locked, even removing the hinge-pins will not allow the door to open, and, as it is a fire door, any attempt to kick it in will result only in bruises or broken toes. Make sure you have a cellular phone in your safe room, in case the phone line is cut, and a window to use as an escape route if necessary.

To make your home a less attractive target, install security lighting on the outside, covering potential entryways, including the front door and any windows visible from the street. Also, cut out any shrubbery that blocks the view of your house from the street, thereby denying any potential intruder a sheltered place to work. To reduce the likelihood of an intrusion from the rear of the house: remember the dog? Leaving him outside or letting him out frequently during the night will discourage all but the most serious home invaders. An alarm system also helps to dissuade burglars from attempting to gain entry.

For those occasions when you must leave home (i.e. trip to the store, picking up the kids from soccer practice, etc), it may be worthwhile to spend the time and money required to obtain a CCW permit, if possible in your state. Once you have obtained the permit, a small, concealable pistol in a suitable defensive caliber, such as a compact .45 ACP, is recommended over a full-sized “hip howitzer” like a Desert Eagle. Just having a gun isn’t enough, however; you must invest the time to learn to use it accurately, quickly, and safely.

For those instances when CCW is impracticable due to state or local law, it is advisable to enroll in self-defense classes. Avoid martial arts such as Kung Fu or Karate, as most of them don’t teach really useful defensive techniques until the student has advanced to the black belt level, if at all. One defensive system to definitely look into is the Israeli Krav Maga, or “contact combat.” Krav Maga was developed for the Israeli Defense Force. Due to Israel’s unique defensive requirements, if it doesn’t work, they aren’t interested. Just remember, with ANY defensive fighting system, you must spar with a partner to learn when to use each technique. If you are involved in a traditional martial art, it is imperative that you enter tournaments, so that you will have actual fighting experience. While the tournament is unrealistic as compared to a street fight, it is still practical training.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but it is a good start. For more information on home security, contact your local police department. For information on security while traveling abroad, contact the United States State Department, or the US Embassy to the country in question. There are also many excellent documents on personal security available, both on the Internet and in bookstores.

This article is the basic version of the training given to all US Reservists. Our actual training is more military specific, pertaining to group force protection, but the essentials still apply. Put as much of the above as possible into practice, and you will have gone a long way toward crime- and terror-proofing your home and routine. 

Good luck, and God Bless.

GM3 Christopher S. Horne, USNR