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ASYMMETRY OF CHANGE - Terrorism awareness & exploring the potential for stability in our changing world

Alon Stivi
December 19, 2008
“ASYMMETRY OF CHANGE – Terrorism awareness & exploring the potential for stability in our changing world”


When you close your eyes, what is it that you see inside your mind? Are you concerned about tomorrow? Are you preoccupied with terrorism and national security? Are you concerns for your children’s future? On this show I will address some of those issues as we explore the potential for stability in our ever changing world.

We live in a world defined by change. Change is a relentless confrontation between progress and primitiveness, old and new, an uncompromising struggle between civility and barbarism, a fight for survival between evolution and devolution. Change always happens whether we like it or not. Change is what we often hope for and it is also what we fear the most. The concept of change is oftentimes misunderstood. It can be best defined as an alteration of the state of existence that we recognize as familiar. The word “familiar” derives from the word “family”. Family, the simple pronunciation of this word co-notates the feeling of home, a safe heaven, a place of comfort where we allow ourselves to be who we truly are.

The functionality of our modern daily existence depends on this imaginary sense of comfort we have grown accustomed to in our structured family life. But this was and will always be an illusion. Worse, comfort breeds complacency, and complacency is the weakness exploited by those who wish to harm others.

The human evolution is, by definition, an experiment in change, a never-ending race to discover better ways to improve our existence and expand our comfort zone. Evolution is not a result of people content with seating comfortably around the bonfire, too afraid to venture outside the visible circle of light. Evolution, was, and will always be, a result of us leaving the primitive safety of the cave and searching for better sources of warmth and energy. It is about facing the darkness of our fears and finding ways of becoming familiar with the unknown. It is mostly a process of education, of learning, mostly from personal experience and preferably from the mistakes of others. It is this on-going struggle for more knowledge that enables us to make informed decisions when faced with the ever changing circumstances of our lives and when faced with danger.

If gaining knowledge means venturing outside the comfort zone – than the opposite must be true – complacency means ignorance. Failing to accept the possibility of change and resisting it is often a result of social inertia. It is the unwillingness of the old to accept the new. In this information age, being ignorant, narrow minded, or misinformed is, in an essence, equal to devolution. When resistance to change occurs on a large scale, as is the case with fanatical religious beliefs, it becomes the cause for hatred and war.

It’s a war that started long before September 11th, 2001 and will not end when coalition forces leave Iraq. Society had and always will have human predators. Predators tend to gather in groups and follow the leadership of dictators, gang leaders, Mafioso, warlords, captain of pirate ships, or fundamentalist, fanatical religious leaders. These are cunning sociopaths who finance their gangs, militia or terror networks by racketeering and trafficking in human being, restricted weapons, drugs, protected species, and toxic waste. These sophisticated non-state actors, exemplified by the self-proclaimed global Jihadi movement described as Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, operate across borders and transect the traditional boundaries between national security and law enforcement. Their operations blend political and religious fanaticism with criminal enterprises to challenge the rule of law and exploit the seams between crime and war. To these actors the rapid changes in human evolution represents a platform of opportunity for their asymmetric war effort.

We must remember that terrorist activity plays itself out over time. It is not much of a stretch of the imagination to understand that in societies where poverty is prevalent and people are weakened by their living conditions, radical Islamic terrorists can capitalize on the internal strife, by intimidating security officials and corrupting dissolute politicians to gain access and extend their influence. No where is this more evident than in Pakistan today, where Al Qaeda has established a mountain stronghold in the Waziristan, Peshawar and Chitral regions. It should also not be to hard to imagine what is Al Qaeda planning to do if it is successful in destabilizing the nuclear-armed country and is allowed to gain control of the world’s only Muslim nuclear arsenal. The series of terror attacks against India and the recent massacre in Mumbai are an integral part of this strategic plan.

Lets not forget that one of the key finding of the 9/11 Commission’s examination of the terrorist attacks of September 11th was that the US government suffered a “failure of imagination” in not being more prepared to combat the threat of Al Qaeda attacks against the US homeland. It seems that Pakistan’s leadership refusal to accept that terrorism pose a serious risk to the country’s future is suffering from the same type of “failure of imagination”. Instead of deploying Pakistan’s best troops along its border with Democratic India they would be much better used in the fight against the country’s militants before it is too late.

