A Texas law enforcement official checks a practice suspect for a suicide bomb on a Demoman training course.It’s a big, bad world out there – a lot worse than you realize according to Tal Hanan, CEO of Israeli security firm Demoman International. The “bad guys”, as Hanan puts it – the terrorists, jihadists, and radicals of various stripes – are anxious to score another 9/11, and the only thing that stands in their way are the security professionals working hard to keep them at bay.
Hanan is one such professional, and he not only knows what to look for when it comes to effective terror prevention techniques, he also knows how to apply that knowledge. So say security officials in Germany, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Sweden, and other far-flung locales – as well as those in places like Washington DC, Texas, New Hampshire, Virginia, and other US states, where Hanan and the Demoman team have lent their experience and talent to protect schools, oil fields, and other potential targets.
Hanan got his experience in the IDF, working for a bomb disposal unit. After leaving the army, he worked with several private teams on security and counter-terror techniques. One of those teams was the outfit that trained soldiers who defused a 1997 terrorist operation in Peru, in which 72 hostages were freed after four months as prisoners of a local terror group. Hanan’s reputation in the business was set, and he eventually established Demoman, which runs training courses for law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and security personnel.
So what’s the best way to stop a terrorist? “Recognize them for what they are – literally,” Hanan says. One of the most important courses he runs is in what could be called “proactive prevention;” if officials can root out terrorists before they can establish themselves, they won’t have the opportunity to carry out their plots.
“It’s all about awareness, on all levels,” Hanan tells ISRAEL21c. “Simple folk like us need to notice when things don’t look right, such as reporting a car parked in the neighborhood too long, or a seemingly ownerless package on a bus. And, on a more sophisticated level, security personnel look for telltale signs in individuals that indicate something is awry.”
But don’t confuse this with profiling – where people of obvious ethnicity or race are seen as potential threats. “Terror profiling has nothing to do with singling out people of a specific ethnic background,” he says. “It’s a lot more subtle than that.”
Over the years, Israeli officials have learned the proper way to do profiling – and race has nothing to do with it. The point was driven home to Israel in 1972, when Japanese Red Army terrorists attacked Ben Gurion Airport, killing 26 and wounding 78. “At that time, no one would have expected Japanese terrorists in Israel,” he said; it was a failure of classic ethnic profiling.
By 1986, Israel had learned its lesson. Security personnel successfully prevented another major attack at Heathrow Airport in London when they arrested a pregnant Irish woman before she boarded the plane. She was unwittingly carrying a bomb in her suitcase given to her by her Arab partner. “If there was anyone you wouldn’t have suspected of being a terrorist at first glance, it was her,” Hanan says. But this time, he said, Israel got the profiling right – and Hanan is sharing the lesson with other countries.
What about the future? There’s no question we’re in for some rough rides, he says. “It’s not just Al-Qaida,” Hanan says, as Osama Bin-Laden (whom Hanan believes is still alive) takes on the status of “elder statesman” in the pantheon of Islamic terrorists; there are many would-be terrorists out there now. “The only way to beat them is through vigilance,” he says – nipping their plans in the bud.
Eventually, he says, they may give up when they realize that their plans are continuously being foiled – but it’s a long road. Folks like him are doing what they can, Hanan says, but “it’s hard day-to-day work. Don’t expect any miracles.”