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Norway’s intelligence failure

24/07/2011 | by Ganor, Boaz (Prof.)  
The commentary was first published in Ynetnews.

In Norway, anyone can take a car and park it at a crowded location. Anyone can also put on a police officer’s uniform and enter a youth camp. These are sites that were never designated as targets for a possible threat.

In Israel as well there were no security guards at the entrance to shopping malls and restaurants once upon a time. Success in countering terrorism hinges on three aspects: Intelligence, deterrence and defense. In a modern state, the intelligence aspect is crucial and without it one cannot offer a response to terror.

The role of intelligence is to provide early warning about intentions, capabilities, modus operandi, targets and locations. At first glance, what happened in Norway looks like an intelligence failure, stemming from the fact that there was no advance information whatsoever available about the killer.

Generally speaking, there are two types of terror attacks: Organized strikes, and attacks that are initiated independently. In organized strikes, a terror group is involved in one of the stages – the preparation or the execution. Yet when it comes to attacks that were initiated independently, no terror group is involved, thereby making it much harder to thwart such strikes through the utilization of intelligence information.

Organized attacks include several people who are privy to the secret, while strikes that are the result of independent initiative are usually carried out by one person only, with everything starting and ending in his own head. Moreover, in this day and age, independent terrorists can easy find numerous guides on the Internet that teach them how to produce explosive devices, even by using fertilizer.

I estimate that Friday’s attack in Norway will prompt a global change in intelligence deployment vis-à-vis terror attacks that are the product of independent initiative. Up until now, the prevailing estimate was that such attacks are less lethal. On Friday we discovered that this is not the case