According to Gen. James Conway, the Commander of the US Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I quote: “Iraq is now a rear-guard action on the part of Al Qaeda, and they’ve changed their strategic focus not to Afghanistan but to Pakistan, because Pakistan is the closest place where you have the nexus of terrorism and nuclear weapons.” The Western World should adhere to the general’s warning and keep a close tab on the developments in Pakistan.

The heinous atrocities that happened in Mumbai, India was not a surprise. It was a complacency driven change. It is important to understand how surprise really works. The element of surprise works most effectively against those who think that their safeguards are well conceived and relax their vigilance. Since the routine of daily life do not arouse our suspicions secret attack plans against us can take place in the midst of common everyday occurrences as they did in Mumbai last week.

Can something be done to prevent such attacks or at least minimize the death toll? Absolutely!

As we all know, the best way to protect ourselves from danger is to avoid it all together. In order to do so, we must know how to recognize signs of danger and remain vigilant and ready to respond to threats. We cannot be complacent and we must expect the unexpected. Is it possible to expect something, if we do not know what it is or when, where and how it could harm us? The only way this can be achieved is by not expecting any threats in particular, or in other words, remaining open minded to the possibility that anything can change at anytime and by so doing be mentally prepared to adapt and overcome “unexpected” change in perceived conditions of safety.

To do so successfully we must use the greatest asset we have for managing change – the power of imagination. Imagination is the key to our survival as individuals and as a species. This unique ability to “visualize” “what if scenarios” and to forecast, in our minds, plausible outcomes of what can happen allows us to focus our resources on preparedness and survival. Then we must off course take action to educate ourselves about safety and security measures and implement them into our daily routine at home, at work and while traveling.

Most attacks are not done impulsively and do not happen just because someone snapped. Attacks are predictable. This is due to the fact that most robbers, kidnappers, assassins and terrorists conduct some type of surveillance on their intended victim before initiating their attack. The goal of these surveillance efforts is to gather intelligence on predictable routine patterns and security vulnerabilities that can be exploited. The Mumbai perpetrators had meticulously planned and prepared their attacks for months. They conducted extended surveillance, obtained jobs in the area and stockpiled ammunition and explosives enough to kill thousands. They were well trained and equipped and even utilized hand held communication devices to email each other and to exchange intelligence information during the attacks. Their targeting was discriminate and intentional. Mumbai’s sole surviving murderer told Indian police that the terrorists were sent with a specific mission of targeting, once again, Israelis and Jews.

Detecting these early signs of surveillance is paramount to defeating future kidnapping and terrorist attacks. The ability to detect these attempts would allow us to take the appropriate counter measures and be better prepared to face a possible attack. Everyone in the free world; workers, travelers, family members, students, school faculty, and especially members of the Jewish community should be familiar with surveillance detection and countermeasures.

Remaining vigilant to danger is by definition uncomfortable. No one likes to think about the possibility of a terrorist attack all the time. It is hard to always be on alert ready to respond to the next threat. We much prefer the comfort of our familiar daily existence where everything is just the same good old everyday. Unfortunately we do not get to make that choice. Those who ruthlessly torture, mutilate and murder unarmed men, women and children, have and always will, make this choice for us. They understand that most civilized people do not like conflicts and are peace loving. They also, on the other hand, take pride in the mayhem and destruction they do. It’s who they are. They do not mind the hardship of war and are very comfortable keeping this fight going for many more years. Their goal is to force their own version of “change” on the rest of us and we have no choice but to resist this unwanted “change”. Ignoring this truth and just praying for a safer world and hoping that our good deeds will make the world a better place is simply not enough!

We must take responsibility for our own safety and be prepare to protect ourselves. To start with we need to know how to recognize surveillance attempts – this is our first line of defense.

There are many warning signs that indicate that you are under surveillance. Following are some tips on how to recognize the signs of surveillance and what to do and not do about it.

Surveillance means have greatly evolved throughout the years. Today’s perpetrators use night vision devices, telescopic equipment, cameras, digital recorders, cell phone, thermal imagers, motion, magnetic and infra-red detectors, and aerial photography readily available through the Internet to intrude on our privacy.

In general there are three types of surveillance:
1. Stationary surveillance (direct observation).
2. Mobile surveillance (foot, vehicular, air).
3. Technical surveillance (audio-video and electronic surveillance, etc.)

You may be under surveillance if you notice any of the following:

Repeated appearances of the same individual or car in different locations and separate circumstances.
Vehicles in you’re area that remains parked without a reason for extended periods of time or break down by your place of business and/or residence.
Anyone repeatedly walking by your home or work with no apparent reason.
Anyone photographing you, your residence or your family members.
Repeated problems with your telephone communication such as clicking noises, wrong number calls, anonymous calls, dropped calls, and off course threatening calls.

You are probably being followed if you notice:

Vehicles that start and stop at the same time you do.
Vehicles that travel at the same speed as you and maintain the same distance from you.
Vehicles that have obstructed license plates and are stationed in a choke point.

Someone that has you under surveillance may do the following:

Pay you more attention than you are used to.
Be out of sync with its surrounding activities (pretending to be busy but really not doing much).
Have facial expression and body language that is different from the surrounding crowd.
Move in such a way that conceals a part of his/her body.
Carry a bag / case that conceal a video camera or take your picture with their cell phone.
Turn away from you and/or avoid eye contact.

To increase safety you should avoid the following mistakes:

Do not assume that all criminals or terrorists are young male.
Avoid following a routine driving, walking and other habitual patterns.
Do not place personal, descriptive, mail or information in the garbage. Shred it first.
Do not give your home address or phone number to a stranger.
Do not discuss any personal identifying information or security matters over the phone or in public.

What should you do if you suspect that you are under surveillance:

Observe and note detailed description of the suspect.
Write down license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles; note descriptions of occupants.
Call or notify authorities and family of your suspicions.
Do not drive home if you are being followed, go to the nearest police station or to a populated and lit area (beware of follow home robberies).
Do not try to approach, antagonize, confront or chase the stalker.

What should you do to reduce your exposure to surveillance:

Control surrounding vegetation to eliminate hiding places.
Be alert to your surrounding especially ahead of you and on your sides.
Monitor large vacant apartments or parking lots that have a view of your premises.
Install surveillance cameras and motion detector lights around your premises.
In the evening, keep curtains and drapes down when inside lights are on.
Check your residence and car for suspicious objects regularly.

Important note:
Under some circumstances, if you think that you are being surveyed, and can identify the observer, you could initiate a conversation with him or her. Do not accuse them of anything. Just strike a casual conversation. You’re approach will likely make an observer fade away once their cover is blown. If your suspicions are wrong you have done no real harm. But if you are right, you will temporarily have helped yourself in a major way by becoming a less-than-ideal vigilant target. The risk associated with this is the possibility that you may precipitate the attack or lose the advantage of knowing what the person stalking you looks like, since someone else is surely to take his/her place. Trust your judgment and if you feel that you are correct, do it.

There is no such thing as 100% security. Yet, remaining on the look out for signs of danger will surely reduce the element of surprise and could minimize casualties during an attack. Like a seatbelt in a car that you buckle just in case you get into a crash, so is the adaptation of vigilance into your daily routine. It is not hard, neither is it uncomfortable. It is just good sense.

In summary I would like to remind everyone that as custodians of our own destiny we are ultimately responsible for our own safety. As such we must put our imagination and power of observation to good use and remain vigilant to dangerous changes. We need to remember that imagination is much more than an essential survival skill – it is also the key to world peace. To truly evolve we must think outside-of-the-box, and redefine what we believe to be the symmetry of a comfortable existence. We need to teach our children to use the gift of imagination to “see” in our mind’s eyes an ever improving existence. We need to cultivate the belief in the power of positive thinking and affirm our thoughts with positive images of a safer world. We must subscribe as a whole to a new vision of a better tomorrow. We can do this trough the power of imagination and free choice.

In the long run, this the surest way to eradicate the virus of fear from our hearts and stop the spread of terror in our minds. To foster world peace we must make it our priority to know how to clearly distinguish bad change from good change and teach our children to resist the former and choose the latter. Have no fear a very good change is near.

I leave you with the enlightening words of the great physicist and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Einstein (1879-1955):

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires, and to limiting our affection to a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be, to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

My name is Alon Stivi, and you are listening to Fearless Life on Jerusalem Pulse Radio.


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